The Famed Antinori Guado Al Tasso Estate Releases a True Benchmark Il Bruciato 2019 Blend…

The Guado al Tasso estate is located in the small but prestigious Bolgheri DOC appellation on the coast of Upper Maremma, about one hundred kilometers southwest of Florence. This appellation has a relatively recent history as it was only established in 1994 but has since gained worldwide recognition as a new reference point in the international fine wine scene.

Il Bruciato, the second wine, was first produced in 2002 in one of the most difficult vintages ever for the famous Guado al Tasso estate. The wine is now regarded as a modern interpretation of Bolgheri’s unique terroir made from carefully selected Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes from all around Guado al Tasso’s vineyards.

Sunrise over the Guado Al Tasso Vineyards

The 2019 vintage’s growing season saw relatively cool weather in April and May then hot, dry conditions throughout the end of July. The slight delay in the vines’ initial growth cycle evened out as summer began. A sudden rise in temperatures caused the vines to produce lighter, loosely packed clusters, especially notable in the late ripening varieties where fruit set wasn’t yet fully completed. The months of August and September brought steady sunny weather that allowed grapes to progress to full ripeness in optimal conditions.

Harvesting operations began with Merlot at the beginning of September and were completed with Cabernet Sauvignon at the beginning of October. The other grape varieties, Syrah and smaller quantities of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, were picked during the last half of September.

Cabernet Sauvignon was blended with Merlot, Syrah and a small percentage of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and the final blend was reintroduced into barriques where it was left to age before bottling.

Antinori Tenuta Guado Al Tasso Il Bruciato 2019, Bolgheri DOC, 14.5% Abv.

Always an exceptional wine of compelling quality, the fresher, more structured 2018 sold out very quickly after release making the 2019 even more anticipated. An exciting new vintage, the wine is decidedly more opulent and generously fruited with aromatics of black cherry tobacco, black berry, graphite, iron filings, sweet cedar and purple rock candy confectionary nuances on the finish. On the palate there is an impressive depth of fruit with a notable glycerol, mouth-filling breadth together with sweet creamy mineral tannins and a fleshy mocha-laced black berry fruit accessibility. Where the 2018 was slightly more angular, cooler and nervy, the 2019 is more seductive, opulent, luxurious and obviously riper. While this is a wine that has increased in price significantly over the past few years it remains a real must-buy for regular Bolgheri enthusiasts.

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

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2018 – The New Release of This South African Icon Wine Reviewed…

With so many of South Africa’s top Cape Bordeaux Blends and Cabernet Sauvignon producers stepping up to the mark to produce their best wines ever across the 2015 and 2017 vintages, 2018 was always going to be under the spotlight to see if some of the magic of these previous vintages could be applied by winemakers to the benefit of the final wines.

Certainly, the winter rainfall was higher than the previous two winters but with irregular temperatures from winter until the flowering period, together with cool growing conditions, there were inevitably some variations in ripening across the Simonsberg vineyards. However, cooler weather and regular rain showers led to less water stress for the vines during the ripening period.

Having tasted most of the top 2018 Cape Bordeaux blends now, the signature style and characteristics of the vintage are becoming clearer and clearer – Very cool, precise wines with impressively glassy acid frames, silky powdery tannins, impressive fruit intensity but without the 2015’s inky dry extract or the 2017’s weightless fruit concentration. The 2018s are very attractive wines, more classically leaning with a little less exoticism but plenty of the traditional characteristics on the aromatics and palate that have made the wines so popular with French Bordeaux collectors and connoisseurs around the world.

The grapes for the 2018 Paul Sauer were fermented in open top concrete fermenters at 29 deg C with the floating skins being punched down by hand every 2 hours during fermentation. The juice was drawn off the skins after 5 days. After malolactic fermentation the wine was matured for 24 months in 100% new 225 litre French Nevers oak barriques.

With only 7,000 cases or 42,000 bottles produced, stake your marker in the allocation queue nice and early as this iconic wine seems to sell out faster and faster every year. This of course is the reward for a proven pedigree and quality track record.

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2018, WO Simonsberg – Stellenbosch, 13.91% Abv.

2.4 g/l RS | 6.2 TA | 3.55 pH | 90 mg/l Total SO2 | 0.63 g/l VA

The 2018 Paul Sauer is a classical blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc from vines averaging 30 years of age grown on dryland vineyards of Decomposed Granite and Hutton and Clovelly soils. Vibrant and ruby / purple, the wine almost glows in the glass with inviting promise. At this youthful stage, the Cabernet Sauvignon component shines through strongly revealing a generally dark, broody, black fruited demeanour embellished with subtle notes of saline crème de cassis, star anise, lead pencil shavings, dried violets and signature nuances of freshly tilled earth, buttered brown toast and hints of breakfast espresso. In the mouth, the palate shows gorgeous elegance, purity and fruit focus with the most fine grained filigree tannins, soothingly generous black berry fruits and delicious mouth-watering acids. This wine is precision personified showing such effortless grace and harmony together with a measured power and intensity. The 2018 is certainly a very classically schooled expression that waltzes across the palate without ever putting a foot out of place. Like all truly great Bordeaux blends, this has the finesse and textural harmony to drink on release but also the intensity and gravitas to age effortlessly for 20 to 30+ years.

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

A Decade on From the Iconic 2008 Vintage, Bruwer Raats Releases the Impressive MR de Compostella 2018…

It seems quite fortuitous that the very week Bruwer Raats and Mzokhona Mvemve choose to release their new vintage of MR de Compostella 2018, the most famous and influential wine reviewer in the world, Neal Martin chose their MR de Compostella 2008 as his Vinous Cellar Selection and scored it 96/100, matching the original rating he gave this iconic wine exactly 10 years ago.

I was of course lucky enough to host Bruwer Raats in London in October 2019 when we tasted through the first ever complete vertical of MR vintages from the maiden 2004 until the 2017. Then, when I managed to visit Bruwer at the winery in Feb 2020, long before the pandemic struck, he was already talking about another exceptional vintage that was different to many of the others but was perhaps one that clearly reminded him of the famed 2008 vintage. As it turned out, the 2018 ended up spending approximately 27 months in barrel compared to the usual 22 to 24 months for an MR de Compostella, creating another similarity with the famed 2008 vintage.

Whether this extended ageing enhanced the 2008 or whether it was just an exceptional vintage to start with, what I do see are the clear similarities between the 2018 and the 2008 vintages. This is sure to be a very stable, slow burning vintage and undoubtedly, a release you are going to want to have in your cellar.

MR de Compostella 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

The 2018 MR de Compostella is a blend of 54% Cabernet Franc, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec, 5% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot. Deep garnet-purple in colour, one sniff of the bouquet reveals another truly towering effort with incredible perfume lift, a complex melange of red and black berry fruits and the most fabulously integrated oaking imaginable. The nose is loaded with black cherry kirsch liquor, black truffle, crushed violets, crème de cassis, mulberries, graphite and freshly tilled earth nuances. Despite an extensive elevage in French oak barriques, the sweet cedary wood spice and vanilla pod notes play very much a subtle supporting role allowing the bold multi-dimensional fruit intensity to take centre stage. While only medium-bodied, the palate is super sleek, laser focused and intense, washing over the senses in energetic waves of saline cassis, black cherries, black plum and baked blueberries. This is classical winemaking at its very best where a harmonious freshness combines with beautifully silky poised tannins to deliver a wine with not only overt mouth-watering appeal but also plenty of latent structural depth. Undoubtedly another individually monumental wine that displays the brilliance of the special Mvemve-Raats winemaking partnership clearly for all to see. Old School and New World all at the same time, this is a wine that will appeal to the classicists as much as to the New World connoisseurs. Drink it on release or bury it in your cellar for 25+ years for further rewards.

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

Rising Bordeaux Star Chateau La Croizille Releases Another Impressive Saint Emilion 2018 Red…

La Croizille is a wonderfully situated Saint 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 respected head winemaker, Jean-Michel Garcion.

Chateau La Croizille Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2018, 14.5% Abv.

This is an impressive effort that shows just why so many 2018 right bank Bordeaux wines are being fawned over at the moment. It displays a deep purple-black colour and offers up exotic, hedonistic notes of black currant compote, liquorice, caramelised black cherries, creme brûlée and stewed winter plums. On the palate the texture is silky, soft and sensual with an impressive fleshy depth of fruit, smoky graphite mocha notes, pithy plum stone minerality and a long, fresh, well honed finish. The subtle drying grip from the velvety tannins are reminiscent of a well brewed cup of raspberry and black currant herbal tea. It possesses a simply magical harmony and a wonderful balance making this another standout effort from Chateau La Croizille. Drink from 2022 to 2034+

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

http://www.chateaulacroizille.com

Vilafonte Forges Ahead with Another Jaw-Dropping 2018 Series M Fine Wine Release…

I was in the Cape in 2018 around harvest time and again at the Vilafonte winery in February 2020 only days after the Series M 2018 had been bottled. Proprietor Mike Ratcliffe and US partners Phil Freese and Zelma Long, visiting for the 2020 harvest, struggled to contain their excitement over the final 2018 results. After reviewing the superb Series C 2018 in September 2020, I knew all eyes would be on the Series M that Mike described as possibly the best the winery had ever produced. With maturing vineyards, ever greater fine tuning of their precision viticulture techniques as well as winemaker Chris de Vries just getting to know his terroir better and better, further improvements in quality seem an almost certainty.

The 2018 vintage was certainly marked by one of the worst droughts on record and presented some significant challenges for all vine growers and winemakers in the Western Cape. With water resources at an all time low and strict rationing in effect, reduced water availability for irrigation led to reduced vine vigour and canopy sizes. Some unseasonable rains and low temperatures in October and November disrupted fruit set and further reduced the number and size of berries on grape clusters.

In the end, harvest timings were close to normal, beginning on February 2nd and continuing uninterrupted until February 27th. Overall, the vintage saw yields contract by -24% following a very generous crop in 2017 and the fruit was marked by berries being on average -25% smaller in size than normal leading to wines with an intense inky colour, piercing concentration and striking fruit richness.

Vilafonte Series M 2018, WO Paarl, 14.5% Abv.

The 2018 Series M is a blend of 45% Merlot, 41% Malbec, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc that was aged for 22 months in 24% new French oak barriques with the remainder aged in used French oak barrels. This wine exhibits an alluringly deep dark garnet-purple colour and wilfully offers forth an exhilarating aromatic array of seductive notions of blueberries, boysenberries, black plum and sweet cassis. The purity and detail is very impressive with delicate violet and vanilla pod nuances combining with notes of star anise, warm buttered brown toast smothered with black cherry preserve, freshly baked pastries, hints of mocha and espresso and some subtle background cedar spice complexing oak notes. The palate shows a wonderfully expansive and multi-dimensional flavour explosion together with a carefully measured richness, pinpoint purity and truly show stopping concentration all delivered with subtlety and jaw-dropping finesse. There is boldness and creamy textured fine-grained supporting tannins but first and foremost, there is freshness, supreme balance and sublime harmony. This very well may be one of the finest young Vilafonte reds I have ever tasted on release. Drink now or cellar for 15+ years.

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

Another Noteworthy 2017 Stellenbosch Red Blend Released By Ernie Els Wines…

The Proprietor’s Red Blend is a selection of six varieties all of which are sourced from the Ernie Els winery property. These vineyards are grown primarily on the warmer, north-facing slopes of the Helderberg within the Stellenbosch region.

These particular varieties thrive under these conditions and result in rich, full-bodied red wines with balancing freshness. At an altitude of approximately 250 metres above sea level, together with the cooling influence of the Atlantic Ocean, the ripening period or hang time of the grapes can be extended, resulting in wines with optimal phenolic ripeness and pure, bold, concentrated flavours. This of course is one of the reasons Stellenbosch has become so famous for successfully growing premium Bordeaux varieties as well as some excellent Syrah / Shiraz.

I recently tasted the Ernie Els Proprietor’s Blend and was pleased to see the pedigree of the 2017 vintage captured in this new release.

Ernie Els Proprietor’s Blend 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

A premium red blend made up of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Shiraz, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. The result is a rich enticing blend with expressive aromatics laced with tannery leather, decomposing forest floor, sweet black berry compote, black currant pastille, graphite and nuances of freshly tilled earth. The palate is finely weighted with creamy round tannins, layers of crunchy black currant, black cherry and blueberry spice with delicately integrated cedar wood vanilla spice notes. This wine shows impressive density, power and concentration for a vintage renowned for having a more lithe, silky, weightless character. Here we see the elegance and textural finesse of 2017 but certainly with a little more dry extract, stuffing and grip. Nevertheless, this is a wine that can be enjoyed now on release or cellared for 10-12+ years comfortably. Another triumph for prime Stellenbosch terroir.

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

The Ernie Els Wines are distributed in the UK by Seckford Wine Agencies.

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)