Stellenbosch’s Icon Warwick Winery Releases an Eye Catching New Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2019…

Warwick Winery is a key player in the premium South African wine landscape so when the Ratcliffe family sold the winery a few years ago, there was a lot of concern among wine lovers that the new American owners would push the brand in a more commercial direction and eventually compromise on range quality. However, one of the earliest reassuring signs of confidence was the appointment of JD Pretorius as head winemaker after the departure of the talented Nic van Aarde to Oldenburg Winery. So at least the winemaking would be in safe hands!

Roll on several years and the wines are thankfully as good as they ever were with even more premium raw material available to JD from their Simonsberg neighbour, the Uitkyk winery, which was also purchased by Warwick’s new owners. Most impressively, the new releases of the ‘classic wines’ at Warwick including the Trilogy red Cape Bordeaux blend, the Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon and their excellent Cabernet Franc are all superb and firing on all cylinders. But exciting new labels have also been created like the impressive Professor Black Pitch Black red blend as well as a new release Chenin Blanc made from old vines situated on the Uitkyk estate.

Made from a single vineyard Chenin Blanc planted in 1978 on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg, these lovely old bush vines yielded a small harvest of exceptionally high-quality fruit coaxed to perfection by winemaker JD Pretorius. The Grapes were handpicked in the cool early morning and then whole bunch pressed with the juice being allowed to clarify naturally before fermentation took place in 400 litre French oak barrels. After fermentation, the barrels were rolled once a month for nine months before blending in January 2020 and bottling in February 2020.

Warwick Old Vine Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

1.65g/l RS | 5.73 TA | 3.38pH

This Chenin Blanc made from grapes planted in 1978 shows expressive and nuanced aromatics boasting layers of pear puree, wet straw, honied white peaches and a compelling stony minerality. On the palate, the wine reveals an explosive depth of fruit, rich glycerol layers of tangy tangerine glacé and candied yellow fruits, quince, and honied yellow plum. There is plenty of showy breadth and depth but it’s the intensity of the old vine fruit that
really impresses most. This is top drawer quality and a delightful addition to a very accomplished range of Warwick Wines. Drink on release or bury in the cellar for 10 to 12+ years.

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

Chateau Margaux’s ‘On-Trade Exclusive’ Third Wine Continues to Make Waves in the Premium Restaurant Trade…

I have always been a big fan of Bordeaux second and third wines because of the pedigree and excellent value for money they normally offer. At the 2010 En-primeur tastings, I remember tasting with Chateau Margaux’s Paul Pontallier when he revealed the 2009 maiden release of the Margaux du Chateau Margaux, a wine that had yet to be named. In following years when this 2009 vintage finally arrived onto the market, it was decided that distribution would be exclusively through the on-trade and restaurant trade. This was of course a time when Bordeaux prices were running riot in the open market making it incredibly difficult for restaurants to list quality Bordeaux wines at affordable prices.

The third wine of the legendary Chateau Margaux, the Margaux du Chateau Margaux 2014 benefited enormously from the outstanding selection made in this vintage. The Pavillon Rouge and Chateau Margaux assemblages made up just 60% of the harvest in 2014 which allowed the Margaux du Chateau Margaux cuvee to be enhanced with multiple parcels previously destined for Chateau Margaux’s Pavillon Rouge, a wine that regularly sells for over £250+ retail per bottle and double or triple that amount in premium restaurants. The result is one of the finest vintages of this third wine to date composed in equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon (49%) and Merlot (49%) with a small percentage of Petit Verdot. If you see it on a restaurant list at circa £100 per bottle, buy it with confidence.

Margaux du Chateau Margaux 2014, Bordeaux, 13% Abv.

This pretty wine displays a wonderfully inviting perfumed nose of pressed violets, grilled coffee beans, black cherry and buttered brown breakfast toast. Even for a 2014, this seven-year-old wine shows lashings of blackcurrant and black plum fruit with the extra years in bottle giving the wine some glorious complexing notes of tannery leather, tobacco and wood smoke. Close your eyes and it`s like sitting back in a comfy old leather armchair in the library of a grand old London private members club. In the mouth, it reveals plush reassuring nuances of black berry fruits, hints of autumnal foresty bramble berries and a seductive touch of cocoa bean and milk chocolate. The length is long and impressive with fine ripe fleshy tannins and an elegant harmonious texture that screams classy Margaux terroir. A truly impressive wine conceived and blended for relatively early consumption in a restaurant environment but packs more than enough punch to accompany the heartiest of cuisine. Drink now and over the next 6 to 8+ years.

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

The Ancient Vilafonte Soils Yield Another Blockbuster Series C Cabernet Sauvignon Red Blend in 2019…

The first post-drought vintage is about to be released by the team at the Vilafonte winery in Paarl and the 2019 vintage clearly illustrates what is possible when nature decides to co-operate to help yield some exceptional raw materials to make another iconic Cabernet Sauvignon based red blend. The discussions are already starting as to whether this blockbuster 2019 vintage will join other great historic vintages like 2003, 2009, 2015 and 2017 in redefining premium South African fine wine quality.

Speaking to winemaker Chris de Vries, the vintage was really a tale of two seasons. While rains initially remained elusive, there was an upswing in rainfall towards the end of the 2018 winter and continuing into spring and early summer. Weather fluctuations in the spring did however result in uneven bud-break and berry set. Conditions improved somewhat at the onset of summer with a warmer November being very conducive to healthy vineyard growth. Some uneven ripening was remedied with in-bunch sorting after veraison and by the time harvest arrived at the beginning of February, the fruit quality was looking exceptional.

Vilafonte Series C 2019, WO Paarl, 14.5% Abv.

The Series C 2019 is a blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Malbec and 4% Cabernet Franc that was aged for 22 months in 74% new French oak barriques with the remainder aged in older, multiple passage barrels. A deep ruby-purple colour, this really is an impressively intense and striking blend that is seductive and alluring from the moment the cork is pulled. The aromatics offer glimpses of black cherries, earthy stewed black plums, black currants, fertile loam, tilled earth, freshly cut hedgerow together with hints of hoisin plum sauce and melted chocolate nuances. The palate is medium to full bodied but incredibly pure and polished with a confident, approachable accessibility, sleek rounded tannins and layer upon layer of seamless creamy black berry fruits, saline liquorice, sweet cedar spice and a subtle blueberry accent on the vibrant fresh finish. This wine does not try and hide its sweet seductive black fruits yet there is certainly a subtle subtext of earthy, stony minerality that runs in unison with all the vivid fruit concentration. But beware all the seductive sex appeal on this wine because only the foolish would drink all their bottles on release before allowing this serious blend to hit its straps after 8 to 10+ years ageing. A deliciously accomplished wine.

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

The Resurrection of the Meerlust Red Blend – Tasting the 2019 Vintage Release…

I have made no secret over the years that I love the concept of premium second wines, whether from Bordeaux, Napa Valley or Cape Town. The Meerlust Estate Red Blend last made a local South African market appearance back in 2011, when the Meerlust Estate declassified their Rubicon flagship wine. To avoid confusion, a ‘Meerlust Red’ is made every vintage but only for the international export market where second wines are well entrenched as viable alternatives for mid-week drinking or for less serious occasions but do not cannibalise the sales of the premium cuvee. However, this wine is not normally sold in the home market unless a specific vintage of Rubicon is declassified into the Red Blend like in 2011, 2002, 1990 and 1985.

Inevitably, when the wider market realises that the premium Rubicon Red Blend has not been released, the Meerlust Red acquires a massive and immediate following, such is the pedigree and reputation of the Meerlust Estate. Sold in the local home market for half the price of the Rubicon, the Red Blend is always an exceptional value wine and drinkers would be well advised to fill their cellars to pad out their drinking of the more age worthy vintages of Meerlust Rubicon.

Meerlust Red 2019, WO Stellenbosch

The 2019 Meerlust Red is a blend of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Initially a little reticent on opening, this wine quickly sheds its broody, sulky, spicy veil to reveal a wonderfully complex aromatic array of black plum, black berry compote, orange peel, Christmas pudding over hints of pressed violets, sweet cedar spice and graphite nuances. The palate is plush and fleshy from the word go, showing an open knit, expressive opulence of red currant, bramble berry, black currant, sweet oak spice, black tea and a sleek texture that simply embraces the palate and makes you go back again and again for another sip. Refreshingly vibrant and impressively generous, I suspect this wine will age surprisingly well for over 10+ years even though it’s simply a cracking drinker right now on release. Hats off to the entire Meerlust crew.

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

Tasting a Fine & Rare Line up of Aged South African Icon Wines…

During the past 18 months of the pandemic there has been far too little sharing of great bottles among fine wine lovers. But with many determined to make up for lost time, South African fine lover and uber SA wine supporter, Thor Gudmundsson organised a fantastic old South African wine tasting lunch at one of his two excellent wine bar / restaurants in London, the Brackenbury Wine Rooms.

With most of the bottles generously supplied by Thor, it was a bit of a challenge for me to come up with some interesting bottles to add a little extra interest and excitement. Perhaps a bit predictably, I decided to bring the fabled Kanonkop pairing of Paul Sauer 1994 and Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 to compare and contrast blind. I have done this exercise twice before and both times it has been a challenging yet thoroughly enjoyable affair. Just to add an extra level of excitement, Thor had a bottle of the iconic Meerlust Rubicon 1994 to throw into the mix with the Kanonkop 1994 pairing.

Silvervis Chenin Blanc 2015, 12.5% Abv.

Rich, honied nose like a dry botrytis Sauternes wine. Peaches and dried apricot notes, subtle hints of salinity and a mellow, evolved honied finish.

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

Silvervis Chenin Blanc 2017, 13% Abv.

Zippy and zesty with layers of sweet & sour yellow plum, dried pear and peach, tangy tangerine acidity and a vibrant fresh saline finish. Ryan Mostert at his best. 😉

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

Rust en Vrede Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1987, 12.5% Abv.

Showing complexing evolution, this has layers of dried leather, mechanic’s diesel rag, dried tobacco and smoked cigars. Tannins are fully resolved bolstered by a sweet core of brambly fruit, savoury prune and plum pudding and a cool lean finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 87/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Lanzerac Cabernet Sauvignon 1968

Dark, savoury broody nose with aromatics of sweet, stewed strawberries, raspberry compote and hints of Christmas pudding. Retains a fresh attractive tangy sweetness dominated by red fruits with sweet silky tannins and a long mellow finish with just the slightest hint of diesel rag.

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

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 1994, 13% Abv.

Wonderfully perfumed, sleek and elegant on the nose with pressed violets, cherry tobacco and sweet red currant fruits. This wine is pure, precise and quite ethereal. Plenty of shape and structure in the mouth still. Impressive linearity and focus. Beautiful.

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

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1994, 12.5% Abv.

Slightly evolved earthy nose, black currant coulis, tobacco, stewed red berry fruits. Palate is superbly fresh, saline, and incredibly well balanced, complex, silky and profound. Nose and palate slightly detached suggesting some bottle variation. A superb wine nevertheless, but I have tasted fresher bottles.

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

Meerlust Rubicon 1994, 12.5 Abv.

Initially very pure and tight with focused aromatics of savoury leather, black currant and violets, the nose evolves to show smokey graphite, railway yard, wood smoke and savoury berry fruit. The palate is incredibly vibrant, explosive and intense with savoury black currant, tangy acids and a mellow stewed winter berry fruit compote note on the finish. Spectacular wine.

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

Cape Winemakers Guild Cordoba 2001 Auction Reserve, 14% Abv.

Very cedary and spicy with bell pepper, green leaf, dried herbs, coffee beans and black currant fruits. A classical style that is slightly hard work now but with further evolution, could blossom into something legendary. Leave in your cellar for now is my advice. In a slightly awkward stage of evolution.

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

Taaibosch Crescendo 2018, 13.5% Abv.

This is of course the first release of the rejuvenated and replanted Cordoba estate under the watchful eye of Schalk Willem Joubert. Shows a dark dense nose of brûléed black berry fruits, coffee bean, espresso and sweet cedar spice. The palate is elegant but robust and powerful with grippy tannins, graphite spice, concentrated black currant fruit and an impressive stony mineral length. Bury this in your cellar for 10 years minimum. It will reward patience!

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

Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, 14.5% Abv.

Quite a classically proportioned wine with a nose of black berry fruits, saline cassis, wet tobacco, cedar wood and espresso spice. Texturally sleek and full, creamy and well balanced with just a slight leafy peppery note on the finish. A fine expression for a warm vintage and drinking exceptionally well at the moment.

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

Niepoort & Sadie Cape Tawny 2008, 21% Abv.

Rich, nutty and expressive with layers of burnt caramel, orange rind, old malmsey Madeira and salty nutty notes. The palate is very intense, rich but not overly sweet, more nutty and pithy than unctuous. Tannins are spicy and slightly raw but sufficiently balanced with the acid freshness that is perfect for the expected level of complexity and intensity. A very attractive offering with massive drinkability and certainly plenty of unicorn wow factor!

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

Stark Condé’s Flagship Oude Nektar Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 Dazzles and Shines…

I recently reviewed the Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stark-Condé Winery that was launched in Stellenbosch in 1998 by Hans and Midori Schroder with a focus on producing hand-crafted premium wines. Located in the picturesque and ever so dramatic Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch, it is a site with steep changes in vineyard elevation ranging from 150 to 600 metres making for a range of terroirs with distinct characteristics.

At Stark-Condé they stick to traditional winemaking methods using open tank fermentation, meticulous sorting of grapes, hand-punch downs, basket pressing and maturation in small French oak barrels.

With a very limited availability of this superb single vineyard wine, I thought I couldn’t pass on reviewing one of the most exciting Cabernet Sauvignons I have tasted from Stellenbosch in a long time. The vineyard is situated on a south-westerly aspect on decomposed granitic soils and was replanted after tragic bush fires in 2009. The 2017 vintage is of course synonymous with weightless intensity, piercing concentration and sublime elegance and this wine is yet another flag bearer for this iconic vintage and region. The wine was aged for 20 months in 70% new French oak barrels and bottled unfiltered and unfined.

Stark Condé Oude Nektar 2017 Red Blend, WO Jonkershoek Valley, 14% Abv.

6.7g/l TA | 1.9 RS | 32.3 g/l Total Extract

This utterly seductive wine is a bottling of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. Despite the salt and pepper additions, this is a wonderfully pure classical Cabernet Sauvignon with archetypal aromatics of pressed violets and tilled earth, crushed gravel, graphite, freshly brewed espresso and sweet cedary spice. There is an irony, bloody, iodine and black olive complexity that lends that extra dimension to the wine making it just that little bit more special. The palate is pinpoint 2017 elegance personified with piercing fresh acids, powder puff tannins, weightless saline black currant and black cherry fruit concentration and a wonderfully long, harmonious finish of melted Belgian chocolates, salty kelp, black liquorice and warm buttered brown toast. Just quite simply spellbinding. Drink now and over the next 15+ years. (Only 4,617 bottles produced)

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

Taaibosch Crescendo 2018 – Recreating a Legendary Stellenbosch Wine…

It must surely be one of the most captivating stories to emerge from the Cape winelands in the past decade – the resurrection of one of South Africa’s most famous wines, the Cordoba Crescendo Cape Bordeaux Blend originally made famous by talented wine maker Chris Keet in the mid to late 1990s. For many, drinking a bottle of Crescendo 1995 ranked as one of the pinnacles of local fine wine experiences and then all of a sudden… the winery disappeared.

I started filling my cellar in South Africa in the mid to late 1990s and was fortunate enough to purchases a number of cases of the Cordoba Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and of course the Crescendo from vintages in 1995, 1996 and 1997. While I did drink and enjoy a majority of the bottles, a number of them were left to mature in my cellar. I certainly had no idea what became of the famous Helderberg estate and what the reasons were for its demise, but when the Oddo family who also have wine ventures in Sancerre, Provence, and Sicily, purchased the famous winery in 2017 and recruited cellar master Schalk-Willem Joubert of Rupert & Rothschild fame to oversee proceedings, the scene looked set for the resumption of quality winemaking.

The first new 2018 release from the estate was launched in South Africa under the Taaibosch Crescendo label earlier this year. As I understand it, the owners are not in a position to use the original Cordoba name anymore and thus moved to the Taaibosch title. All grapes on the estate were hand-picked and once received in the cellar, the grapes were gently transferred by means of gravity to both stainless steel and cement vessels for fermentation. A period of cold soaking followed which enabled a rich extraction of colour, aromas and flavours. Extended maceration followed at the conclusion of fermentation, which assists in providing the wine with a soft texture, increased colour intensity and complexity.

The soil of the Helderberg region is fertile and mostly homogenous across the region. It consists predominantly of Table Mountain sandstone resting on Cape Granite. The soil has excellent water and nutrient holding capacity and is rich in kaolinite, iron and aluminium oxides, causing the distinct red colour, associated to the region. Taaibosch is situated on a lens of withered Malmesbury shale, setting it apart from the other vineyards in the region. The Crescendo 2018 was matured in a combination of 225 litre oak barrels, 9000 litre Foudre vessels and traditional 4500 litre cement tanks for a period of three years. These different vessels each add their own personality to the finished wine, ranging from fruity characters to subtle wood influences. All these elements were then brought together selectively to form a harmonious blend.

Taaibosch Crescendo 2018, WO Stellenbosch

pH 3.57 | RS 3.7g/l | 13.5% Abv

This wine conforms to the classically defined Crescendo blend (Cheval Blanc inspired) of 65% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon harvested from vines of 20 years of age or older. On opening in the early afternoon, the Crescendo 2018 was dense, tight and grippy with mouth coating tannins drying the front and sides of the palate. Nevertheless, the over-riding sensation was one of underlying elegance, purity of fruit and intensity sitting in the clutches of a youthful fist clench. Tasting the wine over the following 4 hours started to reveal its true pedigree which admittedly could easily have been missed on the initial pop and pour prognosis. With a little time to open its shoulders, the aromatics really start to unfurl classic notes of sweet cedary briary spice, saline inky black currant fruits, buttered brown toast, rose oil, dried violets, hints of graphite and led pencil shavings. The palate is decidedly mineral and classical with stony, textured fine grained tannins that are powerful and imposing yet ripe and supple enough to allow the layers of black and red berry fruits to slowly emerge. There is fabulous density, plenty of dry extract and concentration all pointing to a power-packed wine that is built with extended ageing in mind. In many ways, the design and texture of this wine harks back to a bygone era where immediacy and complete accessibility on release were not always the winemaker’s primary objectives. This wine has wonderful gravitas, an individual character and a real palate presence and continues to tantalise the senses right up to the very last sip that is loaded with a lovely broad blood orange acidity and mouth-watering salinity. I feel confident this wine is something really special to bury in your cellar for drinking over a good 15 to 20+ years. An impressive homage to the original Crescendo blends of the late 1990s.

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

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2018 – The New Release of This South African Icon Wine Reviewed…

With so many of South Africa’s top Cape Bordeaux Blends and Cabernet Sauvignon producers stepping up to the mark to produce their best wines ever across the 2015 and 2017 vintages, 2018 was always going to be under the spotlight to see if some of the magic of these previous vintages could be applied by winemakers to the benefit of the final wines.

Certainly, the winter rainfall was higher than the previous two winters but with irregular temperatures from winter until the flowering period, together with cool growing conditions, there were inevitably some variations in ripening across the Simonsberg vineyards. However, cooler weather and regular rain showers led to less water stress for the vines during the ripening period.

Having tasted most of the top 2018 Cape Bordeaux blends now, the signature style and characteristics of the vintage are becoming clearer and clearer – Very cool, precise wines with impressively glassy acid frames, silky powdery tannins, impressive fruit intensity but without the 2015’s inky dry extract or the 2017’s weightless fruit concentration. The 2018s are very attractive wines, more classically leaning with a little less exoticism but plenty of the traditional characteristics on the aromatics and palate that have made the wines so popular with French Bordeaux collectors and connoisseurs around the world.

The grapes for the 2018 Paul Sauer were fermented in open top concrete fermenters at 29 deg C with the floating skins being punched down by hand every 2 hours during fermentation. The juice was drawn off the skins after 5 days. After malolactic fermentation the wine was matured for 24 months in 100% new 225 litre French Nevers oak barriques.

With only 7,000 cases or 42,000 bottles produced, stake your marker in the allocation queue nice and early as this iconic wine seems to sell out faster and faster every year. This of course is the reward for a proven pedigree and quality track record.

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2018, WO Simonsberg – Stellenbosch, 13.91% Abv.

2.4 g/l RS | 6.2 TA | 3.55 pH | 90 mg/l Total SO2 | 0.63 g/l VA

The 2018 Paul Sauer is a classical blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc from vines averaging 30 years of age grown on dryland vineyards of Decomposed Granite and Hutton and Clovelly soils. Vibrant and ruby / purple, the wine almost glows in the glass with inviting promise. At this youthful stage, the Cabernet Sauvignon component shines through strongly revealing a generally dark, broody, black fruited demeanour embellished with subtle notes of saline crème de cassis, star anise, lead pencil shavings, dried violets and signature nuances of freshly tilled earth, buttered brown toast and hints of breakfast espresso. In the mouth, the palate shows gorgeous elegance, purity and fruit focus with the most fine grained filigree tannins, soothingly generous black berry fruits and delicious mouth-watering acids. This wine is precision personified showing such effortless grace and harmony together with a measured power and intensity. The 2018 is certainly a very classically schooled expression that waltzes across the palate without ever putting a foot out of place. Like all truly great Bordeaux blends, this has the finesse and textural harmony to drink on release but also the intensity and gravitas to age effortlessly for 20 to 30+ years.

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

A Decade on From the Iconic 2008 Vintage, Bruwer Raats Releases the Impressive MR de Compostella 2018…

It seems quite fortuitous that the very week Bruwer Raats and Mzokhona Mvemve choose to release their new vintage of MR de Compostella 2018, the most famous and influential wine reviewer in the world, Neal Martin chose their MR de Compostella 2008 as his Vinous Cellar Selection and scored it 96/100, matching the original rating he gave this iconic wine exactly 10 years ago.

I was of course lucky enough to host Bruwer Raats in London in October 2019 when we tasted through the first ever complete vertical of MR vintages from the maiden 2004 until the 2017. Then, when I managed to visit Bruwer at the winery in Feb 2020, long before the pandemic struck, he was already talking about another exceptional vintage that was different to many of the others but was perhaps one that clearly reminded him of the famed 2008 vintage. As it turned out, the 2018 ended up spending approximately 27 months in barrel compared to the usual 22 to 24 months for an MR de Compostella, creating another similarity with the famed 2008 vintage.

Whether this extended ageing enhanced the 2008 or whether it was just an exceptional vintage to start with, what I do see are the clear similarities between the 2018 and the 2008 vintages. This is sure to be a very stable, slow burning vintage and undoubtedly, a release you are going to want to have in your cellar.

MR de Compostella 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

The 2018 MR de Compostella is a blend of 54% Cabernet Franc, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec, 5% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot. Deep garnet-purple in colour, one sniff of the bouquet reveals another truly towering effort with incredible perfume lift, a complex melange of red and black berry fruits and the most fabulously integrated oaking imaginable. The nose is loaded with black cherry kirsch liquor, black truffle, crushed violets, crème de cassis, mulberries, graphite and freshly tilled earth nuances. Despite an extensive elevage in French oak barriques, the sweet cedary wood spice and vanilla pod notes play very much a subtle supporting role allowing the bold multi-dimensional fruit intensity to take centre stage. While only medium-bodied, the palate is super sleek, laser focused and intense, washing over the senses in energetic waves of saline cassis, black cherries, black plum and baked blueberries. This is classical winemaking at its very best where a harmonious freshness combines with beautifully silky poised tannins to deliver a wine with not only overt mouth-watering appeal but also plenty of latent structural depth. Undoubtedly another individually monumental wine that displays the brilliance of the special Mvemve-Raats winemaking partnership clearly for all to see. Old School and New World all at the same time, this is a wine that will appeal to the classicists as much as to the New World connoisseurs. Drink it on release or bury it in your cellar for 25+ years for further rewards.

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

Vilafonte Forges Ahead with Another Jaw-Dropping 2018 Series M Fine Wine Release…

I was in the Cape in 2018 around harvest time and again at the Vilafonte winery in February 2020 only days after the Series M 2018 had been bottled. Proprietor Mike Ratcliffe and US partners Phil Freese and Zelma Long, visiting for the 2020 harvest, struggled to contain their excitement over the final 2018 results. After reviewing the superb Series C 2018 in September 2020, I knew all eyes would be on the Series M that Mike described as possibly the best the winery had ever produced. With maturing vineyards, ever greater fine tuning of their precision viticulture techniques as well as winemaker Chris de Vries just getting to know his terroir better and better, further improvements in quality seem an almost certainty.

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.

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

The 2018 Series M is a blend of 45% Merlot, 41% Malbec, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc that was aged for 22 months in 24% new French oak barriques with the remainder aged in used French oak barrels. This wine exhibits an alluringly deep dark garnet-purple colour and wilfully offers forth an exhilarating aromatic array of seductive notions of blueberries, boysenberries, black plum and sweet cassis. The purity and detail is very impressive with delicate violet and vanilla pod nuances combining with notes of star anise, warm buttered brown toast smothered with black cherry preserve, freshly baked pastries, hints of mocha and espresso and some subtle background cedar spice complexing oak notes. The palate shows a wonderfully expansive and multi-dimensional flavour explosion together with a carefully measured richness, pinpoint purity and truly show stopping concentration all delivered with subtlety and jaw-dropping finesse. There is boldness and creamy textured fine-grained supporting tannins but first and foremost, there is freshness, supreme balance and sublime harmony. This very well may be one of the finest young Vilafonte reds I have ever tasted on release. Drink now or cellar for 15+ years.

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