Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 13: Chateau Seraphine L’ Innocence de Seraphine 2019 from Pomerol…

Regarded as one of the true rising stars of Pomerol and the right bank, Charlotte Krajewski, daughter of owner Martin Krajewski, has overseen winemaking at the Chateau Seraphine property since 2017 as the Technical Director and Chief Wine Maker after previously travelling and working extensively in France, Australia, USA and more latterly New Zealand in Hawkes Bay.

Their vineyards have an overall surface of 2.2 hectares but is split into two parcels of vines. At Plince they have one hectare of vines situated on a well-draining slope of sandy topsoil over clay and deep gravels and 0.4ha of this plot was replanted with Cabernet Franc in April 2017 at 8000 vines per/ha. The second block at Mazeyres is 1.2ha and is also laid out in two distinct sections. The first part consists of a raised deposit of deep gravels on 0.6ha and is planted with old Merlot vines. The second part sits on a gently sloping 0.6ha and is a patchwork of shallow sandy soils over gravels and blue clay (smectite) and was replanted with Merlot in April 2017 at 8,000 plants per/h.

The growing year started slowly but was followed by a series of heat waves, a drought and heavy rain in late September although Seraphine also enjoyed an almost endless dry summer that led to a very fine harvest. During the 2019 growing year Seraphine decided to maintain a slightly higher density canopy and so did only a light leaf-thinning in the early season on the side of the rising sun. Then in early August they also did a green harvest to adjust the crop size and to take pressure off the vines after the long warm summer.

In the winery, the harvested fruit was carefully loaded from small baskets onto a first-sorting table and then de-stemmed using their precision CUBE system followed by a berry hand-sorting table and a gentle crushing before arriving in the fermentation tanks by gravity. The average yield was approximately 35hl/ha for the older vines although not all of the fruit went into the Grand Vin, and 25hl/ha for the younger vines, which was used exclusively for the ‘second’ wine.

Chateau Seraphine L’ Innocence de Seraphine 2019, Pomerol, 14% Abv.

Surely the expectations for a premium 100% Merlot Pomerol from a top vintage like 2019 will be high and this second wine certainly does not disappoint. The aromatics are accessible, rich, broad and expressive with high toned notes of violets and lilac over hints of tilled loamy earth, wet clay, earthy black plum, burnt wood embers, bitter black chocolate, dried coconut flakes and bruleed coffee beans. The palate is equally inviting with soft, spicy, pithy layers of chocolatey black berry fruits, dusty graphite, vanilla pod, black tea, stewed cherries and exotic baking spices. The tannins are classically mineral and piquant offering structural support to the supple dark berry fruits ensuring serious drinking pleasure for true Bordeaux connoisseurs. Drink this now or cellar comfortably for another 5 to 8+ years.

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

This wine is available in the UK at £59.99pb from Museum Wines.

https://www.museumwines.co.uk/product/linnocence-de-seraphine-pomerol-france-2019/

Damascene’s Current 2020 Red and White Releases Reviewed and Rated…

Damascene is the super exciting South African winery partnership between top talent Jean Smit, previously the winemaker at Boekenhoutskloof, and David Curl, the former owner of Bordeaux’s Chateau Gaby. The maiden Damascene bottlings were only in 2017 but already the winery has, since then, established itself as one of the most exciting new producers on the Cape fine wine landscape.

While the new 2021 vintages have just been released to great acclaim in South Africa, the 2020 vintages are the current releases on the UK market and in May 2020, I caught up with Jean Smit in London to taste through his exciting range of whites and reds.

Tasting with Jean earlier this year in London.

As Jean explained, the idea of Damascene’s wines was to represent the different regional identities of the South African winelands with grapes being sourced from across the Cape. The wines are made in a well-equipped cellar on David Curl’s Elgin apple farm, which also supplies the Pinot Noir for the Moya Meaker label.

Damascene Semillon 2020, WO Franschhoek, 13.5% Abv.

Sourced from two old vine vineyards plss as noted in 1962 and 1942, this wine was fermented and aged on lees in 1000 litre Austrian foudre and offers up beautifully bright, fragrant, piercing aromatics of white citrus, white blossom, lemon and lime peel, a hint of sea breeze salinity (from the 1962 vineyard) and kelp nuances. Taught and concentrated with a fine glycerol texture, lemon grass, lemon butter, white citrus, tangy green apple and a hint of lanolin on the finish. Delicious and crystalline. A very impressive expression of Old Vine Semillon.

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

Damascene Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

Sourced from three blocks on the crest of the Bottlary Hills. Granite (5% on skins), Greywacke and Shale soils which give acidity & lemon lime notes. Rich, savoury and yellow fruited, with lots of honey suckle, ginger, white blossom and dusty mineral spice. Aged 11 months in old oak barrels. The wine shows bruised yellow peach and yellow plum that follows to a palate loaded with tangerine, Seville oranges and honey on warm toast. Lovely complexity, flinty minerality, tart acids and impressive depth of flavour. Wow!

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

Moya Meaker Pinot Noir 2020, WO Elgin, 13.5% Abv.

10 barrels (300 litre light toast) using 777 & 667 Pinot Noir clones. No stems and 11 months ageing. Reveals a lovely rose petal, black cherry and bramble berry perfume with hints of pink musk. Texture is pure and sleek, beautifully polished and focused with pomegranate, blood orange, hints of cured meats and complexing wood smoke notes. Pinpoint focus and precision with really bright acids and textural elegance.

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

Damascene Cabernet Franc 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

Aged 11 months in 1000 litre Austrian foudre. The terroir is based on poor granite soils in the Bottlary Hills. The nose shows sweet red and black berry fruit, bouquet garnier, potpourri, fennel, dusty granite, sweet cedar and grilled herbs. The palate is pure and elegant with a salivating fresh acidity supported by a fine line of tannin grip but all exceptionally well balanced. A really delicious expression of Franc!

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

Damascene Syrah 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5% Abv.

75% of whole bunches used with no submerged cap. 2/3 Karibib fruit (lending pepper & perfume), 1/3 Bottlary (north facing for extra tannins). Boasts sweet dark red and black berry fruits, potpourri, musk perfume and a savoury cured meats complexity. Beautifully pure and elegant with red berry concentration, great textural finesse and soft integrated acids. Wonderful harmony and pedigree. This is something very special indeed.

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

Damascene Syrah 2020, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.

75% whole bunches used then aged in 2000 litre foudre from vines grown on brown schist soils. Aromatics are dark and broody with incense, waxy crayon, earthy black berry, black plum, lavender and wild bramble berry notes. The palate shows plenty of power, depth and concentration with focused mineral tannins, plenty of broody savoury black and blue berry fruits with a hint of black olive tapenade. Very Northern Rhone like in character and also quite individual. Another cracking wine.

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

Damascene Syrah 2020, WO Cederberg, 13.5% Abv.

Made using 45% whole bunches (on average), from one block at 940m above sea level. Shows classic Cederberg Shiraz aromatics of blue and black berry fruits, blue berry crumble, grey slate minerality and sweet vanilla pod dust. Palate is full and round with dense, sweet creamy tannins, cinamon spice, tart underlying acids and a taut linear structure. Lovely depth, fruit intensity and balance showing the true purity offered by Syrah from high elevation vineyards.

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

Damascene Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

Grapes mainly from Vlottenburg vineyards grown on koffee klip and granite soils (graphite notes) and Helderberg and Bottlary Hills (cranberry notes). Aged 12 months in 80% new 225 litre oak barriques, second year in 1000 litre Austrian foudre. Lovely sweet cedar, wet tobacco, tannery leather and a mix of red and black berry fruits and grilled herbs. Rich, plush and creamy with cassis, blueberry, musk, red cherry and creamy tannins with bright mouth-watering acids. Very impressive expression of Stellenbosch Cabernet!

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

After a Short Absence, MR de Compostella Returns With One of their Most Iconic Releases to Date – Tasting the New 2020 Vintage…

Mvemve Raats is a critically acclaimed collaboration between friends and winemakers Mzokhona Mvemve and Bruwer Raats. Bruwer is of course the owner, winemaker and mastermind behind Raats Family Wines, where he has earned a reputation for producing top notch Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc over the past 20+ years.

Mzokhona Mvemve, the first Indaba Scholarship recipient, is a graduate of Stellenbosch University and one of South Africa’s first qualified black oenologists. Together, since the 2004 maiden MR vintage, they have created one of South Africa’s most consistently high scoring premium quality icon Bordeaux blends in the Cape.

Assembling a new vintage of MR de Compostella is a massive feat of precision winemaking, organoleptic assessment and blending to create a wine whose whole is clearly greater than the sum of its parts. It is for this reason that utmost attention is paid to all blending building blocks from all varieties to ensure that the finished wine has the density, intensity, structure and finessed power to age for at least 20, 30 or 40 years in bottle. If these prerequisites cannot be met, the MR wine will not be bottled, like previously in 2010 and 2019, when the wine was declassified into the Raats Family Jasper red blend.

With the 2018 MR receiving the highest of international critical scores yet, and then no 2019 bottled, all eyes were on the 2020 to see what Bruwer and Mzokhona could create using their winemaking magic. With the international global release scheduled for late November, I recently met up with Bruwer Raats to assess the new 2020 edition of this Cape icon Red.

MR de Compostella 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv. 

Never made with exactly the same blend in any two vintages, the 2020 is a classic Cape Bordeaux assemblage of 30% Cabernet Franc, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Malbec, 16% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot with a total production of only 1,000 x 6. The wine displays a real intensity in the glass with a ruby red rim and a red / black plum heart. The aromatics are vibrant and fabulously perfumed, bursting from the glass with expressive notes of red and black berry fruits, black currant, raspberry, red and black cherry, before notes of earthy blueberry emerge with suggestions of pressed violets, lavender, sweet sandalwood, star anise and graphite spice. On the palate, the vintage’s regal elegance emerges with exhilarating acids framing the plush opulent red and back berry fruits, saline cassis, tart red cherry and a blueberry confectionary generosity. Tasting the wine with Bruwer Raats, inevitable comparisons were made to the iconic 2017 MR, with both wines sharing a beautifully bright acid freshness and a weightless concentration of pure berry fruits with only the slightest suggestion of vanilla oak spice. This really is a wine with a mixed palette of colours, flavours and fruits and the most seamlessly elegant, finessed velvety tannins. Following on from the 2018 blockbuster, with no 2019 MR produced, this 2020 is a bold, enchanting, characterful wine full of precision that trumpets the return of this incredible benchmark Cape classic. A breathtaking wine on so many levels. Drink from 2024 to 2045+.

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

Vilafonte Excels with Another Impressive Wine of Harmony and Balance – Tasting the New Release Series C 2020…

After returning from a very successful Cape Wine 2022 wine fair, the tragedies and hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic almost seem a distant faded nightmare. But as I start tasting a fresh wave of exciting new 2020 red releases, the memories of this unprecedented time come flowing back especially when you consider that many producers in the Cape, at the time, feared that they would not be able to even pick their succulent grapes as harvest approached. But if there is one thing wine producers are well versed at coping with, it is extreme disruption and endless uncertainties.

The 2019/2020 growing season brought fair and favourable conditions with a return to a more traditional cold and wet winter. With Spring came warm, fair-weather conditions resulting in an even, two-week early bud-break. As is often the case in the Cape vineyards, windy conditions during flowering resulted in a variable berry set and looser clusters with small intense berries. Thankfully, temperatures during ripening remained modest without any heatwaves, leading to an even, measured pace of ripening and picking. By the time the national Covid-19 lockdown was announced by the national government on the 26th March 2020, Vilafonte had already processed all wines safely to barrel.

Looking back to February 2020, it seems crazy to think that my visit then to the Vilafonte winery at the time would be part of my last visit to South Africa for over two years due to the pandemic. While the overall harvest continued into March, I clearly remember watching multiple trucks offloading the freshly picked Malbec grapes in late February that were tiny pea berry sized, pitch black, perfectly healthy and faultlessly formed. Spirits were high for another exceptional, high-quality harvest.

Vilafonte Series C 2020, WO Paarl, 14.5% Abv.

The 2020 Vilafonte Series C is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 10% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Franc that was aged for 22 months in 68% new French oak barriques with the balance in older used French oak barrels. In the glass, the wine displays an intensely dark, alluring purple black colour and an expressive aromatics of violets, sweet macerated black cherries, blue berries, smoky cassis and touches of Christmas pudding, sweet cherry tobacco, melted liquorice, milk chocolate and ginger cake nuances. There are slight caramelised touches to the aromatics with hints of vanilla pod, clove oil, camphor and sweet cedar spice that melt seamlessly back into the rich, opulent black and blue fruited complexity. Full, rich and elegantly textured, the palate is laden with spicy black fruits, black cherry compote, black currant pastille and intriguing layers of cinnamon spice, salty liquorice and sun raisined blue berries. There in an impressive intensity and concentration on display yet the wine remains fine grained, harmonious and fresh, finishing with spicy, supple velvety tannins and yet more stony, pithy minerality. Delightfully ripe and sometimes erring on the side of hedonistic exoticism, the core essence of this wine is nevertheless built around balance, concentration, purity of fruit and brazen intensity without ever becoming overbearing. A wonderfully individual expression of the vintage, this delicious 2020 continues the Series C’s rock-solid consistency of premium form. Drink from 2024 and comfortably over the next 10 to 12+ years.

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

South Africa’s Iconic Cape Bordeaux Blend Brand Meerlust Estate Releases Their 2018 Rubicon…

In November 2019, winemaker Wim Truter joined Meerlust, taking over from Chris Williams to become only the third winemaker to take the reins at this historic estate. Chris had finally followed his own calling and decided to move on to the next chapter of his winemaking career to further grow his own Foundry Winery brand. So, while technically the 2018 vintage is still regarded as the fruits of Chris’s labours, Wim Truter has done a fine job overseeing not only the release of this new Rubicon blend but also the declassification of the 2019 Rubicon vintage into the Meerlust Red 2019 for the first time since 2011. Meerlust Red 2019 reviewed here… https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2021/10/17/the-resurrection-of-the-meerlust-red-blend-tasting-the-2019-vintage-release/

There are few premium brands in South Africa who produce the high quantity of quality wine that Meerlust Estate does, and so it was inevitable that the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lock-down would have a disproportionately negative effect on sales of this world-famous brand that is listed by almost every leading hotel, restaurant and bar in South Africa as well as in a never-ending list of top restaurants and 5 Star hotels around the world. As a result, consumers have had a longer run of availability with the exceptional 2017 Rubicon that was rated 96+/100 on the Fine Wine Safari. But the time has finally come for the 2017 Rubicon to pass the baton over to the highly anticipated 2018 vintage. Meerlust Rubicon is undoubtedly one of South Africa’s greatest wine ambassadors. If you have not tasted it yet, you are indeed missing out on one of the great Bordeaux blends produced in the Cape.

The higher altitude and close proximity to the sea helped cool the vineyards during the hot and dry vintage of 2018.

Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14.3% Abv.

2.6 g/l RS | 5.54 g/l TA | 3.63 pH

The 2018 Rubicon is a classical blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, with every parcel of each variety fermented separately before undergoing malolactic fermentation in 300 litre barrels and large foudré. After 8 months in barrel, the components were blended and given another 10 months in barrel for harmonization before bottling. Wonderfully deep in colour, the nose is splendidly expressive showing quintessential Cabernet Sauvignon notes of pressed violets, black plum, sun raisin black currants, black salty liquorice, black chai tea, sweet cedar spice and layers of graphite and spearmint. While the aromatics are dominated by rich, dark berry fruits, the palate is classically proportioned with plenty of overt elegance and textural finesse – a great feat considering the heat and drought of the 2018 vintage. The extra bottle age before release has undoubtedly been a positive for this powerful, structured blend, helping to further round out the suave creamy tannins and harmonise the earthy black berry fruit layers, making the acids polished, glassy and fresh rather than taut and crunchy like many other 2018 reds. Unexpectedly approachable in its youth, I would have no hesitancy to cellar this super smart blend for another 10 to 15+ years.

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

Wines available to the UK trade from Maisons Marques et Domaines Ltd and should retail for circa £30pb.

Brothers Pierre and JP Winshaw Honour Their Ancestors with An Accomplished Cape Bordeaux Blend – Tasting the Charles Winshaw Cuvee from Winshaw Vineyards…

I first met brothers Pierre and John Philip (JP) Winshaw in 2018 when I was asked to co-chair the incredible Whole Bunch Tasting titled ‘The Wines That Raised Us’, just before the Cape Wine 2018 trade fair. The Winshaw brothers had pulled a number of incredibly rare old South African heritage bottles out of their grandfather, Bill Winshaw’s cellar, to present to the who’s who of the world’s wine trade. It was at this prestigious tasting that I rated my first South African wine 100 points – the Chateau Libertas 1957, now a legendary wine.

Today, the Winshaws combine traditional farming with grape growing on their Stellenbosch property Klein Welmoed, selling fruit to some of Stellenbosch’s most notable producers. But the brothers not only make their own wines under the Usana label, but they have also more recently, started making a premium range of Cape Bordeaux blends under the Winshaw Vineyards label. The line-up includes a delicious straight Malbec (which I recently rated 93/100) and two super cuvees, one based around Cabernet Sauvignon and one based around Cabernet Franc. The two red blends honour their great-grandfather Dr William Charles Winshaw, founder of Stellenbosch Farmers Winery (SFW), and the second their grandfather Bill, another key figure in the history of the SFW.

Ahead of my departure for Cape Wine 2022, I decided to get into the spirit of things by tasting and reviewing the Charles Winshaw Cuvee, their Cabernet Sauvignon based blend.

Winshaw Vineyards ‘Charles Winshaw Cuvee’ 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

A serious blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 4% Merlot, I tasted this wine over the course of three days to assess its true fine wine potential. On opening, the aromatics showed classical Stellenbosch Cabernet notes of sweet tobacco, tannery leather, black currant, black plum, chai tea and freshly tilled earth notes. The palate was full and glycerol with creamy soft sweet tannins, layers of black and blue berry fruits with the classic 2017 vintage weightless concentration. Fabulously balanced with classical poise and harmony. But on day two and day three, the wine shed some of its initial sapidity and sweet tea leaf and tobacco notes to reveal an incredible purity, depth of blue and black berry fruits and a seamlessly vibrant cherry-laden tangy intensity on the finish. I am so pleased I gave this wine the time and space to really show its blue-blooded pedigree. As the cliché goes, the first glass was delicious, but the last glass was mind blowing. Track this beauty down if you can as the R300 local price tag (£16-£18) is ridiculously cheap. Drink now and over the next 12 to 15+ years.

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

Van Biljon Wines – The Undiscovered Fine Wine Gem in the Heart of the Polkadraai Hills of Stellenbosch…

This beautiful small boutique farm is situated in the famed Polkadraai Hills region of Stellenbosch, sitting alongside famous neighbours like Reyneke Wines, Raats Family Wines and De Toren. While most of these excellent wines rose to fame for originating in Stellenbosch, more recently, as collectors and connoisseurs have started to scratch a little deeper into the finer details of the individual wards and terroirs of the region, the Polkadraai has risen to new heights of fame globally. Known for its deep fertile soils and well drained decomposed granitic soils and moderating sea breezes off the False Bay lying to the South, the terroir has formed a perfect home to the classic Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

As if the wonderful terroir wasn’t enough, the wines are made by one of the great winemakers of the Cape, Chris Keet, creator of the legendary Cordoba Crescendo 1995 Cape Bordeaux Red that lights up the Cape fine wine auction houses with big R8000+ prices (£400) when bottles occasionally come on the market for sale. Chris is a master with Bordeaux varieties and meticulously crafts an impressive Cape Bordeaux Blend using traditional winemaking techniques combined with modern technology to produce wines with intensity, concentration, balance and structure.

Tasting the Van Biljon 2017 and 2018 and the Keet First Verse 2018 Bordeaux blend with Chris Keet at the winery in March 2022.

I first became acquainted with the Van Biljon CINQ after tasting the 2013 vintage which I rated 93/100 back in October 2016. Subsequent vintages like the 2014 seemed to just get better and better, rating 94+/100 when tasted in October 2018. I sadly missed the epic 2015 vintage which sold out very quickly to an airline group I understand but was thrilled to taste the fabulous 2017 new release again when Julia Van Biljon was over in London recently. This is definitely a wine that flies under the fine wine radar but undoubtedly deserves to be far better know as it stands among the great Bordeaux Blends produced in the Western Cape winelands.

Van Biljon Wines CINQ 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.4% Abv.

2.3 g/l RS | 5.8 g/l TA | 3.5 pH

The 2017 CINQ is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot, 6% Malbec and 6% Petit Verdot and spent 18 months maturing in selected French oak barrels. This is a seductive and enticing Cape Bordeaux blend that utilises all five red Bordeaux varieties to great effect. On the nose there is initially a pronounced sweet cedar and sappy red fruited spiciness from the Cabernet Franc before notes of dried herbs, chai tea, black currant and dusty graphite come to the fore. The well-honed palate shows considerable elegance and harmony with a fine grained textural balance revealing layers of spicy red and black berry fruits, notes of cherry tobacco and a tart, tangy acidity on a long, weightlessly concentrated finish. Stony drying tannins lend a further air of seriousness, structure and age ability on the long sleek finish. An attractive offering that must rank among the finest releases from Chris Keet and the Van Biljon winery to date. Drink this from release or over the next 10 to 15+ years.

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

For stock availability, please contact Woodwinters UK for trade allocations.

Prime Stellenbosch Winery Waterford Estate Release An Exceptional New Value for Money Cape Bordeaux Red Blend – Tasting the Antigo Red 2019…

The Waterford Estate is probably best known for their great red blend, The Jem. But recently, Waterford have released another little Bordeaux blend to minimal fanfare despite its sexy packaging and exceptional quality in bottle. A superb Cape Bordeaux Blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec, this is a wonderful addition to the ranks of Stellenbosch’s affordable premium reds that will find a thirsty and willing clientele as the cost-of-living squeeze starts to bite. Why compromise on quality when you can buy fabulous wines like this!?

Waterford Antigo Red 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13% Abv.

A flamboyant and extroverted wine brimming with lifted aromatics of sweet cedar, cherry tobacco, black currant, ground nutmeg and graphite spice. The palate is as bright as the aromatics are lifted with a wonderfully creamy, supple mouthfeel layered with tart black currant, brûléed coffee beans, dried herbs and pithy black cherry on the suave, sleek but densely fruited finish. Elegant and beautifully accessible but also deceptively complex and serious. An impressive and expressive red wine packed full of class. Drink now and over the next 5 to 8 years.

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

New Release Preview – Tasting the Raats Family Wines Eden High Density Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2020…

Bruwer Raats has been at the forefront of premium Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc production in South Africa for over 20 years. Now that these two varieties are riding high on a wave of global collector popularity, it is easy to forget the hard yards that were navigated all those years ago when critics wondered why Bruwer Raats persisted with championing two varieties that were broadly speaking unfashionable with little to no mainstream popularity.

Nowadays, Bruwer is lauded for his premium creations of Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc, none more so than for the small production Eden Cabernet Franc produced with extreme precision viticulture, or “quality by design” as Bruwer likes to describe his viticulture and winemaking. I recently caught up in London with Bruwer to taste his new releases.

Coming from a 0.2ha high density vineyard (8000 vines per hectare) meticuously planned and planted 11 years ago by Bruwer Raats at his Polkadraai property in Stellenbosch, 5% of the grapes were whole bunch fermented before being aged for 8 months in new French oak, followed by a further 10 months elevage in older oak barrels.

Raats Eden High Density Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2020, 14% Abv.

The Raats Eden Cabernet Franc is always classical and impressively premium in feel and this 2020 is certainly no different. The aromatics are initially tight and compact at this embryonic stage of development before slowly blossoming into a pristinely pure, precise and wonderfully perfumed offering showing notes of violets, lilac, rose petals, pink musk, sweet sandalwood and subtle hints of crème de cassis, earthy mulberry and sweet vanilla pod spice. The palate displays an incredible tensile linearity together with fabulously compact, tight grained tannins and a sleek graphite laden minerality. This small production wine flaunts its premium pedigree, its supremely manicured textural elegance and effortless finesse to perfection. There is no mistaking that the high-density planting lends an extra dimension of intensity and concentration to the wine. Allow this wine a few more years in the cellar before enjoying over the next 15 to 20+ years. (359 bottles produced.)

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

Wines available to the trade in the UK from Alliance Wines.

Napa Valley Vintners Returns to London for a Stream of Premium Wine Events…

One of the best wine trips I have attended over the years was in 2007 when I was invited to the Master Napa Valley Programme in California soon after I was told that I had passed my Master of Wine. What could have been a very studious, head in the books note-taking trip instead turned into a much more celebratory, enjoyable, fully immersive, heads-up trip where I felt I could really soak up the knowledge and the wonderful wine atmosphere.

Over the years I have revelled in attending numerous superb alumni events in London hosted by Napa Valley Vintners. Finally in June 2022, we saw the return of a whole host of winemakers for the first time post pandemic. The tasting I attended was generously hosted by Pol Roger, who themselves won the superb “Lot 23” at the Premiere Napa Valley Auction.

Rosemary Cakebread presenting her wine Gallica.

The gathering was held at the superb London Michelin Star Restaurant Trinity and in attendance from Napa was Rosemary Cakebread, Diana Snowden-Seysses and Cathy Corison, three of the four doyenne responsible for the blended Premiere Napa Valley Auction Lot 23. Besides this rarity, we got to taste a selection of current releases from these top producers. Californian wine holds a special place in my affections and this was certainly a memorable return to London for the NVV.

Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, St. Helena, Napa Valley, 13.8% Abv.

Fabulous dark and opaque, the aromatics are picante and spicy with notes of saline black currant, dried kelp, iodine, sandalwood, dried tobacco leaf and cedar spice. But for all it’s power packed in the glass, it’s also wonderfully elegant and textural with velvety tannins, creamy layers of cassis and hoisin plum sauce and vibrant nuances of tart black cherry. Persistent and focused, this is a beautiful wine from a near perfect vintage.

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

Snowden Cabernet Sauvignon Lis Ricos Vineyard 2017, Napa Valley, 13.2% Abv.

Dark broody aromatics with a distinct savoury, earthy note over layers of sweet black plum, plum sauce and stewed winter back berries that melts into black liquorice and sweet tobacco. The palate is plush and soft textured with a creamy, polished elegance, ripe tannins but also a glassy acidity that fames the wine before finishing with a graphite laden finish.

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

Gallica Cabernet Franc 2017, Oakville, Napa Valley, 14.2% Abv.

This elegant red shows a delicately savoury yet perfumed aromatics boasting red and black berry fruits and hints of exotic blueberry interwoven with nuances of sweet cedar, graphite and freshly tilled earth. The palate shows incredible finesse and vibrancy with sleek silky tannins, a delicious black fruited purity and a textural pinpoint focus. Very impressive.

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

The Premiere Napa Valley Blend 2019 Lot 23 was purchased buy Pol Roger UK and is currently available in tiny quantities. All proceeds for the auction go to the Napa Valley Vintners’ sponsored charities.