Chateau Tour Baladoz Produces Another Stand-Out Saint Emilion Grand Cru in 2018…

Château “Valados” first appeared in “Le Producteur” in 1841, and was included in the first edition of “Cocks and Feret” (Bordeaux and its Wines) in 1850 under the name of “Baladoz”. From 1874 to 1922, the estate was known as Château Baladoz until a tower was erected and adopted into the name.

In certain parts, vines are grown at an altitude of up to ninety metres, almost the highest in the appellation, with more vines planted on the clay and limestone plateau that dominates the estate. Originally categorised as between the first and second crus of St Emilion, the estate later settled in the Grand Cru category.

Anthony Crameri from Chateau Tour Baladoz alongside the Chateau’s ancient limestone cliffs.

The property, located in Saint-Laurent-des-Combes, was purchased by Belgian wine trader Emile De Schepper in May 1950 and included 5.56 hectares of vines. The new owner spent his first year renovating the cellars and making improvements to the vineyard. In the early years, the wine was exclusively exported to Belgium, in barrel, where it was bottled in the owner’s cellars in Ghent. The current cellar master and manager is the ultra talented Jean-Michel Garcion, who was appointed in 1992 and now also overseas production at sister estates Chateau La Croizille next door and Chateau Haut Breton Larigaudiere in Margaux.

The 2018 is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

70% of the Tour Baladoz vineyard is planted on the plateau, with the remaining 30 % situated on the slopes of the valley over deeply submerged rocks. Here, the challenge lies in making a wine that is as mineral as the geological environment in which the vines grow. The soil base varies from pure chalk and marl, which reminiscent of certain terroirs in the Champagne region, to freestone that appears occasionally and is noticed because of the colour variation in the clay. Here, the Merlot grape thrives and comprises 70% of the vineyard planting with Cabernet Franc (20%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) making up the remainder.

Chateau Tour Baladoz 2018 Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 14.5% Abv.

A beautiful vineyard with a few pre-phylloxera vines, a collection of ancient Bordeaux varieties and spectacular limestone caves with vine roots growing through the ceilings. This 2018 is garnet purple and already quite explosive in the glass revealing waves of violets and lilac, black plum, mulberry, salty black currant and buttered brown toast nuances. On the palate it shows an accessible opulence of red and black berry fruits, fine chalky mineral tannins and a steely vein of acidity that guides you to a long, fresh, nervy finish with further notes of vanilla spice, graphite and crème de cassis. A really wonderful, high quality expression of Saint Emilion that will seduce a legion of Bordeaux lovers. Drink now and over the next 10 to 15+ years.

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

Warwick Winery Joins the Cape Heritage Blend Club With a Very Classy Effort…

The Warwick winery has dabbled with new creations over the years with some of the Black Lady Syrahs standing out as memorable. But what could be more inspirational than a fine Simonsberg Cape Heritage Blend featuring a slug of Cabernet Sauvignon with 13% of Cinsault. A match made in heaven the old boys will tell you.

With the Simonsberg ward making some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon in Stellenbosch, I was fascinated to see if the Cinsault would add that little Je ne sais quoi to the blend.

Warwick Professor Black Pitch Black 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

This well crafted red was matured for 18 months in French oak barrels and is made up of a trendy blend of 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Cabernet Franc, 13% Cinsault, 10% Merlot , 1% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec. Wonderful to have another Cape Heritage Blend enter the fray. This exciting expression shows a rich earthy aromatics initially dominated by alluring notes of capsicum, red currants, iodine, fresh cedar and vanilla pod spice. The palate texture is spicy and a little prickly but boasts ample depth and extract. There are layers of black current, tart black plum, dried herbs and hoisin plum sauce. There is plenty of elegance and harmony but to be honest, little sign of the Cinsault component at this youthful stage. With the natural 2017 vintage weightless elegance an succulent freshness, this is another mouth-watering red blend that will appeal to Cabernet Franc converts. Prep the slow roast leg of lamb to accompany! Drink on release and over 15+ years. (90 barrels produced, or approximately 27,000 bottles)

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

A Great Initiative Combining Rugby, Charity and Fine Wine – Tasting the Number 5 Doddie’s Blend 2019 Red…

Doddie Weir OBE is one of the most recognisable faces of the game of rugby earning 61 caps playing for Scotland. But in June 2017, Doddie revealed he was suffering with the onset of Motor Neuron Disease, an illness that as yet has no known cure. In November 2017, Doddie Weir and his trustees launched a registered charity called My Name’5 Doddie Foundation to raise funds to aid the research into Motor Neuron Disease.

In the past, the foundation has already collaborated with a premium gin producer to create a limited release Doddie Weir Gin and more recently, ex-Scotland rugby international and foundation supporter, Kenny Logan, launched a new wine initiative with the Sporting Wine Club headed by ex-England rugby International and head of European rugby, Simon Halliday. The new wine, in collaboration with ex-Springbok great Schalk Burger Snr. and his Welbedacht Estate in South Africa, was suppose to tie into the upcoming Lions tour to South Africa as Doddie had himself also earned his Lions cap for the 1997 winning tour against the Springboks.

Tasting in London with Welbedacht Estate owner and ex-Springbok rugby great Schalk Burger Snr., producer of Doddie’s Blend.

The Lions tour might now be in disarray and currently undergoing a mid-pandemic rethink with a move back to the UK, but the Doddie’s Red blend from the beautiful Welbedacht Estate in Wellington is very much a reality with the soft launch being planned in the UK in the coming weeks. As an extra gesture of support to the wider rugby fraternity, the limited release bottling includes a very special label painted by accomplished artist, Henry Fraser.

Henry Fraser played rugby for the Saracens Academy before suffering a freak injury at the age of 17 that resulted in him being paralysed from the shoulders down. Teaching himself to paint, Henry is now a most talented ‘mouth painter’ and was specially commissioned to design the labels for Doddie’s Blend.

If ever there was an initiative close to every rugby players’ heart, this is it. A genuinely exciting new wine release in support of an important cause. I hope rugby clubs and players across the country will give this initiative their full backing.

Welbedacht Estate Number 5 Doddie’s Red Blend 2019, WO Wellington, 14% Abv.

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, this is a genuinely impressive red Cape Bordeaux blend assemblage made in a true style where the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its individual parts revealing very pretty, seductive aromatics of fine dried herbal spice, ripe black plums, earthy black currants, sappy cedar spice and a delicate brûléed kiss of oak. The palate is equally alluring showing a harmonious creamy opulence and a super silky texture together with a real accessibility, finessed tannins and a weightless brambly black berry fruit concentration on the finish. Youthfully exuberant and utterly delicious already, this is a fine wine with character and class… just like the man in who’s honour it was created to celebrate. Drink now and over 8+ years.

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

Craven Wines Releases Another Distinguished Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon…

Jeanine and Mick Craven are the winemaking duo behind this vibrant Cape wine brand established in 2013. While their range has pretty much been bedded in over the past few years with minor tweaks, additions and the odd cuvee trimming here and there, their Devon Valley Firs Syrah continues to retain a prime position as their most distinguished wine produced. However, ever since I tasted their maiden 2018 Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon from barrel in late 2018, I have been bewitched by the succulence, freshness, varietal purity and precision of this new addition to their range.

I recently tasted their new releases which now includes a very Chablis-like mineral 2019 Chardonnay together with their exciting second release 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon made from the same premium Polkadraai Hills Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from vines grown on decomposed granite soils. This wine has an incredibly classical old-world Bordeaux feel to its demeanour and is truly unique in terms of style compared to most other beefier Stellenbosch or Helderberg Cabernet Sauvignons produced.

The beautiful Polkadraai Hills, now it’s own ward within the Stellenbosch region.

Whether it’s those stunning Polkadraai soils, their earlier picking regime or simply the skill of Jeanine and Mick in capturing the wonderful terroir of the area with their own fingerprint, this wine remains an incredibly exciting cuvee and one all self-admitted Cabernet Sauvignon obsessives should track down and try.

Craven Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5% Abv.

What an impressive effort. The wine making philosophy of Jeanine and Mick really seems to shine through brightest with their Cabernet Sauvignon expression. Sourced from the Karibib vineyard in the Polkadraai Hills in Stellenbosch and grown on decomposed granite soils, this taut, fresh, earthy black currant fruit laden expression is fabulously precise and pure with mesmerising aromatics of violets, creme de cassis, freshly tilled earth, raisined black plums, black cherry and a lick of sweet sappy cedar oak spice. With perhaps a little more middle palate extract and texture than the 2018, this wine really ticks so many boxes and is an absolute drinking pleasure. What a stunner! It seduced me at the very first sip and continued to do so until the last glass. Drink from 2021 until 2030+.

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

New Release Review – Tasting the Exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 From Kanonkop…

The Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 is another classical example of this varietal grown on the prime slopes of the Simonsberg ward. Exuding a sense of compact density, balance and harmony, its coolness in character is truly impressive considering the warm, dry vintage conditions of 2016.

With the 2016, Abrie Beeslaar handles this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine with a masterfully deft touch drawing out every drop of prime Simonsberg terroir. These Stellenbosch vines are on average 27 years old and grown on dry land vineyards located on decomposed granite, hutton and clovelly soils. Yields in 2016 were a mere 4 tons per hectare and only 8,000 cases of 6 were produced.

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

On opening, this 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon was initially surprisingly taut, tight and broody with reductive aromatics of oyster shell, salty creme de cassis, black currant leaf, black chai tea, iodine and maritime salinity. But as I’ve discovered repeatedly over the past 12 months, the hot dry 2016 drought vintage did produced some really excellent red wines proving that exceptional terroir handled intelligently by an accomplished winemaker can trump even difficult vintage conditions. Given ample time to breath, the nose starts to reveal a growing intensity of black cherry, salty cassis and vibrant blueberry hints with a seductive underlay of cherry kirsch liquor. On the palate, the texture is sleek and polished with multiple waves of creme de cassis and blackberry fruits rising like a tide, finishing with a tangy concentration burst of acidity and mouthwatering fruit. Tannins are understated and powdery suggesting optimal phenolic ripeness. A really beautifully constructed wine with elegance, balance and supple accessibility. Drink on release with a bit of decanting or over 10 to 12+ years.

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

The New Release Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon From Warwick Estate Hits the Shelves in the UK…

The first wine under the Warwick label was released in 1984, then named “La Femme Bleu” or the “Blue Lady” as it is known today. Two years later, in 1986, the Warwick Trilogy, a three varietal Bordeaux-style blend, was released and has ever since been recognised as one of South Africa’s and Stellenbosch’s top icon wines. Throughout the years, Warwick’s wines have won multiple awards as well as the hearts and minds of not only the local market but also the discerning fine wine collector market internationally, firmly establishing the brand as a true South African icon.

The resurrected Warwick Blue Lady re-emerged more recently as a non-vintage Cabernet Sauvignon made from a blend of the 2008 and 2009 vintages. The then winemaker Nic van Aarde blended the 2010 and made all subsequent vintages up until the 2018 before passing on the winemaking reins to his talented successor JD Pretorius. The Blue Lady, Nic van Aarde informs me, was normally made from Block 14, an old vine block on the Warwick estate, but in later years became a blend of three specific blocks on the farm.

Warwick’s current winemaker, JD Pretorius.

The grapes were hand harvested, de-stemmed and sorted into tanks for primary fermentation with one to three pump overs per day as well as two ‘rack and return’ over the fermentation period. After fermentation and then post-fermentation tank maceration lasting for an average of 36 days on the skins with three or four gentle pump overs per day with malolactic fermentation taking place in stainless steel tanks. After the MLF the wine was racked into French oak barrels (25% new) for a period of 27 months before a strict barrel selection process decided the final expression in the spring of 2019.

Warwick Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

The 2017 is a cool, suave, classy Stellenbosch Cabernet at its seductive best, oozing with class and pedigree. The aromatics are picture perfect with intense notes of violets, fresh cedar, lead pencil and spicy pithy black berry fruits. But no classy Cabernet Sauvignon would be complete without the signature notes of iodine and dusty graphite complexity. True to the vintage, this 2017 is rich, plush, suave and super sleek with a characterful weightless concentration of inky, earthy black plum, blueberry compote, black cherry and subtle black currant. Acids are bright and glassy but also finely harmonious on the palate with powdery, creamy, finessed tannins and a gentle but lithe textural physique. Wonderfully classical and truly Simonsberg Cabernet Sauvignon in character, this wine personifies everything great about the regions premium grape growing terroir. Drink from release and savour over 10 to 15+ years.

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

Seriously Old Dirt 2019 – Vilafonte Release the Newest Edition of Their Sought-After Second Wine…

The success and popularity of the Seriously Old Dirt label by Vilafonte has undoubtedly been one of the most significant success stories within the South African wine industry over the past 5 years. Just when you thought the global wine market, both locally and internationally, was over traded and over supplied, along comes an incredibly exciting brand that has been crafted with expertise and vision and constructed around the basic principles of accessible structure, youthful intensity and an underlying feel and character of uncompromising quality from premium Stellenbosch and Paarl terroirs.

While the Seriously Old Dirt second wine from premium boutique cellar Vilafonte based in Paarl, can no longer lay claim to only use the off-cuts from its bigger brothers Series M and Series C, the growth in the demand for this label can nevertheless be directly linked to the stylistic precision and expertise honed and perfected within the Vilafonte winery. With unused blending components from the Vilafonte vineyards forming the basic building blocks now joined by additional specially selected premium parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon fruit, the Seriously Old Dirt production has been allowed to grow in order to meet an insatiable demand.

Following on from three drought affected vintages in 2016, 2017 and 2018, the preceding winter to the harvest 2019 had a late start with good rainfall with fluctuating weather conditions resulting in an uneven budbreak. Weather conditions improved at the onset of summer and by November, warmer weather was conducive to healthy vineyard growth.

Malbec grapes being off-loaded at Vilafonte from the 2020 harvest.

As a testament to vineyard resilience, wines from the 2019 vintage from across the Cape winelands show impressive freshness, concentration and elegance but also an underlying minerality and structural classicism. The 2019 Seriously Old Dirt blend was matured for 18 months in older French oak barriques and consists of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec, 5% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. The wine is scheduled for a mid-February release date in the home market.

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2019, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.

This wine casts an attractive plummy purple-black colour and offers up vibrant notes of candied Parma violets, crème de cassis, sun raisined black cherries and hints of blueberry confit with an overlay of graphite and cedar spice. There is a lovely youthful maritime salinity and black liquorice nuance that melts into notes of iodine and Chinese five spice. The palate is medium bodied, fresh and supple but slowly unfurls to reveal a solid frame of creamy mineral tannins, ample Cabernet Sauvignon extract and a long, pleasingly drying grippy structure that is bolstered by salty cassis, taut black orchard fruits, stewed black cherries and hints of complexing bay leaf herbal spice. The 2019 vintage yielded wines with freshness, structural classicism, mineral tension and harmony and this superb new release from Vilafonte speaks honestly of the vintage and continues to fly the flag for premium second wines that offer exceptional quality, value for money and age-ability. Drink this on release with some lovely slow roasted lamb or age for 2 to 3+ years to allow it to open its shoulders further. A great wine for the savvy fine wine drinker.

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

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Releases Their New Rabelais 2018 Icon Cape Bordeaux Blend…

The Thelema Rabelais red blend originally started out as the prestigious Thelema Cape Winemakers Guild blend before evolving into the Rabelais label with the 2007 vintage, being produced originally from only Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. From 2009, Petit Verdot started to replace the Merlot portion and now the blend appears fairly settled at approximately a 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot mix. The Rabelais represents the very best Bordeaux components from the Thelema range where the wines clearly show concentration, polished ripe tannins and obvious refinement.

The last in a trilogy of drought vintages, the 2018 harvest produced fruit of sufficient quality for Thelema to produce their iconic Rabelais blend again. This year, the Cabernet Sauvignon portion comes in at 85% with the remaining 15% devoted to Petit Verdot yet again. After fermentation, the wine was left for 12 hours on the skins before pressing and racking into 100% new 225 litre French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and further ageing for 20 months.

Thelema Rabelais 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.32% Abv.

RS 1.8 g/l | pH 3.46 | TA 5.9

Quite an individual wine, this 2018 Rabelais is beautifully characterful and expressive with vivid notes of sour black plum compote, saline black currant, kelp and oyster shell, unsmoked cigars and freshly cracked black pepper all tightly smothered beneath an aromatic iron curtain of graphite and cedar spice. The palate shows an impressively polished texture with sleek marble like tannins… firm but super tight knit and precise, a medium bodied harmonious weight of red and black berry fruits and an incredibly long, saline, rock salt finish. Plenty of attractive wet river pebble minerality combines with graphite, lead pencil and complexing brûléed wood spice nuances to offer all the ‘salt & pepper’ complexity that should evolve in bottle to one day make this a truly classy, complex Cape Bordeaux blend. Crack the odd bottle after 5+ years but keep the rest for at least 10+. A fabulous 2018 blend that speaks of the vintage.

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

Recent praise from UK wine critic Matthew Jukes, after tasting the 2017 release.

Sassicaia 2018 – A Cool Classical Vintage at Its Very Best…

Faced with tasting and assessing the new 2018 Sassicaia, it is almost impossible not to recall the significance of the great past Sassicaia vintages ending in “8”. From the very beginning with the first commercial release in 1968 up to the 1988 that was thought by many influential critics to rival the great 100 point 1985. One thing all the greatest vintages of Sassicaia do have in common is the way the wines really excel and hit their zenith of quality in the cooler, more classical vintages.

With their exceptional fruit grown in their own ‘monopole’ territorial delimitation of DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, it is perhaps fitting that the name Sassicaia itself means stones in the local dialect and leads you directly to the exceptional terroir that lies at the heart of one of the greatest red wines in Italy.

The Cabernet Sauvignon vines on the galestro soils.

The 2018 vintage was undoubtedly a classical year for Tenuta San Guido. With the cold winter characterised by lengthy periods of rain and an unusually cold snowy period at the end of February, which those across the UK and Western Europe will remember as the “Beast from the East”, a chilling weather pattern that descended across Europe from icy Siberia, all the elements were in place for perfect vineyard dormancy and the elimination of pests and parasites.

The Sassicaia barrel ageing cellar in Bolgheri.

While Spring was cool and constant with slowly rising temperatures and sunny days, May saw the return of rain and wind. The growing season from Spring to Summer was very favourable with ample ground water supplies, normal constant temperatures without any excessive heat spikes and importantly, cool temperatures in the night. With longer than normal hanging times for the grapes, the season allowed for the slow progressing of phenolic ripeness and the development of intricate aromatics and vibrant acidities.

Harvest began on average 7 to 8 days later than normal on the 6th of September and ended on October 4th with the collection of Cabernet Sauvignon fruit in the Vigna di Castiglioncello and Vigna del Quercione vineyards located at higher altitudes of around 360 metres above sea level.

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2018, DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, 13.5% Abv.

One of the true signs of a wine’s greatness is its ability to capture the very essence of every changing vintage through its liquid terroir representation. This long cool vintage is captured beautifully in this latest Sassicaia release that is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. While showing plenty of taut, wound spring tension and aromatic restraint, the finery of this vintage slowly but surely reveals itself in slow, subtle, delicate perfumed waves of violets, cherry blossom and lavender hints all supported by intense mouth-watering notes of small black cherries, cranberries, earthy blueberries, cola and stony dark notes of blood and graphite. The oak use is almost imperceptible, melting into the fruit concentration like cherry cordial into water. On the palate, the mouthfeel shows incredible purity, density, intensity and focus with impressively creamy, compact, velvety ripe tannins that buttress the red and black berry fruits and the vibrant energetic acidity. But if there is one true stand out feature of this wine in its youth, it’s the wine’s incredible harmony and seamless balance in the mouth that points to perfect phenolic ripeness, expertly managed tannin extraction and the true benefits of longer, stress-free hang times of the grapes. Despite the abundant finesse and accessibility, this wine possesses restrained power, classical tension, liquid minerality and a fabulously long, persistent finish that is reminiscent of Grand Cru Burgundy in the finest years. A deeply seductive Sassicaia shaped by its classicism, linearity and balance. How can you not enjoy a few bottles of this classy wine in its youth? Drink from 2022 to 2045+.

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

Restless River’s New 2020 Releases Raise the Quality Bar Yet Again…

Craig Wessels took the South African wine scene by storm with his first 2012/2013 red and white releases. Although his range has grown to include a spectacular 2019 Pinot Noir and a superb Grenache and Sauvignon Blanc, it has always been the Restless River Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that have been the stand out wines that have helped redefine quality in the entire Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

With the 2017 vintage yielding a blockbuster Chardonnay last year, this year it’s the moment for Craig’s spectacular Cabernet Sauvignon to take centre stage. From the moment Hemel-en-Aarde nobility Anthony Hamilton Russell shared some of his father’s early 1980’s Grand Vin Noir Bordeaux blends from the valley, I knew many producers were missing a real trick forgetting the cool climate opportunities for Bordeaux varieties in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The 2017 Main Road & Dignity Cabernet from Craig captures all the grandeur possible in this region renowned for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Restless River Main Road & Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 14% Abv.

This attractive Hemel-en-Aarde Cabernet Sauvignon is fabulously dense and textured with multiple layers of creamy tannins coating the opulent fruit concentration. Full and glycerol in the mouth with refreshing acids, bright creme de cassis, black cherry and earthy baked plum fruit nuances. This vintage shows all the classic 2017 vintage elegance, focus and intensity with impressive mouthfeel and superb balance. You know this is something very special from the very first sip and certainly could be Craig Wessel’s finest Cabernet effort to date. Drink now and over 15+ years.

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

Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2018, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13% Abv.

This is a classically structured Ava Marie 2018 with crystalline tangy acids, generous green and yellow citrus fruit flesh, intricate mineral flintiness and an intensity of lemon and green melon candy on the long, persistent, noticeably concentrated finish. Less steely, malic and severe in style than the impressively taut 2017 (96/100 GSMW), but certainly carries on the Ava Marie tradition of freshness, bright acidity and wonderfully focused purity. Drink now and over the next 10-15+ years.

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

(Tasted 27th November 2020)