South African Grand Marque Rust en Vrede Estate Back to Its Best Again…

The history of this great estate reads like a classic novel in the same vein as many great Bordeaux chateaux. Highs and lows, controversy and family disputes and changes in winemakers and house style.

Tasting the latest creations of winemaker Coenie Snyman, it can be confirmed with a fair degree of certainty that this famous old South African grand marque is almost back to its very best again. This can only be good news for consumers and collectors alike.

Rust en Vrede Estate 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

The 2015 Estate red is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Syrah and 9% Merlot. This is the flagship wine of the estate and boasts astute winemaking to match. The bouquet offers up a fine perfume of dried potpourri, violets, cinnamon stick and an alluring melange of mulberry, black currant and savoury damson plum with a complexing top note of black Kalamata olives. Subtle mocha and vanilla pod nuances carry to the palate which is eminently refined and elegantly balanced, showing delicious spicy black currant, graphite, black liquorice, salty cassis and a subtle lick of salted caramel. Beautifully plush and textured, this is a seamless vinous package of fine wine enjoyment that speaks volumes about the very fine 2015 vintage twinned with re-energised, ambitious winemaking. A winery returning to its very best potential once again. Drink now or cellar for 10 to 15+ years.

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

Tasting Vin de Constance 2015 at the London Launch – Moving Greatness to the Next Level…

For the past 8 years, Matt Day has come to London to launch the new vintages of Vin de Constance, one of the greatest sweet wines in existence. Usually there is a formula of showing a few older rare vintages before revealing the newest release. But after Matt pulled barrel samples 6 months ago from multiple component parts of the 2015 blend… and recently discovered the bottles in the lab, he thought it would be the perfect way to introduce one of the finest expressions of Vin de Constance to date… by showing a deconstructed version with multiple component parts.

This is a wine that needs no introduction, and as Matt pointed out, we all know about the famous historical dignitaries that have consumed this delicious sweet wine over the years. But more important to him and the estate owners now is making great wines that represent their terroir to the fullest and represent the vision of where Vin de Constance is going in the future.

As if there was any need for further compliments, it was the great Steven Spurrier who proclaimed at the tasting that “the 2015 Vin de Constance was every bit as impressive as the 2016 Chateau d’Yquem”… where Matt actually worked a harvest two years ago.

For me, this wine shows a focus, a precision and a clarity of purpose not seen on any recent vintages of Vin de Constance. If you want Chateau d’Yquem buyers to buy your wine, this is what they are going to have to taste like! Bravo Matt!

Component Tasting:

Component I6 – Precision

Wonderfully perfumed and fresh, orange blossom, marmalade on white toast, crushed grapefruit and barley sugar. Very fragrant, pure and precise. Quite full and unctuous on the palate, massive mouth coating depth, creamy and powerful with impressive purity of fruit.

Component I7 – Flesh

Quite neutral, mineral and restrained aromatics, showing more a leafy, sappy, resinous side of Muscat with subtle orange and tangerine peel spice. Texturally full, fleshy and harmonious with a wonderfully plush lemon cream biscuit core of yellow orchard fruits. Soft acids, dreamy harmonious balance.

Component I8 – Harmony

Containing a small part of 2016 Vin de Constance, this wine shows aromatics of an almost more complete wine with fine balance between fruit and sappy resinous notes, minerality and wood spice. Palate is slightly fresher and more ‘teenager gawky’ than the others with plenty of power and depth but unlike the nose, the palate feels much more incomplete and more like a blend component.

MDF Green 2018 Component – Frame

Harvested green end of January 2018. Lean spicy and green with stalky sappy notes, peppered green figs, white pepper, grapefruit confit and waxy green apples. Wine is bone dry, less than 2 g/l RS. Sleek, fresh, very juicy. Could certainly be bottled as a hipster still wine but going to be a perfect component of a blend. Delicious backbone and freshness.

Component Essencia 2015 – Richness

A whopping of 655 g/l RS in the component with next to no alcohol. Fantastically rich and opulent, hedonistic notes of orange marmalade, grapefruit preserve and caramelised hairy yellow peaches. Palate texture is dense with a treacly weight, tasting it akin to sucking on a big teaspoon of honey. An important component piece in the Vin de Constance blend.

Vin de Constance 2012, WO Constantia, 14.3 Abv.

Matt Day’s first vintage in charge of winemaking after taking over from the phenomenal talent of Adam Mason. So no pressure! The RS is 160 g/l, pH 3.6, TA 7 g/l with the wine aged for 2.5 years in a combination of 60% new French oak, Hungarian oak and French acacia before racking out, blending and ageing for a further 6 months in tank before bottling. Aromatics show crystalline white peaches, yellow citrus, orange blossom and subtle tangerine peel spice. Palate is so sleek and taut with an appealing salinity and spicy marmalade, fleshy texture and an intensity that lingers long in the mouth. An exceptional maiden vintage for Matt.

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

Vin de Constance 2015, WO Constantia, 14 Abv.

Very pure crystalline and fragrant nose with a really complex aromatic profile seamlessly knitted together. Beautiful peppered white peaches, honey suckle, yellow grapefruit, pear purée, barley sugar and a most enchanting under vein of chalky minerality. The palate is crystalline and pure, taut and polished with absolute harmony and balance. The incredible blending precision delivers an amazing texture, impressive tension, mid palate restraint and a finished wine that is perfectly proportion and finely chiselled and near faultless. A very grown up Vin de Constance that flirts with lightness, freshness and elegance.

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

Joaquin Aglianico – Still Amazingly One of the Best Kept Fine Wine Secrets of Campania…

One of my most interesting winery visits of 2018 was a trip in June to Campania producer Joaquin Wines located in Montefalcione, Avellino, Italy. Whilst there, I tasted through owner / winemaker Raffaele Pagano’s entire current release range of vinous wonders as well as some true back vintage unicorns.

However, one wine that slipped the net and wasn’t reviewed in my winery report was the incredible new release red I Viaggiatori 2016 made from pure Aglianico. In fact the wine was tasted over dinner at our amazing outing with Raffaele to Pepe i Grani, the number one rated pizza restaurant in the world. So it’s time to revisit this superb Aglianico red expression …

Joaquin Aziende Agricole I Viaggiatori Aglianico 2016, Campania IGT, 13.5 Abv.

The wine is dark and impenetrable with a slight black cherry rim. But this is not a wild, untamed Campania expression of Aglianico, to the contrary, it has the most pure, intriguingly perfumed aromatics of violets, black cherry, saline cassis, maritime oyster shell nuances, black currant and striking salty liquorice. Like the nose, the hallmarks of the palate are incredible purity, salinity and an expertly crafted structure with tart mouth watering electric acids, tart boiled black currant pastille fruits expertly balanced by seamless sweet tannins and a searing black berry concentration with a hint of cherry cola, smokey reduction and ashy complexity on the persistent finish. An incredible interpretation of old vine Aglianico from a top vintage with a harmony and finesse rarely seen with this variety. Drink now and over the next 10 to 15+ years.

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

Mastering New Vintage Angst – Tasting the New Release MR de Compostella 2016 Red Blend…

I’m looking forward to writing up my summary of the best South African red wines of 2018 as the list should feature a tantalising tussle between the last few late release 2015 vintage red creations and some of the follow up 2016 new release challengers. One of the most iconic releases of 2017 was undoubtedly the 2015 MR de Compostella, still arguably the most sought after and collectable Bordeaux-styled fine wine produced in South Africa and one of the very few stalwarts that regularly trades on the Liv-ex International Fine Wine Exchange in London.

Bruwer Raats and his MR de Compostella partner Mzokhona Mvemve state that the “aim with the MR de Compostella wine is to take each of the five components and make a varietal wine in it’s own right. The wines are then tasted blind after one year in barrel. The wines that scored less than 90/100 points are then not considered for the final blend”. This is a very rigorous and ruthless process no doubt but also one which has assured that the final component blend release has never scored lower than 93/100 from international critics since the maiden vintage in 2004. So if you want a track record for your fine wine, there you have it!

The 2016 vintage was the second of the drought vintages and while 2015 was also very hot and dry, it did have the added benefit of plenty of ground water reserves after a wet 2014 winter. So an altogether more challenging set of conditions for the 2016 vintage that puts the achievements of Bruwer and Mzokhona into greater context with the magical new release of MR de Compostella.

MR de Compostella 2016 Bordeaux Blend, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

It happens in all fine classical regions… the angst and agony of a successor vintage following on from a block buster release like… 2015 Bordeaux, 2015 Super Tuscans or indeed 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon based blends in South Africa. Made from grapes from Stellenbosch grown on decomposed dolomite granitic soils, what immediately strikes you is the large percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon that makes up the final blend in 2016. So renowned for his exceptional Cabernet Franc creations, many of Bruwer Raats’ past MR de Compostella red blend releases have had a dominant percentage of Cabernet Franc which can leave a real signature imprint on the final wine.

The 2016 however is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon; 17% Cabernet Franc; 12% Malbec; 6% Petit Verdot and 2% Merlot with a 14.5 Abv, 3.59 pH, and a 5.7 TA. The aromatics are cool, perfumed and spicy showing plenty of overt violet fragrance, cedar spice, cinnamon stick, pencil box and dried mint leaf with an overall tendency towards elegance and classism rather than overt decadence. There is no shortage of sultry black berry fruit complexity with seductive nuances of black currant, pithy black cherry and sun raisined cranberries but they do require a bit of coaxing out the glass. Medium bodied, the palate is wonderfully understated and elegant, quite feminine but very precise and slightly more linear than some of the bigger more opulent, masculine vintages from MR, but is equally beguiling and sophisticated, teasing the senses with delicious notes of blood orange, raspberry coulis, earthy red currant, salty cassis and a sumptuous milk chocolate harmony. A thoroughly enchanting and engaging wine, the 2016 is a little more elegant and light on its feet, more ballerina than gymnast, retaining a keen line of acidity and freshness, impressive subtlety and awesome textural finesse. This has all the markings of another truly great expression. In the end, the wine does not feel Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated at all … with the sum of the component parts greatly surpassed by the finished blend. Drink this beauty from release and over the next 15+ years. Well done boys!

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

Another Iconic Vin de Constance Release from Klein Constantia – Tasting the 2014…

The 2014 Vin de Constance release sees Klein Constantia winemaker Matt Day deliver a superbly confident display of vinous sweet wine alchemy, conjuring up an impressively fine and balanced rendition of this iconic sweet Muscat dessert wine. Fill your cellars with this vinous gold!

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2014, WO Constantia, 14.2 Abv.

172 g/L RS, matured in 500 litre barrels for around 36 months, the 2014 displays a wonderfully aromatic nose of white blossom, honeysuckle, quince confit and freshly baked brioche smothered in honey and yellow grapefruit marmalade. The 2014 is wonderfully approachable showing a finely poised balance of creamy yellow orchard fruits and superbly elegant integrated acids. The finish is focused and pure, concentrated and beautifully textural, finishing with a delicious melange of orange peel, ginger pastille sweets and caramelised apples dusted with vanilla pod spice. This is a really distinguished expression that shows the winemaker’s growing confidence to be able to deliver an iconic expression of Vin de Constance year after year. Drink from 2019 to 2045+

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

Drinking An Iconic South African Red – Unravelling the Meerlust Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1976 and the South African Fine Wine Investment Market…

In the week that Wine Cellar South Africa launched (and sold out of) its first fine wine investment fund built around (physical) iconic South African wines from the 2015 vintage, I thought it was fitting to drink a wine that illustrates the true greatness of South Africa’s best red wines. In light of the Wine Cellar VIP 2015 offering, many international commentators less intimately connected to the fine wine market have stated that “few South African wines improve appreciably with extended ageing” and thus the fine wine investment model is built on a sandy foundation.

Firstly, one needs to clarify what extended ageing implies. From a wine trade / merchant point of view, one could reasonably expect the quality of wines included in the VIP 2015 Fund to age and certainly improve incrementally for easily 10+ years… and many on the list for certainly 20 years plus. Secondly, to say that there is no secondary market for aged South African fine wine is blatantly wrong. There is massive demand but merely little to no supply… and the older stock that does make it to market commercially is either small parcels kindly released by the wineries themselves from archive stocks as more of a marketing endeavour or the stock is from provenanced private collections. Either way, it is an insignificant, non commercial quantity unable to influence the market in any meaningful way and adds no liquidity.

I have been involved in the top end of the UK fine wine trade for 20 years now, many of which I have actively been promoting and selling the very best wines from South Africa to international collectors and connoisseurs. Admittedly, you need to sell the best names from the best vintages, but that is certainly no different anywhere else in the fine wine world. Many top South African red (and white) wines clearly age very very well and while you always need to be selective and take professional advise, this fact is now indisputable.

To many, the term or idea of investing in a wonderful agricultural product like wine is sacrilege, a dirty word, a dirty concept. But for time immemorial, the concept of “investing in wine” implied buying double your requirements, with money you did not always readily have, and then selling half the wine several years later when more scarce to finance the drinking of the other half. In essence, this is still the model many fine wine investors (drinkers) that I deal with on a day to day basis follow. Indeed, I cannot name one private client on my books who is tea total and who only invests in wine for the hard cold cash returns. They are all passionate about wine.

One thing is very clear to me however. For South African fine wine to gain a genuinely fluid and dynamic foothold in the fine wine investment market globally, there has to be a strong and confident “wine investment culture” locally in the home market of the wines in question. The demand for older vintages needs to begin at home and then ripple out to international markets. For far too long it has been international buyers piling into the Nederburg Auction wines, the Cape Wine Makers Guild Wines or the odd rare fine wine older vintage auction offering. This Wine Cellar VIP 2015 Fund marks the turning of a corner, where locals put their money where their mouths are and invest in iconic wines from possibly a once in a generation quality vintage. With over 12,000 bottles included in this fund, we should over the coming years, see stocks of these perfectly cellared older vintages released onto the market for local and international consumption at a premium that is commensurate to the quality and rarity of the given wine. Supply and demand will decide that premium.

For what it’s worth, I bought this wonderful Meerlust Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1976 from the winery in March 2018 and drank it recently at a South African themed fine wine lunch in London. Poured sighted, there wasn’t a taster on the table of seven that did not sit in awe of its youthful elegance. A true testament to the ageability and longevity of classical Cabernet Sauvignon produced by one of South Africa’s top estates. The message now disseminating out of the South African fine wine scene is not whether the country is able to produce age worthy wines of super premium quality, but whether the industry as a whole has the skills and knowhow to market these wines globally in a proper confident manner, for the correct premium price tag and importantly, to the correct target market segments? Time for everyone to up their game in the South African fine wine trade.

Meerlust Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1976, W.O. Stellenbosch

A beautiful mahogany colour, the nose is initially tight and cedary, spicy and quite restrained, but 20 minutes of air in a decanter after the cork is pulled allows this grand old wine to open its shoulders. Wonderfully mellow but still vibrantly youthful, beguilingly complex, fragrant and intriguing. The palate is loaded with lovely sweet raisined cranberries, violets, sweet tobacco, black tea and an earthy red currant sappy depth. Texturally this is so fine, initially quite piquant and spicy but also beautifully elegant. Incredible to think this wine is 42 years olds and still going strong. A bold, powerful and elegantly regal red showing the real potential of South Africa’s greatest terroirs and the true premium standing of great Cabernet Sauvignon. What a treat!

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

The Old Vine Project Hits London Again to Seduce Us with Some Profound Old Vine Whites and Reds from South Africa…

I’m very excited to be attending the Alheit Family Wines new release 2017 tasting tomorrow in London at the offices of the Institute of Masters of Wine with Chris Alheit. Indeed it was Rosa Kruger and Andre Morgenthal’s recent Old Vines Project Masterclass Tasting a few weeks ago that reignited the excitement surrounding old vines, old vine culture and the changes in philosophy with regards to viticulture and vine growing taking place in South Africa.

A pair of Chris Alheit’s superb 2017 wines featured prominently on the July tasting and certainly helped set the scene for yet another SA tasting of old vine wines that promises to display some of the most exciting dry Chenin Blanc’s produced anywhere in the world. Just reading through the below Old Vine Masterclass tasting notes has already got me salivating.

Below are my raw notes taken from the Masterclass with Andre and Rosa.

Old Vine Project team Andre Morgenthal and Rosa Kruger in front of London’s Millennium Bridge.

Huis van Chevallerie Filia Brut Kap Klassiek 2014, Swartland – Vines Planted 1974

Savoury apple purée, honey and sun dried peaches, vermouth botanicals and sweet fynbos herby spice. Beautiful richness, peachy, leesy autolysis and a gravelly, mineral length.

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

Huis van Chevallerie Nuwedam Chenin Blanc 2017, Swartland – Vines Planted 1974

Rich, deep, earthy, mealy character, hairy yellow peaches, honey, lanolin, peach purée and a solid vein of gravelly, granitic minerality. Creamy and texturally very fine showing piercing white citrus and crunchy yellow fruit intensity, white peach pastille and a kiss of pineapple. Very impressive.

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

Waterford Estate Library Collection Chenin Blanc 2017, Stellenbosch – Vines Planted 1982

Beautifully nuanced nose with pronounced minerality, dusty granite and limestone, where the fruit component of the wine takes a back seat to the terroir minerality. Hints of struck match and tart fresh acids give way to lemon and lime pith, flinty white peaches and savoury pineapple. A really excellent expression.

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

Gabrielskloof Elodie Chenin Blanc 2016, Swartland – Vines Planted 1977

Rich perfumed nose showing soap stone, white citrus, green apple zest, creamy white peach and liquid minerality. Beautifully textured palate, complex and very harmonious. Very classy indeed.

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

Alheit family Huilkrans Chenin Blanc 2017, Swartland – Vines Planted 1976 and 1986

Wonderful melange of pure mineral, granite, grated apple, white peach and crunchy green pear with hints of orange blossom, tangerine and dried herb spice. Incredible harmony and balance, precise textural focus, sleek concentration and liquid mineral depth. A thought provoking wine, confounding the senses, stimulating the palate. Grand Cru texture, focus and precision.

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

Cartology Chenin Blanc / Semillon Blend, WO Western Cape 2017 – Vines aged between 32 and 82 years old from multiple plots, mostly 40 years old

Big, broad expansive yellow orchard fruit aromatics, subtle yellow blossom and then an overriding dusty gravel quarry minerality. The palate shows amazing depth, typical Alheit pineapple fruit pastille concentration, lemon grass and an incredible saline, grassy, herbal pithy length. Another epic effort from Butch.

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

Alheit Fire By Night 2017, Swartland, 13 Abv. – Vines planted in 1938, 1940 and 1944

Bright, crystalline and intense, wonderfully taut and intense, loaded with liquid minerals, limestone and green gauge, green apple and white pears. Pithy phenolic notes, spicy, pear purée expression and such clarity and focus. Mouth watering acidity, this wine tells an amazing story and delivers on so many levels with subtlety.

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

David & Nadia Perdekamp Semillon 2014, Swartland – Vines Planted 1972

Dusty granitic mineral aromatics, powdered sandstone, white citrus, white pepper and hints of orange blossom. So textural, intense and expertly finessed into a really profound version of Semillon.

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

Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2005, Franschhoek – Vines Planted in 1902, 1936 and 1942

Complex aromatics reveal notes of capsicum, white citrus and chalky granitic herbal green spice aromatics. Plenty of honied lemon, herbal fynbos notes and subtle oxidative, honied, lanolin length. Very expressive and complex.

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

Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2015, Franschhoek – Vines Planted in 1902, 1936 and 1942

Crunchy white peaches, citrus, crushed gravel and white pepper dominate the nose. Palate is packed full of lime peel complexity, vibrant bright acids, textural linearity and a long, wonderfully focused finish. Exceptional.

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

Mullineux & Leeu Dry Red 2015, WO Western Cape – Vines planted in 1932 and 1900

Lovely peppery, spicy leafy nose of plum, peppercorns, sweet bramble berries, hedgerow, bergamot and sappy cherry spice. There’s a real opulent confit fruit character, impressive ripeness, fragrant but simultaneously mineral and restrained. There is also a real dusty granitic vein, a chalky, spicy texture and sweet red currant and raspberry sappy fruit. Punchy, intense, really focused but with real mouthwatering drinkability. Beautifully fine harmonious texture, and tight polished tannins. A very classy wine indeed.

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

Naude Cinsault 2015, Darling – Vines Planted 1980

Wonderfully open, fragrant and exotic nose showing salted cherries, rose petals, lychees and Turkish delight. Palate is incredibly sleek and creamy but impressively intense and focused. Delicious palate complexity of waxy orange peel, naartjie juice and earthy sappy cranberry sauce. Such a very pretty expression.

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

Jamie Goode tasting with Rosa Kruger at the Old Vine Project Masterclass held at High Timber Restaurant in July 2018.