Profiling Some of the World’s Greatest Cabernet Sauvignon Terroir With the Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective…

The story of the Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective begins with a tale of passion and creativity. Rising out of an alluring landscape, rich history, vibrant culture and unparalleled architecture, Stellenbosch is one of South Africa’s most prominent wine producing regions and desirable tourist destinations. Today, the region has become the focus of many profoundly adept oenologists and agronomists who use their unique premium local African terroir to produce top quality Cabernet among other wines.

A love for country, community and producing fine wine has given rise to a collaborative group of 35 members that desire to see this regions Cabernet Sauvignons performing against the best on a global platform. To highlight this groups excellent work, I recently revisited South Africa’s “Vintage of the Century” and tasted through 28 excellent Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 reds from the Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective members.

Delaire Graff Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2015 – 96/100 GSMW

Smooth, sweet fruited, pure and suave. Very impressive.

Jordan The Long Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 92+/100 GSMW

Earthy, savoury black fruit. Classical.

Waterford Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94+/100 GSMW

Black fruited, plush and sweet cedar and tobacco. Very nice.

Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2015 – 96/100 GSMW

Dark, classical and suave Cabernet Sauvignon. Super sophisticated wine.

Kanonkop Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 97/100 GSMW

Violets and perfume. Sleek blueberry and cassis magic.

Kaapzicht Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – N/S

Faulty Bottle.

Alto Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Cool, dusty Cabernet Sauvignon packed full of mineral and tobacco notes. Pure and full of finesse.

Neil Ellis Jonkershoek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Cedar and savoury spice, cherry cola and black bramble berry fruit spice.

Webersburg Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 90+/100 GSMW

Black berry and graphite melange. Sweet, plummy, savoury length.

Fleur du Cap Series Privee Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 91/100 GSMW

Leafy black fruits with sleek, polished graphite tannins.

Rust en Vrede Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Cool, rich and very polished with seamless black fruits and sweet mineral tannins.

Warwick Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 95/100 GSMW

Modern, creamy and plush with a pure fruited core and a long black cherry fruited finish. Very classy.

Oldenburg Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94/100 GSMW

Dark, savoury sweet fruited core, showing tobacco spice and tannery leather nuances on the finish.

Mooiplaas Tabakland Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 89/100 GSMW

Riper style with notes of stewed black fruits, cedar, fruit cake and a long, plush ripe finish.

Glenelly Estate Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94/100 GSMW

Cool, sleek and spicy with classical cedar and tobacco notes and a classical, dense powerful Cabernet finish.

Villiera Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Full of black berry fruits and graphite minerality, earthy black currants and sweet, lithe tannins. Smart wine.

Lanzerac Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 91/100 GSMW

Dense and dark, packed with spice and freshly cut hedge row, earthy black fruits and a long sweet fruited, intense finish.

Ernie Els Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94/100 GSMW

Reductive cassis notes, saline black currant and oyster shell , graphite, cedar spice and a complex, concentrated finish.

Bartinney Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94/100 GSMW

Earthy savoury black fruits, plush fruit core, with notes of brûléed coffee beans, cherry confit and a long plush, opulent finish.

Spier 21 Gables Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94+/100 GSMW

Notes of gunpowder and graphite spice. Palate is sleek, fleshy and pure fruited showing plenty of classy wine making.

Muratie Martin Melck Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 91/100 GSMW

Sweet plum and cherry tobacco notes melt into black cassis and freshly tilled earth with hints of fruit cake spice.

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 95+/100 GSMW

Sleek, suave, classical Cabernet with masses of elegance and power, purity and very sweet, fine tannins.

Peter Falke Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Dusty black fruits complemented by mineral notes, black cassis, cherry and graphite spice. Very precise fruit flavours and a long sleek, focused power.

Neethlingshof Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 89/100 GSMW

Shows hints of fruit cake, cedar spice and bruised black orchard fruits.

Simonsig The Garland Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Cool and creamy texture with dry mineral graphite tannins, a sleek polished styling loaded with cassis, black plum and sweet fruit cake length.

Starke-Conde Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94+/100 GSMW

Full of dark black and blue berry fruits with a creamy, plush, opulent, generous concentration. Very smart wine.

Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 91/100 GSMW

Aromatics of freshly tilled earth, tannery leather and Christmas pudding, fleshy and suave with an elegant texture, chalky tannins and a sweet and sour berry finish.

Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 91+/100 GSMW

Dusty earthy black berry fruits resound with a hint of smoky oyster shell reduction. Impressively polished texture full of sleek mineral tannins and a restrained, pure fruit length.

This tasting was attended by over 30 private clients as well as several high profile wine journalists including Jancis Robinson OBE MW. At the end of the evening there seemed to be a solid consensus that 2015 was without doubt one of the greatest vintages Stellenbosch has ever witnessed. I look forward to doing this tasting again in a couple of years time looking at all the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignons! 🍷

First En-primeur Bordeaux 2019 Reds Show Great Promise for the Vintage – Tasting La Croizille and Cap Leon Veyrin…

With the Union des Grands Crus Bordeaux and its members deciding to suspend the 2019 En-Primeurs week that was scheduled to take place at the end of March in Bordeaux due to the coronavirus restrictions, I thought I would post these two wine reviews from the Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux tasting in London yesterday, 12th March 2020.

Speaking to Gavin Quinney of Chateau Bauduc in the Entre-Deux-Mers, he states “’You’re joking – not another one?’ No, really, Bordeaux 2019 is a very good to excellent vintage. It wasn’t straightforward, with heat waves, drought and a rainy finish along the way, but Bordeaux enjoyed a long, dry summer and harvest with just enough rain, and no disasters like the late spring frost of 2017 or the significant losses to mildew that some growers experienced in 2018.”

At the top end, it’s becoming an embarrassment of riches. 2019 makes it six very good years in a row for the northern Haut-Médoc appellations of St-Julien, Pauillac and St-Estèphe, which were largely untouched by the 2017 frost and produced many fine 2014s, and likewise for the top estates on the plateau of Pomerol.

Bordeaux 2019 – 10 observations on the growing season: (Source: Gavin Quinney)

·         A dry year with 25% less rain overall than the average up to the end of the harvest.

·         A mild winter saw average rainfall in November, December and January, then a dry February and March.

·         Spring rainfall (Q2) was close to the norm from April bud break through to June flowering.

·         Some localised spring frosts and limited hail damage later on, though relatively small losses.

·         Flowering in early June began well but a rainy, chilly spell led to uneven fruit set in many vineyards.

·         No major disasters like the frost of April 2017 or the mildew that had a significant impact on multiple growers in 2018.

·         A long, hot summer saw over three months of mostly fine weather from mid June to the fourth Sunday of September.

·         Heat waves in late June and 40 ˚C (104 °F) in late July put some vines under pressure – though this was pre-ripening.

·         Heavy rain on the last Friday in July, just after a heat wave, refreshed many vineyards just in time.

· Light rain in among the hot weather in August and mid September helped the vines.

Chateau La Croizille 2019, St Emilion Grand Cru

Plush, broadly aromatic but beautifully soft toned with dulcet notes pink musk, purple rock candy and black currant with a fabulously generous glycerol concentration, harmonious breadth and depth and a subtle, vanilla dusted, brûléed blueberry muffin finish. Delicious expression. Power with elegance.

(Wine Safari Score: 92-94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau Cap Leon Veyrin Cru Bourgeois 2019, Listrac-Medoc

A complex nose layered with perfumed aromatics drifting from violets to cherry blossom, pink musk to cherry cola and dusty graphite minerality. Super focus and balance, this wine has beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon lines, a chiselled texture and fine mineral, gravelly tannins. The fruit concentration shows a seductive sweet sour mouth watering edge and fabulous black berry fruit persistence. Focused, intense and impressively linear. This should turn into an absolute star!

(Wine Safari Score: 92-93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasted along side the superb 2016 for added insight…

Chateau Cap Leon Veyrin Cru Bourgeois 2016, Listrac-Medoc

Beautifully deep dark broody nose with plenty of black cherry, black currant, earthy blueberry and hints of savoury, wild bramble berry fruits. Seamlessly plush concentration is lifted and electrified by bright, tangy acids before the finish melts away in the mouth to leave notes of sour plum, graphite, salty black liquorice and kirsch cherry liquor. Really very impressive wine that certainly lives up to this epic vintage’s top billing.

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

Glenelly Estate Prepare to Release their Greatest Creation to Date – Tasting the Epic Lady May 2015 Flagship Red Blend…

The Glenelly Estate is a beautiful winery buried in a little corner of the Idas Valley in Stellenbosch. The property was famously bought in 2003 by Madame May de Lencquesaing of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande fame in Pauillac, Bordeaux, with a vision to transform the property into one of the preeminent fine wine producers in Stellenbosch.

In February 2020, I visited the estate for a lengthy and informative tutored tasting with Cellar Master Luke O’Cuinneagain. After a final flight of three vintages of their flagship Lady May red blend, tasting the 2010, 2013 and 2014, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try and also taste the as yet unreleased Lady May 2015. It required a few thumb screws and persuasion, but Luke finally obliged with a sneak peak of this fantastic Bordeaux blend from the iconic 2015 vintage.

You can expect a possible release of this iconic wine hopefully towards the end of 2020.

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv. 

79% CS, 8% M, 8% PV, 5% CF

Deep, dark and broody, this wine speaks with all the authority and confidence of a 5 star block buster vintage. Brimming with black menthol cassis, boiled black berry sweets, black cherry and tight grained cedar spice, this wine wears a super hero gown of graphite and stony minerality and whispers quality from the moment it hits the glass. Tight, focused and impressively compact, there is a seamless saline black currant balance with linear polished marble tannins and a super intense concentration. This is the culmination of years of winemaking refinement and is without doubt the finest red wine produced to date at the Glenelly Estate revealing the true terroir quality potential of these groomed, premium Stellenbosch vineyards. Drink from Release with decanting and over the next 20+ years.

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

An Exercise in Opulence and Hedonism – Tasting the New Release Ornellaia 2017…

Hot on the heels of the Sassicaia 2017 release comes the opulent, extroverted Ornellaia expression. From a warm dry vintage, conditions certainly played to the Ornellaia style of richness and opulence.

The vineyards extend 115 hectares and are broken down into 70 different plots, all with slightly different characteristics. There are two main areas, one around the Ornellaia winery itself and another around Bellaria to the north and north-west of Bolgheri, where the land slopes gently down towards the sea some 5 km away. All vineyards within the Bolgheri DO are dedicated to the production of the Ornellaia range with the very best plots being blended into Ornellaia and also the highly respected second wine, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia.

Ornellaia 2017, DO Bolgheri Superiore, 15 Abv.

Facinating to see how individual and unique the expression of Ornellaia is vintage after vintage. This warm sunshine vintage boasts a ripe, plush opulent nose jam packed full of cherry confit, black plum preserve and blueberry pie laced with a dusting of vanilla pod and brûléed oak spice. Such a dense, dark core with hedonistic notes of mocha and chocolates filled with blueberry reduction, creme de cassis and buttered brown toast. A bold, extroverted, flamboyant expression of Ornellaia that will appeal to those who enjoy riper, more exotic vintages. Drink from release and for 15+ years.

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

Glenelly Estate Starting to Reach Its True Noble Stellenbosch Potential…

The Glenelly Estate is a beautiful winery buried in a little corner of the Idas Valley in Stellenbosch. I have been meaning to visit for many years to understand the essence of the winery and their philosophy but somehow always seemed to cross paths with CEO Nicholas Bureau or else their long time winemaker Luke O’Cuinneagain at tastings in London.

The property was famously bought in 2003 by Madame May de Lencquesaing of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande fame in Pauillac, Bordeaux, with a vision to transform the property into one of the preeminent fine wine producers in Stellenbosch.

With vineyards planted on near virgin granitic rich soils, Glenelly Estate had the opportunity to map out a varietal path that completely suited the style of wines they were looking to make. There would certainly be none of the red tape and restrictions Madame May had become so use to in Bordeaux. With sizable plantings of Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, Glenelly have all the building blocks for making some impressive wines.

In February 2020, I finally visited the estate for a lengthy tutored tasting with Cellar Master Luke O’Cuinneagain. Nicholas and Luke generously opened an impressive array of older wines to illustrate not only the development of the wines in bottle but also the evolution of the Estate’s winemaking and their ongoing quality improvements. Undoubtedly these are wines made in a more classical, restrained style and the French heritage is undeniable, radiating out of every glass and making all the wines in the range excellent gastronomic friendly expressions.

My conclusions after my tasting remain firmly that the hard yards have been completed and that the best years still lie ahead for this estate and its high quality wines. Glenelly Estate is definitely one to keep a very close eye on in the future.

White Wine Flights:

Glenelly Estate Unwooded Chardonnay 2011, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Super complex notes of terpenes, bruised yellow citrus and earthy root veg. Bright crunchy tangy acids make for a delicious mouthful that’s evolving beautifully. Very pleasurable glassful.

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

Glenelly Estate Unwooded Chardonnay 2012, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

Dusty wet chalk aromatics melt into struck match, bruised peach, papaya and ripe lemon peel. Lush and layered, plenty of leesy quince, honeysuckle, ripe pear purée and a smokey, glycerol finish. Showing a lovely harmony.

(Wine Safari Score: 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Glenelly Estate Unwooded Chardonnay 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Youthful and bright, this shows vibrant notes of cream soda, dusty green honeydew melon and dusty crushed limestone. Lovely texture and fleshy mouthfeel, finishing with notes of melon, green apple and subtle minerality. Lovely gourmet wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Glenelly Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2012, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Like its unoaked sibling, this shows a hit of reduction, dried mint leaf, peppermint and lemongrass. Equally plush and textural, this has a broad glycerol mouthfeel, savoury lemon peel fruit, subtle oak spice and a hint of peppermint crisp on the finish.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Grand Vin 2013, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Taut and restrained aromatics, this shows plenty of minerality, wet chalk, white citrus and limestone nuances. But the palate blossoms to show abundantly sweet textured flesh, lemon herbs and a vibrant energetic finish with impressive persistence.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

Cool and restrained, this displays plenty of stony minerality layered with lemon and herbs, lemon cordial and dried mint leaf. Palate is savoury and fleshy with bruised yellow orchard fruits, ripe papaya and dry fynbos. Concentrated, mouth filling and impressively persistent.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

This nose is expressive and exotic with savoury bruised yellow fruits, melted wax and incense notes. The palate shows sweet herby glycerol weight in a more oxidative frame. The texture is sleek and the balance finely poised with plenty of concentration and tangy acids on the finish.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

This vintage shows hints of ripe lemon and herbs, dry fynbos, honey on white toast and subtle mint leaf complexity. Super focused concentration, bright tangy acids and impressive length, you can see the pedigree potential of this wine. The aromatics are a little reticent but the quality is clearly apparent. Impressive for a hot, dry vintage.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

A more steely expression with purity and clarity. Fine notes of lime peel, lemon cordial and wet limestone and lemongrass herbs make for a fresh, vibrant aromatic profile. The hallmark concentration is there with glycerol, textured intensity of lime cordial, green apple and cedar spice on the finish. A lovely mouthful from a good vintage.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Lifted and expressive with dried fynbos, peppermint tea and herbal spice mixed with bruised white peaches, lemon iced tea and lemongrass herbs. Bright and zippy, this wine shows plenty of overt energy, crystalline citrus pastille fruits and a seamless creamy balance. Delicious expression.

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

Red Wine Flights:

Cabernet Sauvignon driven wines with supporting components of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot laced with a small percentage Syrah a la Claret in the good old days of Bordeaux.

Glenelly Estate Reserve 2013, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv. 15%

Syrah in the mix, this smells and tastes of classic old school Bordeaux with sweet tobacco leaves, herbal spice, tannery leather, cigar box and sweet savoury black currant and black berry intensity with a clear vein of graphite. Creamy and cool fruited, this is plush and textured with earthy black orchard fruits, lead pencil, graphite and a sweet piquant cedary finish. Drink now or cellar for a few more years.

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

Glenelly Estate Reserve 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

Dark and broody, this wine shows plush opulence with aromatics of coffee beans, black plum, cedar spice and pronounced graphite intensity. Soft and sumptuous, this has plenty of overt early drinking generosity laced with black chocolate and piquant spicy tobacco notes. Ready to go now, but certainly no rush.

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

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2010, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot

Rasping dusty chalky aromatics of classic Cabernet Sauvignon, crushed gravel, graphite, tannery leather and grilled herb spice. Super youthful at 10 years old, this wine speaks of pedigree. Polished and finely balanced, this has oodles of old world classicism, spicy cedar, piquant black berry and silky suave focus. Very impressive but will certainly get better with further ageing.

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

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2013, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot

Again, plenty of classicism and mineral driven tension, but this lovely wine shows more energy, greater linearity and superb focus. Saline cassis, tart black cherry confit and earthy damson plum complexity shows this is a serious fine wine. Sleek, pure and generous but retaining elegance and restraint, seamless blissful harmony and pin point focus. Beautifully complex and integrated, this is definite Grand Cru Classe quality!

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

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot

Intricate yet generous, this youthful expression shows creme de cassis, violets, peppermint crisp milk chocolate and dark spicy plum. Plush and sweet fruited, the 2014 is forward and showy, revealing the plushness achieved at Glenelly in all of their reds. With its sweet tannins, fleshy glycerol mouthfeel, fruit concentration and bruleed earthy coffee bean finish, this fine wine is ready to go now however, extra tertiary development will only elevate this wine further.

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

Tasting the Suave and Sophisticated Sassicaia 2017 – A Triumph of Terroir and Winemaking Over Vintage Conditions…

It’s become a bit of a tradition to launch the new vintages of the Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia estate in London. This year’s launch took on even greater significance being the highly anticipated successor vintage to the universally praised 100 point Sassicaia 2016. So no pressure then!

These special vineyards that go into the making of Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia cover only around 97 hectares of the total 2.500 hectare DOCG Sassicaia Bolgheri estate. Far from an easy vintage, 2017 has the structure and character to emphasise how incredibly special Tenuta San Guido’s terroir is and also how skilled their winemaking team have become.

Tasting with Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta in London at the Sassicaia launch.

Despite the sustained higher temperatures throughout the growing season and summer together with very little rainfall, the Sassicaia 2017 has retained a remarkable purity, elegance and precision in bottle.

Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2018, IGT Toscana, 14 Abv.

A fabulous entry level expression that is the only wine in the Sassicaia range that incorporates some indigenous Sangiovese. This year the blend is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon with 30% Sangiovese. The nose shows a wonderful, forward, overt fragrance with alluring notes of violets, crushed red cherries, black currant pastille, and salty black damson plums with just the gentlest dusting of vanilla pod spice and bruleed coffee beans. The palate is deliciously mouth watering and fresh, displaying vibrant crunchy acids, intense cranberry, tart red cherry and an all round electric brightness. The palate is medium weight but seamlessly smooth and silky and carries on the tradition of Le Difese’s accessibility twinned with generosity. This is the consummate allrounder that will accompany fine cuisine or suffice as a leisurely evening glass of red on the sofa. Drinking from release, you can expect this wine to show well for 5 to 8 years. 

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

Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2018, IGT Toscana, 13.5 Abv.

A wine first created in 2000, this IGT blend has always stuck to a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon blended with 40% Merlot. Initially a little bit reticent on the nose, reminds one that this wine is a serous creation in its own right. Often said to show at its peak after around 10 years, there are many examples that drink well after 15 or 20 years such is its pedigree. The aromatics show less overt fruit intensity but a greater array of dark, broody black berry, sweet dusty tobacco and mineral graphite notes. On the palate there is superb attention to detail, impressive focus and a seamless, elegant finesse. The acids are well integrated and the fruit opulence plush but classically balanced. Light on its feet, this sleek, silky Guidalberto caresses the mouth gently and finishes with beautifully textured elegance and powder fine tannin grip. A very harmonious creation with plenty of star quality. Drink now and over the next 8 to 10+ years.

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

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2017, DOCG Bolgheri Sassicaia, 14 Abv. 

Bottle in January 2020, this 2017 blend is made up of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and also 15% Cabernet Franc from vines of which 60% to 70% are 20 years or older on the same site up the mountain near the Castello where the original plantings where made in 1942. Using around 33% new French oak again, the 2017 vintage yielded around 200,000 bottles or around -15% less than the 2016 vintage. On the nose, the aromatics speak of a warmer, riper vintage with pronounced notes of black currants, spiced black plums and black orchard fruits. The palate is plush and opulent with all the telltale Sassicaia finesse and elegance coming to the fore. If anything, the tannins are sweeter, softer and flesher than the more masculine 2016 expression. Suave and sophisticated, this 2017 imposes its own character from the start and leads with plenty of dried rosemary and thyme herb complexity, silky cassis intensity and a soft, winter fruit compote finish with a dusting of botanical herbs. But textural harmony, seamless balance and fruit purity remain at the core of this wine’s essence. Another stunning wine delivered. Drink this from release and comfortably over the next 15 to 20 years.

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

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia is distributed to the UK trade by Armit Wines.

Release price for the 2017 is circa +35% up on the 2016 at around £850-£875 IB per 6.

Thelema Rabelais 2017 – Tasting and Assessing One of the Best Cape Icon Bordeaux Blends…

The Thelema Rabelais is a blend of the best Bordeaux varietal components from Thelema’s estate vineyards in Stellenbosch. The 2014 was suitably impressive in quality and was lauded as one of the best Bordeaux blends of the vintage on the South African market. But of course the epic 2015 vintage was a game changer, shifting to 6th gear in terms of quality, purity, balance and intensity.

The 2017 vintage was again a selection of the very best barrels identified and earmarked after harvest. The Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted in 2002 on decomposed granite Hutton soils at a density of 2000 vines per hectare. The Petit Verdot vines were planted shortly afterwards in 2003.

The grapes were de-stalked, hand sorted, crushed and then fermented in stainless steel after a two day cold soak. After fermentation, the wine was left on its skins for two more days before pressing and then racked into 100% new French 225 litre oak barrels for 20 months of ageing.

(RS 2.0 g/l , pH 3.39, TA 6.2 g/l. 14 Abv.)

Thelema Rabelais 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

The 2017 Thelema Rabelais Bordeaux blend sticks to its more recent successful recipe of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon with just a 13% splash of Petit Verdot to add extra interest. A fabulously deep garnet-purple colour, this expertly constructed work of vinous art slowly unfurls in the glass revealing complex notes of crushed black currants, earthy black plum, warm black berry crumble, sweet clove and cedar spice. There are also some distinctive dusty Cabernet Sauvignon aromas that mix harmoniously with notes of half-smoked cigars together with charged perfumed tones of violets, graphite and sweet black chai tea. Medium bodied and supremely tight knit and focused, there is a piercingly arctic fresh line of acidity that cuts through the plush textured fruit concentration like a surgeon’s scalpel through water paper. The intensity is awesome and the all round richness and opulence held tightly in check by the acids but also the super weightless, fine-grained polished marble tannins. The 2015 Rabelais was such an astonishingly great wine that it takes a modicum of courage to even suggest that this 2017 expression is every bit its equal and may well be superior. This great wine truly encapsulates the essence of where South African fine wine has come from but also where it is today. A wine that will give endless pleasure from release but has all the requisite building blocks to age gracefully for 20+ years. An exceptional must have Cape icon red. 

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