The Ageability of South African White Wines ~ Tasting Meerlust Chardonnay 2006…

I’ve been meaning to organise a grand blind South African aged wine challenge in London with Wine Advocate journalist Neal Martin for some years. But life just seems to get busier and busier and time shorter and shorter for both Neal and myself. Profiling aged South African whites is a tricky endeavour, but when you pick the right wines, the results can be a revelation. But of course, the “right wines” are hard to come by, even in South Africa itself.


I had this bottle of Meerlust Chardonnay 2006, bought on release, on my cellar rack for many years and while I thought it would probably be stoically solid, I had no idea how impressive it would actually be on opening. Well, today it was accidentally opened in error by my wife after I was out at rugby practice with my son all afternoon. But, once opened, I certainly decided to indulge and revel in its sublime youthful brilliance. 


The Burgundians often seem annoyed when buyers ask them about their opinion on premox in white Burgundy, in quite the same way many South African producers used to roll their eyes at continual questions over the burnt rubber characteristics perceived in some wines. But it’s only when you taste a wine like this Meerlust 2006 that your blood really starts to boil at the many white Burgundy failures tasted oxidised at only 6 to 8 years old. 


Meerlust Chardonnay 2006, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5 Abv.

Deep golden yellow lemon colour, there is wonderful clarity and rich allure here. The nose is opulent and complex showing buttered sweet corn, lemon marmalade and salted caramel popcorn. So vital, youthful, vibrant, taught and fresh, showing almost no tertiary development at all. Incredible at 11 years old. As the wine opens, subtle notes of dried basil and thyme herbal spice develop mixed with sweet chalk and wet slate notes. The palate reveals amazing tension, maritime salinity, lemon zest and chalky granitic pithy depth. Wow, so tight and citric with youthful breadth and depth. It’s wines like this that make premoxed white Burgundy inexcusable at any price point. This wine could hardly be more fresh, complex or youthful at 11 years old. A real revelation. Absolutely delicious… for a South African benchmark wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 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)

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) 

Another Blockbuster Vintage Release of Bordeaux Blend Icon Meerlust Rubicon…

Whenever I visit South Africa, my eye is always drawn to the latest vintages of Bordeaux blend Icon Meerlust Rubicon on the Duty Free shelves. They always amazingly seem to be two vintages ahead of us here in the UK. So today I cracked into the 2014 to see what this current release holds in store for drinkers and collectors alike.


Meerlust Rubicon 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv. 

An invitingly youthful, opulent nose bursting with blueberry pie, vanilla pod spice, violets, cedar wood and polished mahogany. Very impressive with lifted black currant and raisined cranberry notes, the complexity of this wine is mesmerising. The palate is wonderfully suave, fleshy and elegant, showing superb harmony and balance combined with Cabernet Sauvignon backbone, power and breadth. There are lashings of delicious sweet cassis, black currant pastille, blueberries, and seductive creamy oak vanillins. Such a polished example, finely tuned, and positively oozes with class and pedigree. This impressive 2014 should drink well now and for another 25+ years if well cellared. Bravo Hannes Myburgh and winemaker Chris Williams. 

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Verdict: Buy and fill your cellar! 

A Winery On Top of Their Game ~ Tasting De Morgenzon DMZ Sauvignon Blanc 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5 Abv.

To be clear, 2016 was not an easy vintage, with drought conditions gripping the Western Cape. But any winemaker worth their salt would have watched their grape’s veraison even more carefully than normal in order to preserve that all important acidity. With Carl van der Merwe on top of his game, there is not a lot this fella can do wrong and this wonderful Stellenboschkloof white bears testament to Carl’s skill and precision.


The DMZ range is a more affordable, accessible range from the winery and this Sauvignon Blanc 2016 is very well executed and thoroughly attractive. Such perfumed, multi-dimensional aromatics rise imperiously out of the glass. There are wonderful notes of green Granny Smith apples, freshly cut grass, thatch, green boiled Bon Bon sweets, dusty granite, and cream soda notes. On the palate, there is just enough of the sweet confectionary shop and stick candy notes mingling with dusty chalky minerality to make this a finely poised offering with delicious, vibrant acids and succulent, green melon and green apple zip on the finish. It’s all so tightly packaged, so well put together that I just can’t imagine anyone not finding this bottle an absolute pleasure to quaff. Drink now and over the next 3+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW) 

The Stellenbosch Hills are Alive… Tasting Reenen Borman’s Kottabos Grenache – Syrah 2016 Blend…

Hot on the heals of the super sexy single clone Syrah, Sons of Sugarland, comes another delicious red from young Reenan Borman of Boschkloof fame. This small project wine called Kottabos is a stunning blend of 87% Grenache and 13% Syrah, both sourced in Stellenbosch from the Polkadraai area. 


The grapes both had 50% whole bunch fermentation and were then aged in used oak for approximately 11 months. Only 1,760 bottles were produced. Reenen describes the Kottabos as “a project of exploration in the Stellenbosch hills, the sole purpose being to showcase what this unique terroir has to offer.”


Reenen Borman’s Kottabos Grenache – Syrah 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5 Abv.

Another micro-vinification offering from the beautiful hills of Stellenbosch. In the glass, this wine has the alluring colour of young red Burgundy and shows a crystalline, translucent ruby glow. The nose offers up incredible perfume lift of cherry bon bons, blood oranges, rose petals, parma violets, pomegranate and subtle cedary, boxwood, marzipan spice. Notes of black pepper and earthy bramble berry sappy spice develop with time in the glass. The palate is very fine boned, precise, and light on its feet with an almost Pinot Noir elegance and finesse, framed beautifully by crunchy, sappy, tart cranberry acids and subtle, fine powdery tannins. The wine is so effortless, brimming full of energy, and really shows off Reenen Borman’s extensive winemaking expertise. Drink this wine now or over 3 to 8 years as it develops more forest floor and savoury bramble berry spice nuances.

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