Vilafonte Blazing an Impressive Quality Trail with Their Seriously Old Dirt Second Wine – Their 2015 and New Release 2016 Reviewed…

I have been following Vilafonte’s Seriously Old Dirt releases quite closely since I first quaffed a few sneaky “members only” 2012 maiden release bottles with Mike Ratcliffe back in 2014 in Stellenbosch. But as a proper, true second wine of Vilafonte Series C and M, Seriously Old Dirt is a cuvee that has increased in quality in parallel to the amazing Vilafonte first wine releases.

But of course, everyone likes a fine wine bargain and everyone likes a plush, elegant premium wine with engineered structural accessibility while retaining age worthy credentials. So on the eve of the 2016 Vilafonte Series M release, I took the opportunity to re-examine not only the epic 2015 Seriously Old Dirt release but also taste the 2016 vintage for the first time. I was suitably impressed on many levels!

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2015,  WO Paarl, 13.5 Abv.

With more than a decade of vintages and a wealth of critical accolades and 90+ point ratings, Vilafonté has become a benchmark for South African Bordeaux blends. In 2012 they introduced a limited-production 2nd label – Seriously Old Dirt – that was initially only made availble to their private mailing list of international wine club members. Roll on three years and the epic 2015 follows on where the confident and solid 2014 (92/100 Greg Sherwood MW) left off. A wonderfully dense polished wine that is rich and full-bodied with complex aromas of pure black currant, black cherries, balsamic and fruitcake, lifted with Christmasy aromas of freshly cut cedar, nutmeg and all spice. The palate is impressively elegant and soft on entry with a ‘light on its feet’ texture but also a supremely concentrated, luscious mouth feel framed by a vibrant, fresh acidity that adds to the premium feel and expressiveness of this wine. Made in a proper second wine production model, this vintage is dead serious but can be approached and drunk now but will undoubtedly age beautifully for a decade and a half plus.

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

 

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2016, WO Paarl, 13.6 Abv.

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 76%, Merlot 13% and Malbec 11%. A deep purple black plum robe is cast by this new release Bordeaux blend. The nose is aromatically very complex and expressive, slowly unfurling layers of sweet fragrant black currant, blueberry compote, sweet pithy black cherries and alluring notes of sweet tobacco, wet autumn leaves, violets and dried mint leaf. Beautifully modern and incredibly precise, this medium bodied red blend observes the signature light touch accessibility of a genuinely premium second wine while teasing the palate with tremendous intensity of Cabernet-led creme de cassis, black currant pastille fruits, fruitcake, macerated damson plums and sun raisined black cherries. The flavours gently build in the mouth making you more and more aware of not only the persistent intensity of fruit but also the vibrant chiselled acids and chalky, powdery tannins. This is probably the most impressively assembled Bordeaux blend yet produced under the Seriously Old Dirt label and mirrors the incredible quality ascent witnessed in both the Vilafonte Series C and M 2016 releases. A really fabulous cuvee that imparts a lasting feel of grandeur and pleasure to the drinker. Like all previous releases, this is ready to go now but will age gracefully for at least 10 to 15+ years. 

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

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.

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)

Drinking An Iconic South African Red – Unravelling the Meerlust Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1976 and the South African Fine Wine Investment Market…

In the week that Wine Cellar South Africa launched (and sold out of) its first fine wine investment fund built around (physical) iconic South African wines from the 2015 vintage, I thought it was fitting to drink a wine that illustrates the true greatness of South Africa’s best red wines. In light of the Wine Cellar VIP 2015 offering, many international commentators less intimately connected to the fine wine market have stated that “few South African wines improve appreciably with extended ageing” and thus the fine wine investment model is built on a sandy foundation.

Firstly, one needs to clarify what extended ageing implies. From a wine trade / merchant point of view, one could reasonably expect the quality of wines included in the VIP 2015 Fund to age and certainly improve incrementally for easily 10+ years… and many on the list for certainly 20 years plus. Secondly, to say that there is no secondary market for aged South African fine wine is blatantly wrong. There is massive demand but merely little to no supply… and the older stock that does make it to market commercially is either small parcels kindly released by the wineries themselves from archive stocks as more of a marketing endeavour or the stock is from provenanced private collections. Either way, it is an insignificant, non commercial quantity unable to influence the market in any meaningful way and adds no liquidity.

I have been involved in the top end of the UK fine wine trade for 20 years now, many of which I have actively been promoting and selling the very best wines from South Africa to international collectors and connoisseurs. Admittedly, you need to sell the best names from the best vintages, but that is certainly no different anywhere else in the fine wine world. Many top South African red (and white) wines clearly age very very well and while you always need to be selective and take professional advise, this fact is now indisputable.

To many, the term or idea of investing in a wonderful agricultural product like wine is sacrilege, a dirty word, a dirty concept. But for time immemorial, the concept of “investing in wine” implied buying double your requirements, with money you did not always readily have, and then selling half the wine several years later when more scarce to finance the drinking of the other half. In essence, this is still the model many fine wine investors (drinkers) that I deal with on a day to day basis follow. Indeed, I cannot name one private client on my books who is tea total and who only invests in wine for the hard cold cash returns. They are all passionate about wine.

One thing is very clear to me however. For South African fine wine to gain a genuinely fluid and dynamic foothold in the fine wine investment market globally, there has to be a strong and confident “wine investment culture” locally in the home market of the wines in question. The demand for older vintages needs to begin at home and then ripple out to international markets. For far too long it has been international buyers piling into the Nederburg Auction wines, the Cape Wine Makers Guild Wines or the odd rare fine wine older vintage auction offering. This Wine Cellar VIP 2015 Fund marks the turning of a corner, where locals put their money where their mouths are and invest in iconic wines from possibly a once in a generation quality vintage. With over 12,000 bottles included in this fund, we should over the coming years, see stocks of these perfectly cellared older vintages released onto the market for local and international consumption at a premium that is commensurate to the quality and rarity of the given wine. Supply and demand will decide that premium.

For what it’s worth, I bought this wonderful Meerlust Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1976 from the winery in March 2018 and drank it recently at a South African themed fine wine lunch in London. Poured sighted, there wasn’t a taster on the table of seven that did not sit in awe of its youthful elegance. A true testament to the ageability and longevity of classical Cabernet Sauvignon produced by one of South Africa’s top estates. The message now disseminating out of the South African fine wine scene is not whether the country is able to produce age worthy wines of super premium quality, but whether the industry as a whole has the skills and knowhow to market these wines globally in a proper confident manner, for the correct premium price tag and importantly, to the correct target market segments? Time for everyone to up their game in the South African fine wine trade.

Meerlust Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1976, W.O. Stellenbosch

A beautiful mahogany colour, the nose is initially tight and cedary, spicy and quite restrained, but 20 minutes of air in a decanter after the cork is pulled allows this grand old wine to open its shoulders. Wonderfully mellow but still vibrantly youthful, beguilingly complex, fragrant and intriguing. The palate is loaded with lovely sweet raisined cranberries, violets, sweet tobacco, black tea and an earthy red currant sappy depth. Texturally this is so fine, initially quite piquant and spicy but also beautifully elegant. Incredible to think this wine is 42 years olds and still going strong. A bold, powerful and elegantly regal red showing the real potential of South Africa’s greatest terroirs and the true premium standing of great Cabernet Sauvignon. What a treat!

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

The Most Hotly Anticipated Red Wine Release from the 2015 Vintage – Tasting Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2015, South Africa’s Very Own First Growth…

The Kanonkop Estate is situated on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in the Stellenbosch Region of the Cape and consistently boasts some of South Africa’s most famous premium wines. A fourth generation family estate, Kanonkop was originally purchased by JW Sauer, a cabinet member in the parliament of the Union of South Africa and the estate has been handed down from father to son for over 40 years, now residing in the capable hands of its current owners Paul & Johann Krige.

The name Kanonkop was derived from a kopje (hillock), from which a cannon was fired in the 17th Century to alert farmers in outlying areas that sailing ships plying the waters between Europe and the Far East had entered Table Bay for a stopover at Cape Town. The Estate is situated on 125 hectares, of which 100 hectares are planted with vines. A small quantity of these red grapes are selected for the production of around 7,000 cases of 6 of the Estate’s flagship red Bordeaux blend Paul Sauer, produced by one of South Africa’s most intelligent winemakers, Abrie Beeslaar.

A traditional blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, the vines are on average 25 years old grown on decomposed Granite, Hutton and Clovelly soils and usually aged around 24 months in new 225 litre French Nevers oak barrels with medium toast.

Kanonkop Wine Estate Paul Sauer 2015, 14 Abv.

The goal with any vintage of Paul Sauer is to find the perfect balance between power and concentration, structure and freshness… allowing a certain amount of tamed accessibility combined with immaculate ageworthy credentials. Indeed, this is the DNA which has allowed a wine like Paul Sauer to become firmly established as one of South Africa’s most respected ‘first growths.’ Given the incredible opulence and concentration of the 2015 vintage, this expression dazzles the senses with the most alluring heady nose of sun dried cherries, black currant pastille sweets, blueberries, plummy hoisin sauce, cedar spice and fragrant violets. There is intensity, an abundance of concentration and impressively integrated wood spice, salted toffee and vanilla pod complexity. The acid-fruit equilibrium is perfectly balanced, wrapped in a velvety cherry kirsch liquor texture and a finely focused blueberry and juniper berry finish. Truly effortless class and so beautifully light on its feet with the most suave, polished tannin symmetry. I cannot think of a better expression of Paul Sauer than this 2015 in the past 25 years of tasting. This is possibly one of the finest South African red wines of my generation. Drink from 2022 to 2055+.

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

Celebrating Eleanor of Aquitaine’s Marriage to Henry Plantagenet with Chateau d’Issan – The Foundation Stone of the English Love Affair with the Bordeaux Region…

On Friday 18th May I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a superb celebratory dinner at the Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament. Arranged by the Cruse family from Chateau d’Issan in Margaux, the dinner commemorated the day in 1152 Henry Plantagenet married Eleanor of Aquitaine, which ensured the city and vineyards of Bordeaux and Gascony would become an English possession for the next 300 years.

As Duchess of Aquitaine, Eleanor was the most eligible bride in Europe. Three months after becoming duchess upon the death of her father, William X, she married King Louis VII of France, son of her guardian, King Louis VI. As Queen of France she participated in the unsuccessful Second Crusade.

Queen Eleanor in the Palace of Westminster

Soon afterwards, Eleanor sought an annulment of her marriage, but her request was rejected by Pope Eugene III. However, after the birth of her second daughter Alix, Louis agreed to an annulment, as fifteen years of marriage had not produced a son. The marriage was annulled on 21 March 1152 on the grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree. Their daughters were declared legitimate and custody was awarded to Louis, while Eleanor’s lands were restored to her.

Neal Martin from Vinous chatting to Max Lalondrelle from Berry Bros & Rudd in the Grand Hall.

As soon as the annulment was granted, Eleanor became engaged to the Duke of Normandy, who became King Henry II of England in 1154. Henry was her third cousin and eleven years younger. The couple married on Whitsun, 18 May 1152, eight weeks after the annulment of Eleanor’s first marriage, in Poitiers Cathedral.

The newest art instalment in the Palace commemorating the suffragette movement.

Over the next thirteen years, she bore eight children: five sons, three of whom became kings; and three daughters. However, Henry and Eleanor eventually became estranged. Henry imprisoned her in 1173 for supporting their son Henry’s revolt against him. She was not released until 6 July 1189, when Henry died and their second son, Richard the Lionheart, ascended the throne.

As Queen dowager, Eleanor acted as regent while Richard went on the Third Crusade; on his return Richard was captured and held prisoner. Eleanor lived well into the reign of her youngest son, John. She outlived all her children except for John and Eleanor.

Wines Tasted With Dinner:

Chateau d’Issan 2008, Margaux

This is classic, delicious, elegant Margaux claret. Complex layers of hoisin sauce, macerated plums, earthy black currant and just a little tease of graphite spice. Gloriously elegant and refined, this is another claret 10 years on that ticks so many drinking boxes. Classy classical Margaux and many guests favourite wine.

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

Chateau d’Issan 2003, Margaux (Jeroboam)

Rich, opulent exotic nose of black cherry kirsch liquor, creme de cassis and dried tarragon baking spices. Lovely and expressive, this wine speaks of the vintage and its ample sunshine and ripe fruit. The palate is fleshy and opulent, lush and showy but all quite finely proportioned. The finish show hints of bramble berry, hedge row spice and bruised black plums and soft mouth coating concentration. Drinking well now, it is impossible not to enjoy this sexy wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau d’Issan 1988, Margaux (Imperiale)

Served from an Imperiale, this wine has classic, old school Bordeaux written all over it. But 1988 Bordeaux always illustrates a cool vintage in such an animated manner, a fresh year in the Medoc showing dusty crushed gravel, parma violets, crushed leaves, wet hay, herbaceous garrigue depth and pithy cherry skin spice. Still wonderfully youthful, vibrant and fresh with a fine, complex smokey intricacy and grainy mineral tannins, superb hints of coffee bean and tannery leather. A lovely glass of wine, in a style we will probably never see made again.

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

Chateau d’Issan 1978, Margaux (Imperiale)

From such a large ex-Chateau format, there was every expectation that this 40 year old wine would be super youthful and indeed it was. The aromatics are delicately tertiary and complex, loaded with sweet tobacco, herbal cedar spice, hedge row, brewed tea and tannery leather nuances. Sleek textured, super polished, pithy and fresh, this is an immaculately vibrant, classically proportioned old school claret. A really wonderful treat to drink a large format 40 year old Chateau-cellared wine of this age.

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

Several regular 75cl bottles of the 1978 were also served and were equally delicious.

(Picture by Neal Martin, Vinous)

England’s youngest ever prime minister, William Pitt the Younger.

Champagne truffles to end the dinner.