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)

Wine Safari New Release Review – Tasting the Resplendent New Vilafonte Series C 2018 Red Blend…

I am very fortunate that despite almost a year of minimal international travel and intermittent lockdowns, I have been able to taste many of the best wines of South Africa both blind and sighted in my capacity as the lead reviewer for the Fine Wine Safari as well as in the capacity of South African Panel Chair for the 2020 Decanter World Wine Awards. As a result, I have luckily had ample opportunity to get up close and personal with many of the new release 2018 Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet based blends and formulate my opinions on the wines that this fourth drought year yielded.

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 – the perfect building blocks for another impressive Vilafonte Series C blend.

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

This new release Series C 2018 is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 14% Malbec and 11% Cabernet Franc and saw 22 months in 69% new French oak barriques with the balance aged in older French oak. Following in the footsteps of three fantastic vintages in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the 2018 boldly asserts its own character and persona not wanting to live in the shadow of any of its predecessors. The aromatics are opulent and richly fruited with extroverted, evocative notes of violets and black cherry kirsch liquor, crème de cassis, ripe sloes and fresh juniper berries. The youthful fruit brightness is gently caressed by a creamy, seductive veil of subtle vanilla oak spice, cocoa powder, warm brown toast and lightly roasted coffee bean nuances. What many of the very best red 2018 blends show in glimpses, this wine reveals with generous excess. Softly textured and impressively suave and harmonious, the palate is filled with a piercing black currant concentration, salty black liquorice and an attractive vanilla pod spice complexity that coats the palate and grows slowly and persistently in volume, depth and breadth. Not only is one of the true signs of great winemaking marked by allowing a wine to express its terroir, but this must inevitably go hand in hand with the ability of a wine to truly illustrate its vintage in as many vivid colours and flavours as possible. 2018 reds have always shown an incredible translucent purity and sweet fruited concentration, extreme elegance with a compact core of power from day one with the more detailed finery never being obscured by any one single component in the glass. This beautiful Series C is a tremendous piece of winemaking resulting from an ongoing mission of vinous refinement. When all is said and done and we eventually look back on the 2018 wines objectively, I predict that this Series C will stand amongst the top wines of the vintage. Drink on release or cellar with confidence for another 10 to 15+ years.

(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)