Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 7: La Chapelle de La Mission Haut Brion 2014, Pessac-Leognan…

In 1682, the Lazarist Fathers, a community founded by Saint Vincent de Paul, received the La Mission Haut Brion estate as a legacy from Madame Olive de Lestonnac and over the centuries has been owned by a number of illustrious families, the last being the current owners Domaine Clarence Dillon who purchased the property in 1983. For most of this time, La Mission Haut Brion  has been producing exceptional red and white wines from their highly prized Pessac-Leognan terroir.

 

Graves is the large red and white wine region located to the southeast of the city of Bordeaux along the Garonne River. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the red wines from the area, while the whites are mixtures of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The most important area within the Graves is the village of Pessac-Leognan. Most of the great chateaux, including Haut Brion, a premier cru and the only wine outside of the Medoc to be included in the 1855 Classification, are located in this small appellation. Graves derives its name from the rocky, stony terrain of the region and many people believe that the stony soil radiates the day’s heat at night and thus makes the grapes ripen earlier than some of the other regions in Bordeaux.

This is the first time I have revisited this wine since I tasted it En-primeur at the chateau in 2015. More importantly for me, it was one of the few wines from the 2014 vintage that I purchased a case of for myself at the time. So there was of course an added interest to crack a bottle and assess the contents. With critical scores ranging from 88/100 to 94/100 for this specific wine, I really had no idea what to expect.

La Chapelle de La Mission-Haut-Brion 2014, Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, 14 Abv.

This opulent second wine of Chateau La Mission Haut Brion is a blend of 45% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and incorporates 8% of press wine. Impressively deep and dark in colour suggesting this wine has concentration and adequate extraction to add a bit of extra second wine muscle. With now 5 years of age from vintage, the aromatics are still seductively scent laden with lifted notes of fresh violets, cherry blossom, crushed blackberries, blueberries, Christmas cinnamon stick and freshly sawn cedar suggesting a fine degree of fruit ripeness without being outlandish, with all hints of crushed leaves and sappy spice notes dissipating as the black forest fruits envelope the nose with a complex brambly fragrance. The palate is also wonderfully generous and sweet fruited with a medium bodied weighting, fine sleek polished tannins and a most comforting melange of black currant, bramble berries, black cherry and salty black licorice. There is a satisfying hint of sweet tobacco, subtle layers of freshly tilled earth in true Graves style but also a pronounced mineral classism enhanced by vibrant fresh acids. A very pretty, distinguished second wine expression that is showing fine drinkability already but no doubt will be even more complex and exponentially more enjoyable with another 5 to 8+ years of additional bottle ageing. I really liked this wine in barrel and I love it more so now.

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

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 South African Red Wines of the Year 2018…

What a fascinating and historical year 2018 was for red wines in South Africa. With the exception of only a few wineries, most premium producers released their incredible 2015 wines made from what is generally being regarded as probably the best quality vintage in South Africa’s modern post-apartheid era of winemaking.

Having already released the Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Whites of the Year, I have been overwhelmed with the comments of agreement and support for my selections. But then again, many will argue that the list included a multitude of excellent 2017 vintage wines and that the “white category” still remains South Africa’s strongest talent. While all of this may be true, 2018 saw the release of multiple red wines that pushed quality boundaries like never before. We’ll hand some of that to the vintage conditions of 2015 and 2017 but I’d also like to credit the growing confidence, expertise, knowhow and ambition of winemakers across the South African landscape.

If you are a seasoned veteran of premium South African wines, you will nod knowingly and expectantly at many of my red selections. If you are new to the South African category, perhaps living in the USA, Europe or Asia, make an effort to track these wines down now as many might still be available and all are definitely worth buying, even at their sometimes lofty price points! In my mind, they all represent relative value for money for what they are. Enjoy!

Kanonkop Paul Sauer Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Meerlust Rubicon Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Vilafonte Series C 2016 Red Blend, Paarl – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Boekenhoutskloof Journeyman Red Blend 2015, WO Western Cape – 97+/100 GregSherwood MW

Donovan Rall Ava Syrah 2017, Swartland – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Tokara Telos Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

MR de Compostella Red Blend 2016, Stellenbosch – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Iron Syrah 2016, Swartland – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Stellenbosch – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Duncan Savage Red Blend 2015, WO Western Cape – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone who helped make 2018 such a memorable year! 🍷🎄 🦄

Don’t miss my “Year in Photographs” coming up before New Years Eve 2018.

A Chilean Fine Wine Icon Brand with An Impressive Track Record – Tasting a Mini Almaviva Vertical with Michel Friou in London…

Established more than 20 years ago by the Concha y Toro family’s joint venture with the Baron Philippe de Rothschild group, Almaviva can be regarded as one of Chile’s first high quality fine wines that carries a global presence. At a recent tasting dinner hosted in London, Almaviva technical director Michel Friou presented a number of current vintages alongside older back vintages to illustrate the wines pedigree, age worthiness and consistency.

Made from grapes grown in Puente Alto in the Maipo Valley, Almaviva set out to mimic the Bordeaux chateau model making a wine from its own surrounding vineyards which have slightly higher average temperatures than Pauillac but also a much higher elevation at 630 metres and a lot lower average rainfall at 340mm.

To illustrate this Bordeaux’esque stylistic leaning, Michel Friou selected four vintages from cooler, wetter vintages that display more elegance, freshness and classical restraint. Always using Cabernet Sauvignon as the base, the blend also includes a significant percentage of Carmenere, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot since 2010.

Now distributed in Europe almost exclusively through the Bordeaux Place and by several negociants, the brand’s reach and consumer awareness have perhaps suffered as a direct result of this distribution method. While this channel to market works well for Bordeaux releases, it can prove more tricky for some new world brands. Despite this, producers such as Errazuriz (for Chadwick and Sena) and Lapostolle (for Clos Apalta) have all chosen to follow the Bordeaux negociant distribution channel to market.

Almaviva 2016, 14 Abv.

An intriguingly mineral and restrained expression from Chile. Dusty and lifted but boldly opulent and intense showing a fragrant bouquet of cassis leaf, black currant, charcoal embers, graphite and crushed granite minerality. A lovely piquant saline line is drawn straight down the palate and personified further by bright acids and dusty chalky tannins. An impressive, classical but forward looking Chilean expression.

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

Almaviva 2014, 14 Abv.

A more stern, taut, linear expression, I just love the dusty, gravelly, mineral restraint with nuances of maritime oyster shell, graphite and black cherry pith. Palate is simultaneously vibrant yet strict, taut and powerful, revealing precise linearity, tension, black cherry and a pin point black fruit focus. Very impressive precision.

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

Almaviva 2007, 14.5 Abv.

This vintage shows a much more savoury, plush evolution of Almaviva with a nose of salted cured meats, pork scratchings, cassis and stewed black plums. The palate is full, rich and opulent, sweetly textured with massive generosity, vibrant freshly sweet black fruits and a delicious creamy breadth. Touch of alcohol heat on the bold finish, building a little more with wood spice influences. Drinking well now and over the next 3 to 5 years.

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

Almaviva 2002, 14.5 Abv.

Finely evolved nose of sweet leather, cedar and cinnamon spice, graphite and gun smoke. Tantalisingly elegant, evolved yet retaining vibrancy. The palate reveals a lovely full fleshy expression, that is dense, earthy, savoury and sweetly fruited, finishing with rejuvenating acids and a sweet, fleshy cloak of fruit. Drinking now and over 2 to 5 years.

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

Old Vine Bordeaux at Its Very Best – Tasting the Ancient Vine Chateau Tour Baladoz Cuvee Le Centenaire 2010…

Château “Valados” first appeared in “Le Producteur” in 1841, and was included in the first edition of “Cocks and Feret” (Bordeaux and its Wines) in 1850 under the name of “Baladoz”. From 1874 to 1922, the estate was known as Château Baladoz until a tower was erected and adopted into the name. In certain parts, vines are grown at an altitude of up to ninety metres, almost the highest in the appellation, with more vines planted on the clay and limestone plateau that dominates the estate. Originally categorised as between the first and second crus of St Emilion, the estate later settled in the Grand Cru category.

The property, located in Saint-Laurent-des-Combes, was purchased by Belgian wine trader Emile De Schepper in May 1950 and included 5.56 hectares of vines. The new owner spent his first year renovating the cellars and making improvements to the vineyard. In the early years, the wine was exclusively exported to Belgium, in barrel, where it was bottled in the owner’s cellars in Ghent. The current cellar master and manager is the ultra talented Jean-Michel Garcion, who was appointed in 1992 and now also overseas production at sister estates Chateau La Croizille next door and Chateau Haut Breton Larigaudiere in Margaux.

70% of the Tour Baladoz vineyard is planted on the plateau, with the remaining 30 % situated on the slopes of the valley over deeply submerged rocks. Here, the challenge lies in making a wine that is as mineral as the geological environment in which the vines grow. The soil base varies from pure chalk and marl, which reminiscent of certain terroirs in the Champagne region, to freestone that appears occasionally and is noticed because of the colour variation in the clay. Here, the Merlot grape thrives and comprises 70% of the vineyard planting with Cabernet Franc (20%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) making up the remainder.

While one of the great wines of the neighbourhood is certainly the Chateau Tour Baladoz, they also produce miniscule amounts (1,000 bottles) of a special cuvee called Le Centenaire St. Emilion Grand Cru from vines over 100 years old on average. But the great rarity is the cepage with this incredible wine being made up of a blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, 3% Saint Macaire and 2% Bouchales, the later two varieties being incredibly rare ancient Bordeaux varieties. After fermentation, the wine is aged for 24 months in 100% new French oak barriques.

Chateau Tour Baladoz Cuvee Le Centenaire 2010, St Emilion Grand Cru

A wine of such rarity and corresponding cost (circa £325 per bottle) always commands respect before the cork is even drawn. Coming from probably the greatest modern red wine vintage in Bordeaux’s history, certainly since 1982 though many argue since 1959 and 1961, this wine automatically had a lot of expectation thrust upon it. Already 8 years old, it has a bright ruby garnet rim and a slightly opaque earthy red black plum coloured core. Tasted from Bordeaux Riedel glasses, the nose was initially reticent as many youthful 2010 reds still are, but in true right bank style, was quicker to reveal its charms than perhaps some left bank Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blends. The aromatics are very precise showing beautiful cherry blossom, parma violets, red cherry sherbet and subtle exotic earthy notes of mechanic’s diesel rag. Super complex, noticeably different but thoroughly spell binding. The palate is cool, ultra sleek and beautifully polished but like the nose, has an exotic twist of Caribbean red berry fruits, red cherry, purple rock candy, tart cassis and a Fanta grape twist. Texturally, it’s as fine as it gets with classical old vine power and concentration twinned with dense satin soft tannins and Bordeaux first growth balance. But this wine represents a whole that is clearly much greater than the sum of its parts and a lot of this must surely be attributed to the noteworthy ancient, and now almost extinct, Bordeaux varieties in the blend. A privilege to taste a rarity like this. Drinking now to 2045+

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

Vilafonte’s Co-Owner Mike Ratcliffe Unveils the Phenomenal New Release Series C 2016 in London…

So all it took was a fleeting flying visit to London to give a small select group of wine trade buyers a sneak peak of this exciting new Vilafonte Series C 2016 blend and the hype and excitement was in full swing. Co-proprietor Mike Ratcliffe scheduled this pre-release tasting to allow a few UK market heavy weights a chance to hear about and taste the success story of the 2016 vintage first hand before the official South African launch on the 1st of November.  

The first plantings were made at Vilafonte on their 42 hectares way back in 1995 and at the time included Petit Verdot which was the only one of the five Bordeaux varieties which proved to be unsatisfactory and was subsequently grubbed up. On the plus side, varieties like Malbec proved to be incredibly successful along with the classics of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, all planted on the 750+ million year old low potential “Vilafonte” soils of Paarl.

With the first commercial release now already the 2003 vintage, Vilafonte can no longer be regarded as one of the fine wine new kids on the block but rather one of the leading lights in the premium red wine category in South Africa. To put the new release into proper context, the 2016 was tasted along side an illustrious array of older vintages of both Series C and Series M.

With Co-owner Mike Ratcliffe

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2014, 13.5 Abv. (Second Label of Vilafonte)

A blend of 41% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Malbec and produced from the same meticulously farmed vineyards as the Series C and M wines, inevitably when you are making complex blends, there will be high quality wine components that don’t make the final Grand Vins, which are instead redirected to the second wine Seriously Old Dirt. The 2014 shows a sophisticated dark broody nose full of earthy black berry, cassis leaf, crushed gravel and blueberry spice. The palate is plush and restrained, full of complex layers of black bramble berry fruit, tobacco spice, graphite and liquid minerality. Very grown up, wonderfully classical and texturally incredibly pure and polished with little oak imprint. A superb introduction to the profound wines of Vilafonte. 

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series M 2015, 14 Abv. 

40% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon and 29% Malbec, with 22 months ageing in French oak. 68 barrels produced. The bouquet shows a leaning towards a plummier opulence with liquid graphite, dusty gravel, black cherries, damson plum, brûléed coffee beans and subtle sweet chocolate and tomato puree nuance. The palate texture is incredibly classical and fine, harking back to some of the finest right bank Merlot based blends produced. The finish shows saline plum, cassis, piquant lipstick spice and the most dreamy creamy chocolate eclair generosity. Delicious wine from a very classy, top notch vintage. This is certainly one for the cellar.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series C 2009, 14.8 Abv.

54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc and 8% Malbec aged 23 months in 100% new French oak. 23 barrels produced. Still an impressively dark garnet red rim, the bouquet resonates with complex notes of wet tannery leather, dusty chew tobacco, dried thyme and sage, espresso, freshly tilled earth and stewed red currants. This big bold vintage is rich and youthful, full of creamy brioche, black currant and sweet black plum notes with cool fresh acidity harmoniously balanced by eminently powerful and bold sweet textural tannins. A vintage regarded as one of the greats and showing very gracefully. In a happy place at the moment but certainly no rush to drink this one.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series C 2014, 14.5 Abv

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Malbec aged 22 months in 70% new French oak. 48 barrels produced. Wonderfully pure, fine and fragrant with a noticeably youthful fragrance of black cherries, graphite, violets and caramelised red berry fruits. A lovely fine hedonistic opulence is present in the glass with the most intricate and expensive oak profile, vanilla pod spice and supple, creamy, polished mineral tannins. Wonderful purity and freshness to behold. Wow, not the most famous vintage for red wine collectors in South Africa but a wine with a surfeit of poise and elegance, purity, focus and harmony. A splendid wine indeed.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series C 2015, 14.5 Abv.

57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 9% Malbec aged 22 months in 67% new French oak. 44 barrels produced. A superbly distinguished classical red blend with a lush opulent bouquet of black cassis, espresso, dried sage, sweet tobacco, graphite spice and buttered brown toast. What a wonderfully proportioned wine that really takes South African red wine quality to the next level. Purity and precision, seamlessly integrated oak with effortless power, concentration and balance. This has all the hallmarks of greatness.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series C 2016, 14.5 Abv.

62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 12% Malbec and 11% Cabernet Franc aged 22 months in 77% new French oak. 30 barrels produced. The most focused and intricate of aromatics, the small, tight, compact black grape bunches harvested in 2016 are accurately captured and represented perfectly in this stunning premium wine. Less distinctly showy and opulent than the 2015 blockbuster at the same stage of its evolution, this is an incredibly finely composed red blend with massive precision but also plenty of curb appeal, revealing fragrant layers of crushed violets, blueberry pie, vanilla pod spice, buttered brown toast, saline cassis, liquid minerality and a graphite complexity. Within a restrained, concentrated style, this vintage represents the most intelligent extraction and tannin management possible reflecting the care required to handle the small, thick skinned berries in this drought vintage. A hauntingly pretty wine that is seriously compact and complete and dare I say a step up in quality on even the spectacular 2015 release. Drink from release or cellar for 25+ years as this wine certainly has the structure and stuffing for the long haul.

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

Tasting the Superb Van Biljon Cinq 2014 Red Blend from Stellenbosch…

The 2013 bottling of the Cinq was a triumphant wine for the vintage with Chris Keet spinning his magic within the context of a more difficult year that included a very late harvest and delivered one of the largest grape crops on record in South Africa. The 2014 vintage was another cooler year but also a much wetter year that some top producers managed to create more elegant European-styled wines with careful picking and fruit selection.

Van Biljon Cinq 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot from vines grown on ancient decomposed granite soils of the Tarentaal Farm on the Polka Draai Road in Stellenbosch. The bouquet is effusive, building in the glass with great promise. There are gorgeously opulent notes of blueberry, blackberry and black cherry kirsch liquor interspersed with hedonistic notes of incense, cedar wood spice, vanilla pod and a subtle stony, graphite minerality. The palate is medium bodied and sleek showing a confident line of fresh linear acidity, very fine precise tannins and plenty of pithy, spicy crisp black fruit with nuances of sweet cherry tobacco, cassis and tart black currant. The precision on the wine is a true marvel with impressive balance, a certain amount of sensual elegance and an intense, pure finish that is superbly focused and finely polished. A wonderful red blend from some of the best terroir in the Cape wine lands. Drink this on release with food or hide it in your cellar for 6 to 8+ years.

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

South African Grand Marque Rust en Vrede Estate Back to Its Best Again…

The history of this great estate reads like a classic novel in the same vein as many great Bordeaux chateaux. Highs and lows, controversy and family disputes and changes in winemakers and house style.

Tasting the latest creations of winemaker Coenie Snyman, it can be confirmed with a fair degree of certainty that this famous old South African grand marque is almost back to its very best again. This can only be good news for consumers and collectors alike.

Rust en Vrede Estate 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

The 2015 Estate red is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Syrah and 9% Merlot. This is the flagship wine of the estate and boasts astute winemaking to match. The bouquet offers up a fine perfume of dried potpourri, violets, cinnamon stick and an alluring melange of mulberry, black currant and savoury damson plum with a complexing top note of black Kalamata olives. Subtle mocha and vanilla pod nuances carry to the palate which is eminently refined and elegantly balanced, showing delicious spicy black currant, graphite, black liquorice, salty cassis and a subtle lick of salted caramel. Beautifully plush and textured, this is a seamless vinous package of fine wine enjoyment that speaks volumes about the very fine 2015 vintage twinned with re-energised, ambitious winemaking. A winery returning to its very best potential once again. Drink now or cellar for 10 to 15+ years.

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