Starting 2022 In Style – Reviewing the Sensational New Thelema Estate Rabelais 2019…

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 undeniable refinement.

As with so many Cape Bordeaux Blends of this quality, the Rabelais cuvee has now earned itself an impressive following, both at home and globally, making the wine increasingly sought after and necessitating tighter and tighter allocations at the estate. If you missed the impressive 2015 or the eye wateringly great 2017, it’s time to track down some of the delicious 2019.

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Rabelais 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

The 2019 Thelema Rabelais is another incredibly refined creation being a blend of 90% Simonsberg Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. Since the 2015 vintage, this flagship wine has shifted into a sixth gear and is now hitting some exceptionally high quality notes. Always classical and composed, the aromatics boast notes of perfumed violets, dried herbs, black cherry and seductive hints of crème de cassis with undertones of sweet cedar wood spice, brûléed coffee beans, brown toast and some dusty mineral strands of crushed slate and graphite. The palate is silky soft, predictably sleek and polished and displays impressive textural elegance with fine filigree tannins, fresh acids, subtle complex layers of black currant, cherry cola, capsicum and breakfast espresso. This is another head-turning, eye-opening wine that displays wonderful balance and harmony. Fabulously pure, precise and regal on so many levels. Simply outstanding. Drink from 2024 to 2040+.

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

Stark Conde Releases Another Dazzling Pair of Premium 2018 Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignons..

There is a lot of uncertainly in the world these days but one thing you can be sure of is that during the year, the top Stellenbosch boutique wine producers will create magic and release some of the most tantalising Cabernet Sauvignon wines imaginable.

The Three Pines single-vineyard iconic Cabernet Sauvignon is based on a high elevation vineyard site (350m). The finely textured decomposed granite soil, cooler temperatures, and ample winter rainfall creates perfect growing conditions for premium Cabernet. The wine is characterized by its silky tannin structure and unique floral notes. Since its maiden vintage in 2000, this has been one of South Africa’s most consistently awarded Cabernets.

Stark Conde Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Jonkershoek Valley, 14% abv.

A 4.5 hectare vineyard from Stark Conde named after where the grapes are grown, the 2018 Three Pines combines Cabernet Sauvignon with 10% Petit Verdot and Malbec to reveal plenty of dark saline black berry fruits, tart black plum, blueberry and complex maritime kelp hints with subtle liquorice notes. The palate is sleek, glassy and super polished with very precise tight knit tannins, a firm structured acid frame and embracing saline black cherry and black berry fruits that lend a lot of mouth-watering pleasure already but leave you in no doubt that this is certainly a wine that will age and improve gracefully for atleast 10 to 12+ years or more. Simply a delight to drink.

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

The Oude Nektar wine is based around the highest elevation vineyard on the Stark Conde estate, which at 550m is arguably one of Stellenbosch’s highest Cabernet vineyards. The site has very stoney decomposed granite soils, and a perfect aspect toward the afternoon sun. Although this vineyard gets a cooling breeze, it averages 45 minutes more sunlight each day which allows for a slower ripening period. This Bordeaux-style blend is matured for about 20 months in French oak barrel (70% new) before being bottled with no fining and no filtration.

Stark Conde Oude Nektar Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Jonkershoek Valley, 14% abv.

This is another really impressive expression of a Cabernet Sauvignon based wine from one of South Africa’s preeminent Stellenbosch proponents. The aromatics are spectacularly lifted and intense with perfumed notes of saline black liquorice, oyster shell, lilac, cassis leaf, black currant and hints of fresh mint, wet tobacco and buttered brown toast. The palate shows incredible precision framed by crisp linear acids that add to both a tightly knit steely texture and wound-spring tension. Lacking no amount of saline black fruit, the wine is also mineral and focused with hints of graphite, sweet cedar spice and a broody, stony veneer on the finish. This wine is all about sinewy tension, complex gravelly minerality and restrained, classical fruit intensity. Stellenbosch and the Jonkershoek Valley excel yet again! Drink from 2022 to 2035+.

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

Imported into the UK by Museum Wines.

Stellenbosch’s Icon Warwick Winery Releases an Eye Catching New Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2019…

Warwick Winery is a key player in the premium South African wine landscape so when the Ratcliffe family sold the winery a few years ago, there was a lot of concern among wine lovers that the new American owners would push the brand in a more commercial direction and eventually compromise on range quality. However, one of the earliest reassuring signs of confidence was the appointment of JD Pretorius as head winemaker after the departure of the talented Nic van Aarde to Oldenburg Winery. So at least the winemaking would be in safe hands!

Roll on several years and the wines are thankfully as good as they ever were with even more premium raw material available to JD from their Simonsberg neighbour, the Uitkyk winery, which was also purchased by Warwick’s new owners. Most impressively, the new releases of the ‘classic wines’ at Warwick including the Trilogy red Cape Bordeaux blend, the Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon and their excellent Cabernet Franc are all superb and firing on all cylinders. But exciting new labels have also been created like the impressive Professor Black Pitch Black red blend as well as a new release Chenin Blanc made from old vines situated on the Uitkyk estate.

Made from a single vineyard Chenin Blanc planted in 1978 on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg, these lovely old bush vines yielded a small harvest of exceptionally high-quality fruit coaxed to perfection by winemaker JD Pretorius. The Grapes were handpicked in the cool early morning and then whole bunch pressed with the juice being allowed to clarify naturally before fermentation took place in 400 litre French oak barrels. After fermentation, the barrels were rolled once a month for nine months before blending in January 2020 and bottling in February 2020.

Warwick Old Vine Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

1.65g/l RS | 5.73 TA | 3.38pH

This Chenin Blanc made from grapes planted in 1978 shows expressive and nuanced aromatics boasting layers of pear puree, wet straw, honied white peaches and a compelling stony minerality. On the palate, the wine reveals an explosive depth of fruit, rich glycerol layers of tangy tangerine glacé and candied yellow fruits, quince, and honied yellow plum. There is plenty of showy breadth and depth but it’s the intensity of the old vine fruit that
really impresses most. This is top drawer quality and a delightful addition to a very accomplished range of Warwick Wines. Drink on release or bury in the cellar for 10 to 12+ years.

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

Wine Safari New Release Review – Tasting the KWV Roodeberg 1949 Second Release…

The 1949 Roodeberg Red Blend is a return to the original premium Roodeberg tradition and philosophy attempting to create a wine with universal fine wine appeal. The excellent maiden 2017 vintage was produced from premium Stellenbosch grapes grown on the Grondves Farm, one of the primary sites for the development of mother plant material for the South African wine industry. The 2018 is another very impressive creation and a very worthy follow-up blend.

Roodeberg 1949 embraces the revival of exciting French and Spanish varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon forms the foundation of the blend supported by Tempranillo, Carignan and Carménère. After fermentation, the different components were left to mature for circa 18 months in new French oak barrels with only the best barrels selected for blending and bottling for this commemorative wine.

KWV 1949 Roodeberg Red Blend 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Carignan and Carménère. Much like the maiden release 2017, the new Roodeberg 1949 displays wonderfully seductive aromatics of violets and lilac, lush ripe red and black berry fruits and a creamy, bruleed top note of brown toast and roasted coffee beans. While the bouquet is certainly very inviting, the palate texture is simply drop dead gorgeous with a cool, fleshy, dreamy harmony of tart black plum, black cherry, black currant, salty black liquorice and a subtle leafy sapidity on the finish that adds plenty of interest. This is a wine that never lacks acidity but always shows an impressive balance, superb depth of flavour and plenty of poise. Stylistically, this is South Africa’s very own Ribera del Duero red that is masterfully crafted and blended. Quite simply, if you missed the incredible maiden release 2017 that sold out almost before customers could hear about it, then you have been warned. The 2018 second release is coming and it’s a cracker too. Drink on release and over 8 to 10+ years.

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

Chateau Margaux’s ‘On-Trade Exclusive’ Third Wine Continues to Make Waves in the Premium Restaurant Trade…

I have always been a big fan of Bordeaux second and third wines because of the pedigree and excellent value for money they normally offer. At the 2010 En-primeur tastings, I remember tasting with Chateau Margaux’s Paul Pontallier when he revealed the 2009 maiden release of the Margaux du Chateau Margaux, a wine that had yet to be named. In following years when this 2009 vintage finally arrived onto the market, it was decided that distribution would be exclusively through the on-trade and restaurant trade. This was of course a time when Bordeaux prices were running riot in the open market making it incredibly difficult for restaurants to list quality Bordeaux wines at affordable prices.

The third wine of the legendary Chateau Margaux, the Margaux du Chateau Margaux 2014 benefited enormously from the outstanding selection made in this vintage. The Pavillon Rouge and Chateau Margaux assemblages made up just 60% of the harvest in 2014 which allowed the Margaux du Chateau Margaux cuvee to be enhanced with multiple parcels previously destined for Chateau Margaux’s Pavillon Rouge, a wine that regularly sells for over £250+ retail per bottle and double or triple that amount in premium restaurants. The result is one of the finest vintages of this third wine to date composed in equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon (49%) and Merlot (49%) with a small percentage of Petit Verdot. If you see it on a restaurant list at circa £100 per bottle, buy it with confidence.

Margaux du Chateau Margaux 2014, Bordeaux, 13% Abv.

This pretty wine displays a wonderfully inviting perfumed nose of pressed violets, grilled coffee beans, black cherry and buttered brown breakfast toast. Even for a 2014, this seven-year-old wine shows lashings of blackcurrant and black plum fruit with the extra years in bottle giving the wine some glorious complexing notes of tannery leather, tobacco and wood smoke. Close your eyes and it`s like sitting back in a comfy old leather armchair in the library of a grand old London private members club. In the mouth, it reveals plush reassuring nuances of black berry fruits, hints of autumnal foresty bramble berries and a seductive touch of cocoa bean and milk chocolate. The length is long and impressive with fine ripe fleshy tannins and an elegant harmonious texture that screams classy Margaux terroir. A truly impressive wine conceived and blended for relatively early consumption in a restaurant environment but packs more than enough punch to accompany the heartiest of cuisine. Drink now and over the next 6 to 8+ years.

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

Napa Valley’s Icon Estate Diamond Creek Release their New 2019 Trio of Reds…

Diamond Creek produces Single-Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons from their unique terroirs on Napa Valley’s Diamond Mountain. Produced with 100% estate-grown fruit, Gravelly Meadow, Red Rock Terrace and Volcanic Hill each express their geologically diverse micro sites whilst creating wonderfully complex and long-lived wines.

The 2019 vintage had a smaller crop than 2018 allowing the wines to perhaps show a little more concentration and depth from the lower resulting yields. The 2019 wines were still made and blended by previous owner Phil Ross but finished off and bottled by current winemaker Graham Wehmeier working under the new ownership.

Zoom tasting with winemaker Graham Wehmeier

The 2019 growing season offered excellent conditions with parallels in quality to the 2018 vintage with one exception – lower than expected yields. 2019 was also the first fully organic vintage for the estate. In 2018, the estate harvested 50 tons of grapes and in 2019, only 40 tons. A mild, wet spring led into a long summer of steady ripening. 2019 saw long hang times and a steady increase in phenolic ripeness. Selective hand picking began in early October followed by careful sorting and winemaking.

Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow 2019, Napa Valley, 14.6% Abv.

78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc.

Gravelly sandy based soils with the lowest yields shows a fabulously deep black opaque black cherry colour and seductive aromatics of sweet black berry, black currant, melted liquorice, crushed basalt, graphite and a pinch of sweet cinnamon oak spice.

On the palate, the impressive fruit concentration and depth is matched by stony, grippy mineral tannins, lashings of more salty black liquorice, blueberry spice and a rich vein of black currant and caramel cream intensity. A wine with lovely focused power, a sympathetic harmony, textural symmetry and plenty of generosity. Just Awesome.

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

Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace 2019, Napa Valley, 14.5% Abv.

75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc.

Red iron soils yield a rich, opulent expressive nose of blueberry, red plum, mulberry, cassis, salty red liquorice and subtle iron filing wafts. There is a brighter, more fragrant red fruited feel to the steeply terraced fruit which naturally receives less direct sunlight.

The palate too is a picture of elegance and restraint with cool elegant layers of spicy red and black berry fruits, spicy red plum, hints of graphite, crème brûlée and buttered brown toast smothered in red currant jam. The tannins are subtly drying and sophisticated but lifted up by a wonderfully fresh frame of vivacious acids. Another beautiful expression of Cabernet Sauvignon.

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

Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill 2019, Napa Valley, 14.5% Abv.

76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 7% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot.

This south-facing hillside terraced vineyard with its grey ashy volcanic sandy soils yields another big, bold expression with a suitably dark black opaque colour. But there is nothing broody about the wine’s aromatics that burst out the glass with notes of gingerbread, saline black currant, melted tar, stewed black cherries, camphor and hints of graphite.

The palate is focused and powerful with a big concentration of creamy black and blue berry fruits, very fine grained, stern, mineral graphite tannins and an incredibly compact, precise yet generous mouthfeel. Lovely balance and seductive power. A real WOW wine!

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

The Ancient Vilafonte Soils Yield Another Blockbuster Series C Cabernet Sauvignon Red Blend in 2019…

The first post-drought vintage is about to be released by the team at the Vilafonte winery in Paarl and the 2019 vintage clearly illustrates what is possible when nature decides to co-operate to help yield some exceptional raw materials to make another iconic Cabernet Sauvignon based red blend. The discussions are already starting as to whether this blockbuster 2019 vintage will join other great historic vintages like 2003, 2009, 2015 and 2017 in redefining premium South African fine wine quality.

Speaking to winemaker Chris de Vries, the vintage was really a tale of two seasons. While rains initially remained elusive, there was an upswing in rainfall towards the end of the 2018 winter and continuing into spring and early summer. Weather fluctuations in the spring did however result in uneven bud-break and berry set. Conditions improved somewhat at the onset of summer with a warmer November being very conducive to healthy vineyard growth. Some uneven ripening was remedied with in-bunch sorting after veraison and by the time harvest arrived at the beginning of February, the fruit quality was looking exceptional.

Vilafonte Series C 2019, WO Paarl, 14.5% Abv.

The Series C 2019 is a blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Malbec and 4% Cabernet Franc that was aged for 22 months in 74% new French oak barriques with the remainder aged in older, multiple passage barrels. A deep ruby-purple colour, this really is an impressively intense and striking blend that is seductive and alluring from the moment the cork is pulled. The aromatics offer glimpses of black cherries, earthy stewed black plums, black currants, fertile loam, tilled earth, freshly cut hedgerow together with hints of hoisin plum sauce and melted chocolate nuances. The palate is medium to full bodied but incredibly pure and polished with a confident, approachable accessibility, sleek rounded tannins and layer upon layer of seamless creamy black berry fruits, saline liquorice, sweet cedar spice and a subtle blueberry accent on the vibrant fresh finish. This wine does not try and hide its sweet seductive black fruits yet there is certainly a subtle subtext of earthy, stony minerality that runs in unison with all the vivid fruit concentration. But beware all the seductive sex appeal on this wine because only the foolish would drink all their bottles on release before allowing this serious blend to hit its straps after 8 to 10+ years ageing. A deliciously accomplished wine.

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

Another Sutherland Vineyards Stunner – Tasting their 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Release…

It’s when you taste wines like this that you realise that Elgin can do no wrong. Whether Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah or Petit Verdot, this little cool climate pocket is just simply a viticultural garden of Eden. Unfortunately for the grape vines, this cool microclimate oasis also produces some of the most incredibly high-quality apples that I have tasted from anywhere in the world, making vineyards compete for space and economics.

If vitis vinifera is going to fight back, it is going to be with wines like this Sutherland Cabernet Sauvignon that hearts and minds will be converted. Grown on classic Tukulu-Glenrosa soils, these 12-year-old vines seem to be in a very happy stage of development yielding 9.7 tons per hectare. The fruit was destemmed, hand sorted and fermented in stainless steel tanks with a pump over one a day. After fermentation, the wine was racked into 30% new French oak barrels and aged for 18 months before bottling.

Sutherland Cab Sauvignon 2017, WO Elgin, 13.98% Abv.

2.1 g/l RS | 3.56 pH | 5.3 g/l TA

Elgin always seems capable of producing some of the most beguiling expressions of wine whether made from Pinot Noir, Syrah, Petit Verdot or Cabernet Sauvignon. The aromatics of this beauty show a nuanced complexity of pressed violets, sweet black tea, saline black currant, sweet herbs, wet tobacco and subtle hints of black cherry preserve. True to the vintage, the palate is fabulously elegant with silky tannins, a fine-grained crushed stone minerality, a weightless intensity and a long, cool, fresh finish that is simply mouth-watering, all delivered in such an effortless style. This is surely one of the most enjoyable Cabernet Sauvignon reds you will experience from the 2017 vintage. Drink now and over the next 10 to 12+ years.

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

The Resurrection of the Meerlust Red Blend – Tasting the 2019 Vintage Release…

I have made no secret over the years that I love the concept of premium second wines, whether from Bordeaux, Napa Valley or Cape Town. The Meerlust Estate Red Blend last made a local South African market appearance back in 2011, when the Meerlust Estate declassified their Rubicon flagship wine. To avoid confusion, a ‘Meerlust Red’ is made every vintage but only for the international export market where second wines are well entrenched as viable alternatives for mid-week drinking or for less serious occasions but do not cannibalise the sales of the premium cuvee. However, this wine is not normally sold in the home market unless a specific vintage of Rubicon is declassified into the Red Blend like in 2011, 2002, 1990 and 1985.

Inevitably, when the wider market realises that the premium Rubicon Red Blend has not been released, the Meerlust Red acquires a massive and immediate following, such is the pedigree and reputation of the Meerlust Estate. Sold in the local home market for half the price of the Rubicon, the Red Blend is always an exceptional value wine and drinkers would be well advised to fill their cellars to pad out their drinking of the more age worthy vintages of Meerlust Rubicon.

Meerlust Red 2019, WO Stellenbosch

The 2019 Meerlust Red is a blend of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Initially a little reticent on opening, this wine quickly sheds its broody, sulky, spicy veil to reveal a wonderfully complex aromatic array of black plum, black berry compote, orange peel, Christmas pudding over hints of pressed violets, sweet cedar spice and graphite nuances. The palate is plush and fleshy from the word go, showing an open knit, expressive opulence of red currant, bramble berry, black currant, sweet oak spice, black tea and a sleek texture that simply embraces the palate and makes you go back again and again for another sip. Refreshingly vibrant and impressively generous, I suspect this wine will age surprisingly well for over 10+ years even though it’s simply a cracking drinker right now on release. Hats off to the entire Meerlust crew.

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

Iconic Kanonkop Wine Estate Prepares for the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Release…

A wine always released several months after the famed Paul Sauer Cape Bordeaux blend, the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon is yet another highly anticipated wine based on the clear established pedigree of the vintage. I am fortunate enough to have drunk several bottles of the 2015 and 2016 Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon over the past few months in preparation for the 2017 release together with enjoying yet another blind 1994 Paul Sauer vs 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon taste-off recently.

With production levels for the Cabernet roughly double that of the now highly allocated Paul Sauer blend, at circa 12,000 cases of 6 compared to 6,000, the new release of the Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon does present a slighty wider opportunity for fine wine drinkers and collectors alike to secure some bottles for their cellar. Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon is riding high and demand across all international markets for the top producers’ wines has never been higher thanks to not only a strong run of quality vintages but also the renewed promotional work of a cohesive group of premium producers.

The preceding winter was the 3rd dry one in a row, with less rain than the previous one and warmer day and night temperatures. A warm spring resulted in early budding and regular rain showers during flowering and berry set saw a high presence of pests. The picking season was very dry with limited water for irrigation, but with cooler nigh-time temperatures during February. Fermentation took place in open top concrete fermenters at 29c. The cap was punched down by hand every 2 hours during fermentation. The juice was then drawn off the skins after 5 days. After malolactic fermentation, the wine was matured for 24 months in 50% new and 50% second fill 225L French Nevers oak barrels.

Kanonkop Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, 14.97% Abv.

2.7 g/l RS | 6.3 g/l TA | 3.47 pH | VA 0.51 g/l

This certainly is a deep, broody exotic expression of Cabernet Sauvignon that is more reminiscent of a cool vintage Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon than anything from Bordeaux or the Cape. Opened and tasted over 4 to 5 hours, the wine hits its stride surprisingly quickly with plenty of perfumed purple flowers, violets, bruleed black berries, baked blueberry crumble, crème de cassis and a pleasing note of mocha and vanilla pod spice. Initial notes of kelp and maritime seashore salinity quickly give way to a more weighty, sensual melange of black berry compote nuances and hints of cherry kirsch liquor. While this wine certainly shows all the deft elegance and finesse we associate with the 2017 vintage, it also displays a certain extra gravitas, power and weight of fruit concentration combined with great poise, density and a seamlessly textured mineral graphite finish. This is a dark horse that will drink well on release and age deceptively well for 20+ years.

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

Imported into the UK wine trade by Seckford Wine Agencies.

Ps. This review is dedicated to the mighty South African Springbok Rugby World Champions who scored a historic victory against New Zealand in Australia in their 101st test match contest. 🙏🏼