Bruwer Raats and Gavin Bruwer Slabbert have really raised a lot of eyebrows both in South Africa and abroad with some of their exciting releases in the B-Vintners vine exploration range. With the Strandwolf Chardonnay already in the range, this new addition is another wonderful site specific, terroir expression from the boys, joining two of my favourites, the delicious Liberte Pinotage and the highly lauded Hope to Harlem Chenin Blanc blend in the growing range.
B-Vintners Fire Heath Chardonnay 2016, Walker Bay, 12.5 Abv.
Made from vines grown on calcareous soils, this Chardonnay has an impressively low 12.5 Abv but is positively bursting with flavour. The nose is incredibly dusty, pithy and mineral laced, with prominent notes of fynbos, dried herbs, lemon peel, dried straw and lime sherbet. Great vibrancy and vitality lie at the heart of the liquid aromatics. On the palate, there is real restraint and dusty, gravelly, minerality. If ever there was a wine that tasted of wet river pebbles, here it is. The white citrus fruits are pithy and mesmerisingly austere, showing alka seltzer zip, dry bitter lemon, briney salinity, fresh acids and again, multiple layers of wet grey slate and crushed gravel minerality. A wonderfully pure, steely Chardonnay expression with the most subtle use of oak. A fabulous addition to South Africa’s cool climate coastal Chardonnay landscape.
Just a week or so after Bruwer Raats released both his 2015 MR de Compostella and 2015 Eden Cabernet Franc in South Africa, he was in London presenting both of these wines to the fine wine trade. The 2014 Eden Cabernet Franc scored an impressive 96 points here on the Fine Wine Safari site when reviewed in February 2017. With the follow up 2015 coming from an even better vintage that is being widely touted as the greatest modern-era vintage in South African wine making history, it’s an understatement to say the anticipation pre-tasting was high.
Coming from a 0.2ha high density vineyard (8000 vines per hectare) meticuously planned and planted 6 years ago by Bruwer Raats at his Polkadraai property in Stellenbosch, 5% of the grapes were whole bunch fermented before being aged for 8 months in new French oak, followed by a further 10 months elevage in older oak barrels. (UK recommended retail £65 per bottle).
Raats Family Eden High Density Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2015
Tasting the second vintage release of the Eden Single Vineyard High Density Cabernet Franc after the Raats Dolomite and Raats Family Cabernet Franc cuvees illustrates graphically the power, precision and intensity of this profound wine. Piercing lifted perfumed notes of blueberry, cassis, violets, cherry blossom, cedar spice and liquid minerality all play at full volume. Real intensity of fruit, showing red cherry, kirsch liquor, powerful grippy tannins, delicious salinity and an impressively bold structure define this impressive wine, which simultaneously wears its elegance and finesse proudly on its sleeve. All the building blocks for greatness are present. This is certainly one of the most accomplished red wines conceived in South Africa and looks set to not only age extremely well but also improve in bottle for 15 to 20 years, and drink well for over 30 years. Well done Bruwer. A towering achievement in the context of fine wine.
Whenever I visit South Africa, my eye is always drawn to the latest vintages of Bordeaux blend Icon Meerlust Rubicon on the Duty Free shelves. They always amazingly seem to be two vintages ahead of us here in the UK. So today I cracked into the 2014 to see what this current release holds in store for drinkers and collectors alike.
Meerlust Rubicon 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.
An invitingly youthful, opulent nose bursting with blueberry pie, vanilla pod spice, violets, cedar wood and polished mahogany. Very impressive with lifted black currant and raisined cranberry notes, the complexity of this wine is mesmerising. The palate is wonderfully suave, fleshy and elegant, showing superb harmony and balance combined with Cabernet Sauvignon backbone, power and breadth. There are lashings of delicious sweet cassis, black currant pastille, blueberries, and seductive creamy oak vanillins. Such a polished example, finely tuned, and positively oozes with class and pedigree. This impressive 2014 should drink well now and for another 25+ years if well cellared. Bravo Hannes Myburgh and winemaker Chris Williams.
I probably discovered this gem a little late in the day to properly appreciate the 2014 maiden vintage of Patatsfontein Chenin Blanc, only getting to drink the odd bottle or two with local South African winemakers. But the cat was out the bag, and I subsequently made sure I received a good chunk of the fabulous 2015, which is reviewed here:
The 2015 vintage yielded some fantastic, iconic wines, but during my visit in March 2017, I managed to taste many of the 2016s, and was so impressed with the top expressions from this tricky, drought stricken vintage. Many were picked earlier to retain acidity, but displayed massive concentration due to dramatically lower yields. A thoroughly collectable vintage indeed.
Patatsfontein Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2016, Montagu, 13.5 Abv.
The 2016 was fermented with natural yeasts and aged in a mixture of old oak barrels of various sizes for approximately 10 months. It has a most precise, piercing nose of stoney yellow fruits, bruised yellow peaches, saline briney white citrus, pithy tangerine peel and all the hallmark Patatsfontein aromatics of waxy yellow apples, potpourri and exotic curry leaf incense notes. Very seductive, alluring, confident wine. The palate is even more concentrated and structured than the 2015, no easy feat in itself, proving yet again what great pedigree this wine has. The finish shows great energy, fine purity, and impressive, creamy textural length. It seems young Reenen Borman can do no wrong. Congratulations. Drink now to 2030+.
(Wine safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
You can’t hold greatness back, and while the Patatsfontein is one of the most sought after Chenin Blanc whites in South Africa, the European market has yet to truly wake up to the exceptional quality of this wine. Sadly, when they do (which they will), we’ll all struggle to get even the current allocations we currently do due to its tiny single vineyard production. But the success will have been well earned and well deserved.
Fontaine-Gagnard in Chassagne Montrachet is probably a domaine better know for its white wines than its reds. But the last few years have seen their reds go from strength to strength, in no small part due to the focus and attention to detail of Celine Fontaine, who seems to have taken over all winemaking duties.
I recently had the opportunity to taste several vintages of their glorious Volnay Clos des Chênes, one of the most impressive 1er Cru expressions in the appellation. With allocations of Domaine Michel Lafarge rarely making it past En-primeur now days, picking up a bottle of Clos des Chênes that’s almost ready to drink is becoming a rare luxury.
The reds grapes at Fontaine-Gagnard are normally destemmed with light crushing. The must is then transferred into vats for the alcoholic fermentation for up to a week with little to no temperature control. The reds undergo daily punch downs and pump overs and then usually undergo a light filtration.
A dark ruby colour, there is interestingly little to no graduation of colour in the glass. A very pretty nose awaits with a beautiful bouquet of crushed rose petals and cherry blossoms. There are wonderfully expressive notes of strawberry confit, caramelised red cherries, and red berry pastille fruits. Lovely lift, freshness and an attractive sappy, stalky, minerality develop in the glass with just the faintest hint of sweet wood spice. An elegant, medium-bodied palate is perfectly harmonious and sleek, thoroughly seductive with a focused concentration of cherry pith, sappy spice, bramble berries, tart red plums, and a mouth watering maraschino cherry finish. Plenty of stony, dusty tannins add a little extra frame to the wine. A really attractive expression of Volnay that should easily drink well for another 10 to 12 years.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the wine trade, we spend so much time finding wines, tasting wines, negotiating the purchase of wines and selling wines that sometimes it’s good to pause, reflect, and actually drink some fine wines.
With Burgundy En-primeur 2015 reaching a successful climax, it seemed fitting to close off the campaign with a wonderful Grand Cru Burgundy lunch at La Trompette, one of London’s best 1 Star Michelin restaurants.
As always, some top wines were expertly served, creatively matched with fantastic food, and enjoyed in good company, just as the producers intended them to be. Simple.
Champagne Krug Grande Cuvee NV – 94+/100 GS (Aged in cellar on cork from release at least 10 years)
Domaine Michel Niellion Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2013 – 93+/100 GS
Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2012 – 96/100 GS