Mastering New Vintage Angst – Tasting the New Release MR de Compostella 2016 Red Blend…

I’m looking forward to writing up my summary of the best South African red wines of 2018 as the list should feature a tantalising tussle between the last few late release 2015 vintage red creations and some of the follow up 2016 new release challengers. One of the most iconic releases of 2017 was undoubtedly the 2015 MR de Compostella, still arguably the most sought after and collectable Bordeaux-styled fine wine produced in South Africa and one of the very few stalwarts that regularly trades on the Liv-ex International Fine Wine Exchange in London.

Bruwer Raats and his MR de Compostella partner Mzokhona Mvemve state that the “aim with the MR de Compostella wine is to take each of the five components and make a varietal wine in it’s own right. The wines are then tasted blind after one year in barrel. The wines that scored less than 90/100 points are then not considered for the final blend”. This is a very rigorous and ruthless process no doubt but also one which has assured that the final component blend release has never scored lower than 93/100 from international critics since the maiden vintage in 2004. So if you want a track record for your fine wine, there you have it!

The 2016 vintage was the second of the drought vintages and while 2015 was also very hot and dry, it did have the added benefit of plenty of ground water reserves after a wet 2014 winter. So an altogether more challenging set of conditions for the 2016 vintage that puts the achievements of Bruwer and Mzokhona into greater context with the magical new release of MR de Compostella.

MR de Compostella 2016 Bordeaux Blend, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

It happens in all fine classical regions… the angst and agony of a successor vintage following on from a block buster release like… 2015 Bordeaux, 2015 Super Tuscans or indeed 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon based blends in South Africa. Made from grapes from Stellenbosch grown on decomposed dolomite granitic soils, what immediately strikes you is the large percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon that makes up the final blend in 2016. So renowned for his exceptional Cabernet Franc creations, many of Bruwer Raats’ past MR de Compostella red blend releases have had a dominant percentage of Cabernet Franc which can leave a real signature imprint on the final wine.

The 2016 however is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon; 17% Cabernet Franc; 12% Malbec; 6% Petit Verdot and 2% Merlot with a 14.5 Abv, 3.59 pH, and a 5.7 TA. The aromatics are cool, perfumed and spicy showing plenty of overt violet fragrance, cedar spice, cinnamon stick, pencil box and dried mint leaf with an overall tendency towards elegance and classism rather than overt decadence. There is no shortage of sultry black berry fruit complexity with seductive nuances of black currant, pithy black cherry and sun raisined cranberries but they do require a bit of coaxing out the glass. Medium bodied, the palate is wonderfully understated and elegant, quite feminine but very precise and slightly more linear than some of the bigger more opulent, masculine vintages from MR, but is equally beguiling and sophisticated, teasing the senses with delicious notes of blood orange, raspberry coulis, earthy red currant, salty cassis and a sumptuous milk chocolate harmony. A thoroughly enchanting and engaging wine, the 2016 is a little more elegant and light on its feet, more ballerina than gymnast, retaining a keen line of acidity and freshness, impressive subtlety and awesome textural finesse. This has all the markings of another truly great expression. In the end, the wine does not feel Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated at all … with the sum of the component parts greatly surpassed by the finished blend. Drink this beauty from release and over the next 15+ years. Well done boys!

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

What Future For South African Second Wines? Tasting Top Super Premium Vilafonte’s Seriously Old Dirt Cuvee…

South Africa is currently enjoying a very buoyant year for red wine releases at a time when the onslaught of big white wine reviews seems almost relentless. Much of this new found red success is undoubtedly down to the incredible “once in a generation” 2015 vintage that has produced some of the most lauded and iconic red wines in the modern era of the South African wine industry.

One of the questions that this new found success raises for me as prices push to new super premium levels is the potential role second wines currently play or could play in the future development of the South African fine wine market. They are not a new phenomenon. After all, anyone who loves top South African Bordeaux blends will remember the declassified Meerlust Rubicon 2011 blended away into the delicious Meerlust Red 2011, or the MR de Compostella 2010 that was “declassified” to create the new Red Jasper 2010, now an established brand on the market. Or even the De Toren Z, which started off life as an “off-cut” blend of Fusion V but which has now also established itself as a popular fine wine in its own right regularly scoring as high if not higher than the Fusion V from international wine critics.

On this blog, I have already been running a series of reviews on second wines from top Bordeaux Chateaux as I look to identify the over performers, the dark horses and the unexpectedly great second wines worthy of consumer attention. These wines after all serve an important role in the market, giving fine wine consumers a glimpse of the greatness they might encounter with the more expensive, more premium first wines. With a lower price tag comes an abundance of powerful premium branding, desirability but also affordability and of course a greater degree of earlier drinking accessibility.

In this vein, I cracked a bottle of premium brand Vilafonte’s Seriously Old Dirt 2014, a wine produced from unique ancient soils with quality assured for current enjoyment in a true second wine model. Made with a 6-7 day cold soak, partial natural fermentation with an extended fermentation period, the wine was aged in French oak barrels for 22 months. Vine age varies between 4 and 20 years old and the 2014 vintage surpasses both the 2012 and 2013 vintages that were released almost exclusively to the Vilafonte Wine Club and is a blend of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2014, WO Paarl, 13.5 Abv.

Lovely rich, opulent nuanced nose of cedar, vanilla pod, polished teak, creamy choc spice, mocha, black berry, black plum and crushed rose petals. The palate is medium-bodied with a truly plush, succulent mouthfeel, infused with brown sugar, cassis and leafy plum. Tannins are very fine grained and classical, sweet but retaining ample mineral, stony graphite grip. A seductive, enticing wine that definitely shows its aspiring pedigree and noble parentage. Drink now to 2028+

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

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 6: Petit-Figeac de Château Figeac 2014, Saint Emilion Grand Cru…

The latest edition to the Wine Safari Bordeaux second wine series features a wine from one of my favourite Saint Emilion Grand Cru estates, Château Figeac owned by the Manoncourt family. Only the third vintage of this new second wine produced, Petit-Figeac de Château Figeac was created starting with the 2012 vintage.

Figeac is the largest estate in Saint-Émilion with 40 hectares (99 acres) of vineyards. Due to its soil, which is dominated by gravel, the estate is planted with grape varieties more reminiscent of the left bank, including 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc and only 30% Merlot. Most other Saint-Émilion wines are dominated by Merlot, and Figeac therefore bears a certain resemblance to the wines of the Medoc and Graves despite being situated on Bordeaux’s right bank.

From 1945 to 2011, the estate produced a second wine called La Grange Neuve de Figeac and since 2006 a ‘special wine’ named Petit-Figeac. From the 2012 vintage, Petit-Figeac became the single official second wine of Chateau Figeac.

Petit-Figeac de Château Figeac 2014, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 13 Abv.

A blend of 50% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, the aromatics reveal a real melange of plush ripe black fruits tinged with graphite spice. There are layers of cassis, blueberry, black bramble berries and black plum. As the wine unfurls in the glass, distinct notes of black cherry, mocha, espresso, sweet tobacco and milk chocolate become more pronounced. The palate texture is ultra soft and seductive, super supple with beautifully plush powdery tannins, vibrant cherry pith, hints of cola and liquorice and a subtle saline finish. A thoroughly charming high quality effort that Claret lovers can drink now or cellar for another 5 to 8+ years.

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

Boekenhoutskloof Journeyman Red Blend 2015 – Tasting Another Epic Red From The Belle Époque…

In the past few months I have reviewed a lot of 2015 South African Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet based red blends, many of which have admittedly received rather impressive scores. Some commentators have raised eyebrows and questioned if these wines are really individually exceptional or whether I’ve just had a rush of blood to the head. But time and time again I simply point out that an exceptional vintage like 2015 comes along maybe only once in a decade, or with global warming bearing down on us, perhaps only once in twenty years?

I am certainly not prone to hubris or score inflation but merely look, taste and assess the quality in the glass put in front of me and judge it in an international quality context. Which brings me to another of the top 2015 wines I have been waiting to taste… the Journeyman red blend from Marc Kent and Gottfried Mocke at Boekenhoutskloof.

Produced from grapes off the Franschhoek estate, this wine possesses a slightly mythical reputation, being almost unobtainable internationally and only irregularly by the bottle at cellar door. Mostly Cabernet Franc with a 10% splash of Merlot, this wine has been one of winemaking talisman Marc Kent’s pet projects for the past 10 years (when he’s not obsessing about Swartland Syrah!)

Boekenhoutskloof The Journeyman 2015, WO Franschhoek, 14 Abv.

Thoroughly distinguished, this wine whispers class from the moment you pull the cork. Dark, deep and broody, it tantalisingly suggests a lot but tries to hide its hand like a sneaky poker player. But with enough coaxing the nose reveals aromatics of cedar, sweet wet tobacco, subtle rose petal perfume and potpourri spice, raisined cranberries interwoven with mineral graphite depth. On the palate, there is a surfeit of classy cherry and black cassis fruit, powdered chew tobacco, vanilla pod spice, mocha coffee espresso and buttered brown toast. So incredibly elegant, a tight rope walker that is so assured and focused, brimming with confidence. This is certainly up there with some of the finest 2015 wines produced in South Africa. Buy it IF you can find it. Drink now to 2030+

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/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)

A Super Premium Expression of Cabernet Franc from South Africa… Tasting the ‘The’ Cabernet Franc 2014 from Walker Bay…

Dark and alluring, this wine is packed with expression and intrigue. It’s not everyday you get to taste the newest and most expensive super premium wine produced in South Africa! But D-day has arrived and it’s time to put the ‘The Cabernet Franc ‘ 2014 through its paces! This delicious, tantalising effort produced by Brian and Marian Smith of Elgin Ridge, in partnership with Niels Verburg of Luddite Wines, is the smartest new Bordeaux’esque premium wine to emerge from the Cape since the creation of MR de Compostella in 2004.

The nose is lush and seductive and oozes the aromatics of a super polished, finely tuned red wine. The oaking is rich, perfumed and ultra sophisticated. Tasted over a few hours, the nose remains tight and broody, compact and focused. You need to coax the genie out the bottle, but once it awakens, wow, you are inundated with a complex bouquet of liquorice stick, oregano, graphite, blueberry, cassis leaf and pronounced crushed gravel and limestone minerality. I poured this wine in both a Riedel Bordeaux glass and a Zalto Universal to make sure I could examine every element of its burning ambition.

The palate weight is creamy, textural and dense but remains fresh, vital and powerful with excellent varietal typicity. This effort is certainly more Napa Valley than Loire in style, but having said that, it wears its DNA proudly on its sleeve and represents pretty much every thing that’s great about South African wine at the moment. What’s perhaps most impressive about this wine is the way it holds its shape, vigour and presence in the glass over several hours… and then almost seems to tire of examination and starts to close up again.

I know Brian and Niels intimately and understand their passion and drive to not only get this wine ‘right’, but also make sure that it represents a wine genre that changes perceptions, opens eyes, shatters glass ceilings and helps premium South African wines climb another couple of steps up the competitive global fine wine ladder.

I have no doubt this wine will impress as many people with its quality, as it will upset with its price. But pause, take a deep breath, look around the market and you will see that there are so many wines from California, Bordeaux and coastal Tuscany that command similar or higher prices, but that are actually not as good as this very fine effort. Quality comes at a price. Be brave and tuck a 3 pack of this superb wine in your cellar!

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

Is There a Silver Lining in the 2013 Bordeaux Vintage Cloud? Tasting Tertre Roteboeuf 2013…

Is there ever a modern vintage from a premium global wine region that can be written off as totally unsaleable!? When you think of the 2013 Bordeaux harvest, it is not exactly a vintage many collectors and connoisseurs can envisage buying and cellaring. Indeed, the 2013 vintage was one of the coldest and wettest growing seasons in the past 40 years. 


In a normal vintage, Bordeaux would be expected to produce 5.5 million hectoliters of red wine. In 2013, this figure was closer to 3.9 million hectolitres, one of the lowest yields since 1970. But was the quality of the wines produced so horrendously below par as wine critics have made out? Personally, I remember returning from Bordeaux after tasting the En-primeur 2013 wines thinking what a delicious, elegant, light, fresh, “bistro vintage” this was going to be and how easy the wines would be to sell if the Bordelais priced them low “to move”. 


But of course, the Bordelais never do what is expected and the 2013 pricing was unreasonably high, out of touch generally, and the wines remained predictably unsold. Fast forward 4 years and it’s a sorry tale hearing of the large, unsold, unsaleable mountains of 2013 Bordeaux clogging up the balance sheets of negociants and Chateaux alike.


So when the opportunity arose for me to drink a bottle of 2013 Tertre Roteboeuf Grand Cru St Emilion, I approached the prospect with a fair amount of circumspection. What should I expect?

Chateau Tertre Roteboeuf St Emilion Grand Cru, 13.5 Abv.

The 2013 has a seductively perfumed nose that shows a wonderfully expressive bouquet of red cherries, red plums, red salty liquorice stick, cedar oak spice and sweet jasmine blossom. The typical Tertre Roteboeuf tasting note always alludes to the wine’s Burgundian characteristics. But with the 2013 Grand Vin, there is not only the pretty fragrant aromatics, but also the lighter, more ethereal texture more reminiscent of a Cotes de Nuits Burgundy than St Emilion Grand Cru. The palate shows beautiful balance and great depth of flavour with nuances of raisined cranberries, strawberry confit, dried figs, earthy red currant and pithy, spicy, picante tannins. Acids are fresh, slightly angular, taught and vibrant, lifting the palate concentration and highlighting its front palate opulence and immediacy before finishing with slightly peppery, spicy, chalky tannin drip. A very pretty wine, yet there is no frivolity in evidence, only focused, elegant, precise winemaking. Drink now to 2027+.

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