The Seductive Power of Appellation Margaux ~ Tasting the Over-Performing Chateau Haut Breton Larigaudieres…

End September sees the Bordeaux Cru Bourgeois Trade Tasting return to London. Last year’s tasting was described by the Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin as a very fertile hunting ground for great value, affordable quality, drinking red Bordeaux. 

If the region of Bordeaux is to retain its admired status as the most collectable wine by connoisseur’s, it is crucial that smaller, lesser classifications are bought and drunk by regular consumers. The love affair with Bordeaux has to start somewhere, and for many wine enthusiasts, it starts with drinking tantalising Cru Bourgeois wines. So tonight I’m getting into training for the tasting by drinking a delicious bottle of appellation Margaux Cru Bourgeois. 

Chateau Haut Breton Larigaudiere 2012 Margaux, 13 Abv.

A blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot, this is an absolute cracker from the Margaux appellation. Sweet red plum and blueberry fragrance lift effortlessly out of the glass. Violets, jasmine, dried mint leaf, pot pourri herbs and seductive musk notes add massive complexity. There is also plenty of rich earthy cassis and lush red cherry exotism to excite even the most reluctant Bordeaux connoisseur. Palate concentration is very impressive yet you never lose sight of the wine’s Margaux’esque elegance, allure, perfume and seductive beauty. Creamy, powdery tannins are the order of the day making this a top notch Margaux that is both precise and pretty, yet deceptively powerful and intense. True to the vintage, there is ample accessible upfront fruit, fine balance and harmony and bright pure freshness. This is a fantastic offering that cannot fail to excite. Drink now to 2030.

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

Ground Breaking South African Bordeaux Blend ~ Rating the Epic 2015 MR de Compostella…

Mvemve Raats is a critically acclaimed collaboration between friends and winemakers Mzokhona Mvemve and Bruwer Raats. Bruwer is of course the owner and winemaker of Raats Family Wines, where he has earned a reputation for top notch Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Mzokhona Mvemve, the first Indaba Scholarship recipient, is a graduate of Stellenbosch University and one of South Africa’s first qualified black oenologists.

On Friday the 8th September, Bruwer Raats joined us to launch the 2015 vintage of the MR de Compostella. The grapes for this extremely limited production of MR are sourced from Stellenbosch, widely recognized as the Cape’s premier red wine-producing region, especially when it comes to Bordeaux style varieties. With the 2015 vintage currently being lauded in South Africa as possibly the best all-round vintage in South African viticultural history ever, the stage was perfectly set for Bruwer to perform his magic.

MR de Compostella 2015 Blend, WO Stellenbosch,14.5 Abv.

I have been one of Bruwer Raats’ biggest MR de Compostella followers in the UK market since the maiden 2004 vintage release, and we have tasted the MR pre-release every year together since then, discussing the wine’s blend and vintage complexities over a few bottles of MR and fine left bank claret. So after a great amount of anticipation, we got to taste the MR 2015 together last Friday. This is an absolutely gorgeous, coming of age wine. A blend of 40% Cabernet Franc, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot and 4% Malbec, the 2015 is genuinely a compelling wine with a classic nose more reminiscent of a fine, opulent Cru Classe Pauillac than a Stellenbosch Bordeaux blend. There are beautiful perfumed notes of assorted purple flowers and fresh violets that melt away to reveal ripe, intense notes of crème de cassis, blueberry crumble, cherry kirsch liquor and damson plum. The wine has gravitas, intensity and a room-silencing presence that is neither heavy nor overpowering. Like all MR vintages, it has impressive laser-like precision, a fine grained focus and an amazing fruit purity and concentration that is a hedonistic pleasure to experience. What extract, what fine piercing acids, what power, but all delivered in a sublimely harmonious chorus of black cassis fruits, blueberry confit and graphite spice. It is impossible to tire of this wine, with its palate freshness reigniting your senses continuously. More structured and intense than its riper, plumper predecessor 2014, the 2015 delivers more intensity, with tannic restraint and brooding classical Pauillac’esque depth. Drink this young if you will, but this MR is the closest Bruwer and Mvemve have come to perfection since they started this project in 2004. I expect the 2015 to be going strong in 30 to 40 years time and continuing to seduce connoisseurs  and collectors globally. 

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting a 2013 Vintage Horizontal with Thomas Webb of Iconic Thelema Mountain Vineyards…

Thelema Mountain Vineyards is an absolute Cape classic, located high on the slopes of the picturesque Simonsberg Mountain in the heart of Stellenbosch, the true Kingdom of Cabernet. With vineyards grown at elevations of between 370m and 530m above sea level, Thelema is one of the highest and coolest estates in the area with 100 percent of the fruit used coming from their own vineyards.

For the last few years, Thomas Webb has taken over the reigns from his father Gyles Webb, who established Thelema in 1983 by purchasing a run down fruit farm. The first wines were released in 1988 and they soon became some of the most sought after wines in the Cape winelands and pretty soon came to typify the new quality and modern style parameters that were being pursued in the post 1990 South Africa, ahead of the first democratic elections in 1994.

Chatting to Thomas at our recent 2013 red vintage horizontal tasting, I recalled how in the mid 1990’s I used to battle to secure even just a few bottles of their Chardonnay, Merlot Reserve and their famous Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines, despite their fame, we’re not produced in huge quantities and were actually quite a defined, limited boutique offering. Today, Thelema still sells a healthy 70 percent of their wines in the local home market, a revealing sign of their continued fame and fashion among local South African fine wine consumers.

Thelema Merlot 2013, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

Cool dark spicy nose showing black fruits, dried herbs, baking spices and macerated black plums. Also a noticeable dried bush veld and cherry skin pithiness. The palate is sleek, tight knit and cool, packed with fleshy black berry fruits, black plum, and black current. There is tension here and classical fine grained mineral tannins lurking underneath the elegant creamy texture. A Merlot definitely on the more serious end of the spectrum. 

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

Thelema Merlot Reserve 2013, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

This wine shows evidence of a step up in quality and intensity with 100% new French oak being used for maturation. The nose is sweet and savoury revealing an alluring earthy vein along with blueberries, tannery leather, dried herbs, and a Cabernet-like cedary oak spice lift. The palate is rich and intense, showing very polished, textured and suave luxurious sweet tannins. There is extra power here and harmonious fleshy depth with cassis leaf, subtle herbal notes and sweet tobacco on the long vibrant finish. Impressive wine with only approximately 3000 bottles produced from vines planted in the mid-1980’s.

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

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon The Mint 2013, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv. 

A really individual style with a dusty lift of pronounced peppermint and sweet cassis spice together with cedary, mineral spice and boiled black currant sweets, pastille, and herbal mint tea notes. The palate is full and fleshy, rich and round, with fine purity and creamy, caressed tannins. The finish is modern and opulent, with black currant leaf, reductive saline cassis notes and that characteristic eucalyptus lick. Very enjoyable to drink. A real crowd pleaser.

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

Thomas Webb pouring a glass of the CWG 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, the predecessor of the Rabelais

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv. 

There is officially no reserve Cabernet Sauvignon in the Thelema range, but this classic black label Cabernet Sauvignon is a serious piece of kit. Aged 20 months in 40% new French oak, there is lovely varietal typicity here (despite the sneaky splash of Petit Verdot in the blend), with a dusty mineral nose of dried basil and thyme, hints of fynbos, graphite, and perfumed potpourri dried herb spice. Beautifully textured, the palate shows great purity and precision and intelligent winemaking. Like all the Thelema wines, there are fine polished tannins, real elegance, focus and finesse. Classy and classical, this is an impressive expression of Stellenbosch Cabernet with complexity, age-ability, and confidence of style. Benchmark in everyday.

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

Thelema Rabelais Blend 2013, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv. 

Alternatively called the Thelema Cape Winemakers Guild blend, this wine changed to 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 on a 90% Cab / 10% PV mix. Dark, cool, broody black fruits reveal hints of cassis leaf, saline oyster shell, graphite, iodine and blueberry crumble. Palate is taught and fresh, with real precision and incredibly fine, pin point velvety tannins. A very elegant package, the acids give this wine extra tension and real steely cut. Classy and restrained, the Rabelais will improve immeasurably with at least another 10 years in the cellar.

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

The stunning mountains at the Helshoogte Pass
A sneaky glass of the newly released Chardonnay 2015 to refresh the palate after a lovely horizontal tasting.

Revisiting Some of the Nederburg Auction Archive Wines and Future Potential Offerings…

It seems fitting to write about the amazing wines I tasted recently in the Distell Tabernacle in the same week I retasted the amazing Leeu Passant wines from Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines.

For it was these exact same old Tabernacle red wines, that now slumber in tiny quantities in the deep cellars, that inspired the creation of the Dry Red Cabernet Sauvignon / Cinsaut blend from Leeu Passant. The Chateau Libertas, the Lanzeracs and the Zonnebloems.

For so many years, these old icon wines were cherished as merely quaint land marks of South African winemaking history. Now, after several very successful recent Nederburg Auction Archive releases, these wines are finally becoming better understood and more highly revered for their incredible quality that this previous generation managed to capture in bottle. 

If you have never attended the Nederburg Auction, it may be time to readjust your sights and register for this amazingly historical event where you can throw your hat in the bidding ring and potentially secure some ancient South African historical icon wines as well as a few future historical icons.

Below are my scribblings from an amazing evening’s tasting in the Tabernacle at the end of March 2017. Wines 1 to 6 are all wines that were previously featured on the auction. So if there were any doubts about the calibre of these old, mature wines, read my below tasting notes and take note of their incredible complexity, youthfulness and innate quality. I’d put any of them in my cellar! 

Flight 1 – Previous Auction Wines Revisited

1 Oude Libertas Cinsaut 1971

(Sold in 2015 @ R 9,500 per 3)

Beautiful garnet rim, dense opulent nose with flesh, vivacity and superb complexity. Subtle nuances of peach skins, red cranberry fruit and sweet red cherry skins. Lovely purity with fine tertiary development. Palate is sleek, streamline, fresh and harmonious, with fresh acids and real brightness. Real sappy, cedary, pine resin note runs through the fruit with a savoury, lactic, raisined strawberry finish. Lovely and mature. 

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

2 Zonnebloem Shiraz 1976

(Sold in 2011 @ R 22,000 per 6)

Rich opulent nose, fleshy and earthy, dense, savoury, alluring depth. Such exotic peach skin fruit ripeness, sun tan lotion, pine nuts, coco butter and sweet caramelised cherry spice. Wow. Rich, Round and super impressive ripeness. The sweet frais de Bois, strawberry intensity just rolls around the mouth. Profound, precise, thoroughly opulent. Just another fantastic “even vintage” from the 70s. Very vibrant, living history. 

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

3 Lanzerac Cabernet Sauvignon 1957

(Sold in 2016 @ R 7,000 per 3)

Sneaky little 1957 Cabernet Sauvignon just draws you in. Incredible freshness and effortless vibrancy. Old, mature wines don’t get much better than this. Such precision, freshness, and elegance. The tannins caress the palate, showing pithy, spicy complexity. The textural elegance and allure is fascinating. The older the wines, the fresher the wines it seems. This finishes long, and dense with sweet cranberry fruits, raisined strawberries and red currant jelly. Incredible. 

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

 4 Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 1965

(Sold in 2014 @ R 15,000 per 6)

This vibrant, intensely fruited red is incredibly vibrant and ripe, with such purity and fruit focus. Nose bursts with blood orange, ruby grapefruit and intense citrus zest. Plush, lush, opulent and very full and round. This has the most incredible expression of citrus, zest, gingerbread and spice. Profound. 

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

5 Oude Libertas Cabernet Sauvignon 1975

(Sold in 2016 @ R 22,000 per 3)

Tasting a less lauded “odd 70s” vintage always brings intrigue. You just don’t expect to see the opulence of the famous even vintages. This screams quality, with freshness, and exotic logan berry and pomegranate intensity. Thoroughly harmonious, ripe and fleshy, this really impresses with crisp, pure acids. Dense and long and oh so beautiful. A real revelation.

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

6 Chateau Libertas Cabernet / Pinotage / Cinsaut / Shiraz 1965

(Sold in 2015 @ R 12,500 per 6)

They say if you remember the 60s, you weren’t really there! Well, I’m tasting this here and now and I certainly wasn’t there! This blend seems even more complex than the so called “single varietals”. Lashings of macerated cherries, ripe prunes, raisined cranberries, and so superbly fresh. There’s plenty of vibrancy and flesh, acid and tension. This is so very impressive for a 1965! Baked strawberry nuances linger on the long, concentrated palate. Another Wow wine.

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

Flight 2 – Wines 7 to 12 features six “potential” archive auction wines. None are available in significant quantities but represent a snap shot of some of the wines we hope to see on successful future Nederburg Auctions!

7 SFW Stellenbosch Cinsaut 1974

Dense, dark supremely richly fruited and elegant. Beautiful perfumed, red berry fruit lift. Intense…Sooo sweet, rich and unctuously opulent. Low acid feel, plush creamy palate and a real block buster feel. But this is classic, ripe 1974. Crazy plummy concentration, plushness, freshness and exotic depth. Still so youthful.

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

8 Zonnebloem Pinotage 1980

Rich ripe ruby grapefruit nose. Palate shows such succulent, soft elegant acids. Very complete, luxurious and round. Exotic, concentrated but perhaps lacks some acid cut and freshness. But beautifully ready now.

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

9 Zonnebloem Shiraz 1980

Welcome to the 1980s! This is wow wow! Blood oranges, cherry kirsch lift, rich and ripe. Nose is so exotic, complex and multidimensional. Also such freshness and integrated acids. Fabulously intense, lush and very long. Strawberry confit, plum jelly and cranberry coulis. Impressive wine.

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

10 Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 1981

Spicy, sappy, cedar and stem spice with integrated layers of blood orange, orange peel citrus spice and clove exotism. Full, opulent body with a fresh vibrant intensity. This is quite a profound wine. Creeps up on you and then declares its greatness. Hopefully a wine we’ll see on future auctions?

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

11 Chateau Libertas Cabernet / Cinsaut 1982

This is a profound textured Cape classic blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Cinsaut. Fantastically perfumed and fragrant, there is such complexity of pomegranate and red cherry spice. The palate too is amazingly youthful, vibrant and intense. So harmonious with a beautifully plush, concentrated depth of fruit bursting with cherry confit, and sun kissed cranberries. I’d love to have some of this in my cellar!

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

12 Chateau Libertas Cabernet / Cinsaut 1985

This is impressive, so complete, Cabernet spice, cedar and cranberry elegance, such lushness and intensity, sweet strawberry confit, soft confit notes, lush, plush and very profound. Lacks the crunch of the 1981 and 1982. A very very fine wine nevertheless.

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

For me, the Nederburg Auction completes the holy trinity of auctions in South Africa, all serving a crucial part of the SA fine wine scene. The Cape Wine Auction has created a massive impression as the foremost charity auction in South Africa; the Cape Winemakers’ Guild Auction serves the connoisseur / technical collector market and on-trade, and the Nederburg Auction serves the true fine wine consumer in South Africa and internationally, who are looking for rarities and mature historical gems, red and white. Come mid-September 2017, you are going to want to be there in Cape Town with your cheque book close to hand! 

“Fascinating glimps into SA’s past, considering the low alcohols and the wines’ freshness, balance albeit with acidification.”

Tim Atkin MW –

“A visit to the tabernacle takes us down memory lane and shows us a slice of South African wine history. Always interesting, always eye opening.” 

Richard Kershaw MW – Winemaker

Exploring the Beautiful Historic Estate of Inglenook in Rutherford, Napa Valley…

A big day of tasting on day 4 of our epic California trip, started at the iconic Francis Ford Coppola estate of Inglenook and ended with a tasting and dinner at another iconic estate, Silver Oak Winery in Napa Valley.

Film director Francis Ford Coppola has lived at the estate since the early 70s, raising his family there, slowly piecing the Inglenook entity back together again and restoring it to its former historic glory. Head of winemaking is the famous Philippe Bascule, who was chief winemaker at Chateau Margaux for several decades. 

Philippe’s first vine to bottle vintage at Inglenook was the 2012 vintage. But with the sad demise of Chateau Margaux’s Paul Pontallier on the 28th March 2016 at just 59, it was fully expected that the call would come from the Mentzelopoulos family to recall Philippe back to Bordeaux to take up the wine making responsibilities at Margaux again. 

So Philippe will remain the de facto head wine maker with Chris Phelps acting as the full time man on the ground overseeing future Inglenook production on a day to day basis. Chris made over 10 vintages of Dominus back in the day and now also produces a small amount of super premium Napa Cabernet on the side under the Ad Vinum label from fruit from the “Sleeping Lady Vineyard” in Yountville.

Inglenook Rubicon 2013 

13.8 Abv,. Beautifully fragrant and classical nose with sweet tobacco, chocolate mocha spice, espresso, buttered brown toast, and sweet leafy cedar nuances. Unusually, the Rubicon 2013 is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but certainly does not lack any complexity. Very precise, elegant and focused, this wine oozes class and finesse. Texturally seamless, this wine has Bordeaux in its roots, with intense black berry fruit framed by fresh, vibrant acids. Very fine breadth as well as depth, this is definitely a wine for cellaring. 

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

Inglenook Rubicon 2015 (Cask Sample)
14.2 Abv,. Rich, lush and very intense, the nose is powerful and extrovert, with layers of vanilla pod spice, sweet blueberry, black cherry, kirsch and fleshy black black currant pastille. Tannins are sweet and round and finely balanced. A beautiful work in progress, there is more immediacy and overt generous fruit than the 2013. The finish is very salty and spicy with black liquorice length. Superb!

(Wine Safari Score: 95-96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

14.2 Abv., 87 CS, 8 Franc, 3 PV, 2 Merlot

Very taught, broody and restrained, you need to coax the black, spicy graphite fruit out the glass. Subtle cedary, spicy dusty chalk notes create a very classical feel. Touches of dark chocolate and black berries linger on a very harmonious palate where the acids are soft and incredibly integrated. Slightly shy now, this wine shows great potential. 

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

California Day 3 – Tasting the New Vintages from Silverado Winery…

Owned by Diane Miller, Walt Disney’s daughter, and ex-NFL quarterback husband Ron Miller, Silverado’s winemaking success has been firmly rooted in their six vineyards, allowing them all to express their own inherent quality characteristics. Since opening in 1981, the winery has grown to nearly 162 hectares which are all farmed organically and sustainably, from which Silverado Winery produces Estate and Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Chardonnay wines.

Sadly my buddy Russ Weiss, the Silverado President, was not around when we tasted, but as always, it was great to get an early snap shot of the new vintages that will be heading to the UK later in 2017. I’ve always been a big fan of their wines which thankfully are sold at very reasonable prices in the UK. If you have not tried these wines, seek them out and discover an elegant, pure, supple, restrained expression of Napa and Carneros.

Vineburg Carneros Chardonnay 2015

14.5 Abv., 4% neutral oak, no malo, French puncheons. Dusty, dry lemon, pithy citrus. Chalky and dusty leesy, the palate is vibrant, bright and fresh, packed full of white stone fruits. Classical interpretation. 

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

Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

88% CS, Merlot & Petit Verdot – 14.6 Abv., Rich creamy nose of blue berry crumble and black berry confit. Plenty of graphite and cedar spice with attractive violet perfume. Palate is sleek, linear and fresh, light on its feet and super elegant. Very polished and precise with super creamy sweet tannins. A real beauty. 

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

Solo Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

14.2 Abv., Big dark fruited dusty nose with classic Cab notes of violets, tobacco, black current and graphite. Massive rich intense unctuous core, wonderful balance and fresh vibrant finish. Tannins are creamy and dense, with plenty of power and concentration. Impressive wine, one to age in the cellar. 

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


Tasting the Legendary Diamond Creek 2014 New Releases with Philip Ross…

For more than four decades, Diamond Creek has been a touchstone for those who prize long-lived, highly sought-after expressions of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

As Napa’s foremost Cabernet estate, Diamond Creek continues to produce wines of heroic character and definition, whose promise with age is simply breath-taking. The three single vineyards – Volcanic Hill, Gravelly Meadow and Red Rock Terrace – are revered by connoisseurs the world over. 

These three, distinctly different vineyards are tucked away in a cavernous hillside surrounded by thick forest on secluded Diamond Mountain. It really is a remarkable place. Even more remarkable considering the visionary Al Brounstein had no idea what lay beneath the dense woodland when he happened to make room for vines in the late 1960s.
These 2014s from Diamond Creek join 2012 and 2013 in a trio of historic vintages at a time when many of the world’s top red wine producing regions have struggled with difficult growing conditions. 

Red Rock Terrace 2014, 14.5 Abv.

Blue berry pie, cassis and graphite nose with exotic spice, cherry and kirsch liquor. The fruit from this cool north facing vineyard make this wine extra bright and crisp and the palate is so vibrant, fresh and supremely elegant. (Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Gravelly Meadow 2014, 14.5 Abv.

Beautiful wine made from grapes grown on 5 acres of old river bed soils. Nose is laden with minerality. Quite primal. Mixed cooperage with medium to heavy toasting suits the power of this wine. So much spice and dusty gravel make this wine feel a little more austere and restrained. Palate is textured and complex with black plum, saline cassis, black current leaf and finishes with a fantastically long, seamless intensity. A real wow wine! (Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Volcanic Hill 2014, 14.5 Abv.

A more restrained, dark, broody nose with hints of dusty sweet black plums and violet perfume. Palate is broad and powerful with a fruit cake edge, raisined cherries and lashings of ripe cassis fruit. A real plush luxurious core of concentration from the warmest of the three Diamond Creek vineyards. A very impressive wine. (Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Such a privilege to taste these wines. An even greater privilege would be to put a case of each of these gems in a cellar and age for 20-30 years!