Is There a Silver Lining in the 2013 Bordeaux Vintage Cloud? Tasting Tertre Roteboeuf 2013…

Is there ever a modern vintage from a premium global wine region that can be written off as totally unsaleable!? When you think of the 2013 Bordeaux harvest, it is not exactly a vintage many collectors and connoisseurs can envisage buying and cellaring. Indeed, the 2013 vintage was one of the coldest and wettest growing seasons in the past 40 years. 


In a normal vintage, Bordeaux would be expected to produce 5.5 million hectoliters of red wine. In 2013, this figure was closer to 3.9 million hectolitres, one of the lowest yields since 1970. But was the quality of the wines produced so horrendously below par as wine critics have made out? Personally, I remember returning from Bordeaux after tasting the En-primeur 2013 wines thinking what a delicious, elegant, light, fresh, “bistro vintage” this was going to be and how easy the wines would be to sell if the Bordelais priced them low “to move”. 


But of course, the Bordelais never do what is expected and the 2013 pricing was unreasonably high, out of touch generally, and the wines remained predictably unsold. Fast forward 4 years and it’s a sorry tale hearing of the large, unsold, unsaleable mountains of 2013 Bordeaux clogging up the balance sheets of negociants and Chateaux alike.


So when the opportunity arose for me to drink a bottle of 2013 Tertre Roteboeuf Grand Cru St Emilion, I approached the prospect with a fair amount of circumspection. What should I expect?

Chateau Tertre Roteboeuf St Emilion Grand Cru, 13.5 Abv.

The 2013 has a seductively perfumed nose that shows a wonderfully expressive bouquet of red cherries, red plums, red salty liquorice stick, cedar oak spice and sweet jasmine blossom. The typical Tertre Roteboeuf tasting note always alludes to the wine’s Burgundian characteristics. But with the 2013 Grand Vin, there is not only the pretty fragrant aromatics, but also the lighter, more ethereal texture more reminiscent of a Cotes de Nuits Burgundy than St Emilion Grand Cru. The palate shows beautiful balance and great depth of flavour with nuances of raisined cranberries, strawberry confit, dried figs, earthy red currant and pithy, spicy, picante tannins. Acids are fresh, slightly angular, taught and vibrant, lifting the palate concentration and highlighting its front palate opulence and immediacy before finishing with slightly peppery, spicy, chalky tannin drip. A very pretty wine, yet there is no frivolity in evidence, only focused, elegant, precise winemaking. Drink now to 2027+.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The Seductive Power of Appellation Margaux ~ Tasting the Over-Performing Chateau Haut Breton Larigaudieres…

End September sees the Bordeaux Cru Bourgeois Trade Tasting return to London. Last year’s tasting was described by the Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin as a very fertile hunting ground for great value, affordable quality, drinking red Bordeaux. 


If the region of Bordeaux is to retain its admired status as the most collectable wine by connoisseur’s, it is crucial that smaller, lesser classifications are bought and drunk by regular consumers. The love affair with Bordeaux has to start somewhere, and for many wine enthusiasts, it starts with drinking tantalising Cru Bourgeois wines. So tonight I’m getting into training for the tasting by drinking a delicious bottle of appellation Margaux Cru Bourgeois. 


Chateau Haut Breton Larigaudiere 2012 Margaux, 13 Abv.

A blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot, this is an absolute cracker from the Margaux appellation. Sweet red plum and blueberry fragrance lift effortlessly out of the glass. Violets, jasmine, dried mint leaf, pot pourri herbs and seductive musk notes add massive complexity. There is also plenty of rich earthy cassis and lush red cherry exotism to excite even the most reluctant Bordeaux connoisseur. Palate concentration is very impressive yet you never lose sight of the wine’s Margaux’esque elegance, allure, perfume and seductive beauty. Creamy, powdery tannins are the order of the day making this a top notch Margaux that is both precise and pretty, yet deceptively powerful and intense. True to the vintage, there is ample accessible upfront fruit, fine balance and harmony and bright pure freshness. This is a fantastic offering that cannot fail to excite. Drink now to 2030.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

An Exciting New Release From B-Vintners ~ Tasting the Terroir Specific 2016 Fire Heath Chardonnay From Walker Bay…

Bruwer Raats and Gavin Bruwer Slabbert have really raised a lot of eyebrows both in South Africa and abroad with some of their exciting releases in the B-Vintners vine exploration range. With the Strandwolf Chardonnay already in the range, this new addition is another wonderful site specific, terroir expression from the boys, joining two of my favourites, the delicious Liberte Pinotage and the highly lauded Hope to Harlem Chenin Blanc blend in the growing range.


B-Vintners Fire Heath Chardonnay 2016, Walker Bay, 12.5 Abv.

Made from vines grown on calcareous soils, this Chardonnay has an impressively low 12.5 Abv but is positively bursting with flavour. The nose is incredibly dusty, pithy and mineral laced, with prominent notes of fynbos, dried herbs, lemon peel, dried straw and lime sherbet. Great vibrancy and vitality lie at the heart of the liquid aromatics. On the palate, there is real restraint and dusty, gravelly, minerality. If ever there was a wine that tasted of wet river pebbles, here it is. The white citrus fruits are pithy and mesmerisingly austere, showing alka seltzer zip, dry bitter lemon, briney salinity, fresh acids and again, multiple layers of wet grey slate and crushed gravel minerality. A wonderfully pure, steely Chardonnay expression with the most subtle use of oak. A fabulous addition to South Africa’s cool climate coastal Chardonnay landscape.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


Ground Breaking South African Bordeaux Blend ~ Rating the Epic 2015 MR de Compostella…

Mvemve Raats is a critically acclaimed collaboration between friends and winemakers Mzokhona Mvemve and Bruwer Raats. Bruwer is of course the owner and winemaker of Raats Family Wines, where he has earned a reputation for top notch Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Mzokhona Mvemve, the first Indaba Scholarship recipient, is a graduate of Stellenbosch University and one of South Africa’s first qualified black oenologists.


On Friday the 8th September, Bruwer Raats joined us to launch the 2015 vintage of the MR de Compostella. The grapes for this extremely limited production of MR are sourced from Stellenbosch, widely recognized as the Cape’s premier red wine-producing region, especially when it comes to Bordeaux style varieties. With the 2015 vintage currently being lauded in South Africa as possibly the best all-round vintage in South African viticultural history ever, the stage was perfectly set for Bruwer to perform his magic.


MR de Compostella 2015 Blend, WO Stellenbosch,14.5 Abv.

I have been one of Bruwer Raats’ biggest MR de Compostella followers in the UK market since the maiden 2004 vintage release, and we have tasted the MR pre-release every year together since then, discussing the wine’s blend and vintage complexities over a few bottles of MR and fine left bank claret. So after a great amount of anticipation, we got to taste the MR 2015 together last Friday. This is an absolutely gorgeous, coming of age wine. A blend of 40% Cabernet Franc, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot and 4% Malbec, the 2015 is genuinely a compelling wine with a classic nose more reminiscent of a fine, opulent Cru Classe Pauillac than a Stellenbosch Bordeaux blend. There are beautiful perfumed notes of assorted purple flowers and fresh violets that melt away to reveal ripe, intense notes of crème de cassis, blueberry crumble, cherry kirsch liquor and damson plum. The wine has gravitas, intensity and a room-silencing presence that is neither heavy nor overpowering. Like all MR vintages, it has impressive laser-like precision, a fine grained focus and an amazing fruit purity and concentration that is a hedonistic pleasure to experience. What extract, what fine piercing acids, what power, but all delivered in a sublimely harmonious chorus of black cassis fruits, blueberry confit and graphite spice. It is impossible to tire of this wine, with its palate freshness reigniting your senses continuously. More structured and intense than its riper, plumper predecessor 2014, the 2015 delivers more intensity, with tannic restraint and brooding classical Pauillac’esque depth. Drink this young if you will, but this MR is the closest Bruwer and Mvemve have come to perfection since they started this project in 2004. I expect the 2015 to be going strong in 30 to 40 years time and continuing to seduce connoisseurs  and collectors globally. 

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Errazuriz ~ Single Handedly Putting Chilean Fine Wine On The Global Map…

Vinedo Chadwick and Sena have been at the forefront of world class Chilean wine for over 20 years. Indeed I feel very privileged to have studied my Master of Wine with Errazuriz owner Eduardo Chadwick, starting back in 2003. A wonderful character, a great visionary, and highly ambitious ~ both for himself and his country, Chile. So it’s probably not surprising that the key estate brands in the Errazuriz portfolio have captured the world stage with fine wine quality never before seen out of Chile. 


Vina Chadwick, Sena and Don Maximiano (along with fellow industry high achievers Almaviva, Lapostolle Clos Apalta and Montes Alpha) have redefined the meaning of fine wine in the South American context. Congratulations Eduardo and of course group chief winemaker Francisco Baettig!

With Francisco Baettig at the UK launch of Vinedo Chadwick 2015 and Sena 2015.


Last year, Vinedo Chadwick was the first Chilean wine to crack a 100 point score when James Suckling rated the 2014 vintage. This year, it was the turn of Sena 2015 to reach this prestigious pinnacle of 100 points, with Vinedo Chadwick 2015 close behind on 99 points, both scores again  coming from critic James Suckling. 


The 2015 Sena is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Carmenere, 12% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc, aged 22 months in 65% new French oak and 12% in foudre, with the remaining 23% aged in used oak barrels. 


Errazuriz Sena 2015, 13.5 Abv.

Always a personal favourite of mine within the Errazuriz premium range, the Sena 2015 is a beautifully elegant and utterly refined expression of a Bordeaux blend. The very alluring, pretty aromatics of red cherry stone fruits, mulberry, black currant and blue berry almost seem boundless, with notes of saline cassis, cherry bon bons, and salty red liquorice developing in the glass as the wine unfurls. The palate is as vibrant and pin point as the wine’s aromatics, revealing incredible intensity, mouth watering acidity freshness and super sweet tart red cherry and stick candy complexity. There is profound precision and focus, admirable balance, and the finest powdery, lacy red cherry pithy tannins on the generous finish. Winemaker Francisco has nailed this above average warm vintage with earlier picked, fragrant, fresh acidity grapes. This is a wine worthy of major accolades. Make space in your cellar!

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


Contemplating Chenin Blanc, the Old Vine Debate, and ‘Quality By Design’ Over a Glass of Sadie Family Skurfberg 2015…

This weekend I’m drinking one of my favourite Chenin Blancs in the Cape, the Sadie Family Old Vine Series Skurfberg Chenin Blanc 2015. After hosting the larger than life king of Chenin Bruwer Raats this week, for a tasting of his epic new release Eden Single Vineyard High Density Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc 2015s, both made from only 6 to 7 year old vines, the discussion inevitably turned to old vines and the general philosophy behind many of the newer boutique old vine offerings coming out of the Cape.


This delicious Skurfberg Chenin Blanc comes from old vineyards in the Olifantsrivier region up the west coast, from vines planted between 1940 and 1955 in the bush vine method, on decomposed sandstone. But does the fact it’s made from these old vines “define” this wines quality? I have also just read the recent article by Emile Joubert on Wine Goggle Blog, with some interesting points made by Bruwer regarding the old vine debate in South Africa.


It is indeed a broad and involved subject, which to me, seems that some of the disagreement stems from a difference in perspective, or perhaps even a slightly different philosophy with regards to growing grapes and making high quality wine. I am sure both Andre Morgenthal and Rosa Kruger won’t mind me paraphrasing them when I say that old vines alone are of course not a guarantee of quality in a wine. This would be far too simplistic. Equally, even Bruwer Raats will acknowledge that some very profound wines have been and still are being made from old vine fruit in South Africa…the Sadie Skurfberg one of the very best of the lot, even if the component vineyards were never invisaged to produce high quality wine.

To me, old vines should be protected and celebrated where the vineyards are still able to provide quality fruit that can be commercially viable for the farmer growing it, even if this means that the cost threshold is R30,000 per hectare. There are producers who are prepared to pay this amount of money. But equally, if we are to have more Skurfberg’s in the future for the next generation of drinkers, more “quality by design” vineyards like the Raats Family Eden Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc will need to be planted and nurtured into old age. At their youthful 6 years of age, the quality of wine being produced from their fruit is already in the top 1 percentile of highest rated quality wines in South Africa.


For me, it’s not an either / or situation. Both old vines and meticulously planned new plantings are an essential part of taking our very special wine industry forward for the next generation of fine wine drinkers and collectors, both in South Africa and around the world. For now, I will kick back on my restful Sunday afternoon sipping my Skurfberg 2015 Chenin Blanc and contemplate the subject … pretending to be a wise old sage.

Sadie Family Old Vine Series Skurfberg 2015 Chenin Blanc, WO Olifantsrivier, 13.5 Abv.

Admittedly this is a very serious wine to be drinking so young, but its profound lifted aromatics and complexity already in its infancy are so attractive and beguiling that I would have to recommend drinking this wine at as many stages of its development as the number of bottles in your cellar will allow. On opening, the aromatics are very much spicy, pithy and dominated by dried thyme, tarragon and sweet fennel, with a subtle but defined under vein of crushed granite minerality. 10 minutes in the glass is all that’s required to unleash wave upon wave of pear purée, pithy orange peel, tangerine, crunchy white peaches and other white citrus notes. The palate is almost overpoweringly intense – yet light footed, elegant, incredibly focused, intense and sensorial. The palate resonates with delicious notes of sweet white citrus, green apples, picante orange peel, and a forceful, tart acidity that melts away into the fruit concentration, leaving your mouth salivating for another sip. I often compare great Chenin Blanc from South Africa with great white Burgundy, because few wines can pull off this kind of depth, intensity, and fruit concentration punch with taught bristling acidity, yet remain regal, noble, sophisticated and utterly compelling. This 2015 is a wine that might well define a new generation of quality, from a vintage that already defines supreme quality in the modern era of wine making in South Africa.

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Quality By Design ~ Tasting the Raats Family Eden High Density Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2015…

Just a week or so after Bruwer Raats released both his 2015 MR de Compostella and 2015 Eden Cabernet Franc in South Africa, he was in London presenting both of these wines to the fine wine trade. The 2014 Eden Cabernet Franc scored an impressive 96 points here on the Fine Wine Safari site when reviewed in February 2017. With the follow up 2015 coming from an even better vintage that is being widely touted as the greatest modern-era vintage in South African wine making history, it’s an understatement to say the anticipation pre-tasting was high. 


Coming from a 0.2ha high density vineyard (8000 vines per hectare) meticuously planned and planted 6 years ago by Bruwer Raats at his Polkadraai property in Stellenbosch, 5% of the grapes were whole bunch fermented before being aged for 8 months in new French oak, followed by a further 10 months elevage in older oak barrels. (UK recommended retail £65 per bottle).


Raats Family Eden High Density Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2015


Tasting the second vintage release of the Eden Single Vineyard High Density Cabernet Franc after the Raats Dolomite and Raats Family Cabernet Franc cuvees illustrates graphically the power, precision and intensity of this profound wine. Piercing lifted perfumed notes of blueberry, cassis, violets, cherry blossom, cedar spice and liquid minerality all play at full volume. Real intensity of fruit, showing red cherry, kirsch liquor, powerful grippy tannins, delicious salinity and an impressively bold structure define this impressive wine, which simultaneously wears its elegance and finesse proudly on its sleeve. All the building blocks for greatness are present. This is certainly one of the most accomplished red wines conceived in South Africa and looks set to not only age extremely well but also improve in bottle for 15 to 20 years, and drink well for over 30 years. Well done Bruwer. A towering achievement in the context of fine wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)