Sassicaia 2016 – A Legendary Red Wine in the Making…

One of the great things about Sassicaia new releases is that every year you get to taste the new wine alongside the estate’s Guidalberto and the Le Difese cuvees, both from the subsequent vintage. Last year, while tasting the incredibly fine Sassicaia 2015, it was the Guidalberto 2016 that really turned heads and got tongues wagging. If the unofficial second wine is this good, what could we expect from Sassicaia 2016 itself!?

 

So after 12 months of waiting, we recently got to taste the new Sassicaia 2016 release in London. Rather unusually, the wine had already been tasted and rated 100 points by The Wine Advocate’s Italian reviewer, Monica Larner, which as can be expected, set the fine wine trade fully ablaze and sent merchants into a vinous frenzy as they ventured to secure precious allocations. Also, the fact that Monica Larner had scored the 2015 Sassicaia the same as I had at 97/100 merely served to further increase my own personal interest in the new release.

 

What can be confirmed is that both 2015 and 2016 are certainly two of the best back to back vintages anyone can remember in Tuscany. The 2010 Bolgheri reds were fantastically good and the 2013’s were also very memorable, but neither vintage was as highly anticipated as either the 2015 or 2016 releases. Hype can make vintages seem even better than they are, but in this case, these two back to back 5 star vintages seem to be fully grounded around their exceptional quality in the bottle.

 

Tasting the Sassicaia 2016 with Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta in London.

Both vintages saw long hot summers that encouraged vigorous vine growth. In 2015, a cold and rainy winter preceded an irregular spring followed by exceptionally hot, dry summer weather, creating small bunches of grapes, leading to reduced yields across the region, exacerbated by several violent August hailstorms, although concentration levels are very good. 2016 was another very good vintage in Tuscany which produced wines with deep colour, piercing freshness and impressive fragrance. However, yields across the region were again down by up to -20% compared to the average and at Sassicaia, their own yields were down at least -10%, which was reflected in merchant’s final bottle wine allocations.

 

Will the 2016 with is sublime fruit purity, linear tension and taught acid freshness live up to the legendary status of the 1985? Who knows? All that is certain is that it is an incredibly fine Sassicaia expression and possibly one of the best young Sassicaia releases I have ever tasted. Buy some, age it and if you are lucky, it will turn out to be a wine to rival the 1985 in cult status.

Tenuta San Guido Le Difese de Sassicaia 2017, IGT Toscana

As usual, the le Difese blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Sangiovese delivers an incredible level of complexity and vinous pleasure for the price. The 2017 is a slightly opaque plum ruby red and offers up a fine aromatic melange of red cherries, melted tar, sweet baking spices, red plum confit, red liquorice and a piquant high note. Texturally the palate is bold and full, deliciously fleshy and plump with a glycerol weight that rolls around the mouth. Acids are sappy and fresh enlivening the sweet red fruit flavours of sun raisined red plum, sweet red cherry, aniseed and liquorice stick. Another classy, thoroughly delicious, opulent rendition of this Tuscan favourite. Drink now to 2025+.  

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

Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2017, IGT Toscana (Barrel Sample)

T he 2017 Guidalberto blend is made up of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot and has an alluring dark black plum colour. Like the le Difese 2017, there are attractive aromatic nuances of exotic grilled herbs and sweet dried spices that flow from the glass in a most seductive manner with layers of spicy red plum, pithy red cherry, incense, lipstick, graphite and a fabulous mineral undertone. The palate is super precise and sleek with a creamy, fleshy, harmonious concentration of sweet red cherries, bramble berries, plum skins and crushed limestone that is neatly and concisely supported by suave chalky dry tannins and a sappy, leafy sweet and sour acidity. The noteworthy power and intensity is offered up in a very approachable style but as always, suggests ageing this wine further will bring even greater textural harmony and with it enhanced drinking pleasure. Drink now to 2030+.  

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

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2016, DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, Toscana

After tasting the super impressive Guidalberto 2016 last year, the anticipation for the release of the 2016 Sassicaia started building from that point for a full 12 months! The wine sticks to the classical blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc and offers up a cornucopia of perfumed aromatics of sweet red crystallised cherries, red bramble berries, dried herbs, sage, sweet cedar and a subtle menthol red peppercorn exoticism. Fabulously complex, the 2016 unfurls in the glass in the manner of a young Grand Cru Cotes de Nuits Burgundy overpowering the senses with a seamless, integrated harmonious concentration. Effortlessly classy, sublimely opulent and intense but also treads so lightly. The 2016 picks up precisely where the epic 2015 let off but adds a few extra dimensions of textural finesse and intensity without ever being overtly glossy. Very impressive effort indeed. Another expression that will undoubtedly be compared to the now iconic 1985 Sassicaia. Will it live up to those proven 100 point heights? Only time will tell but it looks a sure bet if ever there was one! Drink from 2022 to 2045+.  

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

Wines distributed to the UK trade through Armit Wines.

If it’s Pure Hedonistic Pleasure You Are Looking For, the New Vilafonté Series M 2016 Release is Probably For You…

I recently tasted and reviewed the 2016 Vilafonté Series C Cabernet Sauvignon based blend in London before its acclaimed launch in South Africa. What struck me with this wine as well as the Series M 2016 which I am tasting ahead of its 1st March release, is the distinctive quality evident in the wine. We all know 2015 was a red wine block buster but we were somehow led to believe that the drought conditions perhaps got the better of the wines in 2016?

Indeed 2016 was characterized by substantial drought conditions through the preceding winter and into the growing season. Warm, dry conditions in Spring were extremely favourable for a compact one week bloom period, leading to outstanding evenness of maturity in all vineyard blocks. The hot pre-harvest weather conditions and early picking, combined with concerns of fire risk, made for a uniquely demanding vintage. The Simonsberg mountain suffered fire damage, but fortunately, Vilafonté was not directly affected by fire nor smoke. Strategies implemented by the Vilafonté team protected the vines against heat, resulting in a surprisingly healthy vineyard with bright green leaves through harvest.

Harvest commenced on the 3rd of February and concluded on the 8th of March. In mid-February, the weather cooled and the Cabernet Sauvignon ripened under consistently cooler, more favourable circumstances than the early-season Merlot and Malbec, resulting in an unusually extended picking window. Severe drought conditions led to Vilafonté’s smallest per-hectare crop on record.

Vilafonté Series M 2016 Red Blend, WO Paarl, 14 Abv.

This red blend saw 22 months in 21% new French oak barrique with the balance aged in older French oak. The 2016 blend consists of 50% Malbec, 36% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Cabernet Franc with 75 barrels or around 22,500 bottles produced. Lush and plush, this wine reveals a deep dark purple-garnet colour. While initially quite sweet, sappy and resinous on opening, a little time in glass allows the wine to gracefully compose itself and push its shoulders back to boldly reveal a beautiful nose of blackberry pie, cola, blueberry crumble, Ceylon tea, sweet cherry tobacco, sun raisined cranberry, a sweet toffee apple opulence and a gravelly, blackberry compote complexity. This wine is quite unlike many of the 2016 reds I have tasted, instead showing incredible aromatic lift, sweet berry fruited concentration, purity and a sense of utter winemaking control. With 50% of Malbec in the blend, the wine was always destined to resemble the more profound expressions of old vine La Consulta Malbecs from the Uco Valley in Argentina than any straight laced right bank blend dominated by Merlot or Cabernet Franc. But as I have learned over the last few years tasting the Vilafonté wines, this estate has taken Malbec to its heart and learnt to cherish the sappy sweet seductive opulence that this variety has offered as it has bedded into the local terroir. Indeed, its success can be regarded as one of the most significant fine wine phenomenons in the past 15 years and Vilafonté Series M personifies the potential of this grape married to the other classical Bordeaux varieties. My past experience of the Series M wines has taught me not to underestimate the satisfying underlying tension in the wines that sometimes take a few years to assert itself. This is no doubt an incredibly well crafted wine from one of the most up and coming wineries in South Africa and delivers a gorgeously honed hedonistic glass of vinous pleasure. Allow this wine to settle and gain more structural delineation with extra time in bottle, but if you simply can’t wait, pop it in a decanter for 2 hours and let the bouquet light up your life! Drink now to 2038+.

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

Watch out for the South African release on the 1st of March 2019. For further information, click here: https://www.vilafonte.com/members/

Vilafonte Blazing an Impressive Quality Trail with Their Seriously Old Dirt Second Wine – Their 2015 and New Release 2016 Reviewed…

I have been following Vilafonte’s Seriously Old Dirt releases quite closely since I first quaffed a few sneaky “members only” 2012 maiden release bottles with Mike Ratcliffe back in 2014 in Stellenbosch. But as a proper, true second wine of Vilafonte Series C and M, Seriously Old Dirt is a cuvee that has increased in quality in parallel to the amazing Vilafonte first wine releases.

But of course, everyone likes a fine wine bargain and everyone likes a plush, elegant premium wine with engineered structural accessibility while retaining age worthy credentials. So on the eve of the 2016 Vilafonte Series M release, I took the opportunity to re-examine not only the epic 2015 Seriously Old Dirt release but also taste the 2016 vintage for the first time. I was suitably impressed on many levels!

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2015,  WO Paarl, 13.5 Abv.

With more than a decade of vintages and a wealth of critical accolades and 90+ point ratings, Vilafonté has become a benchmark for South African Bordeaux blends. In 2012 they introduced a limited-production 2nd label – Seriously Old Dirt – that was initially only made availble to their private mailing list of international wine club members. Roll on three years and the epic 2015 follows on where the confident and solid 2014 (92/100 Greg Sherwood MW) left off. A wonderfully dense polished wine that is rich and full-bodied with complex aromas of pure black currant, black cherries, balsamic and fruitcake, lifted with Christmasy aromas of freshly cut cedar, nutmeg and all spice. The palate is impressively elegant and soft on entry with a ‘light on its feet’ texture but also a supremely concentrated, luscious mouth feel framed by a vibrant, fresh acidity that adds to the premium feel and expressiveness of this wine. Made in a proper second wine production model, this vintage is dead serious but can be approached and drunk now but will undoubtedly age beautifully for a decade and a half plus.

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

 

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2016, WO Paarl, 13.6 Abv.

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 76%, Merlot 13% and Malbec 11%. A deep purple black plum robe is cast by this new release Bordeaux blend. The nose is aromatically very complex and expressive, slowly unfurling layers of sweet fragrant black currant, blueberry compote, sweet pithy black cherries and alluring notes of sweet tobacco, wet autumn leaves, violets and dried mint leaf. Beautifully modern and incredibly precise, this medium bodied red blend observes the signature light touch accessibility of a genuinely premium second wine while teasing the palate with tremendous intensity of Cabernet-led creme de cassis, black currant pastille fruits, fruitcake, macerated damson plums and sun raisined black cherries. The flavours gently build in the mouth making you more and more aware of not only the persistent intensity of fruit but also the vibrant chiselled acids and chalky, powdery tannins. This is probably the most impressively assembled Bordeaux blend yet produced under the Seriously Old Dirt label and mirrors the incredible quality ascent witnessed in both the Vilafonte Series C and M 2016 releases. A really fabulous cuvee that imparts a lasting feel of grandeur and pleasure to the drinker. Like all previous releases, this is ready to go now but will age gracefully for at least 10 to 15+ years. 

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

Diamond Creek’s New 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Releases On Fire Yet Again…

Al Brounstein created Diamond Creek in 1968 with his purchase of 31 hectares in the Diamond Creek canyon. It’s a good thing the land was bought by Al because the previous owner at the time was considering turning the entire site into another golf course.

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

These three distinctly different vineyards are tucked away in a sprawling hillside canyon surrounded by dense forest on the secluded Diamond Mountain. It really is a remarkable place. Even more remarkable considering that 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.

Tasting in London with Diamond Creek’s Phil Ross.

According to Phil Ross, the 2016 wines resemble the 2013 reds with a normal Spring then a warm June / July leading to a cooler August and September with fruit picked in nearly October, which is normal for Diamond Creek, but late for Napa Valley. The results as usual are exceptional.

Diamond Creek Red rock Terrace 2016, Napa Valley, 14.5

Red iron soils yield a rich, opulent expressive nose of blueberry, black plum, mulberry, cassis and salty black liquorice. There are also lovely exotic top notes of cinnamon and clove and vanilla wood spice. Super suave and opulent, the texture is velvety and elegant as usual for this vineyard with impressive finesse and delicacy. Flavours are seamless, focused and oh so pure, finishing with a very long, cassis and blueberry pie concentration.

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

Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow 2016, Napa Valley, 14.5 Abv.

Gravelly sandy based soils with the lowest yields. Shows the intensity and focus of black cassis fruit and dark blueberry fruits but with a pronounced chassis of dusty graphite and crushed gravel minerality complimented by vanilla wood spice and cherry kirsch liquor notes. Beautifully polished, seamless structure with very fine grained powdery dry tannins adding persistence and shape and a fine frame on which the concentrated blue and black berry fruits can coat and caress. More mid palate weight and tension than Red Rock Terrace and a touch more muscle, power and depth. Very impressive release.

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

Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill 2016, Napa Valley, 14.5 Abv.

Grown on course ashy volcanic sandy soils, this wine is big, bold and processes tremendous power with dense, plush, opulent grandeur loaded with lashings of blue and black berry fruit, black cherry kirsch, caramelised black currants and sweet salty black liquorice. Less perfumed fragrance and aromatic nuances than the other two cuvees, but on the palate, this is wine impressively full and textured, fleshy and broad with hints of stewed plum, sun dried black cherries, caramelised black currants and the sweetest, plushest, round powdery tannins. Delicious.

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

The Fine Wine Safari’s Top 10 Most Memorable “Off-Piste” Red Wines of the Year 2018…

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Red Wines of the Year was a modest attempt to illustrate South Africa’s finest benchmark wines and styles for all to see and to give international collectors and drinkers a handful of names and labels to look out for. However, one of the absolute cornerstones of the recent global success of the South African wine category has been its incredible diversity and in many cases it’s inspired eccentricity combined with outright quality.

So in an attempt to show the more experimental and alternative “off-piste” face of South African wine, I have enjoyed compiling my Top 10 list of most memorable reds, truly outstanding wines produced by producers that do not necessarily aspire to 100 point ratings or mass market appeal. Nevertheless, these wines are all more than worthy of a slot in your cellar!

Sadie Family Old Vine Series Treinspoor 2017, Swartland

Franco Lourens Howard John Red Blend 2017, WO Western Cape

David & Nadia Pinotage 2017, Swartland

Fram Grenache Gris 2017, Swartland

Kleine Zalze Amphora Grenache 2017

Craven Wines Cinsault 2017, Stellenbosch

Restless River Wanderlust Grenache 2017, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

Scions of Sinai Feniks Pinotage 2017, Stellenbosch

Sutherland Petit Verdot Reserve 2015, Elgin

Welbedacht Estate Patriot Cape Blend 2014, Wellington

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 South African Red Wines of the Year 2018…

What a fascinating and historical year 2018 was for red wines in South Africa. With the exception of only a few wineries, most premium producers released their incredible 2015 wines made from what is generally being regarded as probably the best quality vintage in South Africa’s modern post-apartheid era of winemaking.

Having already released the Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Whites of the Year, I have been overwhelmed with the comments of agreement and support for my selections. But then again, many will argue that the list included a multitude of excellent 2017 vintage wines and that the “white category” still remains South Africa’s strongest talent. While all of this may be true, 2018 saw the release of multiple red wines that pushed quality boundaries like never before. We’ll hand some of that to the vintage conditions of 2015 and 2017 but I’d also like to credit the growing confidence, expertise, knowhow and ambition of winemakers across the South African landscape.

If you are a seasoned veteran of premium South African wines, you will nod knowingly and expectantly at many of my red selections. If you are new to the South African category, perhaps living in the USA, Europe or Asia, make an effort to track these wines down now as many might still be available and all are definitely worth buying, even at their sometimes lofty price points! In my mind, they all represent relative value for money for what they are. Enjoy!

Kanonkop Paul Sauer Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Meerlust Rubicon Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Vilafonte Series C 2016 Red Blend, Paarl – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Boekenhoutskloof Journeyman Red Blend 2015, WO Western Cape – 97+/100 GregSherwood MW

Donovan Rall Ava Syrah 2017, Swartland – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Tokara Telos Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

MR de Compostella Red Blend 2016, Stellenbosch – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Iron Syrah 2016, Swartland – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Stellenbosch – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Duncan Savage Red Blend 2015, WO Western Cape – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone who helped make 2018 such a memorable year! 🍷🎄 🦄

Don’t miss my “Year in Photographs” coming up before New Years Eve 2018.

A Chilean Fine Wine Icon Brand with An Impressive Track Record – Tasting a Mini Almaviva Vertical with Michel Friou in London…

Established more than 20 years ago by the Concha y Toro family’s joint venture with the Baron Philippe de Rothschild group, Almaviva can be regarded as one of Chile’s first high quality fine wines that carries a global presence. At a recent tasting dinner hosted in London, Almaviva technical director Michel Friou presented a number of current vintages alongside older back vintages to illustrate the wines pedigree, age worthiness and consistency.

Made from grapes grown in Puente Alto in the Maipo Valley, Almaviva set out to mimic the Bordeaux chateau model making a wine from its own surrounding vineyards which have slightly higher average temperatures than Pauillac but also a much higher elevation at 630 metres and a lot lower average rainfall at 340mm.

To illustrate this Bordeaux’esque stylistic leaning, Michel Friou selected four vintages from cooler, wetter vintages that display more elegance, freshness and classical restraint. Always using Cabernet Sauvignon as the base, the blend also includes a significant percentage of Carmenere, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot since 2010.

Now distributed in Europe almost exclusively through the Bordeaux Place and by several negociants, the brand’s reach and consumer awareness have perhaps suffered as a direct result of this distribution method. While this channel to market works well for Bordeaux releases, it can prove more tricky for some new world brands. Despite this, producers such as Errazuriz (for Chadwick and Sena) and Lapostolle (for Clos Apalta) have all chosen to follow the Bordeaux negociant distribution channel to market.

Almaviva 2016, 14 Abv.

An intriguingly mineral and restrained expression from Chile. Dusty and lifted but boldly opulent and intense showing a fragrant bouquet of cassis leaf, black currant, charcoal embers, graphite and crushed granite minerality. A lovely piquant saline line is drawn straight down the palate and personified further by bright acids and dusty chalky tannins. An impressive, classical but forward looking Chilean expression.

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

Almaviva 2014, 14 Abv.

A more stern, taut, linear expression, I just love the dusty, gravelly, mineral restraint with nuances of maritime oyster shell, graphite and black cherry pith. Palate is simultaneously vibrant yet strict, taut and powerful, revealing precise linearity, tension, black cherry and a pin point black fruit focus. Very impressive precision.

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

Almaviva 2007, 14.5 Abv.

This vintage shows a much more savoury, plush evolution of Almaviva with a nose of salted cured meats, pork scratchings, cassis and stewed black plums. The palate is full, rich and opulent, sweetly textured with massive generosity, vibrant freshly sweet black fruits and a delicious creamy breadth. Touch of alcohol heat on the bold finish, building a little more with wood spice influences. Drinking well now and over the next 3 to 5 years.

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

Almaviva 2002, 14.5 Abv.

Finely evolved nose of sweet leather, cedar and cinnamon spice, graphite and gun smoke. Tantalisingly elegant, evolved yet retaining vibrancy. The palate reveals a lovely full fleshy expression, that is dense, earthy, savoury and sweetly fruited, finishing with rejuvenating acids and a sweet, fleshy cloak of fruit. Drinking now and over 2 to 5 years.

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