The Fine Wine Safari’s Top 10 Most Memorable South African Red Wines of 2019…

What a great year of fine wine it has been yet again. I am in such a fortunate position to be able to no only taste the greatest wines of the world in a regular basis here in London and on my travels, but also taste the finest wines produced in South Africa on a regular basis while retaining a very measured, objective outlook in terms of where they really fit in the pecking order of international fine wine.

For my red top 10 selection, I have not merely selected my highest scoring wines of the year as that would be a little bit predictable, but I have selected wines that I found not only outstanding in quality terms but also memorable and thrilling to drink.

Also, I’d like to offer a special thanks to all the producers, many of them who are very good friends, that have offered me their time for my regular visits, tastings and importantly, lots of joyous eating and drinking together. Your hospitality is never taken for granted and greatly appreciated!

Happy New Year 2019. I believe 2020 is going to be an exceptional year of success.

Top 10 Reds (in no particular order):

Naude Family Wines Old Vine Series Oupa Willem 2018 – 96/100 GSMW

MR de Compostella Red Blend 2017- 98/100 GSMW

Vilafonte Series C Red Blend 2017 – 96+/100 GSMW

Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines Iron Syrah 2017 – 97/100 GSMW

Raats Family Eden Single Vineyard High Density Cabernet Franc 2017 – 98/100 GSMW

Thelema Rabelais Red Blend 2015 – 96+/100 GSMW

Savage Red Blend 2017 – 96/100 GSMW

Kanonkop Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 97/100 GSMW

Porseleinberg Syrah 2017 – 97/100 GSMW

Creation Emma Pinot Noir 2018 – 96/100 GSMW

Thelema Estate Prepares to Release Another Collectable Benchmark Cabernet Sauvignon with the 2017 Vintage…

Thelema Mountain Vineyards is a true Cape icon estate, located high on the slopes of the picturesque Simonsberg Mountain in the heart of Stellenbosch, the true South African 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.

After the numerous block buster releases from the incredible 2015 vintage, including probably their greatest ever wine produced, the Thelema Rabelais 2015 Bordeaux blend, predictably all eyes have been on this estate as they prepare to offer their highly anticipated offerings from the lauded 2017 vintage. My recent review of the Merlot Reserve 2017 gave a snap shot view into the quality that connoisseurs and collectors have been expecting to see from this fine vintage.

But whatever heights South African Merlot can reach, it pales in comparison to the classic benchmark quality expected from the very best Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux blends. Make space in your cellar now – You are going to need it for this new release!

Thelema Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

This is a fabulous expression of pure Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon in a style true to the 2017 vintage. The aromatics are perfumed and seductive showing nuances of tart black cherries, crushed black berries and warm brown toast spread with black currant jam. But it’s the saline cassis lift that melts into notes of kelp, graphite, sweet cedar, cigar box, crushed violet petals and iodine that really add some thrilling complexity. Like many 2017s, the palate fruit and concentration is sleek, elegant and super light on its feet without compromising any focus or intensity. The tannins are powder soft, sweet and ripe leaving the crisp bright acids to act as the main backbone and frame to the wine. Lovely cool fresh tart black berry preserve and black cherry fruits are so vital and pure, lingering long on a truly classical, Bordeaux-styled left bank leaning Cabernet finish. A very impressive wine in its youth that will undoubtedly age with great harmony and finesse if cellared for 15-20+ years.

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

Ridge Monte Bello 2018 – Tasting One of the Most Highly Anticipated En-primeur Releases of the Year…

One of my favourite wine producers at anytime of the year let alone around Christmas time has got to be Ridge Vineyards. Is there a more Christmassy wine to match roast turkey and cranberry sauce than a fabulous vintage of Lytton Springs or Geyserville Zinfandel? But for me it has got to be their Monte Bello red blend and Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon that register as two of the most expressive fine wines produced anywhere in the world.

The latest Ridge releases are always highly anticipated and recently I tasted their Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 and also their benchmark Monte Bello red blend 2018. Only 75% of the components made the final blend for Monte Bello. Chatting to Eric Baugher in London, the 2012-2016 vintages were hot and dry, while 2017 was more hot and wet to start before reverting back to a hot and dry summer, with fruit harvested late August.

Tasting with Ridge’s Eric Baugher in London.

The 2018 growing season was marked by unusually erratic and unpredictable swings in temperature and rainfall. The 2018 vintage was back to drought conditions in December – January, usually the coldest and wettest months of winter, with some storms in March with massive rain bringing some relief. Some showers in the Monte Bello vineyard during bloom (mid-May) definitely resulted in reduced yields. The final run up to harvest was mild, not too hot or cold but water stress did finally kick in towards end of August as harvest beckoned, as a result of the dry winter conditions.

Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Santa Cruz Mountains, 13.8 Abv.

77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc blend. This 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon displays a very harmonious, integrated aromatic profile already with subtle notes of violets, lavender and white blossom supported by blueberry and black currant fruits, vanilla pod spice and pretty, complexing spice finery of cinnamon stick, tobacco leaf, and dried mint. The palate shows weight and gravitas, a broad fleshy texture twinned with vibrantly fresh acids and dry, powder fine tannins. Already so elegant and balanced but certainly plenty of extra horsepower waiting to exert itself. Give this wine a couple more years in the cellar and start popping corks from 2022+ onwards.

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

Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 2018, Santa Cruz Mountains (Barrel Sample Blend)

The Monte Bello site of Ridge Vineyards lies 2600 feet above sea level in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The 2018 is an indicative blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc. Young and plush, the attractive nose is understandably dense and dark fruited with a noticeable vail of brûléed oak spice, buttered brown toast and vanilla pod espresso nuances. But scratch the veneer and there are ample fruit notes of black currant, earthy cassis, black bramble berry dusted with toasted coffee bean spice. On the palate the flavours are more integrated and tight knit with a real freshness of acidity bolstering black berries, black cherry and a crunchy blue berry vitality. Sleek and mouth-fillingly textural but also quite a bit more serious than the Cabernet Sauvignon (blend) with additional multi-dimensional layers of leafy sap, graphite and a pulsating muscular mineral tannin core. An enthralling, captivating wine that carries off a very well rehearsed act of fine wine seduction.

(Wine Safari Score: 97-98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The 2018 Ridge Monte Bello is scheduled for physical release in the Autumn of 2021 but is being offered for sale En-primeur now from fine wine merchants.

Another Valiant Effort From De Toren – Tasting the Fusion V 2016 Bordeaux Blend…

We all know that 2016 in the Cape was the second consecutive warm, dry, challenging vintage for grape growing. Nevertheless, top producers like Meerlust, Kanonkop, Raats Family, Vilafonte and De Toren succeeded in producing seductive Cabernet Sauvignon led Bordeaux blend reds.

We are fortunate enough to still be drinking many top 2015s here in the UK market while the 2017s are already starting to seduce local drinkers in the home market. But 2016 should certainly not be written off as quality focused producers stood up to the challenge of the vintage and delivered the goods in many circumstances, producing wines for slightly earlier drinking.

De Toren 2016 Fusion V Bordeaux Blend, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

While the 2016 Stellenbosch reds don’t quite have the same fruit purity and aromatic precision as the 2015s or 2017s, many of the top examples like this De Toren Fusion V 2016 make for very attractive wines with wonderful opulence and plushness. A 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Malbec, 14% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot blend matured in French and American oak, 50% new. The nose is full of black chai tea complexity, lead pencil, graphite, sweet cedar, black currant, desiccated black cherry and notes of savoury hoisin plum sauce. The palate is supple and fleshy with ample chalky grippy textured tannins, raisined black plum, sweet fig and a subtle earthy Christmas pudding and wintery dried prune note on the finish. An all round delicious Bordeaux blend exuding freshness, palate vigour and vinous excitement. Drink over the next 6 to 8+ years.

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

Fattoria Le Pupille Releases Their Impressive New Saffredi 2017 Super Tuscan in London… 

The original Sangiovese based wines of Le Pupille were made under the Morellino di Scansano appellation. So when Elisabetta Geppetti proceeded with her vision to add an international dimension to the estate’s wines, the Maremma’s first quality Super Tuscan was born.

The Cabernet Sauvignon based blend Saffredi was first released in 1989 with the 1987 vintage, made in consultation with Giacomo Tachis, one of the founding fathers of Italy’s Super Tuscan wine style. The Tachis era ended in 1996 and subsequent consultants involved with Saffredi have included Riccardo Cotarella, ex-Chateau Latour winemaker, Christian Le Sommer and currently, Luca del Toma.

As various consulting winemakers have taken the reigns and made their mark, so the Saffredi blend has slowly evolved, starting off initially as a pure Cabernet Sauvignon wine until 1990, after which Merlot, Syrah and Alicante have all played differing supporting roles. Today, the modern expression of Saffredi relies on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, all harmoniously blended to produce one of the most highly sought after reds in Tuscany.

Tasting at the London launch with Elisabetta Geppetti’s daughter, Clara Gentili.

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 2017, IGT Toscana, 14.5 Abv.

The 2017 marks the 30th vintage of this now iconic wine and is made up of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. Impressive quality delivered in a warm, challenging vintage. The aromatics are super perfumed, exotic and seductive with layers of cherry sherbet, crushed limestone, tart cassis and sour Victoria plums. The fine grained tannins are sweet and rounded supported by delicious freshness and vibrant acid brightness. Certainly no shortage of intense strawberry and black berry fruits, cherry spice, pomegranate, cola and subtle hints of graphite minerality and wood spice on the finish. A triumph of quality for the vintage and every bit as good as the lauded 2016!

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

Tasting and Assessing the The Cape Fine & Rare Wine Auction Super Lot Wines in London…

I was recently invited to preview the individual wines of the CF&RA super lot in London at the Goodman Gallery. After a very instructive introduction and overview by Michael Fridjhon, we were let loose on some iconic South African whites and reds.

The Super Lot Auction took take place on Thursday 28th November 2019 at Christie’s London.

 

With Michael Fridjhon in front of a magnificent William Kentridge work of art.

Full list of wines, with The Fine Wine Safari scores from the preview tasting in brackets:

LOT A

Sparkling

Graham Beck, Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs, Robertson, Western Cape 2009 (92/100 GSMW)

Whites

Alheit Vineyards, Cartology Bush Vines, Western Cape 2011 (96/100 GSMW)

DeMorgenzon, The Divas Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch 2013 (96+/100 GSMW)

Jordan Wine Estate, Nine Yards Chardonnay, Stellenbosch 2015 (93+/100 GSMW)

Ken Forrester Wines, The FMC, Stellenbosch 2009 (92+/100 GSMW)

Reds

De Toren Private Cellar, Fusion V, Stellenbosch 2004 (92/100 GSMW)

Kanonkop Wine Estate, Pinotage, Simonsberg-Stellenbosch 2006 (91+/100 GSMW)

Rustenberg Wines, Peter Barlow Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch 2009 (95/100 GSMW)

LOT B

Whites

David & Nadia, Hoë-Steen, Swartland 2016 (96/100 GSMW*)

*This is my recent tasting score from my sit down archive tasting with David Sadie as the bottle on show here showed slight cork taint.

Kaapzicht Wine Estate, 1947 Chenin Blanc, Bottelary, Stellenbosch 2014 (93/100 GSMW)

Richard Kershaw Wines, Clonal Selection Chardonnay, Elgin 2015 (95/100 GSMW)

Reds

Bartinney, Cabernet Sauvignon, Banghoek, Stellenbosch 2011 (90/100 GSMW)

Eikendal Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch 2015 (92/100 GSMW)

Plaisir de Merle, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paarl 1995 (93/100 GSMW)

Spioenkop Wines, 1900 Pinotage, Stellenbosch 2011 (91/100 GSMW)

Morgenster, Estate Reserve, Stellenbosch 2004 (93+/100 GSMW)

Fortified

Boplass Family Vineyards, Cape Vintage Reserve, Western Cape 2006 (92/100 GSMW)

What this archive selection showed was the incredible age worthy character of South Africa’s Chenin Blanc whites, not too dissimilar to Grand Cru Burgundy, and the classical complexity and elegance of South Africa’s top reds. Considering the cost price of many of these wines on release, these wines represent “fine wine bargains.”

Watch out for further up coming rare South African wine auctions at Strauss & Co Fine Wine Auctions in Johannesburg and Cape Town and further Cape Fine & Rare Wine Auctions in Cape Town.

Chateau Cap Leon Veyrin Producing Magical, Authentic, Traditional Bordeaux Reds…

I have to admit that I have a love – hate relationship with Bordeaux. On the one hand I am intoxicated by the history, the grandeur and the incredible quality this amazing region is capable of producing. Yet on the other hand, I often find the mentality and commercial strategies of so many Chateaux owners and their chosen négociant channels infuriatingly difficult to comprehend. As a result, buying from Bordeaux has really started to evolve and over the past years, I find myself buying more and more wines directly from the Chateaux themselves, from genuine, rational, modest people who are just trying to run honest businesses making the very best wines their terroirs can deliver.

 

So when a good friend in Bordeaux recommended Chateau Cap Leon Veyrin, I stopped and took notice as most of the best buying decisions I have ever made have been as a result of friendly producers recommending the wines of friends, neighbours or colleagues. Château Cap Léon Veyrin has been family-owned since 1810 when the Château Cap Léon and the Veyrin estates were joined together. The word ‘Cap’ originally meant ‘head’. The vineyard of Cap Veyrin actually lies on the higher grounds of Listrac Médoc on Gravelly marl soils to the north and thus boasts ideal natural drainage and sun exposure.

 

With Julien in the Cap Ferret tasting wine and enjoying the Bordeaux summer sunshine.

Nathalie and Julien Meyre are now the 6th generation of this Médoc family of winegrowers to manage the property where family traditions are perpetuated with care. Their Chateau wines are dominated by an indicative blend of 60 % Merlot, 35 % Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 % Petit Verdot with ageing for 12 months in French oak barrels, 60% of which are normally new barrels. In addition to Chateau Cap Leon Veyrin, the Meyre family also own a fine little 15 hectare property in the Haut-Medoc near Cussac Fort Medoc called Chateau Julien where the average age of the vines are 40 years old.

 

The fabulous beaches of the Cap Ferret.

Over the summer, I managed to meet up with Julien Meyre on a sunny day in Cap Ferret on the Bordeaux coast where I tried to learn more about his family, the wines they produce and their future ambitions. The evolution of their wines is now happening at a swift pace with the more recent vintages receiving added guidance and fine tuning with the help of Michel Rolland, certainly one of the greatest tasters and blenders in the whole of Bordeaux. Just when I thought I was starting to lose faith in the “Bordeaux Project” then I meet another wonderful vigneron like Julien Meyre and taste some beautiful, characterful wines that serve to rekindle my love affair with one of the greatest wine regions in the world.

Chateau Cap Leon Veyrin 2015, Listrac Medoc, 13.5 Abv.

A fabulously serious expression from this up and coming Cru Bourgeois Chateau. The powerful 2015 blend shows an attractive nose of dark bramble berry fruits, blackberries infused with wood smoke, briary and dark black chocolate notes. The palate reveals fine structure and delineation, a cool medium body and lovely gravelly mineral tannins. Dense, compact and youthfully grippy, this wine shows a fine pedigree, an impressive tobacco-tinged length and a spicy, grainy textured finish. Drinking well now or cellar for 8 to 10 years.

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

Chateau Cap Leon Veyrin 2016, Listrac Medoc, 14 Abv.

The 2016 vintage is one of the greatest vintages in Bordeaux in 2 or 3 decades. With a little air, this wine starts to unwind and reveal a great aromatic presence with lifted layers of sweet violets and purple lavender perfume. The palate is rich, linear and super classical with an initially taut, powerful structure which relents with around 30 minutes of air to reveal a most suave, polished graphite mineral complexity with incredibly fine grained tannins, sleek fresh acids and a wonderful overall harmony. Grace and power for sure. The sweet black and blueberry fruits are opulent and fleshy yet held in perfect posture by the wine’s crisp acids and regal structure. A really beautiful expression of classical, mineral laden Listrac. Drink from 2021 to 2030+

(93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Chateau Julien 2015, Haut Medoc, 13.5 Abv.

This petit chateau is a real work of brilliance offering up the most seductive, fleshy, fragrant blueberry scented aromatics with a subtle kiss of vanilla pod and mocha spice. Medium to deep garnet purple, this wine is packed with fleshy bramble berry fruits, baked plums, blueberry crumble and a dusty, dried baking spice complexity. The tannins are soft and generous, plump and inviting adding extra ballast to the long, creamy, dense length. A very impressive wine for the price. Great to see that Bordeaux can still make wines that over deliver at a price point. Bravo Julien!

(91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)