Ridge Monte Bello 2018 – Tasting One of the Most Highly Anticipated En-primeur Releases of the Year…

One of my favourite wine producers at anytime of the year let alone around Christmas time has got to be Ridge Vineyards. Is there a more Christmassy wine to match roast turkey and cranberry sauce than a fabulous vintage of Lytton Springs or Geyserville Zinfandel? But for me it has got to be their Monte Bello red blend and Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon that register as two of the most expressive fine wines produced anywhere in the world.

The latest Ridge releases are always highly anticipated and recently I tasted their Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 and also their benchmark Monte Bello red blend 2018. Only 75% of the components made the final blend for Monte Bello. Chatting to Eric Baugher in London, the 2012-2016 vintages were hot and dry, while 2017 was more hot and wet to start before reverting back to a hot and dry summer, with fruit harvested late August.

Tasting with Ridge’s Eric Baugher in London.

The 2018 growing season was marked by unusually erratic and unpredictable swings in temperature and rainfall. The 2018 vintage was back to drought conditions in December – January, usually the coldest and wettest months of winter, with some storms in March with massive rain bringing some relief. Some showers in the Monte Bello vineyard during bloom (mid-May) definitely resulted in reduced yields. The final run up to harvest was mild, not too hot or cold but water stress did finally kick in towards end of August as harvest beckoned, as a result of the dry winter conditions.

Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Santa Cruz Mountains, 13.8 Abv.

77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc blend. This 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon displays a very harmonious, integrated aromatic profile already with subtle notes of violets, lavender and white blossom supported by blueberry and black currant fruits, vanilla pod spice and pretty, complexing spice finery of cinnamon stick, tobacco leaf, and dried mint. The palate shows weight and gravitas, a broad fleshy texture twinned with vibrantly fresh acids and dry, powder fine tannins. Already so elegant and balanced but certainly plenty of extra horsepower waiting to exert itself. Give this wine a couple more years in the cellar and start popping corks from 2022+ onwards.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 2018, Santa Cruz Mountains (Barrel Sample Blend)

The Monte Bello site of Ridge Vineyards lies 2600 feet above sea level in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The 2018 is an indicative blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc. Young and plush, the attractive nose is understandably dense and dark fruited with a noticeable vail of brûléed oak spice, buttered brown toast and vanilla pod espresso nuances. But scratch the veneer and there are ample fruit notes of black currant, earthy cassis, black bramble berry dusted with toasted coffee bean spice. On the palate the flavours are more integrated and tight knit with a real freshness of acidity bolstering black berries, black cherry and a crunchy blue berry vitality. Sleek and mouth-fillingly textural but also quite a bit more serious than the Cabernet Sauvignon (blend) with additional multi-dimensional layers of leafy sap, graphite and a pulsating muscular mineral tannin core. An enthralling, captivating wine that carries off a very well rehearsed act of fine wine seduction.

(Wine Safari Score: 97-98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The 2018 Ridge Monte Bello is scheduled for physical release in the Autumn of 2021 but is being offered for sale En-primeur now from fine wine merchants.

Thelema Estate Making the Most of Merlot – Tasting the Merlot Reserve 2017…

There is no doubt what so ever that when you taste a new vintage of Thelema, whatever the cuvee, you just know that the estate is on the ascendancy again with wine quality rising to match its historical reputation as one of South Africa’s most famous and revered producers. This wine certainly is a real surprise for a South African Merlot and exhibits a taut, fresh palate texture and classism that has more in common with the great old Thelema Merlots from 1994 and 1995 than with more recent expressions from the early 2000s.

 

When I speak of Thelema on the ascendancy, I speak purely from a UK centric stand point as I am confident to say that in the home market, the Thelema brand has never been more revered or admired. This Merlot is yet another step in the right direction for Thelema as they strive to cement their rightful place in the international world of fine wine.

 

Thelema Estate Merlot Reserve 2017, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

This wine exhibits alluring aromatics of dark pithy black plum, black berry spice, sweet leaf, earthy red currants, plum sauce and a cornucopia of led pencil wood spice, dried herbs and sweet cedar notes. Texturally, the palate weight is super sleek and taut harking back to the classical styles from the mid 1990s despite the elevated alcohol level at 14 abv. The tension, verve and stony minerality wash across the palate finishing with a long lingering note of sweet black bramble berry spice and a subtle cedar complexity. I love the linearity, precision and focus that is often absent in the majority of other South African single varietal Merlots. This wine’s crystalline acids bring an energy and crispness that frame the wine in such a classical manner. While I have never claimed to be a massive fan of single varietal Merlot unless from California, the Right Bank of Bordeaux or from pockets of Tuscany, I fail to see how much better this variety can perform solo in a South African context unless you blend in other grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot. This 2017 Reserve certainly tastes like a keeper. For the record, the 1994 and 1995 Thelema Merlots are still going strong! Maybe it’s time to drink up and replace with a few bottles of this impressive new wine?

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

When It Comes to White Bordeaux Blends, Vergelegen and Andre van Rensburg Can Do No Wrong…

By 2016, the famous Michel Rolland had already been working with Vergelegen Estate on a consulting basis for three years. But as anyone who knows Andre van Rensburg can confirm, Michel was not there to teach Andre how to make wine. He would have had better luck teaching granny how to suck eggs! No indeed, Michel’s influence was felt the most in the cellar when it came to barrel selection and blending as well as, surprisingly to many, Michel’s viticultural guidance in the vineyards…. and for the sceptics, NO, that did not mean just picking dates.

 

The two originally spent time together at Harlan Estate where Michel Rolland also consulted, where after Andre Van Rensburg invited Michel to South Africa where Michel ended up playing an important role in blending the Vergelegen G.V.B white blend 2013, officially marking the start of his consultancy from the 2014 vintage onwards.

 

Vergelegen G.V.B. White Blend 2016, Stellenosch, 14 Abv.

This really is a sensational expression from Andre and the team at Vergelegen. A blend of 20% Sauvignon and 80% Semillon, this wine screams premium white Bordeaux from the minute you smell the alluring aromatics. All the classical white Bordeaux hallmark notes are there including a crunchy white citrus, grapefruit zest, pineapple pastille fruits, lime peel, dried coconut and reductive hints of black currant and vinyl. The palate is broad and powerful with a leading edge of sweet and sour grapefruit acidity, tangerine juice, green mango flesh and white citrus fruit intensity. Slightly pithy with hints of dried grass, this wine is a never ending profusion of fruit concentration, minerality and dried herb complexity all knitted together in a very tight, intense, classical package. This wine would go down an absolute treat blind with the Bordelaise producers in the Graves or Pessac-Leognan. With pyrazines well and truly conquered in this wine, this expression is lined up for a long and successful ageing period. Drink from release and for another 12 to 15+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Another Valiant Effort From De Toren – Tasting the Fusion V 2016 Bordeaux Blend…

We all know that 2016 in the Cape was the second consecutive warm, dry, challenging vintage for grape growing. Nevertheless, top producers like Meerlust, Kanonkop, Raats Family, Vilafonte and De Toren succeeded in producing seductive Cabernet Sauvignon led Bordeaux blend reds.

We are fortunate enough to still be drinking many top 2015s here in the UK market while the 2017s are already starting to seduce local drinkers in the home market. But 2016 should certainly not be written off as quality focused producers stood up to the challenge of the vintage and delivered the goods in many circumstances, producing wines for slightly earlier drinking.

De Toren 2016 Fusion V Bordeaux Blend, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

While the 2016 Stellenbosch reds don’t quite have the same fruit purity and aromatic precision as the 2015s or 2017s, many of the top examples like this De Toren Fusion V 2016 make for very attractive wines with wonderful opulence and plushness. A 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Malbec, 14% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot blend matured in French and American oak, 50% new. The nose is full of black chai tea complexity, lead pencil, graphite, sweet cedar, black currant, desiccated black cherry and notes of savoury hoisin plum sauce. The palate is supple and fleshy with ample chalky grippy textured tannins, raisined black plum, sweet fig and a subtle earthy Christmas pudding and wintery dried prune note on the finish. An all round delicious Bordeaux blend exuding freshness, palate vigour and vinous excitement. Drink over the next 6 to 8+ years.

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

Tasting the Sadie Family Wines Old Vine Series Treinspoor 2018 Tinta Barocca…

Made from 44 year old Tinta Barocca sourced from a vineyard in the Swartland planted in 1974, the new 2018 Treinspoor release appears to have found yet another gear of superior quality not often seen with this variety in South Africa.

 

Reading my back notes on previous vintages for Treinspoor, I noted my own enthusiastic score for the 2016 while Eben Sadie regarded the 2015 as one of his finest expressions. This 2018 certainly has an elegance and sophistication I’ve not seen on any Tinta Barocca reds from South Africa before. Chatting to Eben about Tinta Barocca in the past, he always says he feels that this red grape Tinta Barocca “might well transport the Swartland terroir best into liquid form, purely because it captures the soils and the earthiness of the place.” 

Sadie Family Wines Old Vine Series Treinspoor 2018, Swartland, 13 Abv.

This 2018 aged in old foudres really is a delicious, supremely impressive rendition of one of the slightly less acclaimed reds in the Old Vine Series wine range. Possibly the most seductive vintage produced to date, this incredible Swartland Tinta Barocca boasts a wonderfully perfumed nose of fresh lavender, incense, fynbos and garrigue over a plush aromatic melange of blueberry reduction, black cherry and wood smoked dried herbs. The palate is cool, complex and compact with a fine soft fleshy black berry concentration that shows hints of Parma violet rock candy, grape jelly, pink musk, granitic minerality and finely textured chalky tannins. But it’s the overall harmonious balance paired with a regal intensity and freshness that just possibly elevates this 2018 expression to the finest Treinspoor Eben Sadie has produced so far. A very impressive wine indeed!

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The Bold and the Beautiful – Tasting the New Paolo Conterno Barolo Cru Ginestra 2015…

It all started way back in 1886, when Paolo Conterno founded the Casa della Ginestra winery dedicated to the production of Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto wines. A hard worker with a mind of great intuition, he devoted the most favourable parts of the Ginestra hillside to the growing of the best grapes, subdividing them by type, exposure and terrain.

He also had the foresight to predict a growing demand from a market of educated connoisseurs for superior quality red wines, leading to him selling his own wines in wooden casks produced in his own cellar. Succeeded by his son Carlo and his wife Giuseppina, the winery was subsequently run by Paolo and Caterina Conterno and now today by their son, Giorgio Conterno. As in the past, each generation has made its own individual contribution both in the winery and also in the vineyards.

Their 10 hectares of calcareous-clayey loam is favourably situated at an altitude of between 300 and 350 metres on slopes of up to 38 degrees, prevalently exposed to the south and in part to the south east. The Ginestra Cru in Monforte d’Alba is today one of the most important vineyards in Barolo producing iconic age worthy Nebbiolo red wines.

Paolo Conterno Barolo Cru Ginestra 2015, 15 Abv., Piedmont

2015 was a warm and opulent vintage in Barolo producing wines with great breadth, depth, power and concentration. The aromatics on this Ginestra are bold and punchy with layer upon layer of salty red liquorice, sun dried red cherries, pink musk and aniseed root nuances. The palate is ultra compact and powerful, almost muscular with a real intensity of sweet mineral tannins, raisined cranberries, stewed wild strawberries and a subtle, savoury, earthy, creamy textured finish. A very confident, ripe Nebbiolo expression from one of Barolo’s great Cru terroirs. Should drink well in its youth and also perform over the long term.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)