Old Vine Bordeaux at Its Very Best – Tasting the Ancient Vine Chateau Tour Baladoz Cuvee Le Centenaire 2010…

Château “Valados” first appeared in “Le Producteur” in 1841, and was included in the first edition of “Cocks and Feret” (Bordeaux and its Wines) in 1850 under the name of “Baladoz”. From 1874 to 1922, the estate was known as Château Baladoz until a tower was erected and adopted into the name. In certain parts, vines are grown at an altitude of up to ninety metres, almost the highest in the appellation, with more vines planted on the clay and limestone plateau that dominates the estate. Originally categorised as between the first and second crus of St Emilion, the estate later settled in the Grand Cru category.

The property, located in Saint-Laurent-des-Combes, was purchased by Belgian wine trader Emile De Schepper in May 1950 and included 5.56 hectares of vines. The new owner spent his first year renovating the cellars and making improvements to the vineyard. In the early years, the wine was exclusively exported to Belgium, in barrel, where it was bottled in the owner’s cellars in Ghent. The current cellar master and manager is the ultra talented Jean-Michel Garcion, who was appointed in 1992 and now also overseas production at sister estates Chateau La Croizille next door and Chateau Haut Breton Larigaudiere in Margaux.

70% of the Tour Baladoz vineyard is planted on the plateau, with the remaining 30 % situated on the slopes of the valley over deeply submerged rocks. Here, the challenge lies in making a wine that is as mineral as the geological environment in which the vines grow. The soil base varies from pure chalk and marl, which reminiscent of certain terroirs in the Champagne region, to freestone that appears occasionally and is noticed because of the colour variation in the clay. Here, the Merlot grape thrives and comprises 70% of the vineyard planting with Cabernet Franc (20%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) making up the remainder.

While one of the great wines of the neighbourhood is certainly the Chateau Tour Baladoz, they also produce miniscule amounts (1,000 bottles) of a special cuvee called Le Centenaire St. Emilion Grand Cru from vines over 100 years old on average. But the great rarity is the cepage with this incredible wine being made up of a blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, 3% Saint Macaire and 2% Bouchales, the later two varieties being incredibly rare ancient Bordeaux varieties. After fermentation, the wine is aged for 24 months in 100% new French oak barriques.

Chateau Tour Baladoz Cuvee Le Centenaire 2010, St Emilion Grand Cru

A wine of such rarity and corresponding cost (circa £325 per bottle) always commands respect before the cork is even drawn. Coming from probably the greatest modern red wine vintage in Bordeaux’s history, certainly since 1982 though many argue since 1959 and 1961, this wine automatically had a lot of expectation thrust upon it. Already 8 years old, it has a bright ruby garnet rim and a slightly opaque earthy red black plum coloured core. Tasted from Bordeaux Riedel glasses, the nose was initially reticent as many youthful 2010 reds still are, but in true right bank style, was quicker to reveal its charms than perhaps some left bank Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blends. The aromatics are very precise showing beautiful cherry blossom, parma violets, red cherry sherbet and subtle exotic earthy notes of mechanic’s diesel rag. Super complex, noticeably different but thoroughly spell binding. The palate is cool, ultra sleek and beautifully polished but like the nose, has an exotic twist of Caribbean red berry fruits, red cherry, purple rock candy, tart cassis and a Fanta grape twist. Texturally, it’s as fine as it gets with classical old vine power and concentration twinned with dense satin soft tannins and Bordeaux first growth balance. But this wine represents a whole that is clearly much greater than the sum of its parts and a lot of this must surely be attributed to the noteworthy ancient, and now almost extinct, Bordeaux varieties in the blend. A privilege to taste a rarity like this. Drinking now to 2045+

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

Wines Built to Stand the Test of Time – Tasting the Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Blanco 1976…

When ever I drink an old Tondonia white, I feel it’s almost a duty to document these vinous gems and capture their exquisitely complex and exotic nuances for future reference. The occasions and frequency to enjoy these old Rioja bottles becomes fewer and fewer as every year goes by yet many of them are still some years off peak maturity such is the greatness and age ability of these wines.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva Blanco 1976, 12 Abv.

A delicious, incredibly well proportioned offering revealing beautiful freshness of grated lemon peel, bergamot, peach tea, bees wax and Japanese green tea with threads of caramelised oak and vanilla pod spice. The palate has an alluring tertiary oxidative note of diesel rag, sun dried apricots, creamy honied white peaches, bruised yellow orchard fruits and tart lemon cordial with a complexing lick of salted toffee spice on the finish. A wine that really blossoms with 15-20 minutes in the glass as it slowly unfurls its multi-dimensional offering after over 40 years of ageing. Just another beautifully profound Rioja Blanco from Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia.

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

Many thanks to Chef Roger Jones for sharing this delicious bottle over lunch.

Kanonkop 2017 Black Label Pinotage – A Wine for the Most Intellectual of Palates… we

“The 100pt rating was most certainly a terrific boost for the brand,” says Johann Krige, co-proprietor of Kanonkop. “We have never experienced such a demand for the Paul Sauer and it looks as though the interest is spilling over into our next release, namely the Black Label Pinotage 2017 of which only 6 900 bottles are available – far less than the Paul Sauer 2015.”

Black Label is made from one of the oldest Pinotage vineyards in South Africa, one planted in 1953 on a site that has over the years proved to produce fruit of specific excellence and deemed special enough to be bottled under an own label. According to Kanonkop cellarmaster Abrie Beeslaar, the 2017 vintage was truly excellent for the Black Label. “It did not initially look as if this was going to be the case, as 2017 was the third very dry year in a row on the farm,” he says. “We only had 500mm of rain, 250mm less than the long-term average.” But the final results are captured in the bottle and are results worthy of adoration.

Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2017, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

When it comes to Pinotage, there may certainly be bigger wines, bolder opulent wines or more funky wines on the market but nothing ticks all the fine wine boxes like Kanonkop Black Label. The 2017 release marks the dawning of a new era where the local sales in the home market are properly mirrored with an enthusiastic international collector market pre-release offer for the first time. And what better way to do this with than with the 2017 expression which now comes from noble 67 year old vines which create a majestic elixir matured entirely in new French oak for 18 months before release. What Abrie Beeslaar has created in this vintage is a marvel to behold marrying new world hedonistic opulence with old world, Bordeaux’esque delineation and structure. This is a block buster that tantalises and teases the palate in the most intellectual sense and rewards the palate with a cornucopia of stimulation. The bouquet is positively bursting with lifted maraschino cherry, kirsch liquor, clove spice, blueberry, earthy mulberry and plum coulis. But it doesn’t stop there, before this block buster even gets out the starting blocks and close to your palate there are complex notes of sweet cloves, wood shavings, branded oak, iced tea and fresh oregano, sage and rose petal to behold. The palate is equally complex and alluring, exotically seductive in the most sensual sense of the word, showing the succulent delineation you would hope for and expect from a wine of this pedigree and price point but also a complexity of sweet bramble berry fruits, cut hedgerow, freshly tilled Stellenbosch earth and cherry kirsch liquor chocolates. But the stand out quality of this wine is undoubtedly the bright, crunchy yet sultry saline acidity that leaves you coming back for one sip after another. The lasting impression of this wine on the palate is the vitality, precision, knowhow and authority that beam from the glass akin to facing down a glass of Romanée Conti Burgundy. But I’ll stop there… the rest is up to you… the consumer! Dive in now or over the next 20+ years.

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

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)