Tasting Three Vintages of One of South Africa’s Greatest Icon Cabernet Sauvignons – Reviewing the New Release Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017…

In the words of winemaker Christo le Riche… “2017 was a great vintage!” The stand out factor that links it to 2015, and the possible reason these two vintages are putting up their hands as some of the greatest ever in modern South African winemaking history, is the moderate yet consistent weather the winelands experienced during ripening. Chatting to Christo, he feels confident that “…pre-veraison, the drought worked its magic, but it seems that having few to no heat waves and a long autumn was certainly the key to greatness even though evenings were slightly warmer on average.”

While many wineries are super proud of the final in-bottle quality of their wines, it was by no means an easy vintage. Christo explains… “In the winery it was a complete nightmare. All the Cabs, except one block, ripened within eight days. In 2020 we picked over 29 days in comparison. In 2017 we ran out of tank space, forcing me to become creative with fermentation vessels. But luckily, everything worked out in the end and the quality is exceptional. The IPT (total tannin levels) on the wines were the highest I have seen. It was also the year I met my wife!” In many ways, Christo reminded me of the comments from Bordeaux winemakers during both the 2009 and 2010 harvests, two of the greatest vintages in the region since the epic 1989-1990 duo. All that the winemakers could talk about was the highest IPT readings they had ever recorded, yet the wines were still silky, smooth and soft with delicious balancing ripeness and fabulous finesse.

So when it came to tasting and reviewing the exciting new Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, I thought I would do my tasting a little bit differently. Christo kindly sent me a bottle of the 2016, which I had not tasted yet either, along with the new 2017 which is only due for release towards the end of the year, and then I added one of my last 2015s to the line up. Finally, inspired by Christo’s comments about the wines IPTs, I decided to add a top bottle of Bordeaux red from a similar vintage into the line up to help calibrate all the scores. I chose the classic Leoville Barton 2016 because not only is it unquestionably a benchmark winery, but the wine has been scored 95+/100 from The Wine Advocate and 97/100 from the Wine Spectator magazine and was also crowned their Number 1 Wine of the Year in 2019! Big kudos indeed.

The Mini Le Riche Vertical Tasting

Wine 1:

Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

The generosity of the epic 2015 vintage has without question of doubt produced a really beautiful expression of pure Cabernet Sauvignon… as well as possibly one of the greatest red wine vintages ever in South Africa. What is most striking about this wine is its incredible purity and perfume that rises out of the glass imperiously in multiple waves of fragrant cherry blossom, violets, potpourri and crushed rose petals. It possesses copious amounts of mocha, sweet tobacco leaf, dried herbs, cedar spice, black currant coulis and a delicious earthy, brambly, wild forest berry complexity. The palate continues to show such sophistication and textural seduction with classical Cabernet flavours filling every corner of the mouth. Still beautifully charming, but a little less open-knit and expressive than it was even last year as it starts to perhaps enter its slumber and shut down a little. Undoubtedly, this wine reveals the class of a truly great vintage with a full bodied fleshy weight, a finely delineated purity and the most charming harmonious balance and intensity. Start drinking this wine in 3-5 years time and over the next 25+ years. It’s a true thing of beauty.

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

Wine 2:

Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

The 2016 Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was always going to be a highly scrutinised creation following the incredible 2015. But hats off to Christo Le Riche, he has conjured up another exceptional effort. When you are talking about one of the leading proponents of Cabernet Sauvignon in the country, I guess there aren’t really “off vintages” in any real sense. Where the 2016 departs from the 2015 is in its plumper, rounder, fleshier texture and palate weight. Still fabulously pure fruited and approachable, the nose boasts wonderful overt aromatics of cedar spice, plumy richness, violets and vanilla pod, exotic blackberry preserve, sweet tobacco leaf and complexing mineral graphite notes. Full bodied, plump and showy, the palate has very attractive curves and stands out as an exceptional effort in a hot, dry vintage. The tannins are svelte, soft and silky and the mouthfeel fleshy, creamy but intense, with an admirable salinity and freshness on the long, pure black fruited finish. The wine is not as strict or linear as the 2015 but more generous already at this young age. It’s an exceptionally attractive pure Cabernet nevertheless. Drink now and over the next 10 to 15+ years. (Le Riche has created only 4,500 bottles of this particular reserve, marking their second smallest vintage to date.)

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

Wine 3:

Chateau Leoville Barton 2016, Deuxieme Cru Classe Saint Julien, 13% Abv.

The Château Léoville Barton comprises 48 hectares of vines on the north side of Saint Julien, with south-facing hillsides with elevation. The 2016 is a classic blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon with the rest of the blend made up by Merlot. The result is a wine that displays all the classic Left Bank Bordeaux notes with a strong graphite core but also vivid notes of dried violets, rose petals and potpourri spice. Regarded as one of the top wines in a vintage that is now considered benchmark on the Left Bank, the palate is a little tight and subdued to start but once you warm up the engine, this wine reveals a lot of horse power of blue and blackberry fruit flavours, dusty graphite and liquid minerality, salty oyster shell nuances and an intense, saline, crème de cassis finish with just the finest hint of liquorice candy. The tannins are still bold and powerful as you would expect on a young Bordeaux of this quality, but the whole package is tight, compact and super impressive. Opened for the purpose of benchmarking the quality of the Le Riche Reserve Cabernets, but otherwise, its certainly not a wine I would anticipate drinking for another 10+ years at least. (Technically speaking, at 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, this could be labelled a varietal Cabernet.)

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

Wine 4:

Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

Tasted alongside the 2015 and 2016 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon for added perspective reveals a wine that is quite simply drop dead gorgeous. While 2017 is of course another excellent vintage for reds in the Cape and the quality of this icon was always expected to be high, I was not anticipating it being this good! The aromatics are super fragrant and exuberant, showing intricate perfumed notes of violets and lilacs, cinnamon stick, cedar and sandalwood, cigar box and wonderfully complex herbal hints of thyme, dried fennel seeds and Chinese five spice. There is an impressive elegance and gravitas to the silky, finely textured palate which boasts all the classical Cabernet notes of black currants and black plum, crème de cassis, graphite and savoury, earthy nuances of freshly tilled earth. A beautifully proportioned, multi-dimensional wine that shows such a harmonious balance and sophisticated composure reserved for only the finest red wines around the world. Medium bodied, super elegant and weightlessly intense, the fruit flavours are perfectly ripe and precise, growing in the mouth and energised by an exhilarating freshness that holds everything in place so effortlessly. Certainly one of the most ‘complete’ wines I have tasted from the 2017 vintage so far. Drink this beauty on release but be sure to hold back a couple of cases for long term cellaring of 10, 15 or 20+ years.

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

The 2017 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is scheduled for release at the end of 2020.

The Meerlust Estate Prepares For Another Momentous New Release – Tasting the Meerlust Rubicon 2017 Red Blend…

The 2017 release of the Meerlust Rubicon represents another classical expression of this fabulous Cape Icon wine. The high critical praise heaped upon the 2015 vintage helped it to become the fastest selling Rubicon release on record. Indeed, one cannot even begin to imagine a South African fine wine landscape that does not feature this wine prominently. Great expectations are placed on every new release and year after year, this Cape heritage estate delivers.

The 2017 vintage was surprising in that from the very beginning, the estate felt that the wines were very similar to the excellent 2015 reds. A cold winter in 2016 followed by a warm spring ensured early and even bud break. Although comparatively dry, as the Cape was still experiencing a drought, the 2017 crop was greatly enhanced by the estate’s ability to irrigate strategically, ensuring steady ripening and eventual phenolic ripeness across all varieties.

Tasting at Meerlust in March 2018 with Hannes Myburgh, Chris Williams and viticulturalist Roelie Joubert who sadly passed away in April 2020 from a sudden heart attack.

The 2017 is again a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated four grape blend with each of the varieties fermented separately before being aged in 300 litre French Nevers oak barrels, 60% new and 40% second fill. After 8 months in barrel, the components were blended and given another 10 months in barrel for harmonization before bottling. I first tasted this wine in its component parts back in March 2018 with the then winemaker, Chris Williams. I knew instantly that we were in for another exceptional release of Rubicon. Then in January 2020, I met up with owner Hannes Myburgh in London and got my first taste of the Meerlust Red 2017, the second wine made up of components not used in the Rubicon blend. I was bowled over by the beauty of this wine and while it is only really sold in export markets, it served to raise my quality expectations for the Rubicon 2017 even higher.

In November 2019, winemaker Wim Truter joined Meerlust, taking over from Chris Williams to become only the third winemaker to take the reins at this historic estate. Chris finally followed his calling and agonisingly decided to move on to the next chapter of his winemaking career, to pursue his own Foundry wine project full time.

The old Meerlust farmstead with some of Hannes’s beloved dogs.

Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13.6% Abv.

The 2017 Rubicon is a classical blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, each vinified separately before undergoing malolactic fermentation in 300 litre French Nevers oak barrels, 60% new and 40% second fill. Deep purple-black in colour, the intensity and gravitas of this vintage is highlighted by the tight, dense, dark broody aromatics that require more than a little coaxing out the glass before revealing a very focused, slightly introverted bouquet of complex, tightly interwoven notes of violets, black currant preserve, black plum, Black Forest gateaux and hoisin sauce with backing notes of dried fennel, salty black liquorice, spicy cedar and an exotic Asian 5 spice nuance. While 2017 certainly stands out as another classical year of exceptional quality, the vintage will surely be remembered for its stand-out elegance, seamless palate textures and its signature weightless intensity and concentration. This Rubicon does of course possess plenty of stuffing and dazzles with gentle waves of blackberry crumble, crème de cassis, macerated black cherries, freshly tilled earth, unsmoked smoked cigars and a finely textured, powdery tannin frame that dries the palate on the finish and reminds the drinker that this wine, however enjoyable in its youth, is also built for extended ageing. This really is another exquisite vintage with charm and poise, Grand Vin potency and an overt, unbridled determination to deliver long-term drinking pleasure. Drink from 2022 to 2040+

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

Vilafonte Prepare to Release Their New Seriously Old Dirt Red Blend – Tasting the 2018 Vintage of the Most Desirable Second Wine On the South African Market…

It seems an age ago now, visiting with Phil Freese and Zelma Long at the Vilafonte Winery on the 13th February in Stellenbosch. Who could possibly have known what lay just around the corner! Nevertheless, my brief visit to South Africa was very productive with one of the highlights being able to visit the Vilafonte Winery again together with the iconic duo of Phil and Zelma, the US partners in crime with Mike Ratcliffe at one of the most exciting premium quality wineries in South Africa.

Right from the very beginning with the 2012 Seriously Old Dirt vintage, I championed the vision of a truly special super premium second wine that over delivers in bucket loads. When I tasted the Seriously Old Dirt way back then, I knew that this ‘Members Only’ blend was a wine I needed to push on behalf of consumers and indirectly encourage owner Mike Ratcliffe to do the right thing and unleash this fabulous blend onto the wider wine world.

Seven vintages in to the project and Seriously Old Dirt is surely the number one premium selling second wine in South Africa. The consumer uptake and affinity has been exceptional both in South Africa and internationally. The new 2018 release was marked by the worst drought on record and the challenges that accompany such a vintage. After a drought spell from 2015 to 2018, water resources were at an all time low and rationing was put in place in the Western Cape.

Tasting with Phil Freese, Zelma Long and Chris de Vries.

Low moisture in spring and limited water availability led to a reduced vigour and canopy size. Some unseasonable rains and low temperatures in October and November disrupted fruit set and reduced the number and size of berries on each cluster. Harvest time proceeded on schedule, commencing February 2nd and continuing uninterrupted through to February 27th. In 2018, yields were down -24% following a generous 2017 crop. (However, production was increased as parcels of premium fruit were bought in to up the production and meet demand. This in all likelihood will be the practice going forward.)

The Seriously Old Dirt was matured for 21 months in older French oak barriques and 135 barrels were produced or approximately 40,000 bottles which is indeed a big jump up in quantity from the previous vintages of 8 to 10,000 bottles. But as always, quality is at the forefront of the Vilafonte operation and this is another exceptional release of Seriously Old Dirt. Due for earlier than planned release on the 25th June 2020.

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2018, 13.5 Abv. (Bottled Dec 2019)

89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, 4% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. A Cabernet Sauvignon driven blend this vintage, the 2018 sees a pronounced spicy aromatic lift of sweet black berry fruits, leafy cassis, sweet sandalwood and spicy damson black plums. Cool, focused and fairly linear at this youthful stage, the tannins are satin smooth and the texture generous yet structured. Finely layered and fresh, attractive black cherry, blue berry and black currant notes melt into mineral nuances of graphite and wet granite. Wonderfully polished and sophisticated as you’d expect from Vilafonte, this wine will be ready to drink on release but will undoubtedly benefit from a few years extra cellaring to allow the large Cabernet Sauvignon component to mellow and reveal further tertiary treats for the drinker. Seriously Old Dirt is on a seriously good run of form!

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

The Leeu Passant New Releases – Part 3: Tasting the Stellar New Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2018…

I recently caught up with Chris and Andrea Mullineux over Zoom for an intimate tasting of their new Leeu Passant releases. Instead of running through all the wines in one foul swoop, I thought I would afford each wine the time and respect they deserve by profiling each new release in three separate reviews. So following on from Part 1 profiling the delicious Franschhoek Old Vine Lotter Cinsault and Part 2 reviewing the grand old Wellington Old Vine Basson Cinsault, the final instalment features probably one of my favourite new Leeu Passant wines… their Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chris and Andrea Mullineux have spent years trying to fine tune a style of Cabernet Sauvignon with ripe fruit flavours, intensity and structure. After working with over 20 vineyards around Stellenbosch, they have focused on five vineyards including two in the Helderberg, two in the Polkadraai Hills and one 39 year old parcel in Firgrove close to False Bay. Three of these five vineyards already contribute fruit that goes into their flagship Leeu Passant Dry Red Blend together with components of the Lotter Cinsault, the Wellington Basson Cinsault and a splash of Cabernet Franc.

With vines grown on a mix of alluvial soils and decomposed granite soils, the grapes produce a sleek, crystalline, elegant style of Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon that the Mullineuxs admit has a certain Swartland tilt to the approach and style. Using French oak 500 litres barrels of which only around 30% are new, the wines are aged for 12 months before being moved to larger 2000 and 5000 litre upright oak vats for another year of aging. The wine spends a final six months in bottle prior to release.

Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

These cooler sites for Cabernet Sauvignon definitely perform well in this new release for the Leeu Passant red repertoire. The nose is magnificently perfumed, complex and utterly compelling, teasing the senses with violets and cherry blossom, lavender, pithy red cherry, sour black plums, black currant and a deep dark vein of spicy graphite minerality with just the slightest veneer of dried cedar and tarragon herbal spice. The palate texture is harmonious, tender, lightly saline and utterly seductive, displaying a fleshy medium bodied weight with bright fresh tart black berry acids, creamy milk chocolate tannins and a spicy crystalline blueberry fruited finish that is positively loaded with invigorating energy. Like the other two new releases, I obediently drank this bottle over three nights and while the majority of my score was cemented within the first few sips on day one, the expressive and energetic nature of this wine really did start to show with further air, confirming my complete adoration for this wine. This surely has got to be one of the most exciting ‘new’ pure expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon to come out of Stellenbosch in recent years? Drink now and over the next 20+ years.

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

A Legacy of Cabernet Sauvignon Excellence – Tasting the New Release Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon 2017…

The new release Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 from Le Riche is an incredible creation made with expertise honed over two generations. With Christo Le Riche really starting to hit his stride following decades of hard work by his father Etienne, he has expertly leveraged the excellence of the 2017 vintage to create a superbly supple and elegant wine with weightless fruit concentration and layers of sleek textural balance.

The grapes for the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon were sourced from Stellenbosch vineyards in the Simonsberg, Jonkershoek and Helderberg wards. Each vineyard block was separately vinified for one year, blended and subsequently aged for another 12 months. The result is a complex multi-dimensional wine with excellent maturation potential.

While not everyone can ultimately afford to stock their cellar with the lauded Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon releases that continue garner massive reviews, high scores and ongoing global acclaim, they certainly can access the exceptional Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon releases at very affordable prices. Who would not want to buy this incredible wine in a truly iconic vintage like 2015 or 2017.

Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

The 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon from Le Riche may only be their “entry level” edition, but it displays many of the impressive complex characteristics that have made their Reserve wines so iconic and collectable internationally. The 2017 colour is an alluring deep garnet-purple on this youthful wine. The bouquet lifts out the glass little by little with a delicate violet perfume but also with significantly more overt and expressive notes of black cherries, red currants, dark chocolate and spicy underbrush tones that melt into nuances of freshly tilled earth. The minerality is very subtle and chimes with faint notes of freshly cut cedar and graphite. On the palate, the soft, sleek, velvety tannins glide over the palate with well trained precision. Such a fine, elegant, polished texture that shows fabulous approachability, a supple fleshy savoury black currant fruit intensity and an earthy black plum fruit length. Wonderful poise and balance in the mouth, this wine demonstrates all the masterful winemaking skills of Christo Le Riche! Drink it from release or cellar for 10+ years. A “must have” for the cellar!

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

A Petit Chateau Bordeaux That Impresses – Tasting Château Tayet’s Cuvée Amiral de Cadiot 2011 Bordeaux Superieur…

Amiral de Cadiot is produced by Château Tayet which has been owned by the de Schepper family since 1994, the former owner, Mr. Marc Raymond, was director at de Schepper’s Chateau Haut-Breton-Larigaudière until 1993, selling his own estate to his previous employer when he retired. Tayet has an excellent terroir in Macau, very close to the AOC Margaux, which has grown by the acquisition of further high quality plots with a high plant density and today consists of 10 hectares of vines.

Chateau Tayet located near Soussans where the wines are bottled – Chateau Tayet, 3 Rue des Anciens Combattants, 33460 Soussans.

The “Amiral de Cadiot” by Château Tayet is considered to be one of the best Bordeaux Superieur and is one of the few wines of this class that ages 12 months in 20% new and 50% second fill barriques. The vines for this particular selection are at least 25 years old.

Chateau Tayet and De Mour Group winemaker Jean-Michel Garcion.

The Château Tayet Cuvée Amiral de Cadiot offers a whole lot of red Bordeaux magic at a truly excellent price point, something often sorely missing in these days of over ambitious, stratospherically priced icon Cru Classe wines. Wines like this in many ways represent the true heart and soul of authentic, consumer orientated classical Bordeaux. In the post Covid-19 lockdown era, wines like this are going to take on a much greater significance in the market place.

Château Tayet Cuvée Amiral de Cadiot 2011, Bordeaux Superieur, 14 Abv.

A wonderfully classical blend of 60% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot, this wine has the most intricate textured layers of blueberry and cassis fruit, mocha, brown toast, vanilla pod spice and a supple, plush, sweet fruited core with bright refreshing acids, ripe fine grained tannins and complexing peripheral notes of tannery leather, cigar box and graphite spice. A whole lot of wine that will impress the staunchest of discerning wine connoisseurs. Drink now to 2024+

(Wine Safari Score: 88+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

De Mour Group owned by the de Schepper family.

Stellenbosch Harvest 2020 Snapshot – The World Continues to Turn…

During all the Covid-19 lockdown madness around the world, it’s easy to forget that the world continues to turn, the vines of the Western Cape continue to grow and grapes continue to be harvested. There is certainly no “off button” when it comes to our flora and fauna.

Old Vines at Kanonkop Estate.

I was lucky enough to spend almost two weeks in the Cape at harvest time in mid-February and witnessed a lot of very healthy fruit coming into various cellars. So while many in the wine trade are thinking about the impending new release whites and reds from 2019, it’s always valuable to reflect on the latest 2020 harvest, one that will undoubtedly be remembered in years to come as the “lockdown vintage”. In essence, bottled liquid memories.

Kanonkop harvest.

KANONKOP

Throughout the season the different grape varietals were picked between 7 and 10 days earlier than normal. Both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were picked at lower sugar levels than the long-term average, which will result in wines with elegant structures and moderate alcohol levels.

The crop was only slightly bigger than the small 2019 harvest, but the overall small berry size will deliver wines with intense flavour and aromatic spectrums. Kanonkop obtained beautifully ripe tannins throughout the season, and they expect that the 2020 vintage will deliver elegant, classical wines with extended ageing potential.

RUSTENBERG

“2020 has been super” Murray Barlow proclaims. The crop is up for most varietals and the vintage is around +15% larger than average so a welcome year as we recover from the drought years of the past four years.

Rustenberg at sunset.

Quality wise the Rustenberg grapes have superb acids and more moderate alcohols in the white wines and wonderful fruit concentration and intensity in the reds with good colour and again moderate alcohols.

Murray Barlow’s son Tom, the 4th generation of Barlow’s at Rustenberg, inspecting red grapes before the 2020 harvest.

“So 2020 is a good vintage by our estimations quality wise. Whether it is a great vintage will be seen in the coming months” winemaker Murray Barlow concluded.

Yet Another Iconic Series M Release from Vilafonte and the High Flying Team in Search of Perfection…

It’s always a privilege to visit premium wineries and in mid-February I fortuitously managed a pre-lockdown trip to South Africa and the Cape winelands. One of the highlights and surprises was certainly dropping in to taste the new Vilafonte Series C and M releases at their cellar in Stellenbosch only to be met and hosted by Mike Ratcliffe’s co-owners, Phil Freese and Zelma Long, both of who were out visiting from California for the new harvest as well as the prestigious Cape Wine Auction charity event.

After a quick sweep around the cellar catching up on the latest 2020 vintage news with Phil and Zelma as well as winemaker Chris de Vries, we hit the 2019 barrels to get a sneak peak of what treats lie just around the corner for Vilafonte lovers.

With Phil Freese, Zelma Long and winemaker Chris de Vries.
The 2019 Series C and M maturing in barrel.

With the 2018s having just been bottled weeks earlier in January, we all gave them a respectful pass before sitting down for a thrilling masterclass with both Phil and Zelma tasting not only the 2017 Series C but also the new Series M, due for general release in South Africa in May 2020.

Always a privilege tasting with Phil & Zelma. Their insight is inspiring.

After the incredibly dry and hot 2016, the 2017 harvest presented an abundant crop of sterling quality. Yields rose by +57% despite the fourth year in a sequence of below-average rainfall for the Western Cape Province. This follows Vilafonte’s smallest per-hectare crop in 2016 and moves back closer to long-term average yields. Welcome post-harvest rains in the preceding year before leaf fall, coupled with well-timed nutrient applications, allowed the vines to build up reserves before going into winter dormancy.

Winter rains in 2016 approached normal levels, but fell below average in late winter to spring. Bud-break in the spring was very even, with rapid shoot growth which ceased well before bloom, allowing excellent fruit-set. Weather leading up to the 2017 harvest was warm and fair – perfect ripening conditions. Harvest commenced on the 6th of February with a few short pauses, and concluded on the 1st of March 2017.

The last pickings of the 2020 Malbec fruit being off loaded with the first Merlot grape arrivals.

Vilafonte Series M 2017, WO Paarl, 14 Abv.

Deliciously opulent and hedonistic, this 2017 Series M blend of 42% Merlot, 39% Malbec and 19% Cabernet Sauvignon is loaded with complex dark fruit notes of blue berries, black berry crumble, creme de cassis and a dusting of vanilla pod spice. Immaculately integrated oak is expertly applied but never overwhelms the lifted perfume notes of violets and fresh iris flowers. The palate shows all the vintage character elegance of 2017 displaying amazing weightless concentration, sleek sweet tannins and a lithe, opulent silky soft sweet fruited structure. This really is precision winemaking anchored around supreme balance and sublime harmony. Fabulously persistent and intense on the finish, this wine will seduce drinkers from release with its accessibility, generosity and finesse but is undoubtedly going to be another superb age worthy premium red for the cellar. Drink from release and for 20+ years.

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

Profiling Some of the World’s Greatest Cabernet Sauvignon Terroir With the Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective…

The story of the Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective begins with a tale of passion and creativity. Rising out of an alluring landscape, rich history, vibrant culture and unparalleled architecture, Stellenbosch is one of South Africa’s most prominent wine producing regions and desirable tourist destinations. Today, the region has become the focus of many profoundly adept oenologists and agronomists who use their unique premium local African terroir to produce top quality Cabernet among other wines.

A love for country, community and producing fine wine has given rise to a collaborative group of 35 members that desire to see this regions Cabernet Sauvignons performing against the best on a global platform. To highlight this groups excellent work, I recently revisited South Africa’s “Vintage of the Century” and tasted through 28 excellent Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 reds from the Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective members.

Delaire Graff Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2015 – 96/100 GSMW

Smooth, sweet fruited, pure and suave. Very impressive.

Jordan The Long Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 92+/100 GSMW

Earthy, savoury black fruit. Classical.

Waterford Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94+/100 GSMW

Black fruited, plush and sweet cedar and tobacco. Very nice.

Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2015 – 96/100 GSMW

Dark, classical and suave Cabernet Sauvignon. Super sophisticated wine.

Kanonkop Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 97/100 GSMW

Violets and perfume. Sleek blueberry and cassis magic.

Kaapzicht Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – N/S

Faulty Bottle.

Alto Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Cool, dusty Cabernet Sauvignon packed full of mineral and tobacco notes. Pure and full of finesse.

Neil Ellis Jonkershoek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Cedar and savoury spice, cherry cola and black bramble berry fruit spice.

Webersburg Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 90+/100 GSMW

Black berry and graphite melange. Sweet, plummy, savoury length.

Fleur du Cap Series Privee Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 91/100 GSMW

Leafy black fruits with sleek, polished graphite tannins.

Rust en Vrede Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Cool, rich and very polished with seamless black fruits and sweet mineral tannins.

Warwick Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 95/100 GSMW

Modern, creamy and plush with a pure fruited core and a long black cherry fruited finish. Very classy.

Oldenburg Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94/100 GSMW

Dark, savoury sweet fruited core, showing tobacco spice and tannery leather nuances on the finish.

Mooiplaas Tabakland Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 89/100 GSMW

Riper style with notes of stewed black fruits, cedar, fruit cake and a long, plush ripe finish.

Glenelly Estate Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94/100 GSMW

Cool, sleek and spicy with classical cedar and tobacco notes and a classical, dense powerful Cabernet finish.

Villiera Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Full of black berry fruits and graphite minerality, earthy black currants and sweet, lithe tannins. Smart wine.

Lanzerac Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 91/100 GSMW

Dense and dark, packed with spice and freshly cut hedge row, earthy black fruits and a long sweet fruited, intense finish.

Ernie Els Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94/100 GSMW

Reductive cassis notes, saline black currant and oyster shell , graphite, cedar spice and a complex, concentrated finish.

Bartinney Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94/100 GSMW

Earthy savoury black fruits, plush fruit core, with notes of brûléed coffee beans, cherry confit and a long plush, opulent finish.

Spier 21 Gables Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94+/100 GSMW

Notes of gunpowder and graphite spice. Palate is sleek, fleshy and pure fruited showing plenty of classy wine making.

Muratie Martin Melck Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 91/100 GSMW

Sweet plum and cherry tobacco notes melt into black cassis and freshly tilled earth with hints of fruit cake spice.

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 95+/100 GSMW

Sleek, suave, classical Cabernet with masses of elegance and power, purity and very sweet, fine tannins.

Peter Falke Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Dusty black fruits complemented by mineral notes, black cassis, cherry and graphite spice. Very precise fruit flavours and a long sleek, focused power.

Neethlingshof Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 89/100 GSMW

Shows hints of fruit cake, cedar spice and bruised black orchard fruits.

Simonsig The Garland Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Cool and creamy texture with dry mineral graphite tannins, a sleek polished styling loaded with cassis, black plum and sweet fruit cake length.

Starke-Conde Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94+/100 GSMW

Full of dark black and blue berry fruits with a creamy, plush, opulent, generous concentration. Very smart wine.

Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 91/100 GSMW

Aromatics of freshly tilled earth, tannery leather and Christmas pudding, fleshy and suave with an elegant texture, chalky tannins and a sweet and sour berry finish.

Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 91+/100 GSMW

Dusty earthy black berry fruits resound with a hint of smoky oyster shell reduction. Impressively polished texture full of sleek mineral tannins and a restrained, pure fruit length.

This tasting was attended by over 30 private clients as well as several high profile wine journalists including Jancis Robinson OBE MW. At the end of the evening there seemed to be a solid consensus that 2015 was without doubt one of the greatest vintages Stellenbosch has ever witnessed. I look forward to doing this tasting again in a couple of years time looking at all the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignons! 🍷

First En-primeur Bordeaux 2019 Reds Show Great Promise for the Vintage – Tasting La Croizille and Cap Leon Veyrin…

With the Union des Grands Crus Bordeaux and its members deciding to suspend the 2019 En-Primeurs week that was scheduled to take place at the end of March in Bordeaux due to the coronavirus restrictions, I thought I would post these two wine reviews from the Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux tasting in London yesterday, 12th March 2020.

Speaking to Gavin Quinney of Chateau Bauduc in the Entre-Deux-Mers, he states “’You’re joking – not another one?’ No, really, Bordeaux 2019 is a very good to excellent vintage. It wasn’t straightforward, with heat waves, drought and a rainy finish along the way, but Bordeaux enjoyed a long, dry summer and harvest with just enough rain, and no disasters like the late spring frost of 2017 or the significant losses to mildew that some growers experienced in 2018.”

At the top end, it’s becoming an embarrassment of riches. 2019 makes it six very good years in a row for the northern Haut-Médoc appellations of St-Julien, Pauillac and St-Estèphe, which were largely untouched by the 2017 frost and produced many fine 2014s, and likewise for the top estates on the plateau of Pomerol.

Bordeaux 2019 – 10 observations on the growing season: (Source: Gavin Quinney)

·         A dry year with 25% less rain overall than the average up to the end of the harvest.

·         A mild winter saw average rainfall in November, December and January, then a dry February and March.

·         Spring rainfall (Q2) was close to the norm from April bud break through to June flowering.

·         Some localised spring frosts and limited hail damage later on, though relatively small losses.

·         Flowering in early June began well but a rainy, chilly spell led to uneven fruit set in many vineyards.

·         No major disasters like the frost of April 2017 or the mildew that had a significant impact on multiple growers in 2018.

·         A long, hot summer saw over three months of mostly fine weather from mid June to the fourth Sunday of September.

·         Heat waves in late June and 40 ˚C (104 °F) in late July put some vines under pressure – though this was pre-ripening.

·         Heavy rain on the last Friday in July, just after a heat wave, refreshed many vineyards just in time.

· Light rain in among the hot weather in August and mid September helped the vines.

Chateau La Croizille 2019, St Emilion Grand Cru

Plush, broadly aromatic but beautifully soft toned with dulcet notes pink musk, purple rock candy and black currant with a fabulously generous glycerol concentration, harmonious breadth and depth and a subtle, vanilla dusted, brûléed blueberry muffin finish. Delicious expression. Power with elegance.

(Wine Safari Score: 92-94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau Cap Leon Veyrin Cru Bourgeois 2019, Listrac-Medoc

A complex nose layered with perfumed aromatics drifting from violets to cherry blossom, pink musk to cherry cola and dusty graphite minerality. Super focus and balance, this wine has beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon lines, a chiselled texture and fine mineral, gravelly tannins. The fruit concentration shows a seductive sweet sour mouth watering edge and fabulous black berry fruit persistence. Focused, intense and impressively linear. This should turn into an absolute star!

(Wine Safari Score: 92-93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasted along side the superb 2016 for added insight…

Chateau Cap Leon Veyrin Cru Bourgeois 2016, Listrac-Medoc

Beautifully deep dark broody nose with plenty of black cherry, black currant, earthy blueberry and hints of savoury, wild bramble berry fruits. Seamlessly plush concentration is lifted and electrified by bright, tangy acids before the finish melts away in the mouth to leave notes of sour plum, graphite, salty black liquorice and kirsch cherry liquor. Really very impressive wine that certainly lives up to this epic vintage’s top billing.

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