Putting South Africa’s Finest Wine Offerings Into Perspective – Tasting Australia’s Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Shiraz 2008….

I had a wonderful time in Cape Town at Cape Wine 2018 and before that at the Nederburg Auction of older South African wines. Of course Cape Wine 2018 will be remembered for Tim Atkin MW’s first personal 100 point SA wine score, an active debate surrounding scoring and score inflation both in South Africa and globally and also the prickly pear issue of where to price South Africa’s premium wines, many made from old vine heritage vineyards around the Western Cape that are super expensive to farm. Serious questions indeed.

Some of these questions were brought into a new perspective when I returned to my office to find a bottle of Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Shiraz from Coonawarra freshly opened on a colleagues desk courtesy of a private client. This is a Wine Advocate 98/100 point wine as scored by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW and retails currently in the UK market for £850 per bottle inc taxes (R16,575 pb). So we are talking serious kit here… and amazingly a wine that makes even the Penfold’s Grange look positively cheap!

Tasting the wine, it is a blend that pays homage to the 1966 Bin 620, a legendary Penfold’s show wine from a great vintage. Crafted from the uniquely Australian Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz blend, this wine is considered to be the personification of the Penfold’s house style and worthy of a Special Bin status. The wine was bottled by Penfold’s Wines at Nuriootpa, South Australia in July 2009. The 2008 vintage was produced from the low yielding Coonawarra Blocks 5, 10 and 20 and is considered to be made in a very similar style to the famous 1966 vintage. The wine was barrel fermented in new French and America oak and is classically structured and considered worthy of extended cellar aging for several decades.

Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz 2008, Coonawarra, 14 Abv.

The wine has a wonderfully deep ruby garnet opaque core and is a blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 49% Shiraz. Rich, lifted and hedonistic, the nose is brimming with earthy black berry, freshly torn mint leaf, camphor leaves, wood spice, dried tree bark, cassis and black cherry kirsch liquor notes with nuances of milk chocolate, bruleed coffee beans and exotic botanical herbal spices. The palate is dense, creamy and unctuous but retains a certain poise and posture supported by gravelly mineral tannins, graphite spice, crème de cassis and a fine vein of palate refreshing acidity. The finish is super long and intense with just the faintest hints of cherry cola, salty liquorice, black berry confit and freshly baked raspberry crumble. The vinous adjectives and descriptives positively drip out of ones mouth with this complex offering. It is a big wine that walks a very neat, classical line and will impress most fine wine connoisseurs.

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

So how does this wine compare to some of South Africa’s finest? In wine terms, however delicious this wine is, it still  has the taste of a lot of sunshine on the fruit and the creamy unctuous glycerol mouthfeel is perhaps not as conducive to matching with food other than perhaps with meaty barbeques. This is a micro-cuvee of only 900 cases so merits attention to detail and probably a big price tag. But I would argue there are many equally impressive South African benchmark reds every bit as alluring and complex and which are much more classically proportioned and suitable for a true gourmands palate. As for the price, well, the mind boggles. R16,000 Rand can buy quite a lot of very fine wine.

As I questioned at the Cape Wine 2018 Old Vine Seminar, the problem with South Africa’s premium wine offering is not their quality and certainly not their styles but more the fact that the wines are more appreciated overseas than they are in the local home market. South Africa’s finest crown jewels are all being exported because the local market, unlike Australia, USA or New Zealand is not comfortable paying the prices that these fine wines inevitably will need to sell for. Locals shy away from buying wines over R250 Rand (£12.99) a bottle let alone R16,000 Rand a bottle. The result is a two speed market where all the best offerings are exported to an appreciative, thirsty European audience while the home market scrapes the barrel like a fishy bottom feeder in a muddy pond trying to find the last undiscovered bargains. This needs to change before we can set about bringing better profitability to the local wine industry. A healthy fine wine market inevitably has to be driven primarily by strong local demand… then the rest will follow… a la Penfold’s top cuvees.

Tasting Margaret River Icon Estate Vasse Felix’s New Releases with Head Winemaker Virginia Willcock …

Vasse Felix has been one of the leading producers of premium Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in the Margaret River region of Western Australia for a very long time. Just last year they celebrated their 50th birthday as a winery with their first vines planted in 1967 by founder Tom Cullity. Their success undoubtedly lies in their wine’s supreme elegance and finesse married with concentration and power. Indeed, bigger bolder wine styles were made in the 1990’s but more recently the wines have become finer boned, prettier and more elegant without losing any of the innate power of quality Cabernet Sauvignon tannins.

I tasted through the new releases today in London at 67 Pall Mall private members club with head winemaker Virgina Willcock joining in the tasting via live satellite link from Margaret River. Ahhh… the joys of technology.

Vasse Felix Filius Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Margaret River, 14 Abv.

Blended with 13% Malbec, the Filius shows a soft sweet fruited nose full of violets, fresh spearmint, black berry and cassis lift with hints of dusty tobacco complexity, bruised black plum and wet earth. The palate is light footed and very elegant, full of polished tannins, subtle minerality and soft, fleshy accessible black berry fruits. Bright, super fresh, elegant and very accessible. Drink now to 2026+

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

Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Margaret River, 14.5 Abv.

Whole berry and 100% natural ferment with 8% Malbec added to the blended before 18 months of barrel ageing. Deeper and darker, packed with black berry, black cherry, eucalyptus, earthy mulberry, kelp and boiled black currant bon bons and a dusty limestone minerality. Plenty of piercing cassis intensity, suave polished pinpoint tannins, supple silky fruit texture and again, a very vibrant integrated seam of freshness and acidity. Beautifully perfumed, supremely pretty, impressively concentrated. Drink now to 2030+

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

The Vasse Felix flagship Heytesbury Bordeaux red blend had been produced since 1995. This wine saw its last edition in 2012 when the wine was transformed into the Tom Cullity Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec cuvee in honour of this Margaret River pioneer who sadly died just before the first Tom Cullity 2013 blend was released.

Vasse Felix Tom Cullity Cabernet Sauvignon – Malbec 2013, Margaret River, 14.5 Abv.

20% Malbec and around 4% Petit Verdot. A wonderfully complex intense expression with dusty limestone, violets, cherry blossom, graphite, black currant, black pithy cherry and a pronounced maritime saline kelp savoury note. Palate is ultra polished, beautifully focused and pure with incredible vivacity and soul. Super elegant, saline and bright and intense with a long, fine eucalyptus kissed finish. Very impressive indeed.

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

Vasse Felix Tom Cullity Cabernet Sauvignon – Malbec 2014, Margaret River, 14.5 Abv.

Dense, savoury and earthy, there is a very fine depth and purity with notably greater concentration, tannin texture and power. Very classical and Bordeaux-like aromatics with cedar, violets, buttered brown toast, graphite dust and a crushed gravel minerality. The palate is full and deep, swallowing the 60-70% new oak with great ease. There is impressive fleshy depth, concentration but also noteworthy classical restraint. Suave and intense with powdery tannins and acid brightness melting into each other, complimenting each other in a superb synergistic marriage. A truly iconic, delicious, premium benchmark Cabernet Sauvignon expression from Margaret River.

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

Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2017, Margaret River, 12.5 Abv

Wild yeasts and 100% barrique fermented. Remarkable dusty, gravelly, cool climate Chardonnay feel with vibrance, brightness and linearity. Nose is full of lime peel, oat meal, brioche, ripe lemon and savoury buttery biscuit notes. Steely, taught, lemon and lime cordial notes are packed with layers of gravelly limestone minerality, bright acids and an incredibly youthful, saline, pineapple leesy finish. Very impressive for the price.

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

Vasse Felix Chardonnay 2015, Margaret River, 13 Abv.

Deep, broad and powerful with wonderfully complex serious notes of lemon pie, lime peel, green apple and wet chalk minerality. Captivating richness and density but also wonderfully complex struck match flinty nuances. Tightly wound, power packed and deliciously fresh and saline with a textural, yellow grapefruit and pineapple finish.

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

Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2016, Margaret River, 13 Abv.

A wonderfully powerful, intense structured Chardonnay that incorporates all the great qualities of Chardonnay into one wine. Loaded with wet chalk, struck match, delineated texture and linearity, boasting incredible complexity of white citrus, lime marmalade, green apple, brioche and buttered brown toast. Amazing textural balance, sensorial intensity and a very long, mouth watering finish. Superbly impressive benchmark cool climate Chardonnay that will appeal to Burgundy lovers and general Chardonnay connoisseurs.

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

“I want to drink the best wines money can buy… and if I can make wines similar to those wines, then I think that’s great… and I want to drink them!” – Virginia Willcock

Australian Chardonnay Punching Above Its Weight – Tasting Penfolds Yattarna From Adelaide Hills…

Just a few days after the Great Chardonnay Blind Challenge, I was fortuitously served this delicious Aussie Chardonnay with Sunday lunch at my father-in-law. While the same vintage would set you back circa £75 per bottle if purchased now, the quality was very impressive and reinforced the high octane performance of the three Australian contenders entered into the blind Chardonnay challenge.

For me the whole selection process has been an enlightening revelation confirming the true pedigree of top Australian Chardonnays from regions like the Adelaide Hills, Beechworth, Mornington Peninsula and Margaret River. Can South Africa compete with these top Aussie expressions? Hmmm…. I think I feel another Australia versus South Africa blind tasting coming on!!

Penfolds Yattarna Bin 144 Chardonnay 2003, Adelaide Hills, Australia, 13.5 Abv.

A bright, clear medium straw yellow, this 15 year old Chardonnay is in fabulous condition bearing in mind it’s from a fairly warm climate. But Adelaide Hills often manages to conjure up tantalising expressions with fine acidity and great age-worthiness. This wine is bold and luscious with a complex nose of buttered white toast spread with yellow grapefruit preserve, lemon peel and hints of honey and a kiss of butterscotch. But you’d be foolish to think the aromatics are just fruit and oak driven as pronounced notes of wet slate and gravel minerality emerge as the wine sits in the glass. The palate has a fine dense texture with an underlying freshness and vibrancy that makes this wine feel more like 5 years old than 15. The sweet lemon verbena and pithy yellow citrus fruits are concentrated and intense, lingering on the finish and draw you back for one sip after another. A really lovely wine that would not be mistaken for Burgundy but that is almost certainly drinking better than most 2003 white Burgundies. Drink now to 2026+

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

The Redman 2004 Coonawarra Red Blend – Capturing the True Australia Day Spirit…

I attended a fantastic tasting this evening on a cold winter’s night in East London’s Shoreditch ahead of the Australia Day Tasting tomorrow. Plenty of interesting wines on preview from ABS Siegel, the award winning wine shipper and distributor.


But I thought I would write about one wine specifically that caught my eye… the beautifully maturing Redman Coonawarra Red Blend 2004. A current release vintage in the more ‘archive’ spirit of fine wine, this wine was aged 13 years in barrel and bottle. Made from 30+ year old vines grown on the famous terra rosa red Limestone soils, this 14 Abv. blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz was aged for 24 months in French oak to produce a fine wine that firmly tips its hat to the French Languedoc red blends of the L’Herault and Faugeres, but at the same moment remains a true essence of the coonawarra itself. 


Tasting Note: Dark dense and opaque, there is a wonderfully exotic expression on this 13 year old Cabernet based blend. Such a complex interwoven nose of sweet tannery leather, burnt oranges, citrus peel, cedar spice, violets, salty liquorice, tart cassis, and earthy, oyster shell notes. There is just a hint of bruleed blackberries in milk chocolate with caramelised molasses hints. The palate is as expressive as the nose, truly characterful with an impressively salty, tart crystalline acidity, picante notes of cedar wood spice and liquid minerals, edgy gravelly tannins and a salty, dense, textured orange peel tinged finish. A truly impressive wine that is embracing its age gracefully but only because it knows its muscles are still bristling youthfully underneath a designer t-shirt. (Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Redman Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ~ An Aussie Coonawarra Classic…

Not sure whether it’s a sign of my age or a sign of the times, but I don’t seem to drink that much Australian red anymore. To be fair, I do enjoy the cooler climate whites as well as many of the more new wave wines from people like Tom Shobbrook, Si in Western Australia, Luke Lambert and Timo Mayer in the Yarra Valley. 


But for Sunday lunch today, I ventured to the cigar shaped Coonawarra with its red terra rossa soils over white limestone. The Redman Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the real classics. Established in 1908, the Redman winery was a pioneer of the region, being an independent, family owned winery producing estate-grown red wines made by a 4th generation winemaker.


Tasting Note: This Redman Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, at a modest 13.5 Abv, was made from low yielding vines grown on the classic terra rossa soils. On opening, the nose was saline, broody and closed with black berries, cassies, bramble spice and earthy red currants. Given air, the wine blossoms, while always remaining taught, fresh, cool and nervy with tart Victoria plums, crunchy black berry and earthy forest fruits. Also no shortage of classic cedar and violet perfume on the nose, and spicy cigar box and cassis leaf on the palate, with dry limestone tannins. Finish is cool, crisp, crunchy and taught with great varietal intensity and length, which suggests this wine can surely be cellared for 10-15 years. A fine effort from the Aussies. (Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)