The De Toren Z Cape Bordeaux Blend Becoming a Real Force to be Reckoned With – Tasting and Assessing the Iconic New Z 2017 Release…

The focus of the De Toren estate has always been centred around the iconic Fusion V Cape Bordeaux blend made in a Left Bank leaning expression with a dominance of Cabernet Sauvignon. But the De Toren Z has slowly but surely started to catch the attention of wine critics and connoisseurs around the world with on-trade buyers and sommeliers taking a particular fancy to this blend.

While the debate continues as to whether this Merlot based Right Bank blend was born out of the quality Fusion V off-cuts or whether it was individually designed around specific varieties and terroirs on the Polkadraai estate, one thing is certain – the De Toren Z Cape Bordeaux blend is a premium wine to be reckoned with and taken seriously as it enters a small select group of top red blends coming out of South Africa.

With the 2016 Z currently selling great guns in South Africa and around the world, I thought I’d take a sneak peek at the highly anticipated 2017 that looks set to take the world by storm.

De Toren Estate Z 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

This wine personifies the De Toren journey of initially making one premium wine that ultimately heralded two iconic wines due to the estate’s attention to detail, terroir and focus on quality. This Merlot based blend is another absolute blinder revealing a rich, intense, brûléed aromatic array of saline cassis, nori seaweed, pithy black cherry, savoury black plum, roasted coffee beans and hints of open fire grilled winter chestnuts. The palate is super sleek and beautifully silky and suave bolstered by the most opulent, plump, hedonistic black fruit concentration, brûléed wood spice nuances and a long, mouth coating, vibrant finish. This wine speaks of the vintage with its weightless concentration and seamless balance and will appeal to Right Bank Bordeaux lovers who especially enjoy the iconic vintages. This wine is certainly right up there with the sensational 2015 De Toren Z and must surely rate as one of the best vintages of Z produced from the estate to date. Drink from 2022 to 2036+

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

Watch out for the launch of this 2017 beauty in SA around the end of 1st Quarter 2021.

The Fine Wine Safari’s KWV ‘The Mentors’ New Release Range Review…

KWV was founded in 1918, the same year South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, was born. In the space of just over a century, the country and its wine industry have seen many changes, and KWV, as the company who united wine farmers during the industry’s fledgling years, is now one of South Africa’s leading international wine brands.

When I was growing up all around the world as the son of a diplomat, the letters K-W-V were enough to lend a massive amount of reassurance and a total stamp of quality. Needless to say, post-1994, the KWV brand was inevitably promoted to great heights in the home market with varying amounts of success. Today, the company produces a very broad array of wines and brands under multiple wine makers with their Mentors range leading the quality charge.

KWV The Mentors Orchestra 2017, WO Western Cape, 14.5% Abv.

This 2017 shows full opulent aromatics with rich notes of blueberry and black berry fruits, creme de cassis and cherry kirsch liquor spice. The palate shows multiple layers of plush black creamy fruits with subtle nuances of liquorice, graphite and a salty bite on the finish. Textural, generously fruity but also displays a classical minerality, muscular tannins and a long expressive finish.

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

KWV The Mentors Pinotage 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

This wine seems to exhibit a more narrow, tightly focused array of aromatics and flavours. The more overt, exotic Pinotage characters seem to have been reigned in somewhat to show much purer black berry fruits, black currant, blueberry with a stony wet river pebble minerality. Sumptuous, plush and textured, given a good decant, this wine becomes very generous, creamy, seamless and approachable. If only they made Pinotage like this in the 1980s and early 1990s, it may have become far more of a signature variety for South Africa.

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

KWV The Mentors Petit Verdot 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

Rich and savoury on the nose, this expression shows layers of black and blue berry fruits, black olive, black plum and freshly tilled earth. Dense and sleek, the tannins are muscular yet supremely polished lending a full glycerol mouthfeel with all the tell tale glassy, tart crunchy acids of Petit Verdot balanced by ample fruit concentration. Not surprisingly, this wine is profound and intense in its youth but should potentially blossom into something really special with 5-8 years of extra bottle age!

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

KWV The Mentors Canvas 2018, WO Coastal, 14.5% Abv.

This KWV ‘blank canvas’ is decorated with 38% Shiraz, 19% Grenache Noir, 12.5% Petite Syrah, 12.5% Tempranillo, 12% Carignan, 3% Mourvedre and 3% Tannat sourced from Wellington, Paarl, Swartland and Stellenbosch. The aromatics are pure, clean and delicately black fruited with hints of blueberry, sour black plum, cassis and savoury mulberry without any standout aromatic pungency. But on the palate, the wine and its blending really come into their own with an intense concentration, piercing crunchy acids and a cool, seamless, slightly saline tart black berry finish. A complex blend executed with precision. Might be a bit of a fruit salad blend but it is certainly a lot more drinkable than many Cape blends on the market.

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

KWV The Mentors Orchestra 2018, WO Western Cape, 14.5% Abv.

A blend of 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petit Verdot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot, 10% Malbec and 6% Carmenere aged for 18 months in 70% new French oak barrels. The youthful nose displays opulent notes of cocoa and mocha, vanilla spice, black plum, tannery leather, sweet tobacco and floral hints of violets. On the palate, the wine exhibits its more flamboyant style with soft creamy tannins, dense textural black fruits with bright acids, a buttered brown toast complexity and a sleek, harmonious, vibrant black and blue berry fruited finish. This is ready to go now but will improve with 3 to 5+ more years ageing.

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

KWV The Mentors Petite Syrah 2018 Limited Release, WO Paarl, 14.5% Abv.

Another well made wine from KWV and the Mentors range. But this limited release, 1000 bottle Cuvee of Petite Syrah is a little more wild and exotic than some of the more traditional blends in the range. This wine is full of multiple layers of black berry, blueberries and tart sappy plums with a wonderful supportive aromatic floral note of lavender and rose petals and a tease of black pepper spice. The palate is assuredly dense and textured with plenty of zesty acidity, pithy sandy tannins and a spicy but tart leafy finish. Plenty of polished density and opulent fruit intensity make this a very enjoyable glass of red. Drink now and over the next 8 to 10+ years.

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

KWV Abraham Perold Tributum 2015, WO Coastal, 14.5% Abv.

This Perold Cuvee is an exotic Cape blend consisting of Pinotage, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. As you’d expect from a premium cuvee, it is dense, ripe and punchy with notes of sweet stewed plums, molasses, Christmas cake, tilled earth and earthy red currant notes. This bold density is carried to the palate where the rich, slightly baked plum notes announce their presence and flirt with stewed black currants, winter fruit compote notes and an oak spice finish. Super plush, opulent and generous, this is a very impressive “Cape Blend” in the context of the current market’s offerings.

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

Exploring KWV’s Impressive Maiden Release Roodeberg 1949 Anniversary Red Blend 2017…

The Roodeberg brand plays a mythical part in the South African wine industry’s history. Often used as a spearhead for brand South Africa in international markets during the height of the apartheid years meant that it was not readily available in the home market and accordingly, became a bit of a unicorn red wine.

Indeed, for the first 55 years, Roodeberg was exclusively made for export after Canada paved the way in the 1950s. Although not readily available locally in South Africa until 2004 without an acquaintance with a KWV quota, Roodeberg always enjoyed iconic status in the hearts and minds of South Africans.

So with the brand primarily focused on export markets, it did seem to lose some of its mystique and allure when KWV finally chose to launch it as a brand in the local South African market. With resulting changes to its style and inevitably, its quality level, it faded slightly to become yet another historical brand of times gone by.

The new 1949 Roodeberg Red Blend is a return to the original premium Roodeberg tradition and philosophy attempting a universal fine wine appeal. The excellent maiden 2017 vintage was produced from premium Stellenbosch grapes grown on the Grondves Farm, one of the primary sites for the development of mother plant material for the South African wine industry.

“Roodeberg 1949 is a dedicated collaborative effort harnessing some of the finest plant material along with our combined viticultural and winemaking expertise,” says winemaker Louwritz Louw, who worked closely with viticulturist Marco Ventrella and former KWV Cellarmaster and renowned wine educator Prof. Charl Theron in seeing this exclusive commemorative blend come to life.

Roodeberg 1949 embraces the revival of exciting French and Spanish varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon (38%) forms the foundation of the blend supported by Tempranillo (29%), Carignan (20%) and Carménère (13%). After fermentation, the different components were left to mature for 18 months in new French oak barrels with only the best barrels selected for blending and bottling for this maiden commemorative wine.

Dr Charles Niehaus

The original Roodeberg red blend was the brainchild of Dr Charles Niehaus, a legendary pioneer of the South African wine industry, who crafted the first vintage from the 1946 harvest. Dr Niehaus was the successor of Dr Abraham Izak Perold, the KWV’s chief wine scientist and revered father of Pinotage. Inspired by a glorious sunset over the Paarl mountains, the name Roodeberg, harks back to the vineyards of Rothenberg near Geisenheim in Germany where Dr Niehaus studied winemaking. He retired in 1971 leaving a rich legacy of winemaking prowess in his wake.

KWV 1949 Roodeberg Red Blend 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

This wine shows a very attractive aromatic profile of ripe red and black berries, caramelised notes of pecan pie, black liquorice, kirsch liquor and brûléed coffee beans. It’s certainly very inviting and seductive and doesn’t disappoint on the palate. Sleek and very suave, this has a wonderfully elegant texture as you’d expect from a well made 2017 red, with a fresh crunchy bright acidity that dances on the front of your tongue before being coated by a luxurious wave of silky soft red strawberry and black berry fruits, creamy soft chocolatey tannins and a tangy, sweet sour plummy finish. Weightless concentration with a cool defined line of acidity is accompanied by oaking that is superbly integrated and really adds to the wine like a chef’s deft sprinkle of salt and pepper without leaving a marked imprint. An impressive wine that grew in stature as it was allowed to open up in the glass over two plus hours. So elegant, silky and mouth-wateringly fresh, it will take plenty of will power not to drink this wine on release… as I suspect it will be at its best after 5 to 8 years and drink well for 15+ years. An impressive maiden release.

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

Another Surprise From the De Schepper Family – Tasting Chateau Lacombe Cadiot Bordeaux Superieur 2019…

I generally don’t review that many small, petit Chateau wines from Bordeaux unless they are second wines from larger, more well-known Grand Cru Classe estates that hold a lot of interest and intrigue for consumers, whether they are a straight second wine selection from left-over off cuts or “made” second wines from specific vineyards. The key point of interest for the reviewer and the consumer is of course trying to find the holy grail of classy wine that punches way above its price or reputational weight.

But here I am looking at a petit chateau wine produced by one of the most talented winemakers in Bordeaux at the moment. This wine, made by Jean-Michel Garcion, is sourced from a 13 hectare vineyard blend of 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot from vines that are on average 15 years old and grown on classic loam and clay soils just down the road from the famous Chateau Cantemerle Haut Medoc estate.

It has to be said, my interest was slightly more piqued for this wine after it received a 97/100 Best In Show score at the recent Decanter World Wine Awards 2020. Some might raise eyebrows at the score but as a Decanter World Wine Awards Panel Chair for South Africa, I know exactly how difficult tasting blind can be. But for Bordeaux, it’s extra complicated as so much rests on the Chateau name and brand tasted, not the actual terroir of the grapes or the name and skill of the winemaker. But this one’s a cracker no doubt!

Chateau Lacombe Cadiot 2019, Bordeaux Superieur, 14% Abv.

An attractive deep dark garnet colour, the 2019 Lacombe Cadiot is a wonderfully precise expression with crisp, fresh, pure notes of black currants, blueberries, buttered brown toast, graphite and gravelly mineral nuances. Medium-bodied, the wine’s palate shows a crunchy vibrancy, a strict line of crisp acidity, blueberry, black cherry and smoky crème de cassis with an exotic note of hoisin plum sauce, wood spice, cloves and hints of Chinese five spice. What makes this wine a real head turner is the exceptional balance, suave cool elegance, attractive blackberry fruit concentration with a most attractive powdery, grippy, mineral tannin note on the finish. A wine that certainly punches way above its reputation, whatever your expectations from a Bordeaux red. Drink now to 2025+.

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

Tasting the Impressive Wines Selected for the 2020 Nedbank Cape Winemakers Guild Auction…

The 2020 Nedbank CWG Auction hosted by Bonhams London will be held online on Saturday 3rd October from 12h00 (BST). Due to Coronavirus, there were no public tastings prior to sale making the limited tastings by a select group of wine journalists even more important this year. The line-up comprises 28 wines with total cases on offer amounting to 564 cases (6 x 750ml) compared to 45 wines and 1,932 cases in 2019.

One of the eye catching wines in 2020…

In support of one of the Guild members, buyers will have the opportunity to bid on smaller lots – the funds raised by the first case of six bottles of every wine will be given as financial assistance to Samantha O’Keefe, whose Lismore property in Greyton was devastated by fire in December last year. The CWG will also be hosting a 50 – item Vinotheque Auction made up of select older wines donated by members with express objective being to raise funds to assist employees within their businesses whose livelihoods have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The 2020 CWG Selection:

CWG host and Jordan Winery owner Gary Jordan taking us through the 2020 CWG wines.

Graham Beck Cuvée 129 Extra Brut 2009, WO Western Cape

Winemaker: Pieter Ferreira. 51% Pinot Noir, 49% Chardonnay. Cuvée 129 refers to the number of months on the lees aging – 10 years and 9 months.

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

Silverthorn Big Dog VI Méthode Cap Classique 2015, WO Robertson

Winemaker: John Loubser. 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir. Chardonnay fermented and aged in old French oak, Pinot Noir in steel. 50 months on lees.

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

De Grendel Wooded Sauvignon Blanc 2019, WO Darling.

Winemaker: Charles Hopkins. Crushed, 18 hours skin contact, then settled and fermented in old oak.

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

Bartho Eksteen Vloekskoot Sauvignon Blanc 2019, WO Cape Coast

Winemaker: Bartho Eksteen. Whole bunch pressed, no settling. Naturally fermented in older, big wood.

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

Simonsig Mediterraneo 2015, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Johan Malan. 66% Roussanne, 28% Grenache Blanc, 6% Verdelho. Whole bunch pressed, mix of wild and cultured yeast.

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

Miles Mossop Wines Saskia-Jo 2018, WO Swartland

Winemaker: Miles Mossop. 65% Chenin Blanc, 25% Clairette Blanche, 10% Grenache Blanc. Decomposed granite soils.

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

Rijk’s CWG Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Tulbagh

Winemaker: Pierre Wahl. 14-year-old bush vines, fermented in new and used French oak.

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

Raats Family Wines The Fountain Terroir Specific Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Bruwer Raats. Rich, creamy but super bright with leesy, peachy fruit complexity and incredible precision and vibrant intensity.

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

Paul Cluver The Wagon Trail Chardonnay 2018, WO Elgin

Winemaker: Andries Burger. From the oldest Chardonnay vineyard on the Estate, planted in 1987 (the oldest vines in Elgin).

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

Leeu Passant Radicales Libres Chardonnay 2015, WO Klein Karoo

Winemaker: Andrea Mullineux. 100% Chardonnay, long elevage inspired by Jura and Rioja. From the incredibly cool Barrydale Valley in the Klein Karoo, after fermentation this Chardonnay was aged in barrel for five years.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Ataraxia Under The Gavel Chardonnay 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

Winemaker: Kevin Grant.  Cool and Crystalline with a stony minerality, pithy peachy yellow citrus concentration and a long, pure brilliance.

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

Newton Johnson Family Vineyards Windansea Pinot Noir 2017, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

Winemaker: Gordon Newton Johnson. Stoniest, most clay-rich parts of the vineyard used for this. No sulfites in the winemaking. 11 months in barrel then six months in large oak.

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

Neil Ellis Wines Amper Bo Tempranillo 2015, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Warren Ellis. Whole berry fermentation then 18 months in 60% new French oak barrels and 40% in second fill.

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

Rust en Vrede CWG Auction Estate 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Coenie Snyman. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah.

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

Ernie Els CWG 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Louis Strydom. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Shiraz, 10% Cinsault. Fermentation in small 300 litre open top oak barrels with three weeks extended maturation.

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

Luddite The Lone Stranger Mark II 2018, WO Bot River

Winemaker: Niels Verburg. 50% Mourvèdre, 40% Shiraz, 10% Grenache Noir. Small open fermenters then pressed to barrel for two years.

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

Delaire Graff Estate Banghoek Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Morné Very. 55% Cabernet Franc, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec. Whole berry fermentation with limited punch downs. Four weeks post-ferment maturation on skins before being basket pressed. Matured in 40% new French 225 litre barrels for 16 months.

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

Spier Frans K Smit Auction Selection 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Frans K Smit. 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Organic.

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

Strydom Family Wines The Game Changer 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Rianie Strydom. 80% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot. North facing slopes on the Helderberg.

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

Kanonkop CWG Paul Sauer 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Abrie Beeslaar. 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot. From Simonsberg. Fermented in open top ‘kuipe’ for six days, then malolactic fermentation in tank, and matured in new French oak for two years.

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

Groot Constantia CWG Gouverneurs Reserve 2018, WO Constantia

Winemaker: Boela Gerber. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Cabernet Franc. 75% new oak.

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

Villiera Drip Barrel Cabernet Franc 2018, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Jeff Grier. 18 months in new and used French oak.

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

Edgebaston Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: David Finlayson. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc. From the clay-heavy section of their GS vineyard, picked five days earlier than the rest of the vineyard. New French oak for two years.

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

Hartenberg CWG Auction Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Carl Schultz. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bottelary Hills. 20 days on skins, 20 months in 50% new 225 litre French oak barrels.

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

Boschkloof Epilogue Syrah 2018, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Jacques Borman. Harvested in three tranches, 30% whole bunch. Some matured in concrete, some in barrel (30% new).

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

Cederberg Teen Die Hoog Shiraz 2018, WO Cederberg

Winemaker: David Nieuwoudt. Red slate soils. 85% new oak.

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

Saronsberg Die Erf Shiraz 2017, WO Tulbagh

Winemaker: Dewaldt Heyns. The best barrel of Block 27. Aged for 20 months in a new French Allier oak barrel.

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

Boplaas Cape Vintage CWG Reserve 2015, WO Western Cape

Winemaker: Carel Nel. 80% Touriga Nacional, 10% Touriga Franca, 6% Souzão, 4% Tinta Barocca. Fermented and fortified in small lagares and barrel matured in large seasoned oak barrels.

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

The CWG dinner at the River Cafe London.

Wine Safari New Release Review – Tasting the Resplendent New Vilafonte Series C 2018 Red Blend…

I am very fortunate that despite almost a year of minimal international travel and intermittent lockdowns, I have been able to taste many of the best wines of South Africa both blind and sighted in my capacity as the lead reviewer for the Fine Wine Safari as well as in the capacity of South African Panel Chair for the 2020 Decanter World Wine Awards. As a result, I have luckily had ample opportunity to get up close and personal with many of the new release 2018 Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet based blends and formulate my opinions on the wines that this fourth drought year yielded.

The 2018 vintage was certainly marked by one of the worst droughts on record and presented some significant challenges for all vine growers and winemakers in the Western Cape. With water resources at an all time low and strict rationing in effect, reduced water availability for irrigation led to reduced vine vigour and canopy sizes. Some unseasonable rains and low temperatures in October and November disrupted fruit set and further reduced the number and size of berries on grape clusters.

In the end, harvest timings were close to normal, beginning on February 2nd and continuing uninterrupted until February 27th. Overall, the vintage saw yields contract by -24% following a very generous crop in 2017 and the fruit was marked by berries being on average -25% smaller in size than normal leading to wines with an intense inky colour, piercing concentration and striking fruit richness – the perfect building blocks for another impressive Vilafonte Series C blend.

Vilafonte Series C 2018, WO Paarl, 14.5% Abv.

This new release Series C 2018 is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 14% Malbec and 11% Cabernet Franc and saw 22 months in 69% new French oak barriques with the balance aged in older French oak. Following in the footsteps of three fantastic vintages in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the 2018 boldly asserts its own character and persona not wanting to live in the shadow of any of its predecessors. The aromatics are opulent and richly fruited with extroverted, evocative notes of violets and black cherry kirsch liquor, crème de cassis, ripe sloes and fresh juniper berries. The youthful fruit brightness is gently caressed by a creamy, seductive veil of subtle vanilla oak spice, cocoa powder, warm brown toast and lightly roasted coffee bean nuances. What many of the very best red 2018 blends show in glimpses, this wine reveals with generous excess. Softly textured and impressively suave and harmonious, the palate is filled with a piercing black currant concentration, salty black liquorice and an attractive vanilla pod spice complexity that coats the palate and grows slowly and persistently in volume, depth and breadth. Not only is one of the true signs of great winemaking marked by allowing a wine to express its terroir, but this must inevitably go hand in hand with the ability of a wine to truly illustrate its vintage in as many vivid colours and flavours as possible. 2018 reds have always shown an incredible translucent purity and sweet fruited concentration, extreme elegance with a compact core of power from day one with the more detailed finery never being obscured by any one single component in the glass. This beautiful Series C is a tremendous piece of winemaking resulting from an ongoing mission of vinous refinement. When all is said and done and we eventually look back on the 2018 wines objectively, I predict that this Series C will stand amongst the top wines of the vintage. Drink on release or cellar with confidence for another 10 to 15+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The Duncan Family Release a Trio of Exceptional Wines from California – Tasting the New Release Wines from Twomey, Silver Oak and Ovid…

Twomey Cellars, Silver Oak and Ovid are three of California’s most iconic wineries brought together by their joint ownership under the Duncan family. The now iconic Silver Oak brand was established in 1972 by Ray Duncan and Justin Meyer and is currently operated by Ray’s sons David Duncan, who serves as the President and CEO, and his brother, Tim Duncan, who serves as Executive Vice President. The cult winery Ovid located on Pritchard Hill overlooking Napa Valley and the Silverado Trail is the most recent acquisition that was purchased in 2017 and continues to craft iconic and highly collectable wines under the ongoing stewardship of talented winemaker Austin Peterson.

Twomey Cellars Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2017, 14.3% abv.

I visited California in 2017 and of course who could forget the strong winter rains that brought a welcome relief to many years of drought. After a late March budbreak, good flowering conditions followed setting up a healthy crop size. After an intensely hot summer with two extended heatwaves, the harvest was a fairly brief two week affair and slightly later than recent previous vintages. The warmer, more inland location of the Ferrington Vineyard coupled with its sandy, gravelly soils guaranteed fruit flavour and opulence while the more coastal Monument Tree Vineyard with its cooler clay soils retained moisture well allowing the fruit to be picked several weeks later. Blended together, these two vineyards made for an expressive Pinot Noir with its own unique Anderson Valley elegance, freshness and intensity. The wine was aged for 13 months in 100% French oak with 31% of new barrels.

A wonderfully deep seductive purple plum garnet colour, the Anderson Valley is always my favourite Pinot Noir in the Twomey range alongside the Bien Nacido and Russian River cuvees. Beautifully perfumed, the 2017 has fine lifted aromatics of crushed rose petals and sweet cherry blossoms along side alluring notes of demerara sugar, wet grey slate, pithy black cherry and wild fraises de bois fruit notes. The palate is fresh and pure with its usual elegance and translucence that always make it such a stand out wine. There is also a wonderful underlying depth and concentration all packaged up with a seamless texture, suave graphite mineral tannins and plenty of finesse. The finish bristles with notes of black cherry, sun raisined cranberries and red bramble berries from the forest floor making this another impressive release from Twomey Cellars. Drink now and over 8 to 10+ years.

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

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Alexander Valley, 13.9% Abv.

The 2016 vintage was of course the beginning of the end for the enduring drought that had plagued California. Ample rain in the winter months filled reservoirs and soil profiles allowing a strong start to the growing season. Warm weather in mid-February led to early budbreak which managed to avoid frost damage in spring time. The season was consistently warm throughout with two smaller heat spikes. Some cooler weeks in August followed bringing in plenty of coastal fog to protect the developing fruit. Ripening was steady and in balance resulting in a very healthy crop with intense flavours and concentration together with importantly a good fresh acidity backbone.

The 2016 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is comprised of 94.6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 0.5% Petit Verdot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc and 0.4% Malbec. The final blend was transferred to American oak barrels where it was aged for 24 months, with 50% of the barrels being new. The colour is a dark opaque ruby red and displays wonderfully ripe, exotic aromatics of violets, earthy crème de cassis, freshly baked blueberry muffins, dried baking herbs, sage, spearmint and vanilla pod spice. With a little more coaxing out the glass, evocative notes of creamy oak spice and black currant crumble start to emerge to reinforce this wines opulence and depth. The palate is fabulously dense and creamy with plush stony graphite tannins, a broad plump fleshy mid-palate weight and breadth that finishes with delicious notes of black currant, black cherry and raspberry confit. Just beautifully constructed and fine-tuned with balance, power and focus. Drink this from release and over the next 20 to 25+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Ovid Proprietary Red 2016, Napa Valley, 14.8% Abv.

After the meagre yields from previous drought vintages at the Pritchard Hill estate, 2016 delivered normal crop levels. The last weeks of August brought a warm finish to the growing season and set the ball in motion for the creation of a wine with density and power, freshness and vibrancy. The 2016 proprietary red is made from a blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot. The aromatics are indeed lifted and expansive from the start, displaying complex notes of graphite and violets, blueberry and mulberry, black bramble berries, saline cassis, and hedgerow spice. Lovely exotic notes of black salted liquorice, black currant and pithy black cherry melt on the palate that is luxurious and fleshy yet simultaneously vivacious, concentrated and beautifully fresh. It’s the attention to detail, the harmonious seamless flavours and the impressively fine grained tannins that steer this wine in a direction of greatness. The finish is long, hedonistic and intense and resonates with a super long, persistent mocha and espresso laden black fruited finish. Very classy indeed. Drink from release and over the next 10 to 15+ years.

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

The wines are available to the UK trade on allocation through importer The Wine Treasury.

The Meerlust Estate Prepares For Another Momentous New Release – Tasting the Meerlust Rubicon 2017 Red Blend…

The 2017 release of the Meerlust Rubicon represents another classical expression of this fabulous Cape Icon wine. The high critical praise heaped upon the 2015 vintage helped it to become the fastest selling Rubicon release on record. Indeed, one cannot even begin to imagine a South African fine wine landscape that does not feature this wine prominently. Great expectations are placed on every new release and year after year, this Cape heritage estate delivers.

The 2017 vintage was surprising in that from the very beginning, the estate felt that the wines were very similar to the excellent 2015 reds. A cold winter in 2016 followed by a warm spring ensured early and even bud break. Although comparatively dry, as the Cape was still experiencing a drought, the 2017 crop was greatly enhanced by the estate’s ability to irrigate strategically, ensuring steady ripening and eventual phenolic ripeness across all varieties.

Tasting at Meerlust in March 2018 with Hannes Myburgh, Chris Williams and viticulturalist Roelie Joubert who sadly passed away in April 2020 from a sudden heart attack.

The 2017 is again a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated four grape blend with each of the varieties fermented separately before being aged in 300 litre French Nevers oak barrels, 60% new and 40% second fill. After 8 months in barrel, the components were blended and given another 10 months in barrel for harmonization before bottling. I first tasted this wine in its component parts back in March 2018 with the then winemaker, Chris Williams. I knew instantly that we were in for another exceptional release of Rubicon. Then in January 2020, I met up with owner Hannes Myburgh in London and got my first taste of the Meerlust Red 2017, the second wine made up of components not used in the Rubicon blend. I was bowled over by the beauty of this wine and while it is only really sold in export markets, it served to raise my quality expectations for the Rubicon 2017 even higher.

In November 2019, winemaker Wim Truter joined Meerlust, taking over from Chris Williams to become only the third winemaker to take the reins at this historic estate. Chris finally followed his calling and agonisingly decided to move on to the next chapter of his winemaking career, to pursue his own Foundry wine project full time.

The old Meerlust farmstead with some of Hannes’s beloved dogs.

Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13.6% Abv.

The 2017 Rubicon is a classical blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, each vinified separately before undergoing malolactic fermentation in 300 litre French Nevers oak barrels, 60% new and 40% second fill. Deep purple-black in colour, the intensity and gravitas of this vintage is highlighted by the tight, dense, dark broody aromatics that require more than a little coaxing out the glass before revealing a very focused, slightly introverted bouquet of complex, tightly interwoven notes of violets, black currant preserve, black plum, Black Forest gateaux and hoisin sauce with backing notes of dried fennel, salty black liquorice, spicy cedar and an exotic Asian 5 spice nuance. While 2017 certainly stands out as another classical year of exceptional quality, the vintage will surely be remembered for its stand-out elegance, seamless palate textures and its signature weightless intensity and concentration. This Rubicon does of course possess plenty of stuffing and dazzles with gentle waves of blackberry crumble, crème de cassis, macerated black cherries, freshly tilled earth, unsmoked smoked cigars and a finely textured, powdery tannin frame that dries the palate on the finish and reminds the drinker that this wine, however enjoyable in its youth, is also built for extended ageing. This really is another exquisite vintage with charm and poise, Grand Vin potency and an overt, unbridled determination to deliver long-term drinking pleasure. Drink from 2022 to 2040+

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Vilafonte Prepare to Release Their New Seriously Old Dirt Red Blend – Tasting the 2018 Vintage of the Most Desirable Second Wine On the South African Market…

It seems an age ago now, visiting with Phil Freese and Zelma Long at the Vilafonte Winery on the 13th February in Stellenbosch. Who could possibly have known what lay just around the corner! Nevertheless, my brief visit to South Africa was very productive with one of the highlights being able to visit the Vilafonte Winery again together with the iconic duo of Phil and Zelma, the US partners in crime with Mike Ratcliffe at one of the most exciting premium quality wineries in South Africa.

Right from the very beginning with the 2012 Seriously Old Dirt vintage, I championed the vision of a truly special super premium second wine that over delivers in bucket loads. When I tasted the Seriously Old Dirt way back then, I knew that this ‘Members Only’ blend was a wine I needed to push on behalf of consumers and indirectly encourage owner Mike Ratcliffe to do the right thing and unleash this fabulous blend onto the wider wine world.

Seven vintages in to the project and Seriously Old Dirt is surely the number one premium selling second wine in South Africa. The consumer uptake and affinity has been exceptional both in South Africa and internationally. The new 2018 release was marked by the worst drought on record and the challenges that accompany such a vintage. After a drought spell from 2015 to 2018, water resources were at an all time low and rationing was put in place in the Western Cape.

Tasting with Phil Freese, Zelma Long and Chris de Vries.

Low moisture in spring and limited water availability led to a reduced vigour and canopy size. Some unseasonable rains and low temperatures in October and November disrupted fruit set and reduced the number and size of berries on each cluster. Harvest time proceeded on schedule, commencing February 2nd and continuing uninterrupted through to February 27th. In 2018, yields were down -24% following a generous 2017 crop. (However, production was increased as parcels of premium fruit were bought in to up the production and meet demand. This in all likelihood will be the practice going forward.)

The Seriously Old Dirt was matured for 21 months in older French oak barriques and 135 barrels were produced or approximately 40,000 bottles which is indeed a big jump up in quantity from the previous vintages of 8 to 10,000 bottles. But as always, quality is at the forefront of the Vilafonte operation and this is another exceptional release of Seriously Old Dirt. Due for earlier than planned release on the 25th June 2020.

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2018, 13.5 Abv. (Bottled Dec 2019)

89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, 4% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. A Cabernet Sauvignon driven blend this vintage, the 2018 sees a pronounced spicy aromatic lift of sweet black berry fruits, leafy cassis, sweet sandalwood and spicy damson black plums. Cool, focused and fairly linear at this youthful stage, the tannins are satin smooth and the texture generous yet structured. Finely layered and fresh, attractive black cherry, blue berry and black currant notes melt into mineral nuances of graphite and wet granite. Wonderfully polished and sophisticated as you’d expect from Vilafonte, this wine will be ready to drink on release but will undoubtedly benefit from a few years extra cellaring to allow the large Cabernet Sauvignon component to mellow and reveal further tertiary treats for the drinker. Seriously Old Dirt is on a seriously good run of form!

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

A Legacy of Cabernet Sauvignon Excellence – Tasting the New Release Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon 2017…

The new release Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 from Le Riche is an incredible creation made with expertise honed over two generations. With Christo Le Riche really starting to hit his stride following decades of hard work by his father Etienne, he has expertly leveraged the excellence of the 2017 vintage to create a superbly supple and elegant wine with weightless fruit concentration and layers of sleek textural balance.

The grapes for the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon were sourced from Stellenbosch vineyards in the Simonsberg, Jonkershoek and Helderberg wards. Each vineyard block was separately vinified for one year, blended and subsequently aged for another 12 months. The result is a complex multi-dimensional wine with excellent maturation potential.

While not everyone can ultimately afford to stock their cellar with the lauded Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon releases that continue garner massive reviews, high scores and ongoing global acclaim, they certainly can access the exceptional Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon releases at very affordable prices. Who would not want to buy this incredible wine in a truly iconic vintage like 2015 or 2017.

Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

The 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon from Le Riche may only be their “entry level” edition, but it displays many of the impressive complex characteristics that have made their Reserve wines so iconic and collectable internationally. The 2017 colour is an alluring deep garnet-purple on this youthful wine. The bouquet lifts out the glass little by little with a delicate violet perfume but also with significantly more overt and expressive notes of black cherries, red currants, dark chocolate and spicy underbrush tones that melt into nuances of freshly tilled earth. The minerality is very subtle and chimes with faint notes of freshly cut cedar and graphite. On the palate, the soft, sleek, velvety tannins glide over the palate with well trained precision. Such a fine, elegant, polished texture that shows fabulous approachability, a supple fleshy savoury black currant fruit intensity and an earthy black plum fruit length. Wonderful poise and balance in the mouth, this wine demonstrates all the masterful winemaking skills of Christo Le Riche! Drink it from release or cellar for 10+ years. A “must have” for the cellar!

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