Vilafonte’s Co-Owner Mike Ratcliffe Unveils the Phenomenal New Release Series C 2016 in London…

So all it took was a fleeting flying visit to London to give a small select group of wine trade buyers a sneak peak of this exciting new Vilafonte Series C 2016 blend and the hype and excitement was in full swing. Co-proprietor Mike Ratcliffe scheduled this pre-release tasting to allow a few UK market heavy weights a chance to hear about and taste the success story of the 2016 vintage first hand before the official South African launch on the 1st of November.  

The first plantings were made at Vilafonte on their 42 hectares way back in 1995 and at the time included Petit Verdot which was the only one of the five Bordeaux varieties which proved to be unsatisfactory and was subsequently grubbed up. On the plus side, varieties like Malbec proved to be incredibly successful along with the classics of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, all planted on the 750+ million year old low potential “Vilafonte” soils of Paarl.

With the first commercial release now already the 2003 vintage, Vilafonte can no longer be regarded as one of the fine wine new kids on the block but rather one of the leading lights in the premium red wine category in South Africa. To put the new release into proper context, the 2016 was tasted along side an illustrious array of older vintages of both Series C and Series M.

With Co-owner Mike Ratcliffe

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2014, 13.5 Abv. (Second Label of Vilafonte)

A blend of 41% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Malbec and produced from the same meticulously farmed vineyards as the Series C and M wines, inevitably when you are making complex blends, there will be high quality wine components that don’t make the final Grand Vins, which are instead redirected to the second wine Seriously Old Dirt. The 2014 shows a sophisticated dark broody nose full of earthy black berry, cassis leaf, crushed gravel and blueberry spice. The palate is plush and restrained, full of complex layers of black bramble berry fruit, tobacco spice, graphite and liquid minerality. Very grown up, wonderfully classical and texturally incredibly pure and polished with little oak imprint. A superb introduction to the profound wines of Vilafonte. 

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series M 2015, 14 Abv. 

40% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon and 29% Malbec, with 22 months ageing in French oak. 68 barrels produced. The bouquet shows a leaning towards a plummier opulence with liquid graphite, dusty gravel, black cherries, damson plum, brûléed coffee beans and subtle sweet chocolate and tomato puree nuance. The palate texture is incredibly classical and fine, harking back to some of the finest right bank Merlot based blends produced. The finish shows saline plum, cassis, piquant lipstick spice and the most dreamy creamy chocolate eclair generosity. Delicious wine from a very classy, top notch vintage. This is certainly one for the cellar.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series C 2009, 14.8 Abv.

54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc and 8% Malbec aged 23 months in 100% new French oak. 23 barrels produced. Still an impressively dark garnet red rim, the bouquet resonates with complex notes of wet tannery leather, dusty chew tobacco, dried thyme and sage, espresso, freshly tilled earth and stewed red currants. This big bold vintage is rich and youthful, full of creamy brioche, black currant and sweet black plum notes with cool fresh acidity harmoniously balanced by eminently powerful and bold sweet textural tannins. A vintage regarded as one of the greats and showing very gracefully. In a happy place at the moment but certainly no rush to drink this one.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series C 2014, 14.5 Abv

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Malbec aged 22 months in 70% new French oak. 48 barrels produced. Wonderfully pure, fine and fragrant with a noticeably youthful fragrance of black cherries, graphite, violets and caramelised red berry fruits. A lovely fine hedonistic opulence is present in the glass with the most intricate and expensive oak profile, vanilla pod spice and supple, creamy, polished mineral tannins. Wonderful purity and freshness to behold. Wow, not the most famous vintage for red wine collectors in South Africa but a wine with a surfeit of poise and elegance, purity, focus and harmony. A splendid wine indeed.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series C 2015, 14.5 Abv.

57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 9% Malbec aged 22 months in 67% new French oak. 44 barrels produced. A superbly distinguished classical red blend with a lush opulent bouquet of black cassis, espresso, dried sage, sweet tobacco, graphite spice and buttered brown toast. What a wonderfully proportioned wine that really takes South African red wine quality to the next level. Purity and precision, seamlessly integrated oak with effortless power, concentration and balance. This has all the hallmarks of greatness.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series C 2016, 14.5 Abv.

62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 12% Malbec and 11% Cabernet Franc aged 22 months in 77% new French oak. 30 barrels produced. The most focused and intricate of aromatics, the small, tight, compact black grape bunches harvested in 2016 are accurately captured and represented perfectly in this stunning premium wine. Less distinctly showy and opulent than the 2015 blockbuster at the same stage of its evolution, this is an incredibly finely composed red blend with massive precision but also plenty of curb appeal, revealing fragrant layers of crushed violets, blueberry pie, vanilla pod spice, buttered brown toast, saline cassis, liquid minerality and a graphite complexity. Within a restrained, concentrated style, this vintage represents the most intelligent extraction and tannin management possible reflecting the care required to handle the small, thick skinned berries in this drought vintage. A hauntingly pretty wine that is seriously compact and complete and dare I say a step up in quality on even the spectacular 2015 release. Drink from release or cellar for 25+ years as this wine certainly has the structure and stuffing for the long haul.

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

Adam Mason Making Some of South Africa’s Most Exciting Wines – Tasting The New Raised By Wolves Releases and Barrel Samples…

While I was out in South Africa recently for Cape Wine 2018, I had the great privilege to meet up with Adam Mason at Mulderbosch winery where he carries out his “day job”. But in the twilight hours, Adam can be found forging some of the most exciting and innovative wines in South Africa under his Raised By Wolves label.

Together with Adam’s UK importer, Andrew Johnson from Woodwinters UK, we tasted through his entire 2018 range of whites and reds En-primeur before tasting all the new releases in bottle. An incredible array of individual, characterful, high quality wines. If you are looking to add some spice and variety to your South African selection, look no further than these epic wines from master winemaker Adam Mason.

Adam Mason tasting through his 2018 barrel samples.

Raised By Wolves Barrel Selection:


Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, 13.5 Abv.

The Cabernet component of the old school red, with 300 cases produced from vines planted in the 1980s. Rich, expressive nose of mulberry, cassis, black berry and mocha oak spice. Palate shows power and concentration, classical grip and fabulous purity and berry freshness. Lovely focus.

(Wine Safari Score: 92-94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Old School Red Blend 2017, 13 Abv.

2/3 Cinsault & 1/3 Cabernet Sauvignon

Beautiful aromatics of black plum and blackberry, roses,Turkish delight and rosemary bushes on a warm summers day. There is superb freshness and delicious bright red berry crunch, soft supple tannins and lovely energy and verve all packaged with a comforting harmony and balance. 

(Wine Safari Score: 91-93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Pinot Meunier 2018, 11.5 Abv. 

Fermented in 500 litre barrels, Grapes from Newlands, a hilltop property that overlooks Spier winery and False Bay. Whole bunch pressed, early picked, natural ferment. The nose is warming and round, quite earthy and savoury with leafy resinous, sappy depth and subtle red berry notes. Fine balancing freshness, cool spicy plum skin nuances with a  long, savoury liquid mineral finish. Halfway house between Rose and a white wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 90-91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

La Colline Semillon Gris 2018, 10.6 Abv. 

Famous Franschhoek vineyard made famous by Chris Alheit. Natural ferment, hole bunch, carbonique maceration with 10 days skin contact including fermentation. Aromatics of greengage, sour plum, lemon biscuits and red cherry. Cool, very fine, impressive texture and a superb liquid minerality.

(Wine Safari Score: 92-94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Semillon La Colline 2017, 13.08 Abv.

Green grapes picked separately from the La Colline vineyard. Broad, savoury aromatics with lanolin, creamy lemon butter, white citrus and green apple purée. Lovely cool crystalline purity, soft elegant harmony, piquant spice and vibrant yellow citrus and waxy green apple depth. Delicious acid freshness and a long gravelly mineral finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 91-93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Cuvee 777 Chardonnay 2018, 13 Abv.

Grapes from the Piekenierskloof. Picked at 22.8 Brix, the wine has wonderful steely, mineral linearity showing crisp appleskins, white peach, melon and taut white citrus intensity with tart pineapple and white peach pastille finish with a delicate oak kiss. Wow. Very nice indeed.

(Wine Safari Score: 93-94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chenin Blanc 2018, 12.5 Abv.

Montpellier Chenin Blanc clone in Stellenbosch but will be Adam’s last Vintage from this vineyard that unfortunately is likely to be grubbed up soon. The nose is full of green apple, greengage, white citrus, amazing tension and linearity. Acids are cool and steely framing the palate beautifully. Very different take to Cape Chenin.

(Wine Safari Score: 93-94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Sauvignon Blanc 2018, 13 Abv.

140 cases of 12 produced from Elgin grapes picked at 22.8 brix. Classic cool climate Sauvignon aromatics with green apple, pear drops, fynbos spice, dry straw and subtle lemon / lime citrus peel. Palate is dry and mineral with a subtle barrel fermented oak spice adding salt and pepper complexity to the green apple pastille fruits and also lending beautiful texture to the wine. Very impressive.

(Wine Safari Score: 92-94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Raised By Wolves Bottled Selection: 

Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, 12.85 Abv.

1,181 bottles produced. Earthy, slightly mealy savoury nose on this pure Cabernet. Develops sun raisined black berry notes, violets, sweet wet tobacco. subtle cedar spice and hints of Christmas cake. Palate is ultra light, fresh and sleek, very light on its feet showing powdery mineral tannins, a chalky texture and a bright spicy, graphite-laden finish.

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

Old School Red 2016, 12.77 Abv. 

Cabernet planted in the 1980s and a Cinsault block planted in 1965. Attractive notes of roasted herbs, grilled meats, violets, rosemary,  pine needles and black currant. Palate is full and fleshy but exhibits finely polished, ripe tannins, sweet tobacco spice and cool, sweet / sour plummy finish. Delicious wine.

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

Pinot Meunier 2017, 12.7 Abv. 

Whole bunch pressed, Barrel fermented in 500 and 300 litre barrels. Savoury, gravelly red berry nose, liquid minerals, dried herbs, sour plum and wonderful dried herb finish.

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

Semillon Rooi Groen Druif 2017, La Colline, 11.8 Abv. 

Dark salmon, copper colour, this expression show spectacular notes of cantaloupe, watermelon, crushed gravel, vinyl and hints of lime peel. Palate is broad and plush, softly textured but surprisingly pithy and mineral with chalk, cherry spice and dry irony, graphite finish. Very serious expression. Not for novices.

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

Semillon La Colline 2017, 12.87 Abv.

Dried herbs and dusty mineral, liquid chalk, lime peel, lanolin and creamy, vanilla kissed white peach. Fabulous freshness, lovely bite and crunch and a spectacularly long, intense finish. Very impressive.

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

Cuvee 777 Chardonnay 2017, 13.10 Abv. 

First vintage from Piekenierskloof fruit from Shelley Sandell at Tierhoek. Quite a taut, mineral, restrained nose revealing previously little at the moment. A bit of coaxing reveals hints of lime peel, vinyl, lemon cordial and tart melon. Lovely palate depth, fine creamy texture embellished with cedar and vanilla pod spice and finishing with verve and vigorous.

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

Chenin Blanc 2017, 13.53 Abv.

A fine aromatic melange of creamy lemon biscuits, honied peaches and white toast. Palate shows that classic fruit intensity, crunchy white peach depth, sour plum and a dried herb laced depth. Very impressive.

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

Bonniemile Muscat 2017, 10.5 Abv. 

Wonderful exotic, expressive nose of lychee, pineapple chutney, ginger, curried peaches, raisins, and exotic yellow fruits. Palate is sleek, fleshy, aromatic and piquant with hints of curry powder, wood spice and sun dried peaches. Very expressive, super exotic and wonderfully expressive.

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

With Adam Mason, UK importer Andrew Johnson from Woodwinters UK and Brian Smith from Elgin Ridge.

Tasting the Superb Van Biljon Cinq 2014 Red Blend from Stellenbosch…

The 2013 bottling of the Cinq was a triumphant wine for the vintage with Chris Keet spinning his magic within the context of a more difficult year that included a very late harvest and delivered one of the largest grape crops on record in South Africa. The 2014 vintage was another cooler year but also a much wetter year that some top producers managed to create more elegant European-styled wines with careful picking and fruit selection.

Van Biljon Cinq 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot from vines grown on ancient decomposed granite soils of the Tarentaal Farm on the Polka Draai Road in Stellenbosch. The bouquet is effusive, building in the glass with great promise. There are gorgeously opulent notes of blueberry, blackberry and black cherry kirsch liquor interspersed with hedonistic notes of incense, cedar wood spice, vanilla pod and a subtle stony, graphite minerality. The palate is medium bodied and sleek showing a confident line of fresh linear acidity, very fine precise tannins and plenty of pithy, spicy crisp black fruit with nuances of sweet cherry tobacco, cassis and tart black currant. The precision on the wine is a true marvel with impressive balance, a certain amount of sensual elegance and an intense, pure finish that is superbly focused and finely polished. A wonderful red blend from some of the best terroir in the Cape wine lands. Drink this on release with food or hide it in your cellar for 6 to 8+ years.

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

South African Grand Marque Rust en Vrede Estate Back to Its Best Again…

The history of this great estate reads like a classic novel in the same vein as many great Bordeaux chateaux. Highs and lows, controversy and family disputes and changes in winemakers and house style.

Tasting the latest creations of winemaker Coenie Snyman, it can be confirmed with a fair degree of certainty that this famous old South African grand marque is almost back to its very best again. This can only be good news for consumers and collectors alike.

Rust en Vrede Estate 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

The 2015 Estate red is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Syrah and 9% Merlot. This is the flagship wine of the estate and boasts astute winemaking to match. The bouquet offers up a fine perfume of dried potpourri, violets, cinnamon stick and an alluring melange of mulberry, black currant and savoury damson plum with a complexing top note of black Kalamata olives. Subtle mocha and vanilla pod nuances carry to the palate which is eminently refined and elegantly balanced, showing delicious spicy black currant, graphite, black liquorice, salty cassis and a subtle lick of salted caramel. Beautifully plush and textured, this is a seamless vinous package of fine wine enjoyment that speaks volumes about the very fine 2015 vintage twinned with re-energised, ambitious winemaking. A winery returning to its very best potential once again. Drink now or cellar for 10 to 15+ years.

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

Putting South Africa’s Finest Wine Offerings Into Perspective – Tasting Australia’s Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Shiraz 2008….

I had a wonderful time in Cape Town at Cape Wine 2018 and before that at the Nederburg Auction of older South African wines. Of course Cape Wine 2018 will be remembered for Tim Atkin MW’s first personal 100 point SA wine score, an active debate surrounding scoring and score inflation both in South Africa and globally and also the prickly pear issue of where to price South Africa’s premium wines, many made from old vine heritage vineyards around the Western Cape that are super expensive to farm. Serious questions indeed.

Some of these questions were brought into a new perspective when I returned to my office to find a bottle of Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Shiraz from Coonawarra freshly opened on a colleagues desk courtesy of a private client. This is a Wine Advocate 98/100 point wine as scored by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW and retails currently in the UK market for £850 per bottle inc taxes (R16,575 pb). So we are talking serious kit here… and amazingly a wine that makes even the Penfold’s Grange look positively cheap!

Tasting the wine, it is a blend that pays homage to the 1966 Bin 620, a legendary Penfold’s show wine from a great vintage. Crafted from the uniquely Australian Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz blend, this wine is considered to be the personification of the Penfold’s house style and worthy of a Special Bin status. The wine was bottled by Penfold’s Wines at Nuriootpa, South Australia in July 2009. The 2008 vintage was produced from the low yielding Coonawarra Blocks 5, 10 and 20 and is considered to be made in a very similar style to the famous 1966 vintage. The wine was barrel fermented in new French and America oak and is classically structured and considered worthy of extended cellar aging for several decades.

Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz 2008, Coonawarra, 14 Abv.

The wine has a wonderfully deep ruby garnet opaque core and is a blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 49% Shiraz. Rich, lifted and hedonistic, the nose is brimming with earthy black berry, freshly torn mint leaf, camphor leaves, wood spice, dried tree bark, cassis and black cherry kirsch liquor notes with nuances of milk chocolate, bruleed coffee beans and exotic botanical herbal spices. The palate is dense, creamy and unctuous but retains a certain poise and posture supported by gravelly mineral tannins, graphite spice, crème de cassis and a fine vein of palate refreshing acidity. The finish is super long and intense with just the faintest hints of cherry cola, salty liquorice, black berry confit and freshly baked raspberry crumble. The vinous adjectives and descriptives positively drip out of ones mouth with this complex offering. It is a big wine that walks a very neat, classical line and will impress most fine wine connoisseurs.

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

So how does this wine compare to some of South Africa’s finest? In wine terms, however delicious this wine is, it still  has the taste of a lot of sunshine on the fruit and the creamy unctuous glycerol mouthfeel is perhaps not as conducive to matching with food other than perhaps with meaty barbeques. This is a micro-cuvee of only 900 cases so merits attention to detail and probably a big price tag. But I would argue there are many equally impressive South African benchmark reds every bit as alluring and complex and which are much more classically proportioned and suitable for a true gourmands palate. As for the price, well, the mind boggles. R16,000 Rand can buy quite a lot of very fine wine.

As I questioned at the Cape Wine 2018 Old Vine Seminar, the problem with South Africa’s premium wine offering is not their quality and certainly not their styles but more the fact that the wines are more appreciated overseas than they are in the local home market. South Africa’s finest crown jewels are all being exported because the local market, unlike Australia, USA or New Zealand is not comfortable paying the prices that these fine wines inevitably will need to sell for. Locals shy away from buying wines over R250 Rand (£12.99) a bottle let alone R16,000 Rand a bottle. The result is a two speed market where all the best offerings are exported to an appreciative, thirsty European audience while the home market scrapes the barrel like a fishy bottom feeder in a muddy pond trying to find the last undiscovered bargains. This needs to change before we can set about bringing better profitability to the local wine industry. A healthy fine wine market inevitably has to be driven primarily by strong local demand… then the rest will follow… a la Penfold’s top cuvees.

Stop The Presses!!! – Tasting the First Ever 100 Point Wine From South Africa…

Today I had the great privilege to help chair the Whole Bunch tasting of The Wines That Raised Us – A Heritage Experience … at the Klein Welmoed Farm in Stellenbosch featuring great iconic old bottles from the Winshaw Cellar.

What a night and what profound, mind blowing wines. But sitting back and discussing the merits of the individual wines with the other producers and industry commentators in attendance, left me with no choice but to finally make my first 100 point South African wine score pronouncement!

The Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 1957, another near 100 point expression!

Chateau Libertas 1957, 12 Abv.

An incredibly youthful, vibrant and aromatic expression, this red wine at 61 years old is the most distinguished stately gentleman of wines I have ever encountered. Loaded full of youthful creme de cassis, boiled black berry sweets, macerated black cherries, earthy ripe prunes, raisined cranberries, fynbos spice, dried mint leaf and a profoundly pure and balanced palate minerality that follows the fruit complexity of the nose. It’s not just the mellow concentration and regal balance that astounds the senses, but the sweet fruited glycerol texture, the vibrantly fresh palate and tightly packed sweet mellow tannins that seduce the senses and invite you in for more. This is the stuff of legends, a wine you will want to tell your kids you drank. It’s also a wine that not only brought tears to grown winemakers eyes, but also the first perfect score on the Fine Wine Safari and possibly the first ever de facto 100 point score for a South African still wine! 🤭 Yes!

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

It’s Cabernet Sauvignon But Not As You Know It – Tasting the Craven Wines Maiden Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 “En-primeur”…

I love it when wineries make varietal wines that you would least expect them to. This is exactly what Mick and Jeanine Craven have done with their new Cabernet Sauvignon 2018.

I know Mick and Jeanine are not massive fans of wine ratings per se but as a critic, I’d certainly be remiss not to write about this epic wine and sing it’s praises as there was next to nothing produced from the 1.2 tons of fruit. Only for release probably early next year, put it in your diary else you’ll miss out! 😭

Mick Craven, one half of this dynamic wine making duo at Craven Wines

Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, 12.5 Abv.

(Barrel Sample)

Sourced from a vineyard in the Polkadraai, Stellenbosch. Currently still in cask with an envisaged ageing in barrel of 10 to 12 months before bottling. First thing that strikes you about this wine is how ripe and juicy it is without being 14-15 degrees Abv. The nose boasts the most delicious, mouth-watering aromatics of red cherry, cranberry, crunchy cassis, rose petals and an almost Cinsault’esque kiss of Turkish delight. Palate is lean and lithe, wonderfully linear and precise with Parma violets, cherry bon bons and Victoria plums a la Mick’s Adelaide roots. Not a jot of greeness in sight. Vibrant, expressive and firmly a smashable vin de soif style but certainly no frivolity in evidence. So crystalline, pure, unadulterated Cabernet fruit at its very best.

(Wine Safari Score: 92-94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)