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

What Future For South African Second Wines? Tasting Top Super Premium Vilafonte’s Seriously Old Dirt Cuvee…

South Africa is currently enjoying a very buoyant year for red wine releases at a time when the onslaught of big white wine reviews seems almost relentless. Much of this new found red success is undoubtedly down to the incredible “once in a generation” 2015 vintage that has produced some of the most lauded and iconic red wines in the modern era of the South African wine industry.

One of the questions that this new found success raises for me as prices push to new super premium levels is the potential role second wines currently play or could play in the future development of the South African fine wine market. They are not a new phenomenon. After all, anyone who loves top South African Bordeaux blends will remember the declassified Meerlust Rubicon 2011 blended away into the delicious Meerlust Red 2011, or the MR de Compostella 2010 that was “declassified” to create the new Red Jasper 2010, now an established brand on the market. Or even the De Toren Z, which started off life as an “off-cut” blend of Fusion V but which has now also established itself as a popular fine wine in its own right regularly scoring as high if not higher than the Fusion V from international wine critics.

On this blog, I have already been running a series of reviews on second wines from top Bordeaux Chateaux as I look to identify the over performers, the dark horses and the unexpectedly great second wines worthy of consumer attention. These wines after all serve an important role in the market, giving fine wine consumers a glimpse of the greatness they might encounter with the more expensive, more premium first wines. With a lower price tag comes an abundance of powerful premium branding, desirability but also affordability and of course a greater degree of earlier drinking accessibility.

In this vein, I cracked a bottle of premium brand Vilafonte’s Seriously Old Dirt 2014, a wine produced from unique ancient soils with quality assured for current enjoyment in a true second wine model. Made with a 6-7 day cold soak, partial natural fermentation with an extended fermentation period, the wine was aged in French oak barrels for 22 months. Vine age varies between 4 and 20 years old and the 2014 vintage surpasses both the 2012 and 2013 vintages that were released almost exclusively to the Vilafonte Wine Club and is a blend of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2014, WO Paarl, 13.5 Abv.

Lovely rich, opulent nuanced nose of cedar, vanilla pod, polished teak, creamy choc spice, mocha, black berry, black plum and crushed rose petals. The palate is medium-bodied with a truly plush, succulent mouthfeel, infused with brown sugar, cassis and leafy plum. Tannins are very fine grained and classical, sweet but retaining ample mineral, stony graphite grip. A seductive, enticing wine that definitely shows its aspiring pedigree and noble parentage. Drink now to 2028+

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

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 6: Petit-Figeac de Château Figeac 2014, Saint Emilion Grand Cru…

The latest edition to the Wine Safari Bordeaux second wine series features a wine from one of my favourite Saint Emilion Grand Cru estates, Château Figeac owned by the Manoncourt family. Only the third vintage of this new second wine produced, Petit-Figeac de Château Figeac was created starting with the 2012 vintage.

Figeac is the largest estate in Saint-Émilion with 40 hectares (99 acres) of vineyards. Due to its soil, which is dominated by gravel, the estate is planted with grape varieties more reminiscent of the left bank, including 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc and only 30% Merlot. Most other Saint-Émilion wines are dominated by Merlot, and Figeac therefore bears a certain resemblance to the wines of the Medoc and Graves despite being situated on Bordeaux’s right bank.

From 1945 to 2011, the estate produced a second wine called La Grange Neuve de Figeac and since 2006 a ‘special wine’ named Petit-Figeac. From the 2012 vintage, Petit-Figeac became the single official second wine of Chateau Figeac.

Petit-Figeac de Château Figeac 2014, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 13 Abv.

A blend of 50% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, the aromatics reveal a real melange of plush ripe black fruits tinged with graphite spice. There are layers of cassis, blueberry, black bramble berries and black plum. As the wine unfurls in the glass, distinct notes of black cherry, mocha, espresso, sweet tobacco and milk chocolate become more pronounced. The palate texture is ultra soft and seductive, super supple with beautifully plush powdery tannins, vibrant cherry pith, hints of cola and liquorice and a subtle saline finish. A thoroughly charming high quality effort that Claret lovers can drink now or cellar for another 5 to 8+ years.

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

Boekenhoutskloof Journeyman Red Blend 2015 – Tasting Another Epic Red From The Belle Époque…

In the past few months I have reviewed a lot of 2015 South African Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet based red blends, many of which have admittedly received rather impressive scores. Some commentators have raised eyebrows and questioned if these wines are really individually exceptional or whether I’ve just had a rush of blood to the head. But time and time again I simply point out that an exceptional vintage like 2015 comes along maybe only once in a decade, or with global warming bearing down on us, perhaps only once in twenty years?

I am certainly not prone to hubris or score inflation but merely look, taste and assess the quality in the glass put in front of me and judge it in an international quality context. Which brings me to another of the top 2015 wines I have been waiting to taste… the Journeyman red blend from Marc Kent and Gottfried Mocke at Boekenhoutskloof.

Produced from grapes off the Franschhoek estate, this wine possesses a slightly mythical reputation, being almost unobtainable internationally and only irregularly by the bottle at cellar door. Mostly Cabernet Franc with a 10% splash of Merlot, this wine has been one of winemaking talisman Marc Kent’s pet projects for the past 10 years (when he’s not obsessing about Swartland Syrah!)

Boekenhoutskloof The Journeyman 2015, WO Franschhoek, 14 Abv.

Thoroughly distinguished, this wine whispers class from the moment you pull the cork. Dark, deep and broody, it tantalisingly suggests a lot but tries to hide its hand like a sneaky poker player. But with enough coaxing the nose reveals aromatics of cedar, sweet wet tobacco, subtle rose petal perfume and potpourri spice, raisined cranberries interwoven with mineral graphite depth. On the palate, there is a surfeit of classy cherry and black cassis fruit, powdered chew tobacco, vanilla pod spice, mocha coffee espresso and buttered brown toast. So incredibly elegant, a tight rope walker that is so assured and focused, brimming with confidence. This is certainly up there with some of the finest 2015 wines produced in South Africa. Buy it IF you can find it. Drink now to 2030+

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

Tasting An Ageworthy South African Cabernet Sauvignon From A Historic Off-Vintage…

After tasting a lot of 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon recently made me think about the age-ability of South African wines. We all expect great vintages like 1974, 1995 and 2015 to age well, but what about off vintages? Tasting this 1977 Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon recently in South Africa from the Distell Tabernacle cellar reinforced the true longevity potential of this grape in South Africa even when sourced from an off-vintage.

The early 70s was a very successful era, with 1970, 1972 and 1974 all being excellent vintages, while 1976 and 1978 were also good. But 1977 was plagued by wet weather and was regarded as a very, very difficult vintage overall receiving a 2/5 star rating. This wine bears testament to the winemaking techniques of Nederburg and their ability to create iconic wines.

Nederburg 1977 Superieur Cabernet Sauvignon, WO Paarl, South Africa

Fine deep notes of black berry, boxwood, plum skins and earthy black currant. Far less tertiary than one would expect, While tasting this wine, I received a brazen nod from Michael Fridjhon that this is certainly a classic Cabernet Sauvignon and a classic Nederburg but not from a lauded vintage. The palate is full, fairly sweet fruited, rich and textural, but also quite compact, pure and relatively unevolved. Showing great black earthy, tobacco Cabernet Sauvignon typicity, this is about as good as Cabernet gets in a cool rainy vintage like 1977. This wine shows power, distinguished chalky tannins, subtle hints of molasses and sweet tobacco spice and is absolutely delicious to drink. An impressive and powerful wine that still has plenty of legs!

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

Ornellaia Delivers One of Their Greatest Vintages Ever on Their 30th Anniversary – Tasting the Ornellaia 2015 Bolgheri Superiore…

Ornellaia is a Super Tuscan of international acclaim that is arguably one of the world’s most collectible wines. An uncompromising attention to detail is a mantra by which wine maker Axel Heinz lives. Where Sassicaia often tends to reflect a character of greater minerality and elegant restraint, coming across almost Pinot Noir-like in some years, Ornellaia is boldly more opulent and hedonistic without ever over stepping the mark.

The 2015 vintage of Ornellaia, which marks its 30th vintage anniversary, is without doubt one of the great Ornellaia vintages. I thought I would repost my specific Ornellaia 2015 note on this epic wine as it was perhaps a bit lost in my longer post featuring the Vendemia d’Artista banquet in London.

After the unusual 2014, the 2015 vintage proved to be very regular, almost “textbook” like. After a normal, rainy, mild winter, with just a couple of days with temperatures below zero, the budding arrived on time in the first days of April. Spring was characterized by dry and sunny weather, ideal conditions for a regular vegetative development that culminated in a fast and complete blooming at the end of May.

Winemaker Axel Heinz describing the vintage

Starting in June, water stress gradually became an issue. July will be remembered as particularly scorching and dry, with maximum temperatures that exceeded 30°C every single day of the month. The heat, combined with the absence of rains, raised the spectre of an interruption in the ripening process and possibly an early harvest. Luckily rain came around the 10th of August, with abundant precipitation allowed the grapes to continue ripening, also bringing a much cooler weather during the final stages.

This cool yet sunny weather persisted throughout the harvest, allowing Ornellaia to pick very slowly, waiting for every vineyard to arrive at the perfect point of ripeness, combining a fresh and lively aromatic quality with a perfect phenolic maturation with abundant yet silky and soft tannins. Harvest began on the 29th of August with the Merlot, and ended on the 12th of October with the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

Tenuta dell Ornellaia 2015, Bolgheri Superiore, Toscana, 14 Abv.

Intense broody dark fruited nose brimming with black cherry, crushed gravel and graphite spice. But the minerality of this superb, glamorous, opulent vintage does not outweigh or over power the incredibly intense perfume of lavender, violets and cherry blossom. The underlying note on the palate is dark fruited, powerful and structured with vibrant black tart cherry acidity, suave fleshy textural concentration and the most seductive, complex finish of pithy black cherry, liquorice stick, graphite and chalky tannin spice. A very serious effort, showing great generosity, power, intensity and gravitas. This has the credentials to age for 2 to 3 decades, and the potential to be a future Bolgheri Ornellaia legend.

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

The Most Hotly Anticipated Red Wine Release from the 2015 Vintage – Tasting Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2015, South Africa’s Very Own First Growth…

The Kanonkop Estate is situated on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in the Stellenbosch Region of the Cape and consistently boasts some of South Africa’s most famous premium wines. A fourth generation family estate, Kanonkop was originally purchased by JW Sauer, a cabinet member in the parliament of the Union of South Africa and the estate has been handed down from father to son for over 40 years, now residing in the capable hands of its current owners Paul & Johann Krige.

The name Kanonkop was derived from a kopje (hillock), from which a cannon was fired in the 17th Century to alert farmers in outlying areas that sailing ships plying the waters between Europe and the Far East had entered Table Bay for a stopover at Cape Town. The Estate is situated on 125 hectares, of which 100 hectares are planted with vines. A small quantity of these red grapes are selected for the production of around 7,000 cases of 6 of the Estate’s flagship red Bordeaux blend Paul Sauer, produced by one of South Africa’s most intelligent winemakers, Abrie Beeslaar.

A traditional blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, the vines are on average 25 years old grown on decomposed Granite, Hutton and Clovelly soils and usually aged around 24 months in new 225 litre French Nevers oak barrels with medium toast.

Kanonkop Wine Estate Paul Sauer 2015, 14 Abv.

The goal with any vintage of Paul Sauer is to find the perfect balance between power and concentration, structure and freshness… allowing a certain amount of tamed accessibility combined with immaculate ageworthy credentials. Indeed, this is the DNA which has allowed a wine like Paul Sauer to become firmly established as one of South Africa’s most respected ‘first growths.’ Given the incredible opulence and concentration of the 2015 vintage, this expression dazzles the senses with the most alluring heady nose of sun dried cherries, black currant pastille sweets, blueberries, plummy hoisin sauce, cedar spice and fragrant violets. There is intensity, an abundance of concentration and impressively integrated wood spice, salted toffee and vanilla pod complexity. The acid-fruit equilibrium is perfectly balanced, wrapped in a velvety cherry kirsch liquor texture and a finely focused blueberry and juniper berry finish. Truly effortless class and so beautifully light on its feet with the most suave, polished tannin symmetry. I cannot think of a better expression of Paul Sauer than this 2015 in the past 25 years of tasting. This is possibly one of the finest South African red wines of my generation. Drink from 2022 to 2055+.

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