Tasting a 2013 Vintage Horizontal with Thomas Webb of Iconic Thelema Mountain Vineyards…

Thelema Mountain Vineyards is an absolute Cape classic, located high on the slopes of the picturesque Simonsberg Mountain in the heart of Stellenbosch, the true Kingdom of Cabernet. With vineyards grown at elevations of between 370m and 530m above sea level, Thelema is one of the highest and coolest estates in the area with 100 percent of the fruit used coming from their own vineyards.


For the last few years, Thomas Webb has taken over the reigns from his father Gyles Webb, who established Thelema in 1983 by purchasing a run down fruit farm. The first wines were released in 1988 and they soon became some of the most sought after wines in the Cape winelands and pretty soon came to typify the new quality and modern style parameters that were being pursued in the post 1990 South Africa, ahead of the first democratic elections in 1994.

Chatting to Thomas at our recent 2013 red vintage horizontal tasting, I recalled how in the mid 1990’s I used to battle to secure even just a few bottles of their Chardonnay, Merlot Reserve and their famous Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines, despite their fame, we’re not produced in huge quantities and were actually quite a defined, limited boutique offering. Today, Thelema still sells a healthy 70 percent of their wines in the local home market, a revealing sign of their continued fame and fashion among local South African fine wine consumers.


Thelema Merlot 2013, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

Cool dark spicy nose showing black fruits, dried herbs, baking spices and macerated black plums. Also a noticeable dried bush veld and cherry skin pithiness. The palate is sleek, tight knit and cool, packed with fleshy black berry fruits, black plum, and black current. There is tension here and classical fine grained mineral tannins lurking underneath the elegant creamy texture. A Merlot definitely on the more serious end of the spectrum. 

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


Thelema Merlot Reserve 2013, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

This wine shows evidence of a step up in quality and intensity with 100% new French oak being used for maturation. The nose is sweet and savoury revealing an alluring earthy vein along with blueberries, tannery leather, dried herbs, and a Cabernet-like cedary oak spice lift. The palate is rich and intense, showing very polished, textured and suave luxurious sweet tannins. There is extra power here and harmonious fleshy depth with cassis leaf, subtle herbal notes and sweet tobacco on the long vibrant finish. Impressive wine with only approximately 3000 bottles produced from vines planted in the mid-1980’s.

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


Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon The Mint 2013, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv. 

A really individual style with a dusty lift of pronounced peppermint and sweet cassis spice together with cedary, mineral spice and boiled black currant sweets, pastille, and herbal mint tea notes. The palate is full and fleshy, rich and round, with fine purity and creamy, caressed tannins. The finish is modern and opulent, with black currant leaf, reductive saline cassis notes and that characteristic eucalyptus lick. Very enjoyable to drink. A real crowd pleaser.

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

Thomas Webb pouring a glass of the CWG 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, the predecessor of the Rabelais

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv. 

There is officially no reserve Cabernet Sauvignon in the Thelema range, but this classic black label Cabernet Sauvignon is a serious piece of kit. Aged 20 months in 40% new French oak, there is lovely varietal typicity here (despite the sneaky splash of Petit Verdot in the blend), with a dusty mineral nose of dried basil and thyme, hints of fynbos, graphite, and perfumed potpourri dried herb spice. Beautifully textured, the palate shows great purity and precision and intelligent winemaking. Like all the Thelema wines, there are fine polished tannins, real elegance, focus and finesse. Classy and classical, this is an impressive expression of Stellenbosch Cabernet with complexity, age-ability, and confidence of style. Benchmark in everyday.

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


Thelema Rabelais Blend 2013, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv. 

Alternatively called the Thelema Cape Winemakers Guild blend, this wine changed to the Rabelais label with the 2007 vintage, being produced originally from only Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. From 2009, Petit Verdot started to replace the Merlot portion and now the blend appears fairly settled on a 90% Cab / 10% PV mix. Dark, cool, broody black fruits reveal hints of cassis leaf, saline oyster shell, graphite, iodine and blueberry crumble. Palate is taught and fresh, with real precision and incredibly fine, pin point velvety tannins. A very elegant package, the acids give this wine extra tension and real steely cut. Classy and restrained, the Rabelais will improve immeasurably with at least another 10 years in the cellar.

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

The stunning mountains at the Helshoogte Pass
A sneaky glass of the newly released Chardonnay 2015 to refresh the palate after a lovely horizontal tasting.

Exclusive London Preview Tasting of Vilafonte Series C 2015 with Mike Ratcliffe…

A really super tasting tonight with proprietor Mike Ratcliffe, looking at the pre-release Vilafonte Series C 2015 as well as other back vintages. A classical Bordeaux blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 9% Malbec, and 15% Cabernet Franc, this wine was aged 22 months in 67% new French Oak barrels, with the balance being older 2nd fill barrels. 


Vilafonte has risen through the fine wine ranks with Phil Freese and Zelma Long keeping a steadying hand on the rudder. Mike Radcliffe has always been a driving force of quality and market direction and seems intent on elevating this fine wine winery to yet loftier levels of success. With the quality seen today, there seems little doubt that this will be a mere formality.


Vilafonte Series C Blend 2015, Paarl, 14.5 Abv.

Dark mulberry plum colour, this wine has a most seductive nose of blueberry, cassis, and mulberry fruits interwoven with violets, graphite, mocha and cedary oak spice. A very measured, classical style of wine that fawns its Cabernet Sauvignon dominated credentials. Rich, seductive and opulent in its youth as you’d expect, but the extra broody layers of white pepper, dusty minerality and black cherry pith suggest a more serious, complex side to the wine. The palate is dense and creamy, but also so beautifully proportioned like a chiselled, well honed athlete. Great depth, Cab power and harmonious balance, finely polished tannins and sleek integrated fresh acids, this is a very impressive blend from a fantastic vintage. Power and pedigree, a wine that demands your attention and engages your senses. 

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


De Toren Z Blend 2016 ~ and the winner is…

In case you read my below write up of the De Toren Z blending session at 67 Pall Mall recently thinking it was a fun but slightly pointless affair… think again. 

The results are in, announced today and the vote of the people is final. Viva De Toren democracy….


Here is the official announcement released today:

Dear Greg

After months of meticulous crafting, duteous tweaking to the potential blends and the valued input from the tastings, the concluding results of the De Toren Z 2016 Blend Tastings are in…

As an honorary guest of De Toren at the recent De Toren Z 2016 Blend Tasting, we want to use this opportunity to personally inform you of the final results. 

We are proud to announce the outcome of the 2016 vintage of De Toren Z, for the very first time. The winner, i.e. the blend for the De Toren Z 2016 vintage is, blend number 7!

This blend scored exceptionally well in all three rounds of the Blend Tastings and stood out from the overall blend line-up with a stellar 8 more points and the least controversial comments or feedback.

Please see below the varietal breakdown of the De Toren Z 2016:

· Merlot 54%

· Cabernet Sauvignon 12%

· Malbec 12%

· Cabernet Franc 16%

· Petit Verdot 6%

Once again, we would like to thank you for being part of this integral process, in helping us define our De Toren Z blend for the 2016 vintage.

Your input and time are valued a great deal. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the 2016 vintage, after some further ageing, when released in 2018. 

Kind Regards,
The De Toren Team

Read my write up of the blending tasting here:
https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2017/05/26/making-and-marketing-a-fine-wine-attending-the-inspirational-de-toren-z-blending-session-at-67-pall-mall/

Making and Marketing a Fine Wine ~ Attending the Inspirational De Toren Z Blending Session at 67 Pall Mall…

Marketing and selling fine wine successfully nowadays is all about connecting with your customers in a unique and dynamic way. Whether your customers are wine buyers, agents or end consumers, producers need to be able to think outside the box and educate as well as inspire. 


Yesterday’s De Toren Z 2016 blending session certainly ticked all these boxes and was both highly enjoyable, inspiring and educational all at once. With 10 to 12 buyers, customers, agents and sommeliers in attendance, we tasted and selected our favourite blind Z blends from nine possible 2016 variations. 


Below are my tasting notes for these blind wines for which no further blend information was furnished until after we had all delivered our top three wine choices as well as our least favourite. 


Z Blend 1 ~

Dense dark opulent nose of plum confit, mocha and milk chocolate. Subtle notes of red liquorice, crushed leaves, and hedgerow spice. Palate is soft, plump, fleshy with soft acids, and creamy spicy black fruit. Finish maybe lacks a little cut and tension. 89+/100

Z Blend 2 ~

Rich creamy nose of bruleed black fruit, caramelised cassis and black cherry. Hints of blueberry pie, condensed milk, and Creme brûlée. Shows a lifted cedar oak spice note, lead pencils and suave, sleek tannins. Fine balance, crunchy acids and very fine grained tannin finish. 93+/100

Z Blend 3 ~

(A blind ringer, actually being last years bottled 2015 Z Blend)

More exotic nose with raisined cassis, liquorice, touch of molasses and creamy raspberry crumble. Less overt fragrance and perfume. Palate is fleshy, full bodied but slightly less complex, a little soft and broad with perhaps insufficient definition and tension at the moment. But a lovely blend nonetheless. 92+/100


Z Blend 4 ~

Rich exotic nose of kirsch liquor, cherry confit, liquorice and blueberry pie. Hints of creamy molasses, sweet plum and freshly chiselled granite. Palate is fleshy, creamy, opulent, with dry grippy granitic mineral tannins, in a powerful, structured four square style. 91+/100

Z Blend 5 ~

Dense, dark creamy black fruits, Molasses, and caramelised plum. Develops classical notes of gravel, spice and chalk. Good freshness and grip, but the components are slightly disparate at the moment. Nice tension on the finish. Shows a lot of potential. 92+/100


Z Blend 6 ~

Dusty creamy bruleed oak, black plum, dense core, cherry pith, and a spicy lift. Violets, tobacco spice and sweet plum. Nice harmony, balance, and breadth. Shows good fine wine potential. 93/100

Z Blend 7 ~
Rich creamy opulent nose showing plenty of blueberry, cassis and aniseed root, liquorice stick and leafy cherry spice. Pretty dusty mocha powdered lift. Palate entry is tart, crunchy, vibrant and fresh with sour plum, cassis, graphite, gravelly tannin grip and a steely textural precision with a hint of cedary oak spice complexity on the finish. Very smart, very fine, great pedigree. 94/100


Z Blend 8 ~

Creamy dense, spicy cherry, black currant, and damson plum. Hints of raisined plum and blueberry. Palate is soft, creamy, dense and crunchy, with powder mineral grip, light weight supple elegance, and a very elegant texture. Suave, harmonious wine with good mid palate tension and freshness. 93+/100

Z Blend 9 ~

Overt nose of black plum, black cherry, spicy cedar as vanilla pod spice. Palate is very fleshy, sweet fruited, opulent and plush, showing good minerality. Finish is a touch shorter than some of the other Cuvees and does not quite fan its tail. A little more mid-palate tension and this could have been excellent. 89/100


My Blend Results:

After this challenging exercise, I settled on a top three list of Wine 7, Wine 8 and Wine 2, with my “least favourite” being Wine 9. Though I should add that all the blends were very fine and impressive, with some just a little more balanced, precise and complete in my mind. For such young wines I look for that extra intensity, tension and wound spring energy. Getting the right fruit, acid and tannin balance among the component blends can certainly deliver this. 


Results: Z Blending 2016

Emil Den Dulk’s selection:

7, 5, 6 and least 1

Sommelier Caroline from 67 Pall Mall: 
2, 5, 3 and least 7

Pretoria Tasting Session Selection: 

6, 3, 9 and least 1

Average Result Selection:

7, 3, 9 and least a tie 6,5,2

We were then treated to a fantastic lunch where we were able to discuss the blends while drinking an impressive Fusion V 2008 – 93+/100, Z Blend 2008 – 92/100 and Z Blend 2012 – 93/100. 


While the above tasting event may all seen a little bit academic if you weren’t actually there to taste the different wines’ subtlety and nuances, it nevertheless stands as a wonderful marketing exercise that gives a fascinating insight into the blending of a complex fine wine.

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 3: Chateau Duhart Milon Moulin de Duhart 2012, Pauillac, 12.5 Abv.

Chateau Duhart Milon has long been overshadowed by its bigger Pauillac brothers Carruades de Lafite and Lafite Rothschild. But circa 2005, the tide began to turn and Duhart Milon started to command the prices of a proper top quality Pauillac Cru Classe. Much of this was certainly thanks to China’s love affair with the Rothschild brand Portfolio, but quality advancements at the estate were also clearly evident.


Château Duhart Milon’s second wine is selected on the same basis as the “Grand Vin”. In general, the grapes are from the younger plots in the vineyards and Moulin de Duhart has therefore several characteristics similar to the grand vin, but with less potential for ageing due to its shorter barrel ageing period, and as such, should be consumed younger than its more robust big brother. The origin of the name comes from the former presence of a windmill on the Carruades plateau, next to the Duhart-Milon vineyard.


The cepage in 2012 consists of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 47%Merlot, which is aged in 2 year old French oak barrels for 10 months, producing 7,000 to 12,000 cases per annum. 


The 2012 vintage was characterized by difficult weather conditions in the Bordeaux region. After a relatively mild winter, the spring was mostly wet and rainy, especially April, which brought a violent hail storm on the 24th. Such conditions hampered fertilization, leading to fears of reduced yields. Work in the vineyard was as vital as ever. June and July alternated heat and humidity. The weather became more stable from the beginning of August, enabling the grapes to finish ripening in good conditions. 
Nevertheless, there was considerable variation in their degrees of ripeness and a great deal of sorting work was carried out by the Chateau’s teams from the end September.


Tasting Note: Lovely, classical expressive Pauillac nose that’s superbly fresh and vibrant, bristling with notes of black currant, black cherry, baked black plums, roasted caramelised almonds, blue berry crumble and buttered white toast. The oak is seamless and beautifully integrated, just melting into the dark fruit nuances. The palate entry is light and effortless, with the fruit rolling around on the palate like a wine tasting in zero gravity. There is seamless cherry and black berry complexity, a pithy spicy vanilla pod lick and a very elegant, fine, focused finish. This is the consummate second wine… earlier drinking, fresh, vibrant, lighter textured and a positively quaffable vin de soif with bells and whistles. Drink now to 2020.

Second Wine Rating: Beautifully expressive wine with a light touch. Buy!

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

Boschkloof Conclusion 2013 ~ Another Top Pedigree Bordeaux Blend from Stellenbosch…

I’ve recently been working my way through a selection of Reenen Borman’s lovely Boschkloof wines, most notably drinking his epic Boschkloof Epilogue Syrah 2014 on Christmas Day 2016.


But this time it’s his Bordeaux blend I’m examining, made from 54% Cabernet Franc, 17% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% each of Malbec and Petit Verdot at 14.5 Abv.


Tasting Note: This is a threateningly dark, opaque glassful. So black it’s almost intimidating. On the nose, the aromatics fly out the glass, with dried herbs, thyme, mint leaf, cigar box, eucalyptus, chocolate peppermint crisp, fennel seeds, cherry cola and sweet plummy black cassis fruit. The palate is dense, elegantly textured and vibrantly fresh. Beautiful fruit – acid balance, purity & focus, sweet tart cassis, mocha, espresso, and very fine grained tannins. Very light on its feet from the large dollop of elegant Cabernet Franc, this five grape Bordeaux blend reminds me of a homage to MR de Compostella. No idea if this is true, but it shows similar class, Franc elegance, and plenty of latent pedigree. An excellent effort. (Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)