The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Most Memorable South African Red Wines of 2017…

South Africa must possess some of the most distinguished and diverse high quality white wines in the world. But some how it seems that consumers, connoisseurs and collectors judge a country or region’s prestige almost exclusively based on the quality of the red wines produced. In 2017 South Africa fortuitously released many of its truly greatest 2015 red wines making it a bumper year for red wine ratings and reviews internationally.

My top 10 selection of reds and whites is based on wines that I tasted and drank through the year and that I considered supremely memorable as well as very high in quality. They were not selected purely based on scores.

So again, in no specific order…here is my Top 10 Most Memorable South African Red Wines of 2017.

MR de Compostella Bordeaux Blend 2015, Stellenboch – 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Bruwer Raats may be known as the Chenin King but it has to be his incredible red wines that have truly cemented his global reputation as an iconic fine wine producer. There can be no doubting the quality of his amazing Cabernet Franc reds which he is so proud of. Indeed, who can forget the high powered tasting in Europe where his 2001 Cabernet Franc trumped Cheval Blanc 2001 and was lauded by Jancis Robinson OBE MW as one of the greatest varietal Cabernet Francs in the world. But for me, it is another wine that has always captured my heart.

As a consummate Bordeaux lover, the MR de Compostella has been an absolute eye opener since the maiden 2004 was released. Tasted again recently, the 2004 is still youthfully dense, taught, concentrated and utterly majestic with another 20+ years of life left ahead of it. Having tasted every vintage pre-release since 2004, I like to think I have an intimate knowledge of this wine. So when Bruwer did a pre-release vertical tasting in London earlier this year, we got to see the 2015 in all its noble splendour. I received a few raised eye brows for scoring this wine 98 points, but my argument was simple… When tasted along side critically acclaimed MR vintages that scored 95 or 96 points internationally, the 2015 was considered 15% to 20% better. So I had no hesitation in scoring this wine 98 points and declaring it my 🍷🍷 South African Red Wine of the Year 2017.  

Congratulations Bruwer Raats and team.

Raats Family Wines Eden Single Vineyard High Density Cabernet Franc 2015, Stellenbosch – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

As if making one of the highest rated reds in South Africa wasn’t enough, Bruwer has continued to pursue his passion for all things Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc related, launching the first Raats Eden High Density red and white releases last year to great acclaim. The Eden Cabernet Franc has seduced journalists from far and wide, astounding drinkers with the quality achieved from 6 year old vines. ‘Quality by Design’ is the buzz phrase attributed to these fascinating wines that have been recognised locally in South Africa and internationally as outstanding examples of Cabernet Franc varietal purity and precision. Made in tiny quantities, this is a red wine designed to impress the most accomplished and educated palates. I sense there will be very little disagreement on the inclusion of this wine.

Beeslaar Pinotage 2015, Stellenbosch – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

I recently attended the International Wines & Spirits Competition awards ceremony in London a few weeks ago and sat at the neighbouring table to Abrie Beeslaar and Johan Krige, to witness them being awarded the “International Winery of the Year” for the third year in a row and “Winemaker of the Year” for their outstanding wines at Kanonkop. What an honour. But Abrie also has a small project on the side producing limited amounts of this eponymously named wine from some exceptional Pinotage grapes. Only in its fourth vintage, this impressive Pinotage comes from a 22 year old single block close to Simonsig planted on shale soils. Seeing less new oak than the super premium Kanonkop Black Label, this expression is an opulent, sleek, textured glassful of brilliance with the most incredible harmony, purity and balance. This is exceptional Pinotage that really puts this unique variety on the world wine map. An outstanding effort from Abrie Beeslaar.

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Roundstone Schist Syrah 2015, Swartland – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW  

In March I paid a long awaited visit to Chris and Andrea at their Roundstone farm in the Swartland to taste the new releases of their Mullineux and the Leeu Passant wines. The Schist Syrah, sourced from grapes grown on the Roundstone farm,  has become one of their most sought after wines internationally due to its opulence, fragrance and balanced blueberry fruit intensity that harks back to the great icon wines of the northern Rhone in every way. I do have an inkling that their Granite or Iron Syrah Cuvées may age better over the very long term, but over the medium term, the Schist Syrah represents one of the most outstanding expressions of Syrah coming out of South Africa at the moment.

Duncan Savage Follow the Line 2016 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

Of all the new red wine creations that have come out of the Cape in the past five years, few can rival Follow the Line for its mantel of most delicious cult wine! This wonderful Cinsault / Grenache / Syrah blend from Duncan Savage is a wine that effectively captured the mood of a new generation of wine drinkers looking for characterful, vibrant, energetic, crunchy fresh reds that could be drunk on release or cellared for 10+ years. Since the maiden 2014 release, this wine has got better and better and now that Duncan is settling into his own new urban winery in Salt River in Cape Town, you can expect all his whites and reds to become even more focused and distinguished. One of my favourite red wines from one of my favourite South African winemakers. If you have not tried this wine yet, get your skates on!

Sadie Family Wines Columella Red Blend 2015, Swartland – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

What a year it has been for Eben Sadie! Winemaker awards, sell out wines, continued growing cult status internationally, and high quality wines that seem to get better and better every year despite vintage conditions. With already two whites making my top 10, this has got to be the wine that Eben takes the most pride in producing. He has always been aware of the hype that surrounds the micro vinifications in the Old Vine Series, but the Palladius and Columella are his “day job” and his bread and butter and most certainly his pride and joy. So to have released two of the greatest ever expressions of both of these wines is a true testament to the upward trajectory that Eben continues to travel on. One of the truly great winemakers of the world and one of the greatest wineries. What an accolade to make South African’s proud.

Brian Smith & Niels Verburg The Cabernet Franc 2014, Bot River – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

While neither Brian Smith or Niels Verburg are newcomers to the South African wine scene, their new joint venture red certainly ruffled a few feathers in the local South African wine scene with the release of the THE Cabernet Franc sourced from a small vineyard in the Bot River region. Classy, polished, opulent, and distinguished, this wine has all the attributes of a Napa Valley cult wine including the matching price tag. The greatest thing about this wine has been the discussion and open debate that has resulted after its release… which was one of its primary aims to be fair. The contents is certainly very sexy and luxurious and drinking my first bottle was undoubtedly a very memorable moment.

Boschkloof Epilogue Syrah 2015, Stellenbsoch – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

I remember seeing my Swartland based Rhone junkie friends Ryan Mostert and Samantha Suddons drinking bottles of Boschkloof Syrah and occasionally Epilogue Syrah years ago and thinking that I need to get to grips with these wines (I grew up drinking father Jacques Bormans’ wines!) When Jamet junkies are raving about them, they must be serious. Last Christmas I reviewed the Epilogue 2014 Syrah and rated it as one of my top reds of the year. Surely the epic 2015 vintage would have to be better!? Well, I would say it is equally as good but not better. It is the perennial trap we fall into thinking that block buster vintages always make better wines. For most producers they do, but for the likes of Reenen Borman, his real talents are revealed in the less than perfect vintages (2014 or 2016). But splitting hairs aside, this is one of the most profound northern Rhone, Cote Rotie’esque  expressions of Syrah available in the New World. Well done Reenen!

Naude Family Wines Grenache 2014 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

What a year of change it has been for Ian Naude. After years of serving other masters, he has finally gone solo and become his own boss. Under the Naude Family wines label he will now seduce us with his very best talents in the form of Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Cinsault and Semillon. But just like last year when I included his “older” Chenin Blanc 2013, this year I have found myself simply unable to exclude his most profound, complex and impressive Grenache 2014. Such is the intrigue surrounding this wine that we felt compelled to repeat the “Wine Cellar / Roland Peens” Rayas blind show down again in London at one of the top Michelin star restaurants. Yet again, this fabulous wine beat off the competition and trounced some of the world’s greatest Grenache reds with ease. Sadly, this vineyard grape contract was subsequently lost and has not been made again since. So it is now not only one of the great red wines of South Africa, but it is firmly moving into the Unicorn ranks of collectability. We stand in hope that Ian will venture back into the Grenache minefield and attempt to craft another gem from this temperamental Rhone grape. Meantime, if you find any of the 2014, snap it up immediately!

Vilafonte Series C 2015, Paarl – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

This is another winery project that I have been following closely since its maiden vintage release in 2003. This joint venture between Warwick Estate’s Mike Ratcliffe and Californian wine guru power couple Phil Freese and Zelma long, unashamedly set out to produce the most precise, polished, high quality expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot possible from their manicured vineyards in Paarl. There is a subtle gloss to the wines, there is incredible polish, and the wines are quite international in style in many ways, but above all, there is a sense that the end goal is extreme quality without compromise. Ok, this approach may not work quite as well with wilder Syrah, Grenache or Cinsault, but for international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec… it is surely the path to greatness. Add to the ingredients a 5 star block buster vintage and hey presto, the Series C 2015 miraculously resembles some of the iconic high scoring Chateaux of Pauillac and St Julien from a riper left bank vintage in Bordeaux but with the precision and polish of Napa Valley.

The Rising Star of Saint Emilion – Tasting a Vertical of Chateau La Croizille…

La Croizille is a wonderfully situated St Emilion Grand Cru Chateau that was acquired by the Belgian De Schepper – De Mour family in 1996 and whose wines are sold mostly in the Benelux. The 5 hectares of vines belonging to the Château benefit from the same remarkable soils, on the borders of the clay-limestone plateau of Saint-Emilion in the commune of Saint-Laurent des Combes, as Chateaux such as Tetre Roteboeuf and Troplong Mondot.

After 1996, the De Schepper family commenced on a large investment spree, bringing the estate into the modern winemaking era, combining its sought after terroir with high-end technology and traditional know-how to create a wine with great opulence, finesse, modernity and personality under the watchful eye of head winemaker, Jean-Michel Garcion.

This winery is a real rising star in St Emilion which you will almost certainly read a lot more about in years to come.

La Croizille Vertical Tasting 2007 – 2016

Chateau La Croizille St Emilion 2007, 13 Abv.

The vineyards on the clay-limestone plateau yielded a spectacularly good offering in 2007. Notes of polished mahogany, earth, tannery leather, cherry kirsch liquer and black current rise out of the glass. Wonderful berry concentration, elegance and subtle evolution are hallmarks on this expertly crafted wine. It will be hard not to finish the bottle once you open this beauty. Drink now to 2025+

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

Chateau La Croizille St Emilion 2010, 13 Abv.

From this epic vintage, notes of polished mahogany, boot polish, black cherry kirsch liquer and black current confit rise imperiously out of the glass. Wonderful concentration, elegance and freshness are all wrapped together with a most expertly integrated lick of new French oak. This is everything you would want from an iconic vintage and a real testament to winemaker Jean-Michel’s true skills. Drink now to 2035+

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

Chateau La Croizille St Emilion 2011, 13 Abv.

The 2011 shows attractive floral perfume aromatics, polished oak, cherry confit, cherry liquer and saline black current leaf intensity. Superb concentration, sleek textured elegance and freshness and a smattering of the most attractive French oak vanilla spice notes. A noble and impressive follow up to the 2010 and a wine that will happily grace the tables of the most discerning connoisseurs. Drink now to 2029+

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

Chateau La Croizille St Emilion 2012, 13 Abv.

A dark cherry black opaque colour greets the drinker. Initially, the nose is broody and closed. But a little glass swirling and coaxing starts to elicit some of the more classical elements of the bouquet… black berry, black cherry pith, cassis, dusty limestone minerality, hints of graphite and a gloss of buttered brown toast. The oaking is almost imperceptible, revealing a very restrained and quite classical expression from this “drinking” Bordeaux vintage. The palate has all the sleekness, suppleness and accessibility that you’d expect from a 2012. A soft fine grained texture, polished powdery tannins, chalky grip and spicy, plummy, peppery black cherry and black berry fruit. It’s all packed into a very classical, medium bodied parcel, that delivers pleasure now but also suggest it is structured enough to be holding back a few surprises in reserve for drinkers in 5 to 8 years time.

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

Chateau La Croizille St Emilion 2014, 13 Abv.

This wine is ripe and rich with beautifully plush classical right bank allure and a soft textured, elegant cassis pastille fruit concentration. A complex wine already in its youth, the layers of mocha, cocoa powder spice and sweet damson plum coat the tongue and thrill the palate. This wine has real depth of fruit, vibrant freshness, and superb length. A class act from some of the best terroir in St Emilion.

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

Chateau La Croizille St Emilion 2015, 13 Abv.

The neighbour of Francois Mitjavile’s Chateau Tertre Roteboeuf, La Croizille is a blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. True to the vintage, this wine has a spectacularly profound quality, and indeed the 2015 La Croizille could be among their greatest ever vintages produced. Certainly on par with the epic 2005, 2009 and 2010, the 2015 has a nose that is seductively perfumed, lifted out of the ordinary by cherry blossoms and an exotic undertone of cherry kirsch liqueur. The caramelized oak notes tease like sprinkles on a chocolate cake! The palate too is dark, dense, powerful and packed full of opulent exotic flavours of Chinese plum sauce, tart cherry confit, sweet cassis and vanilla pod spice. The balance is exceptional, spreading broad and wide across the palate. This is right bank Bordeaux at its seductive, classical best. Plump yet fresh, dense, sweet fruited and gravelly, yet never losing focus. Oh, and the finish goes on and on like a Duracell bunny! Wow. What an impressive wine.

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

Chateau La Croizille St Emilion 2016, 13 Abv.

The 2016 Château La Croizille has a dense, opulent profuse blue berry fruited nose, high-toned and showy, with all the mineral limestone complexity of its prestigious neighbours such as Tertre Roteboeuf, Troplong Mondot and Rocheyron. The palate is showing some elegant restraint and class with sweet ripe tannins, surly brambly red and black fruits, and an earthy, foresty, rather masculine, slightly introspective finish. So seductive and noble, this wine speaks of great St Emilion terroir with very intelligent winemaking. Superb effort.

(Wine Safari Score: 93-95/100 Greg Sherwood MW, Tasted En-primeur in April 2017 from Barrel)

Tasting the Profound Wines of Tenuta San Leonardo in a Three Decade Vertical…

After much anticipation, today I finally attended a fascinating vertical tasting with Marchese Carlo Guerrieri Gonzaga and his son Anselmo, owners of the iconic Trentino winery Tenuta San Leonardo. Carlo has been a long time admirer of the great red wines of Bordeaux so perhaps it was inevitable that he would steer his estate in that direction and utilise their special planting’s of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Merlot to produce one of northern Italy’s truly great iconic red wines.

Carlo asserts that the excellence of San Leonardo can also be directly attributed to the rigour and passion of his son Anselmo and the whole winemaking team, as well as their 270 hectare estate and its unique 30 hectares of plantings, terroir and Mediterranean-Alpine climate where the fruit is grown.

Sites are at a relatively low elevation of 150 metres, where the Merlot is planted in gravel-rich soils that were once the bed of a branch of the Adige river. Sandier, pH-neutral soils, at elevations of 150-200 metres host Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. Vineyards are mostly planted to 6,600 vines per hectare and trained to the Guyot system except for some of the old vine Carmenere that is still planted at 1,650 vines per hectare on a pergola system.

The average blend consists of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Carmenere and 10% Merlot, all naturally fermented and blended in concrete vats before ageing in barriques, 20-25% of which are new oak. The final blend is then assembled in vats, aged a further 4 months before being bottled and aged in bottle for 2 years before release.

Tenuta San Leonardo Vertical 1986 to 2013

(None of the wines have an Abv greater than 13.5)

San Leonardo 1986

Lovely picante nose of bruleed coffee beans, sappy wood spice, earthy black bramble berries and foresty leafy spice. Plenty of tertiary allure but also superbly vital. Acids are crisp and the earthy, leathery red fruits very juicy. A statesman of a wine, standing bold and tall, with wonderful elegance and mature finesse.

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

San Leonardo 1990 (Magnum)

Beautifully lifted warming nose reminiscent of great Bordeaux. Tea leaf, cedar spice, coffee bean and saddle leather together with a delicious leafy under tone of sweet earthy red currant fruits. Acids are super bright and fresh and the finish incredibly powerful and bold with fine grained tannins adding shape. Lovey fruit depth and intensity. A mature majestic beauty.

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

San Leonardo 1995

Taught lifted nose of graphite, cut steel, blood and iron and tart earthy red plums. Plenty of coffee bean bruleed notes and green leafy spice. Impressively mineral, fleshy and plump textured with a tart, grippy energetic finish. Solid effort but not profound.

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

San Leonardo 1996 (Magnum)

Exotic nose of sweet baking herbs, leafy spice, wet tobacco leaf, coffee bean and crushed gravel. Classical aromatics follow to a cool, super elegant, fine boned palate with feminine elegance, subtlety and ample finesse. Attractive sweet black currant nuances and forest floor complexity on a silky, cool classically restrained finish.

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

San Leonardo 1997

A classical cool climate Bordeaux style with grilled herbs, tannery leather, gun smoke, crashed leaves and earthy black berry fruits with a sizeable dusting of crushed gravel minerality. Palate shows sappy sweet black berry, coffee bean spice, herbaceous allure and picante mineral tannins. Very suave, elegant plump fleshy texture and a long, sweet macerated red currant finish.

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

San Leonardo 1999

Dark dusty broody mineral nose of wood spice, crushed gravel, polished oak and earthy black currant fruits. Hints of wood smoke and herbal green tea spice. Palate is bold and fleshy, full and round, dense and creamy, yet retains super elegance and harmony, albeit with a little more fat and flesh. Very youthful still.

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

San Leonardo 2000

Classical nose with lovely dark black berry Cabernet fruits boldly asserting themselves. Seamless aromatics of earthy cassis, forest bramble berries, black plum and sweet caramelised coffee bean hints. Ripe and opulent, there is plenty of flesh on the palate together with dense sweet tannins balanced with soft acids. A ripe high quality vintage, this expression is still youthful and precocious. Give this a few more years in the cellar. Supremely delicious.

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

San Leonardo 2001 (three bottles tasted)

Quite an atypical nose with overt caramelised black berry fruit and creamy oak notes, vanilla pod spice and lactic caramel notes. Texture is very sleek, the acids pin point and fine, but the fruits are little too tertiary for the vitality of the structure. Fruit and tannins are moving at two different evolutionary speeds. Start drinking this one up over the next 3+ years.

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

San Leonardo 2004

Dense dark and smokey with sweet herbs, coffee beans, graphite and wood smoke spice. Hints of leafy spice, green beans, black berry and dusty crushed gravel. Tannins are sweet and taught, the fruits slightly chewy and youthful. But the underlying balance is harmonious if not just a little bit youthfully rustic. Fine length and textural depth, you can comfortably leave this in your cellar for another decade.

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

San Leonardo 2007

Wonderfully harmonious wine with fine complexity with perfume and fruit notes tightly interwoven. Subtle hints of bruleed oak spice, earthy black current, bruleed coffee beans, espresso and cassis berry. Palate is plush, ultra lush, structured and pure, showing the most beautiful black cassis fruits, chalky gravelly tannins, and seamless acidity freshness. While youthfully grippy, this wine looks like the complete package. Really very impressive now, but will be ultra impressive in 8 to 10 years time. Wow.

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

San Leonardo 2010

This powerful wine possesses real dark broody depth, black plums, earthy cassis, polished mahogany and subtle bruleed wood spice complexity. Super cool, elegant and pure fruited, the blueberry and saline black berry fruits are so seductive and creamy, balanced by sweet powdery tannins. This is another classic in the making with knock out intensity and mouth watering length. Very impressive.

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

San Leonardo 2011

Thoroughly classy nose exudes breeding and class. No doubting there is something very serious lurking in the bottle. The nose is dark and black fruited, quite tight and broody with reductive cassis, blueberry and graphite hints. The palate holds no secrets, unleashing waves of saline cassis and opulent blueberry muffin and caramelised fruit notes. So utterly seductive, beautifully polished, and highly accomplished. One to drink now if you can’t resist, and to watch for 10 to 15+ years for future greatness.

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

San Leonardo 2013

Rich dark bruleed nose showing caramelised wood spice, black current and earthy foresty notes. Pretty perfumed red cherry pithy notes lift the whole aromatic profile. The palate is suave, silky and seamlessly soft with plush creamy tannins and a concentration of fruit that treads incredibly lightly. The palate finishes with chalky dry tannins and an understated acid freshness, all in perfect harmony. Definitely a wine where less is more. A real beauty.

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

Ngakirikiri The Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ~ Tasting Villa Maria’s Maiden Icon Red Release…

New Zealand’s Villa Maria has been making wines for over 50 years from many of the North and South Island’s best appellations. But to mark Villa Maria’s 54th Anniversary, the company decided to release a new flagship red to commemorate the occasion. Called Ngakirikiri, the Maori word for Gravels, the 2013 vintage was chosen to showcase Villa Maria’s first ultra premium red.

2013 will go down in Hawkes Bay as one of the best red wine vintages in this regions history, presenting an unmissable opportunity to launch this new wine. Villa Maria owner, Sir George Fistonitch, described it as a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ to create and launch a flagship wine marking all the winemaking achievements of Villa Maria’s 54 year history.

The Ngakirikiri Vineyard is sited on what was an ancient riverbed in the a Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawkes Bay. Over 25 years ago, the site was blessed by Maori elders before vines were planted. Growing conditions can be extreme with the alluvial gravels providing a very stony, free draining environment for the vines. As a result, vines tend to be less vigorous in canopy growth with their roots delving deeper into the soils resulting in intense, deeply flavoured grapes.

Villa Maria Ngakirikiri The Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Gimblett Gravels, 14 Abv.

Although this wine is almost 5 years old, it still possesses a youthful deep plummy purple colour. A flagship red wine deserves to have an exulted, opulent, complex bouquet and this Gimblett Gravels blend does not disappoint. With 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and only 3% Merlot, the nose is lifted and elegantly perfumed with aromatic layers of intense cassis, black cherry, blueberries, damson plums and wonderful violet, dried rose petals and lavender perfume. The palate is dense and textured with opulent layers that are classically proportioned and seductive showing black cassis fruit concentration that would not look out of place on a young super premium Pauillac or St Julien Bordeaux. The supportive cedary oak is beautifully integrated and the tannins while youthful, are very fine grained lending just the right amount of Old World styled restraint. True to all great reds from New Zealand, this wine has super vibrant freshness that enhance and emphasise the majestic gravelly minerality and saline picante black liquorice finish. A truly impressive, sensually stimulating wine that deserves further ageing in the cellar for at least another 20+ years. But drinking this truly fine red now will equally bring great pleasure and enjoyment to consumers, collectors and connoisseurs alike.

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

So what is my overall verdict? Well, my original interest in this wine started when I commented on social media that it seemed slightly incongruous that this new(ish) release could be scored by professionals with such a wide disparity … 92+/100 from the Wine Advocate, 94/100 from James Suckling and 98/100 from Bob Campbell MW. I did subsequently find out that the scores were compiled over a three year spread. Tasting the wine now, almost 5 years after production, it becomes plainly clear that this wine is both the real deal, superb premium quality and is undoubtedly improving in bottle with time.

While this wine won’t be widely available, it does seem that the £99 (R1850) per bottle price tag is more than justified. This is a supremely well made wine that deserves all the positive media attention it has received. I look forward to tasting a bottle of this wine in maybe 10 or 15 years time, when it should be realising it’s full potential.

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 5: Chateau Montrose La Dame de Montrose 2005 from St Estephe…

Chateau Montrose is synonymous for the finest age worthy reds from St Estephe on the left bank of Bordeaux. But their La Dame de Montrose second wine is also made to the same rigorous standards as their first wine, from grapes grown in the same vineyards. Consistently reliable and reaching maturity sooner, the wine was created in 1986 in tribute to Yvonne Charmolue, who ran Château Montrose single-handedly from 1944 to 1960. Production varies from one year to another but accounts on average for 30% of the total production of the Montrose vineyard. It is matured for 12 months in 30% new oak barrels.

The 2005 vintage was known as the year of drought. The water deficit was constant and alarming and by harvest time, the volume of rainfall was less than half the average quantity for the past 30 years. However, the clay rich sub-soils of Montrose played an important role in providing moisture to the vines.

On the other hand, the temperatures in the vineyards saw broad fluctuations alternating between hot days and cool nights, assisting good ripening of the fruit. 2005 impresses with its exceptional power and amazing fruit purity as well as the wine’s extraordinary engaging elegance. Stylistically, La Dame de Montrose remains very classical without any austerity.

Chateau Montrose La Dame de Montrose 2005, St Estephe, Bordeaux, 13 Abv.

Supple and silky the 2005 is a blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon and 46% Merlot. It shows very pronounced red fruit aromas with classic notes of red currants, bramble berries, earthy black currants together with hints of chocolate powder, graphite, wet tobacco, vanilla pod and black liquorice. The 2005 is generally regarded as one of the finest second wines Montrose has yet produced and indeed tastes more powerful and profound than many big name Cru Classe Chateau first wines. Full bodied, dense and powerful, there is plenty of meat on the bone here. But the tannins are mineral and supple, balancing the rich dark earthy black berry and black cherry fruits. This is a serious wine in anyone’s book and remains generous and plush with fine definition right to the very last drop in the glass. Drink this now with some decanting, but feel free to age this beauty another 8 to 10+ years.

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

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi Masterclass with Elisabetta Geppetti…

Elisabetta Geppetti was only 20 years old when, in 1985 she first took the reigns at her family’s tiny 2 hectare property near Pereta in the Scansano zone. At this time, Tuscan wines were often seen as being of underwhelming quality and fine wines in the Maremma itself were practically non existent.

The original Sangiovese based wines of Le Pupille were made under the Morellino di Scansano appellation. So when Elisabetta proceeded with her vision to add an international dimension to the estates wines, the Maremma’s first quality Super Tuscan was born.

The Cabernet Sauvignon based blend Saffredi was first released in 1989 with the 1987 vintage, made in consultation with Giacomo Tachis, one of the founding fathers of Italy’s Super Tuscan wine style. The Tachis era ended in 1996 and subsequent consultants involved with Saffredi have included Riccardo Cotarella, ex-Chateau Latour winemaker, Christian Le Sommer and currently, Luca del Toma.

As various consulting winemakers have taken the reigns and made their mark, so the Saffredi blend has slowly evolved, starting off initially as a pure Cabernet Sauvignon wine until 1990, after which Merlot, Syrah and Alicante have all played differing supporting roles. Today, the modern expression of Saffredi relies on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, all harmoniously blended to produce one of the most highly sought after reds in Tuscany.

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 1992, 12 Abv. (Giacometti Tachis)

78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 5% Alicante (Cannonau or Garnacha)

Real depth and allure from this small vintage, the nose is a perfect melange of tertiary and creamy savoury red berry fruits. Plenty of graphite, woodsmoke, diesel rag, blood orange, liquorice stick and sweet earthy bramble berry confit notes. Cool and fine, this is really classy, the work of a master, with a tender touch and soft chalky tannins, stony minerality and spicy, macerated black berries and rooibos tea notes on the long finish. A real rarity.

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

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 1998, 13.5 Abv. (Riccardo Cotarella, brother of Renzo)

55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Alicante (Cannonau or Garnacha)

Rich, aromatics, with sweet leather, savoury plums, liquorice stick and sweet herbal pot pourri notes. Quite lactic and chocolaty, very sleek, elegant and fine boned, this has powdery pithy tannins, and a wonderfully fine texture. So seamless, complex yet vibrant with beguiling leather, aniseed root, creamy strawberries and raisined savoury black cherries on the long, cool, finish. Really grows on you.

(Wine Safari: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 2004, 14 Abv. (Christian Le Sommer)

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Syrah

First thing that strikes you about this wine is its purity, clarity and modernity. Perhaps the intensity of the superb 2004 vintage helps shape its character. The nose is dark and seductive, vital, brimming with black cherry, kirsch liquor, saline cassis and black current leaf notes with a subtle backing of graphite, herbs and liquorice. Seamless balance, vibrant acids, a creamy intense palate breadth and wonderful harmony reinforce this wines pedigree. Very fine indeed.

(Wine Safari: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 2007, 14.5 Abv. (Christian Le Sommer)

45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 10% Syrah

The aromatics are laden with dark black fruits, black cherry spice, Kirsch liquor and creamy black current, cassis, pastille confectionary notes. Another superb vintage in Tuscany, the palate of the 2007 shows more coffee bean, bruleed cherry and a hint of molasses and liquorice spice. A complex, animated expression, with layers of graphite, crush gravel and subtle savoury Syrah black pepper seasoning. Plenty of life ahead of this wine.

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

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 2010, 14 Abv. (Christian Le Sommer)

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Syrah

Another lifted nose with plenty of youthful fragrance. There is a dark broody depth suggesting both a higher alcohol and ripeness level. Aromatics of sweet raisined cherry, black berry, tar, graphite and liquorice tease the palate with subtle layers of caramelised cherry, and vanilla pod spice. Deep, dark, fleshy depth shows some alcohol lift, picante, sweet black berry Syrah spice, but remains compact, full bodied and elegant with admittedly more muscle and ripeness.

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

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 2013, 14.5 Abv. (Luca del Toma)

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot

A wine that shows its Cabernet base from the start. Violets, cedar, graphite and wood spice mix with liquorice, black current leaf and bramble berry spice. Still youthfully taught, the minerality rises to the fore without too much coaxing out the glass. Like the 2004, the purity and clarity of the crystalline black current and cassis fruit is so impressive and mouth watering, but lacks none of the flesh, density, and earthy power of previous vintages. Another excellent vintage in Tuscany, 2013 combines the best characteristics of fresh acids, harmonious fruit depth and all round complexity.

(Wine Safari: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 2015, Toscana, 14.5 Abv. (Luca del Toma)

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot

Opulent classical Tuscan aromatics of sweet cherry, tannery leather, tobacco, aniseed root, and pot pourri. Complex notes of wood smoke, liquorice stick, graphite and saline sweet black berry develop. There is plenty of intense concentration and the palate is fine and suave showing fleshy red cherry and salty earthy red current fruits that drift across the palate lubricated by fine, creamy, polished tannins. Like all great Tuscan 2015s, the palate is under pinned by vibrant fresh acids, adding to the wonderful harmony and palate impact of this impressive wine. Drink now or keep for 20+ years.

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

Tasting the Incredible Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon Vintages from 2009 to 2014 with Rosemary Cakebread…

One of my most fun days on my Napa Valley Masters Program trip back in 2007 was the viticulture day out in the vineyards with Bruce Cakebread. In March 2017, a most enjoyable afternoon of wine tasting, pizza making and eating was spent with Bruce in Napa Valley. Tonight, I completed the triangle with a most incredible tasting with Bruce’s wife, Rosemary Cakebread, winemaker of Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon based blends, Gallica, in Napa Valley.


Rosemary, previously the winemaker at Spottswoode Vineyard & Winery (1997 to 2006), established Gallica as recently as 2007 where her wines are already making their mark in the industry. Rosemary has earned a reputation for crafting consistent, elegant and restrained wine styles throughout her winemaking career and she describes her Gallica wines as “wonderfully expressive, balanced artisanal wines made from organic vineyards.”


Gallica Vintage Vertical ~ 2009 to 2014


Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, 14.4 Abv. 

Oakville, Coombsville, St. Helena. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, 81% new French Oak. Taught broody nose, mineral laden, brambly with plenty of herbal spice. Ripe earthy red currant fruit, sweet tannins and a creamy luscious mouthfeel. Fine, precise acids and an impressively mineral graphite finish.

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

Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, 14.4 Abv. 

Oakville Organic Vineyard. 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot, 19 months in 78% new French Oak. Lifted piercing perfume, purple blossoms, violets and a higher toned polished mahogany, black berry and pithy black cherry spice. Palate also reveals cool dark black berry fruits, creamy vanilla pod spice, liquorice stick and delicious Cabernet Sauvignon purity. Classy, picante style.

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


Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, 14.1 Abv

Oakville Organic Vineyard. 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 19 months in 70% new French Oak. Very pronounced dusty gravelly mineral nose with herbal spice, graphite and leafy characters from a fairly cool vintage. Texture is sleek, precise, and quite suave, elegantly textured but with more angular presence in the mouth. Pronounced acids shape a cool, taught palate that displays beautiful black cherry and bramble berry fruits, herbal spice and silky, dry tannins on the finish. Classy and classically elegant wine. Very nice.

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


Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, 14.5 Abv.

Oakville Organic Vineyard. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 20 months in French Oak. Taught deep dark rich broody wine with tension, dark spicy Cabernet cedar and herbal notes, dusty graphite, hedge row spice and pithy black current fruits. Fine sweet front palate, supple entry, lovely fleshy black pastille weight of fruit that is more opulent than the nose suggests. Such precision, pin point mineral tannins and delicious pithy graphite tension and power. Very impressive wine.

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


Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, 14.5 Abv.

Oakville Organic Vineyard. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 20 months in French Oak. Sweet sour red plum, wet tobacco, forest leaves and pronounced exotic red fruit notes. Quite dusty, granitic and mineral, with dark black picante fruit nuances developing. Palate texture is lush, plush, creamy, dreamy, with expansive sweet tannins, fleshy blueberry and cassis pastille fruit weight. A real turbo charged vintage in the best sense. Harmonious balance, this wine does not put a foot out of place. Hedonistic, opulent, but retains classical shape. A really impressive all round great wine from a fantastic benchmark vintage.

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


Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, 14.5 Abv.

Oakville Organic Vineyard. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 19 months in French Oak. Youthful, opulent exotic nose brimming with blue berry crumble, mulberries, cassis pastille fruits, vanilla bean spice, graphite and such delicious opulent aromatic lift. The palate is ultra opulent but also hugely concentrated and generous. Tannins are textural, grippy but sweet, acids ultra vibrant but then quietly melt away into the mouth watering blueberry fruit concentration. Young and precocious, the brûlée coffee bean espresso complexity really underlines the showy attractiveness of this wine. A definite crowd pleaser. Give it another year in bottle to assimilate the oak more seamlessly.

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