Van Biljon Wines – The Undiscovered Fine Wine Gem in the Heart of the Polkadraai Hills of Stellenbosch…

This beautiful small boutique farm is situated in the famed Polkadraai Hills region of Stellenbosch, sitting alongside famous neighbours like Reyneke Wines, Raats Family Wines and De Toren. While most of these excellent wines rose to fame for originating in Stellenbosch, more recently, as collectors and connoisseurs have started to scratch a little deeper into the finer details of the individual wards and terroirs of the region, the Polkadraai has risen to new heights of fame globally. Known for its deep fertile soils and well drained decomposed granitic soils and moderating sea breezes off the False Bay lying to the South, the terroir has formed a perfect home to the classic Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

As if the wonderful terroir wasn’t enough, the wines are made by one of the great winemakers of the Cape, Chris Keet, creator of the legendary Cordoba Crescendo 1995 Cape Bordeaux Red that lights up the Cape fine wine auction houses with big R8000+ prices (£400) when bottles occasionally come on the market for sale. Chris is a master with Bordeaux varieties and meticulously crafts an impressive Cape Bordeaux Blend using traditional winemaking techniques combined with modern technology to produce wines with intensity, concentration, balance and structure.

Tasting the Van Biljon 2017 and 2018 and the Keet First Verse 2018 Bordeaux blend with Chris Keet at the winery in March 2022.

I first became acquainted with the Van Biljon CINQ after tasting the 2013 vintage which I rated 93/100 back in October 2016. Subsequent vintages like the 2014 seemed to just get better and better, rating 94+/100 when tasted in October 2018. I sadly missed the epic 2015 vintage which sold out very quickly to an airline group I understand but was thrilled to taste the fabulous 2017 new release again when Julia Van Biljon was over in London recently. This is definitely a wine that flies under the fine wine radar but undoubtedly deserves to be far better know as it stands among the great Bordeaux Blends produced in the Western Cape winelands.

Van Biljon Wines CINQ 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.4% Abv.

2.3 g/l RS | 5.8 g/l TA | 3.5 pH

The 2017 CINQ is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot, 6% Malbec and 6% Petit Verdot and spent 18 months maturing in selected French oak barrels. This is a seductive and enticing Cape Bordeaux blend that utilises all five red Bordeaux varieties to great effect. On the nose there is initially a pronounced sweet cedar and sappy red fruited spiciness from the Cabernet Franc before notes of dried herbs, chai tea, black currant and dusty graphite come to the fore. The well-honed palate shows considerable elegance and harmony with a fine grained textural balance revealing layers of spicy red and black berry fruits, notes of cherry tobacco and a tart, tangy acidity on a long, weightlessly concentrated finish. Stony drying tannins lend a further air of seriousness, structure and age ability on the long sleek finish. An attractive offering that must rank among the finest releases from Chris Keet and the Van Biljon winery to date. Drink this from release or over the next 10 to 15+ years.

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

For stock availability, please contact Woodwinters UK for trade allocations.

Prime Stellenbosch Winery Waterford Estate Release An Exceptional New Value for Money Cape Bordeaux Red Blend – Tasting the Antigo Red 2019…

The Waterford Estate is probably best known for their great red blend, The Jem. But recently, Waterford have released another little Bordeaux blend to minimal fanfare despite its sexy packaging and exceptional quality in bottle. A superb Cape Bordeaux Blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec, this is a wonderful addition to the ranks of Stellenbosch’s affordable premium reds that will find a thirsty and willing clientele as the cost-of-living squeeze starts to bite. Why compromise on quality when you can buy fabulous wines like this!?

Waterford Antigo Red 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13% Abv.

A flamboyant and extroverted wine brimming with lifted aromatics of sweet cedar, cherry tobacco, black currant, ground nutmeg and graphite spice. The palate is as bright as the aromatics are lifted with a wonderfully creamy, supple mouthfeel layered with tart black currant, brûléed coffee beans, dried herbs and pithy black cherry on the suave, sleek but densely fruited finish. Elegant and beautifully accessible but also deceptively complex and serious. An impressive and expressive red wine packed full of class. Drink now and over the next 5 to 8 years.

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

Bordeaux Opulence at Its Very Best – Tasting the De Mour Pomerol 2017 Red…

The De Mour Pomerol is a special Cuvee Bordeaux produced by the Belgian De Schepper – De Mour family and whose wines are for the most part sold in the Benelux, Scandinavia and the UK. The De Schepper family commenced a large scale investment spree in the mid to late 1990’s, bringing the various Chateaux under their ownership into the modern winemaking era, combining Bordeaux’s various sought after terroirs with high-end technology and traditional know-how to create a range of authentic artisanal wines with great opulence, finesse, modernity and personality under the watchful eye of highly respected head winemaker, Jean-Michel Garcion.

The De Schepper – De Mour Bordeaux portfolio now includes several flagship Chateaux in the Haut Medoc, Margaux and St Emilion appellations. Respected for their excellent quality and value for money, their portfolio is now a go-to source for merchants seeking out top quality, direct shipment Chateaux wines from Bordeaux.

De Mour Pomerol 2017, Bordeaux, 13.5% Abv.

This is a fabulously big, bold, opulent Pomerol with an enticing ruby / purple colour and an extravagant and extroverted aromatics of stewed black plums, cherry kirsch liquor, black currant and cherry confit with just a hint of vanilla essence, kelp and subtle top notes of bonfire smoke. The palate is fleshy, showy, rich and boldly ostentatious showing lush, creamy tannins generously supported by sweet black currant fruit intensity, salty cassis, black liquorice and an assortment of other exotic flavours straight from a Michelin Star restaurant’s dessert trolley. Full and fleshy but also finely balanced with fresh acids and spicy mineral tannins, you can drink this wine in its precocious youth to experience its full, succulent personality or age for 6 to 8+ years to experience some tertiary delights. Definitely one for the Bordeaux hedonists.

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

For more information or direct shipment prices ex-cellar, contact: Anthony Crameri – anthony_crameri@orange.fr

Glenelly Estate Establish the Lady May Cape Bordeaux Blend As One of South Africa’s True Icon Reds – Reviewing the 2016 and 2017 Releases…

In some of the biggest wine industry news of the year, it was recently announced that winemaker Luke O’Cuinneagain would be leaving the Glenelly Estate to replace the retiring Andre Van Rensburg at Vergelegen Wine Estate. Luke will take up his appointment around September 2022 this year, following in the footsteps of another legendary giant of the Cape wine industry, André van Rensburg (1998-2022) and Martin Meinert (1989-1998).

But Luke O’Cuinneagain, who has been winemaker at Glenelly Estate in Ida’s Valley, Stellenbosch, since 2008, and previously worked for Rustenburg Estate for five years, leaves Glenelly in rude health having recently presided over the release of three of their greatest wines to date: Lady May 2015, 2016 and the soon to be released 2017 Cape Bordeaux red blend.

Luke tasting with Neal Martin from Vinous Media in London recently.

With both estates reaching new heights of quality recently, thanks to extensive virus free replantings at Vergelegen together with maturing vineyards at Glenelly, the future looks very exciting for both wineries, especially when you consider that Luke recons the Lady May 2018, 2019 and 2020, all still in the estate’s cellars, should be better wines than either of the 2015, 2016 or 2017 blends. Of course, only time will tell, but in the meantime, the 2017 Lady May is certainly a creation to behold! Make room in your cellars for this one!

Glenelly are big fans of benchmarking their wines against the very best producers in the world.

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Franc.

The 2016 blend throws a particularly dark, opaque red/black colour in the glass. Dark and foreboding but also ever so inviting at the same time. The aromatics are quite defined with perhaps the Cabernet Franc component currently punching way above its weight of 6% with seductive notes of freshly shaved cedar lead pencil spice, graphite, iron filings, iodine and the now hallmark Lady May character of dark, black, menthol cassis and peppermint crisp milk chocolate nuances. The palate is wonderfully suave and sleek, creamy and mouth coating with an accessibility and generosity of black and blueberry fruits that is very comforting and familiar. But just when you think the mouthfeel is all about silky tannins and fleshy black fruit concentration, the delicious tangy acids kick in to land this Hercules of a wine cleanly and effortlessly on the runway without even a hiccup. Like so many 2016 super-premium Cape Bordeaux blends from Stellenbosch, this wine thrills, seduces the senses and certainly impresses for the vintage. Drink from release or cellar for 10 to 15 years.

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

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot.

If the 2015 Lady May blockbuster resembles a powerful, dense, Pauillac-styled Cabernet Sauvignon led red blend, then the 2017 is pretty much the antithesis, boasting the most elegant, silky, seamlessly harmonious texture combined with an attractively fragrant, Margaux-esque delicacy and graceful precision. While super youthful, the wine inevitably displays some of the lush, alluring and reassuringly expensive new oak creaminess, boasting layers of warm buttered brown toast smothered in black currant preserve, fresh espresso, hints of mocha dust and delicate vanilla pod spice notes. But probably the most pleasing element about this wine is the way winemaker Luke O’Cuinneagain has absolutely captured the truest essence of the 2017 vintage with its extreme purity, weightless fruit concentration that dances across the palate together with a focused, piercing intensity on the long, luxurious finish. This is class personified and I for one am completely smitten. Drink on release and over 25+ years.

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

Glenelly Estate wines are available to the trade in the UK through Seckford Wine Agencies. RRP is circa £40 to £45 per bottle.

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 12: Petit Cantenac St Emilion Grand Cru 2018…

Clos Cantenac is a three hectare wine property on Bordeaux’s right bank with vines planted on a combination of deep gravel, sand and clay over limestone soils. It is situated close to the pre-historic “Megalith de Pierrefitte” in the Saint Emilion wine appellation and was purchased in 2007 by Martin Krajewski, the owner of Chateau de Sours and Chateau Seraphine in Pomerol.

Both Clos Cantenac in St Emilion and Château Seraphine in Pomerol – the properties are barely 5 km away from each other – follow similar strategies in the vineyard and winery having reintroduced cover crops to the vineyards and using only sustainable products and viticultural practices in order to protect the vines and the vineyard environment. With this Petit Cantenac, you certainly get the same feel of care and precision that goes into the Clos Cantenac Grand Vin but with greater accessibility for earlier drinking.

2018 vintage will be remembered as an exceptional year in Bordeaux with a glorious summer that extended long into harvest. However, the year began with many challenges and was initially characterised by a wet winter followed by a seriously cold and damp spring with the threat of mildew from spring onwards the strongest for decades. During this period there were also localised hailstorms in May and July, but the flowering in May and June was largely successful and was followed by good weather with just enough rain in early July to sustain the vines through even the hottest spells. In conclusion 2018 was an unusual vintage with extraordinary amounts of winter rain followed by a humid early growing season and an exceptionally long, hot, dry summer, which finally produced perfect harvest conditions.

Petit Cantenac St Emilion Grand Cru 2018, 13.5% Abv.

The 2018 Petit Cantenac is a blend of 90% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged in 40% new French oak and 60% 2nd & 3rd fill barrels for 12 months. The appearance is a classic medium dark red / black plum garnet colour with an open and attractive aromatics of scorched earth, rose petals, red bramble berries, raspberries, red cherries and hints of hedgerow spice, sweet cloves and sandalwood. As so often with second wines from Bordeaux, less is often more and for this Petit Cantenac 2018, the supple medium bodied weight and soft fleshy texture make for an incredibly delicious wine. The palate boasts creamy layers of black currant, black cherry and blue berry fruits finishing with soft sweet tannins, invigorating but harmonious acids and a long, powdery, earthy vanilla pod finish. The over riding impression one is left with is that this is an opulent right bank wine that over delivers big time, offering the savvy Bordeaux drinker a lot of bang for their buck. Drink now and over the next 4 to 6+ years. (12,000 bottles produced.)

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

Available in the UK from Museum Wines.

https://www.museumwines.co.uk/

Assessing the Current Releases from the De Grendel Winery in Durbanville…

Charles Hopkins has been at De Grendel since the very beginning of winemaking on this famous Durbanville farm in 2005, when Sir David Graaff lured him away from Graham Beck’s red wine production. Charles is a lifelong student of wine and even after 30 years’ experience in the industry and multiple local and international accolades, he remains studious and curious to learn yet more on his winemaking journey.

In November 2019, he achieved a major milestone on this journey, with the award of his first five-star rating in the Platter’s South African Wine Guide, for the 2017 Elim Shiraz from De Grendel – a wine that is especially close to his heart as Charles was born in Somerset West and grew up in Bredasdorp and Strand.

With the accolades growing ever more frequent of late, I thought it was time to assess the current releases on the Fine Wine Safari.

De Grendel Rose 2021, WO Western Cape, 13% Abv.

An attractive pale salmon pink colour, this new release dry Rose boasts seductive aromatics of wild strawberries, cranberry and subtle hints of dried herbs and wet slate minerality. There is lovely clarity and purity on the palate with crystalline hints of boiled raspberry candy, red cherry pastilles and a crunchy strawberry fruit complexity. Dry and mineral, light bodied but intense, this is a sophisticated Rose that ticks all the boxes. Drink now and over the next 2 to 3 years.

(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

De Grendel Merlot 2017, WO, 14.5% Abv.

2.1 g/l RS | 5.8 g/l TA | 3.47 pH

This is a classic Merlot that shows a deep garnet-purple colour and displays a highly evocative nose of black cherry kirsch liquor, tart black plums, black currant nuances and a pronounced maritime saline complexity. Notes of black berry fruit melt into layers of violets, graphite and sweet, sappy sandalwood spice making this a very impressive Merlot expression that draws extra gravitas from the exceptional vintage conditions in 2017. Pinpoint and precise, the palate reveals a delightful freshness and a medium bodied fleshy weight of fruit that boasts energetic concentration but also a weightless, mineral laced length. This wine must surely rank among the top Merlot expressions in the Cape. Drink now and over the next 8 to 10+ years.

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

De Grendel Shiraz 2017, WO Coastal Region, 14.5% Abv.

2.2 g/l RS | 6.1 g/l TA | 3.44 pH

This 2017 reveals a very impressive aromatic lift that leaves no doubt about its true pedigree. The poise and intricately perfumed aromatics are thoroughly seductive with scents of violets, saline black currant, crushed blueberries, subtle black liquorice, brûléed coffee beans and vanilla pod spice. The palate shows an intense yet effortless complexity of salty black berry, tart pithy black cherry, hints of crunchy strawberry and a weightlessly elegant finish infused with sweet black peppercorns and a delicately savoury, smoky finish. This is a classy wine that is carving out a tangible reputation vintage after vintage.

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

De Grendel Rubaiyat 2017, WO Coastal Origin, 14.5% Abv.

2.3 g/l RS | 6 g/l TA | 3.49 pH

Always an impressive blend, the Rubaiyat 2017 performs yet again with a complex blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The aromatics are rich, alluring and seductive with sweet savoury notes of stewed black plums, black currant, wet cherry tobacco, sweet sandalwood and resinous leafy oak spice top notes. The palate is archetypal 2017 vintage in character with sublime elegance but also all the hallmark weightless concentration of black and blue fruits with soft silky tannins underpinned by bright acids on a wonderfully light touch, focused, finely honed harmonious palate. This has all the building blocks to age comfortably for 10+ years and reward patience.

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

De Grendel Proposal Hill Pinot Noir Brut Rose Cap Classique 2016, WO Cape Town, 12.5% Abv.

6.3 g/l RS | 5.7 g/l TA | 3.25 pH

An impressive highly accomplished 100% Pinot Noir Cap Classique, this wine shows exotic notes of ginger, rose water, sun dried strawberries, botanical herbs, blood orange and subtle vermouth spices. The palate is rich, fleshy and opulent with a concentrated crystallised orange peel fruit intensity and an incredibly fine creamy mousse that points the way to a long, persistent dry finish. This wine oozes class. Simply delicious.

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

De Grendel Sir David Graaff Red 2014, WO Coastal Region, 14% Abv.

2.2 g/l RS | 6.1 g/l TA | 3.5 pH

This premium red is a blend of 58% Shiraz, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot that is aged for up to 16 months in 100% new French oak barrels before the components are blended and returned back to barrel for a further 6 months to integrate. Despite being already 8 years old, this wine is bold and confident portraying an incredibly youthful character of saline cassis, blueberry and mulberry aromas, red cherry kirsch liquor and subtle notes of salty liquorice, kelp and iodine. On the palate the expensive oak is splendidly integrated offering a kiss of sweet cedar spice, notes of vanilla pod, liquorice, tart black cherry and yet more layers of salty cassis and sweet tobacco. While the texture is wonderfully harmonious and balanced, there is massive intensity and a toned muscular depth that conveys the wines pedigree. It must be said that if I tasted this wine blind, I’d almost certainly place it as a super premium Chilean or Australian red blend. The signature magic created by the synergy of the Shiraz and Cabernet makes this a very attractive wine indeed. But of course, this type of premium quality comes with a matching price tag. Drink now or over the next 15-20+ years.

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

De Grendel Op Die Berg Pinot Noir 2017, WO Ceres Plateau, 13.97% Abv.

2.4 g/l RS | 5.7 g/l TA | 3.4 pH

This Pinot Noir shows impressive clarity and purity undoubtedly from the cool climate high altitude Ceres terroir. The aromatics reveal dark black berry fruits with hints of raisined black cherry, black plum, black berry compote and an earthy, foresty sappy, resinous complexity. The oak influence seems fleeting with little to no influence allowing the pronounced black berry fruit concentration to shine, embellished by hints of black salty liquorice, kelp, stewed strawberries and a long, finely balanced creamy finish. Drink on release or age 3 to 8 years in your cellar.

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

Silver Oak Winery Previews the Sensational 2018 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in London…

Silver Oak is a much loved iconic family-owned Californian winery dedicated to producing truly premium classical Cabernet Sauvignon. Silver Oak was established in 1972 by Ray Duncan and Justin Meyer and is currently run by Ray’s sons David Duncan and Tim Duncan.

Silver Oak has two wineries, one in Oakville in the centre of Napa Valley and one in Geyserville in the Alexander Valley. The Duncan Family also established Twomey Cellars back in 1999, named after Ray Duncan’s mother, where they produce top notch Pinot Noir, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Twomey has its own wineries in Calistoga and Healdsburg. In 2017, the Duncan family added yet another boutique winery to the portfolio with the purchase of the Ovid Winery located on Pritchard Hill overlooking Napa Valley and the Silverado Trail.

The Silver Oak fermentation cellar

The 2018 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon vintage undoubtedly belongs in a top quality echelon reserved for only the finest of the past two decades. It was absent of the challenges that plagued many of the previous years growing seasons ranging from drought to low yields and heatwaves. According to the leading critics, the best wines show balance, poise, freshness and a transparency between vineyard and appellation. To these characteristics I would add weightless fruit intensity, power and concentration that succeeds without obscuring any sense of terroir or place.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Sonoma County, 14.4% Abv.

The amazing thing about the 2018 Sonoma and Napa Valley 2018 reds is that when you put your nose in a glass, you can almost smell the freshness and vibrant acidity lurking beneath their voluptuous fruit complexity. This beautiful Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is no exception boasting striking high notes of violets, purple blossoms and lilac over rich, dense black berry fruits with a strong vein of blue berry crumble and sweet cherry tobacco. The palate is just as enticing boasting a wonderfully dense core of black berries and black cherry fruit concentration tightly interwoven with notes of graphite, stony minerality, kirsch liquor and black plum extract. With the harmonious density and superb fruit – acid balance comes a certain youthful charm, but undoubtedly, this is another vintage from Silver Oak that merits burying in the cellar because time will definitely reward the patient! A real 5 star stunner! Drink from 2026 and over the next 30+ years.

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

Stellenbosch Icon Winery Kanonkop Prepare for the Release of Their Paul Sauer Cape Bordeaux Blend 2019…

The new releases of Kanonkop Paul Sauer and Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon are regarded as two of the wine highlights of the year with merchants scurrying around for trade allocations, collectors chasing their merchants for stock and enthusiastic drinkers waiting for the first bottles to hit the retail shelves of their local fine wine shops. While the reputation within the local home market can hardly be higher, internationally, every year sees a new crop of fine wine collectors discovering the exceptional Kanonkop brands and making space in their cellars for these classical age worthy wines. It is no different for the 2019 Paul Sauer new release which has already created a lot of excitement and anticipation in multiple markets.

Winemaker Abrie Beeslaar was recently in London and I had an opportune moment to taste and discuss the new 2019 Paul Sauer release with him. Abrie remembers the vintage being cast in the shadow of the previous years of drought leading to a challenging growing season but one which ultimately yielded a very classically-styled Paul Sauer with plenty of focused refinement.

The cold fronts that arrived during the winter of 2018 were greatly welcomed with spring and early summer temperatures nudging the deep 20°C for a day or three before dropping again. From February 2019 a hot spell settled in but by the time the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were ready to harvest, the weather had turned uncharacteristically cool again which helped produce one of the lowest alcohol Paul Sauers in many years. With Kanonkop’s new(ish) optical berry sorter hard at work, only the healthiest berries made it to the concrete fermenters. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc components were blended after malolactic fermentation where after the wine was placed in new 225l French oak barrels for 24 months ageing.

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2019 Cape Bordeaux Blend, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, 13.02% Abv.

3.3G/l RS | 5.8g/l TA | 3.45 pH

This classically styled Paul Sauer 2019 is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc and 11% Merlot. After noticeably more fruit forward aromatics on the 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 on release, this 2019 represents somewhat of departure in style with a decidedly tight, broody aromatic profile of inky dark berry fruits, iodine, crushed gravel, Bouquet Garni, dried herbs, sweet clove and graphite before subtle hints of pithy black currant and black cherry join the party and mingle with perfumed notes of pressed violets and lilac. Despite its 24 months in 100% new French Never oak 225 litre barriques, there is only a mere suggestion of wood influence with a beautifully refined cedar spice and unsmoked cigar nuances. On the palate, the results of a cooler and smaller harvest manifest themselves through a distinctly classical Old World restraint, purity, wound spring tension and supremely refined tannins that linger on the palate with seamless precision. As with many longer, cooler Bordeaux vintages, there is more a sense of concentration and power rather than an actual overt textural display, with sinewy black fruits, cocoa powder and earthy, brambly layers concertinaed by lively acids and yet more overt minerality. An impressive creation indeed that will benefit from a good 8 to 10 years in the cellar to fully blossom despite its textural finesse, balance and accessibility.

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

Napa Valley Vintners Returns to London for a Stream of Premium Wine Events…

One of the best wine trips I have attended over the years was in 2007 when I was invited to the Master Napa Valley Programme in California soon after I was told that I had passed my Master of Wine. What could have been a very studious, head in the books note-taking trip instead turned into a much more celebratory, enjoyable, fully immersive, heads-up trip where I felt I could really soak up the knowledge and the wonderful wine atmosphere.

Over the years I have revelled in attending numerous superb alumni events in London hosted by Napa Valley Vintners. Finally in June 2022, we saw the return of a whole host of winemakers for the first time post pandemic. The tasting I attended was generously hosted by Pol Roger, who themselves won the superb “Lot 23” at the Premiere Napa Valley Auction.

Rosemary Cakebread presenting her wine Gallica.

The gathering was held at the superb London Michelin Star Restaurant Trinity and in attendance from Napa was Rosemary Cakebread, Diana Snowden-Seysses and Cathy Corison, three of the four doyenne responsible for the blended Premiere Napa Valley Auction Lot 23. Besides this rarity, we got to taste a selection of current releases from these top producers. Californian wine holds a special place in my affections and this was certainly a memorable return to London for the NVV.

Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, St. Helena, Napa Valley, 13.8% Abv.

Fabulous dark and opaque, the aromatics are picante and spicy with notes of saline black currant, dried kelp, iodine, sandalwood, dried tobacco leaf and cedar spice. But for all it’s power packed in the glass, it’s also wonderfully elegant and textural with velvety tannins, creamy layers of cassis and hoisin plum sauce and vibrant nuances of tart black cherry. Persistent and focused, this is a beautiful wine from a near perfect vintage.

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

Snowden Cabernet Sauvignon Lis Ricos Vineyard 2017, Napa Valley, 13.2% Abv.

Dark broody aromatics with a distinct savoury, earthy note over layers of sweet black plum, plum sauce and stewed winter back berries that melts into black liquorice and sweet tobacco. The palate is plush and soft textured with a creamy, polished elegance, ripe tannins but also a glassy acidity that fames the wine before finishing with a graphite laden finish.

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

Gallica Cabernet Franc 2017, Oakville, Napa Valley, 14.2% Abv.

This elegant red shows a delicately savoury yet perfumed aromatics boasting red and black berry fruits and hints of exotic blueberry interwoven with nuances of sweet cedar, graphite and freshly tilled earth. The palate shows incredible finesse and vibrancy with sleek silky tannins, a delicious black fruited purity and a textural pinpoint focus. Very impressive.

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

The Premiere Napa Valley Blend 2019 Lot 23 was purchased buy Pol Roger UK and is currently available in tiny quantities. All proceeds for the auction go to the Napa Valley Vintners’ sponsored charities.

Raats Family Wines Releases Their New Jasper Red Blend 2019 After Declassifying the MR de Compostella 2019 Flagship Red…

The Raats Jasper Red Blend was first created in 2010 when Bruwer Raats declassified the MR de Compostella for the very first time, and named it the Red Jasper after his father, Jasper Raats Senior, who was one of the founders and first viticulturists of Raats Family Wines. The wine then became a permanent edition to the Raats range establishing its own unique following amongst consumers. Now, for the first time since the 2010 vintage, Bruwer has taken the decision to declassify the MR de Compostella 2019 and blend the component parts into the Jasper Red Blend.

The ethos behind the MR de Compostella always dictates that the final blend needs to pack enough structural muscle and depth of fruit to ensure an age ability of at least 20 to 30+ years if cellared correctly. The declassification is certainly not based on a lesser quality of wines but more on their structural integrity that may not be quite sufficient for the long haul. So once again, the Jasper Red Blend is a super charged baby MR selling at a fraction of the price of the MR de Compostella Grand Vin.

Tasting new releases at Raats Family Wines in March 2022 with Bruwer Raats.

Back at the end of 2019, when I hosted Bruwer Raats in London and presented the world’s first full MR de Compostella vertical from 2004 to 2017, we included a very rare bottle of the Raats Red Jasper 2010 in the line up. The wine had aged beautifully but comparing the 2010 to even some of the older vintages, it did not have quite the density, structure and power that the other MR de Compostella blends had, vindicating Bruwer’s decision to declassify the wine. Having tasted the Jasper 2019 twice in recent weeks, I can’t help feeling that the wine is more serious and more structured than the 2010 was on release, but I trust that Bruwer’s judgement to declassify will be vindicated in years to come. Nevertheless, the Jasper 2019 is a fabulous red blend loaded with Cabernet Franc elegance and should find a willing home in most price savvy collectors’ cellars. So fill your boots I say!

Raats Family Wines Jasper Red Blend 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

The 2019 is a blend of 50% Cabernet Franc, 43% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot and 1% Merlot creating an elegant, generous offering packed full of charm and finesse. The aromatics are delightfully subtle yet complex with notes of sweet allspice, blueberries and black raspberries, dark chocolate, dried cigars, sandalwood and freshly tilled earth nuances. As you would expect from a blend that is half Cabernet Franc, there is a seriously fine pin point texture that is both expansive and creamy but also shows an impressive weightless concentration. Medium bodied, the palate is supple and polished revealing a thirst-quenching freshness and approachable tannins on a long, persistent finish. Ready to drink now, this turbo charged Jasper will undoubtedly benefit from a few more years in the cellar. This is a very classy Cape Bordeaux blend indeed. Drink from 2023 to 2035+.

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