I generally don’t review that many small, petit Chateau wines from Bordeaux unless they are second wines from larger, more well-known Grand Cru Classe estates that hold a lot of interest and intrigue for consumers, whether they are a straight second wine selection from left-over off cuts or “made” second wines from specific vineyards. The key point of interest for the reviewer and the consumer is of course trying to find the holy grail of classy wine that punches way above its price or reputational weight.
But here I am looking at a petit chateau wine produced by one of the most talented winemakers in Bordeaux at the moment. This wine, made by Jean-Michel Garcion, is sourced from a 13 hectare vineyard blend of 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot from vines that are on average 15 years old and grown on classic loam and clay soils just down the road from the famous Chateau Cantemerle Haut Medoc estate.
It has to be said, my interest was slightly more piqued for this wine after it received a 97/100 Best In Show score at the recent Decanter World Wine Awards 2020. Some might raise eyebrows at the score but as a Decanter World Wine Awards Panel Chair for South Africa, I know exactly how difficult tasting blind can be. But for Bordeaux, it’s extra complicated as so much rests on the Chateau name and brand tasted, not the actual terroir of the grapes or the name and skill of the winemaker. But this one’s a cracker no doubt!
An attractive deep dark garnet colour, the 2019 Lacombe Cadiot is a wonderfully precise expression with crisp, fresh, pure notes of black currants, blueberries, buttered brown toast, graphite and gravelly mineral nuances. Medium-bodied, the wine’s palate shows a crunchy vibrancy, a strict line of crisp acidity, blueberry, black cherry and smoky crème de cassis with an exotic note of hoisin plum sauce, wood spice, cloves and hints of Chinese five spice. What makes this wine a real head turner is the exceptional balance, suave cool elegance, attractive blackberry fruit concentration with a most attractive powdery, grippy, mineral tannin note on the finish. A wine that certainly punches way above its reputation, whatever your expectations from a Bordeaux red. Drink now to 2025+.
I first visited this Chateau in September 2014 in what seems an absolute age away now. Tucked away on the D2 main road in Soussans, I must have driven past this sleepy little Chateau on the bend in the road over 100 times over the years. But to finally visit and taste their wines made by the talented winemaker Jean Michel Garcion was a revelation.
In the UK, merchants are always on the lookout for new, exciting but affordable Bordeaux wines that show ambition and quality but also a pronounced degree of classicism together with supreme drink ability. Haut Breton is just such a Chateau and with its extensive 15 hectares of vineyards planted on sandy gravelly clay soils with an average age of 20 years old, Jean Michel crafts blends dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon with supporting roles played by Merlot and Petit Verdot.
I recently re-tasted the 2018 vintage in bottle ahead of its arrival in the UK market and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
The 2018 Margaux from Chateau Haut Breton is a really seductive temptress encompassing a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and 8% Petit Verdot aged for between 15-20 months in 70% new French oak barriques. Full of intrigue and complexity, this wine has classic Margaux elegance written all over it. The aromatics boast notes of warm plums, exotic Christmas pudding, creme de cassis and delicate notes of crushed violets, vanilla and freshly tilled earth. The palate shows all the subtlety and elegance you’d expect with smooth, suave silky tannins, a pronounced “light on its feet” concentration, piquant notes of brûléed coffee beans, buttered brown toast and a long, cool, fresh spicy graphite laden blueberry finish. This wine just keeps growing in the glass and suggests the best glory years are still to come! Drink now to 2030+.
Amiral de Cadiot is produced by Château Tayet which has been owned by the de Schepper family since 1994, the former owner, Mr. Marc Raymond, was director at de Schepper’s Chateau Haut-Breton-Larigaudière until 1993, selling his own estate to his previous employer when he retired. Tayet has an excellent terroir in Macau, very close to the AOC Margaux, which has grown by the acquisition of further high quality plots with a high plant density and today consists of 10 hectares of vines.
The “Amiral de Cadiot” by Château Tayet is considered to be one of the best Bordeaux Superieur and is one of the few wines of this class that ages 12 months in 20% new and 50% second fill barriques. The vines for this particular selection are at least 25 years old.
The Château Tayet Cuvée Amiral de Cadiot offers a whole lot of red Bordeaux magic at a truly excellent price point, something often sorely missing in these days of over ambitious, stratospherically priced icon Cru Classe wines. Wines like this in many ways represent the true heart and soul of authentic, consumer orientated classical Bordeaux. In the post Covid-19 lockdown era, wines like this are going to take on a much greater significance in the market place.
Château Tayet Cuvée Amiral de Cadiot 2011, Bordeaux Superieur, 14 Abv.
A wonderfully classical blend of 60% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot, this wine has the most intricate textured layers of blueberry and cassis fruit, mocha, brown toast, vanilla pod spice and a supple, plush, sweet fruited core with bright refreshing acids, ripe fine grained tannins and complexing peripheral notes of tannery leather, cigar box and graphite spice. A whole lot of wine that will impress the staunchest of discerning wine connoisseurs. Drink now to 2024+
Very sad to hear of the passing of the legend Michael Broadbent MW. One of the people who put fine wine on the global map when wine was an unknown niche category. Feel so privileged to have know him. RIP Michael Broadbent 1927-2020 🍷🙏🏼
Born in Yorkshire in 1927, Michael studied architecture at Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London before joining the Royal Artillery where he was 2nd Lieutenant from 1945 to 1948. He joined Laytons Wine Merchants as a trainee in 1952 where his wine career started. After a two year stint at Saccone & Speed Michael joined John Harvey & Sons Ltd Bristol in 1955. He was initially in charge of the North region both in shops and marketing, before becoming a director and finally the UK sales director.
Michael passed the MW exam in 1960, and a few years later he joined Christie’s in July 1966 where he created their first specialised wine department. He was responsible for starting Christie’s wine auctions, which he conducted worldwide. Until 1992 he was the senior director of Christie’s wine department, and he remained a senior consultant with the firm until 2009.
A wine writer and critic, Michael produced an extraordinary amount of tasting notes from his life in wine which are widely available to read. He published many books, including Michael Broadbent’s Wine Tasting and The Great Vintage Wine Book.
I had the pleasure of celebrating Michael’s 90th birthday with him at the new IMW office opening and again at a private celebration at Vintners’ Hall while many industry friends and colleagues also joined him last year at Vintners’ Hall for the launch of his last book.
With the Union des Grands Crus Bordeaux and its members deciding to suspend the 2019 En-Primeurs week that was scheduled to take place at the end of March in Bordeaux due to the coronavirus restrictions, I thought I would post these two wine reviews from the Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux tasting in London yesterday, 12th March 2020.
Speaking to Gavin Quinney of Chateau Bauduc in the Entre-Deux-Mers, he states “’You’re joking – not another one?’ No, really, Bordeaux 2019 is a very good to excellent vintage. It wasn’t straightforward, with heat waves, drought and a rainy finish along the way, but Bordeaux enjoyed a long, dry summer and harvest with just enough rain, and no disasters like the late spring frost of 2017 or the significant losses to mildew that some growers experienced in 2018.”
At the top end, it’s becoming an embarrassment of riches. 2019 makes it six very good years in a row for the northern Haut-Médoc appellations of St-Julien, Pauillac and St-Estèphe, which were largely untouched by the 2017 frost and produced many fine 2014s, and likewise for the top estates on the plateau of Pomerol.
Bordeaux 2019 – 10 observations on the growing season: (Source: Gavin Quinney)
· A dry year with 25% less rain overall than the average up to the end of the harvest.
· A mild winter saw average rainfall in November, December and January, then a dry February and March.
· Spring rainfall (Q2) was close to the norm from April bud break through to June flowering.
· Some localised spring frosts and limited hail damage later on, though relatively small losses.
· Flowering in early June began well but a rainy, chilly spell led to uneven fruit set in many vineyards.
· No major disasters like the frost of April 2017 or the mildew that had a significant impact on multiple growers in 2018.
· A long, hot summer saw over three months of mostly fine weather from mid June to the fourth Sunday of September.
· Heat waves in late June and 40 ˚C (104 °F) in late July put some vines under pressure – though this was pre-ripening.
· Heavy rain on the last Friday in July, just after a heat wave, refreshed many vineyards just in time.
· Light rain in among the hot weather in August and mid September helped the vines.
Chateau La Croizille 2019, St Emilion Grand Cru
Plush, broadly aromatic but beautifully soft toned with dulcet notes pink musk, purple rock candy and black currant with a fabulously generous glycerol concentration, harmonious breadth and depth and a subtle, vanilla dusted, brûléed blueberry muffin finish. Delicious expression. Power with elegance.
(Wine Safari Score: 92-94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Chateau Cap Leon Veyrin Cru Bourgeois 2019, Listrac-Medoc
A complex nose layered with perfumed aromatics drifting from violets to cherry blossom, pink musk to cherry cola and dusty graphite minerality. Super focus and balance, this wine has beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon lines, a chiselled texture and fine mineral, gravelly tannins. The fruit concentration shows a seductive sweet sour mouth watering edge and fabulous black berry fruit persistence. Focused, intense and impressively linear. This should turn into an absolute star!
(Wine Safari Score: 92-93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Tasted along side the superb 2016 for added insight…
Chateau Cap Leon Veyrin Cru Bourgeois 2016, Listrac-Medoc
Beautifully deep dark broody nose with plenty of black cherry, black currant, earthy blueberry and hints of savoury, wild bramble berry fruits. Seamlessly plush concentration is lifted and electrified by bright, tangy acids before the finish melts away in the mouth to leave notes of sour plum, graphite, salty black liquorice and kirsch cherry liquor. Really very impressive wine that certainly lives up to this epic vintage’s top billing.
The Glenelly Estate is a beautiful winery buried in a little corner of the Idas Valley in Stellenbosch. The property was famously bought in 2003 by Madame May de Lencquesaing of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande fame in Pauillac, Bordeaux, with a vision to transform the property into one of the preeminent fine wine producers in Stellenbosch.
In February 2020, I visited the estate for a lengthy and informative tutored tasting with Cellar Master Luke O’Cuinneagain. After a final flight of three vintages of their flagship Lady May red blend, tasting the 2010, 2013 and 2014, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try and also taste the as yet unreleased Lady May 2015. It required a few thumb screws and persuasion, but Luke finally obliged with a sneak peak of this fantastic Bordeaux blend from the iconic 2015 vintage.
You can expect a possible release of this iconic wine hopefully towards the end of 2020.
Glenelly Estate Lady May 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.
79% CS, 8% M, 8% PV, 5% CF
Deep, dark and broody, this wine speaks with all the authority and confidence of a 5 star block buster vintage. Brimming with black menthol cassis, boiled black berry sweets, black cherry and tight grained cedar spice, this wine wears a super hero gown of graphite and stony minerality and whispers quality from the moment it hits the glass. Tight, focused and impressively compact, there is a seamless saline black currant balance with linear polished marble tannins and a super intense concentration. This is the culmination of years of winemaking refinement and is without doubt the finest red wine produced to date at the Glenelly Estate revealing the true terroir quality potential of these groomed, premium Stellenbosch vineyards. Drink from Release with decanting and over the next 20+ years.
The Glenelly Estate is a beautiful winery buried in a little corner of the Idas Valley in Stellenbosch. I have been meaning to visit for many years to understand the essence of the winery and their philosophy but somehow always seemed to cross paths with CEO Nicholas Bureau or else their long time winemaker Luke O’Cuinneagain at tastings in London.
The property was famously bought in 2003 by Madame May de Lencquesaing of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande fame in Pauillac, Bordeaux, with a vision to transform the property into one of the preeminent fine wine producers in Stellenbosch.
With vineyards planted on near virgin granitic rich soils, Glenelly Estate had the opportunity to map out a varietal path that completely suited the style of wines they were looking to make. There would certainly be none of the red tape and restrictions Madame May had become so use to in Bordeaux. With sizable plantings of Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, Glenelly have all the building blocks for making some impressive wines.
In February 2020, I finally visited the estate for a lengthy tutored tasting with Cellar Master Luke O’Cuinneagain. Nicholas and Luke generously opened an impressive array of older wines to illustrate not only the development of the wines in bottle but also the evolution of the Estate’s winemaking and their ongoing quality improvements. Undoubtedly these are wines made in a more classical, restrained style and the French heritage is undeniable, radiating out of every glass and making all the wines in the range excellent gastronomic friendly expressions.
My conclusions after my tasting remain firmly that the hard yards have been completed and that the best years still lie ahead for this estate and its high quality wines. Glenelly Estate is definitely one to keep a very close eye on in the future.
White Wine Flights:
Glenelly Estate Unwooded Chardonnay 2011, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.
Super complex notes of terpenes, bruised yellow citrus and earthy root veg. Bright crunchy tangy acids make for a delicious mouthful that’s evolving beautifully. Very pleasurable glassful.
(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Glenelly Estate Unwooded Chardonnay 2012, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.
Dusty wet chalk aromatics melt into struck match, bruised peach, papaya and ripe lemon peel. Lush and layered, plenty of leesy quince, honeysuckle, ripe pear purée and a smokey, glycerol finish. Showing a lovely harmony.
(Wine Safari Score: 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Glenelly Estate Unwooded Chardonnay 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.
Youthful and bright, this shows vibrant notes of cream soda, dusty green honeydew melon and dusty crushed limestone. Lovely texture and fleshy mouthfeel, finishing with notes of melon, green apple and subtle minerality. Lovely gourmet wine.
(Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Glenelly Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2012, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.
Like its unoaked sibling, this shows a hit of reduction, dried mint leaf, peppermint and lemongrass. Equally plush and textural, this has a broad glycerol mouthfeel, savoury lemon peel fruit, subtle oak spice and a hint of peppermint crisp on the finish.
(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Grand Vin 2013, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.
Taut and restrained aromatics, this shows plenty of minerality, wet chalk, white citrus and limestone nuances. But the palate blossoms to show abundantly sweet textured flesh, lemon herbs and a vibrant energetic finish with impressive persistence.
(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.
Cool and restrained, this displays plenty of stony minerality layered with lemon and herbs, lemon cordial and dried mint leaf. Palate is savoury and fleshy with bruised yellow orchard fruits, ripe papaya and dry fynbos. Concentrated, mouth filling and impressively persistent.
(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.
This nose is expressive and exotic with savoury bruised yellow fruits, melted wax and incense notes. The palate shows sweet herby glycerol weight in a more oxidative frame. The texture is sleek and the balance finely poised with plenty of concentration and tangy acids on the finish.
(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.
This vintage shows hints of ripe lemon and herbs, dry fynbos, honey on white toast and subtle mint leaf complexity. Super focused concentration, bright tangy acids and impressive length, you can see the pedigree potential of this wine. The aromatics are a little reticent but the quality is clearly apparent. Impressive for a hot, dry vintage.
(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.
A more steely expression with purity and clarity. Fine notes of lime peel, lemon cordial and wet limestone and lemongrass herbs make for a fresh, vibrant aromatic profile. The hallmark concentration is there with glycerol, textured intensity of lime cordial, green apple and cedar spice on the finish. A lovely mouthful from a good vintage.
(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.
Lifted and expressive with dried fynbos, peppermint tea and herbal spice mixed with bruised white peaches, lemon iced tea and lemongrass herbs. Bright and zippy, this wine shows plenty of overt energy, crystalline citrus pastille fruits and a seamless creamy balance. Delicious expression.
(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Red Wine Flights:
Cabernet Sauvignon driven wines with supporting components of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot laced with a small percentage Syrah a la Claret in the good old days of Bordeaux.
Glenelly Estate Reserve 2013, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv. 15%
Syrah in the mix, this smells and tastes of classic old school Bordeaux with sweet tobacco leaves, herbal spice, tannery leather, cigar box and sweet savoury black currant and black berry intensity with a clear vein of graphite. Creamy and cool fruited, this is plush and textured with earthy black orchard fruits, lead pencil, graphite and a sweet piquant cedary finish. Drink now or cellar for a few more years.
(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Glenelly Estate Reserve 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.
Dark and broody, this wine shows plush opulence with aromatics of coffee beans, black plum, cedar spice and pronounced graphite intensity. Soft and sumptuous, this has plenty of overt early drinking generosity laced with black chocolate and piquant spicy tobacco notes. Ready to go now, but certainly no rush.
(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Glenelly Estate Lady May 2010, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.
90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot
Rasping dusty chalky aromatics of classic Cabernet Sauvignon, crushed gravel, graphite, tannery leather and grilled herb spice. Super youthful at 10 years old, this wine speaks of pedigree. Polished and finely balanced, this has oodles of old world classicism, spicy cedar, piquant black berry and silky suave focus. Very impressive but will certainly get better with further ageing.
(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Glenelly Estate Lady May 2013, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.
Again, plenty of classicism and mineral driven tension, but this lovely wine shows more energy, greater linearity and superb focus. Saline cassis, tart black cherry confit and earthy damson plum complexity shows this is a serious fine wine. Sleek, pure and generous but retaining elegance and restraint, seamless blissful harmony and pin point focus. Beautifully complex and integrated, this is definite Grand Cru Classe quality!
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Glenelly Estate Lady May 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.
Intricate yet generous, this youthful expression shows creme de cassis, violets, peppermint crisp milk chocolate and dark spicy plum. Plush and sweet fruited, the 2014 is forward and showy, revealing the plushness achieved at Glenelly in all of their reds. With its sweet tannins, fleshy glycerol mouthfeel, fruit concentration and bruleed earthy coffee bean finish, this fine wine is ready to go now however, extra tertiary development will only elevate this wine further.
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 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!
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.
There is no doubt what so ever that when you taste a new vintage of Thelema, whatever the cuvee, you just know that the estate is on the ascendancy again with wine quality rising to match its historical reputation as one of South Africa’s most famous and revered producers. This wine certainly is a real surprise for a South African Merlot and exhibits a taut, fresh palate texture and classism that has more in common with the great old Thelema Merlots from 1994 and 1995 than with more recent expressions from the early 2000s.
When I speak of Thelema on the ascendancy, I speak purely from a UK centric stand point as I am confident to say that in the home market, the Thelema brand has never been more revered or admired. This Merlot is yet another step in the right direction for Thelema as they strive to cement their rightful place in the international world of fine wine.
This wine exhibits alluring aromatics of dark pithy black plum, black berry spice, sweet leaf, earthy red currants, plum sauce and a cornucopia of led pencil wood spice, dried herbs and sweet cedar notes. Texturally, the palate weight is super sleek and taut harking back to the classical styles from the mid 1990s despite the elevated alcohol level at 14 abv. The tension, verve and stony minerality wash across the palate finishing with a long lingering note of sweet black bramble berry spice and a subtle cedar complexity. I love the linearity, precision and focus that is often absent in the majority of other South African single varietal Merlots. This wine’s crystalline acids bring an energy and crispness that frame the wine in such a classical manner. While I have never claimed to be a massive fan of single varietal Merlot unless from California, the Right Bank of Bordeaux or from pockets of Tuscany, I fail to see how much better this variety can perform solo in a South African context unless you blend in other grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot. This 2017 Reserve certainly tastes like a keeper. For the record, the 1994 and 1995 Thelema Merlots are still going strong! Maybe it’s time to drink up and replace with a few bottles of this impressive new wine?