It’s Evolution Versus Revolution at Tesselaarsdal – Tasting the Third Release of their Elegant Pinot Noir…

The brand that is Tesselaarsdal was established in 2015 by long time employee Berene Sauls who started at Hamilton Russell as an au pair originally. With higher vinous aspirations and then valiant  support financially and emotionally from Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell, Berene was cast adrift to fend for herself in the wide world of fine wine after her first release in 2015. Proudly, one of my claims to fame is that I was the first to taste the maiden release 2015 in January 2016 at breakfast, as you do in the trade, at Hamilton Russell when I was invited over to be the panel chair and guest speaker for the Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir Celebration 2016.

As delicious as it was, the 2015 now starts to pale into insignificance along side newer releases like the 2017 and 2018 vintages. With the 2018 about to land in the UK, I took an opportunity to reacquaint myself with the 2017 that has had a nice amount of time to settle in storage.

Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir 2017, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5 Abv.

A winemaking collaboration hand in hand with Emul Ross, the winemaker at Hamilton Russell, Tesselaarsdal 2017 is made from fruit 100% sourced from a vineyard leased from La Vierge in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge from totally unirrigated vineyards. A style of wine that always shows a little bit of sulky reduction early in its evolution, the 2017 seems to have blow most of this off and now starts to up the ante with notes of wild fraises de bois, red bramble berry fruits, freshly cut hedgerow and an interesting melange of sappy red berry fruits, limestone minerality and dried herb spice. On the palate there is a real luminescent brightness, crisp freshness, salinity, and purity of crunchy red berry fruits. Tannins are soft and supple, very elegant as you would expect from the sultry 2017 vintage in Hemel-en-Aarde making the wine very friendly, accessible and opulent already. Ultimately, what I love about this wine is its completeness, its textural harmony, its fruit intensity and of course its saline bite. Only the third vintage, this remains one of my favourite Pinot Noirs produced in South Africa.

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

Great Wines Are Born Through Innovation and Experimentation and Few New World Wines Illustrate This Better Than The Jem From Waterford Estate…

Named after Waterford Estate’s owner, Jeremy Ord, or Jem as he is known, this is a red blend that has often seduced but also confounded critics over the years in equal measure since its first release in 2004. Indeed visitors to Waterford Estate often wonder if the different varietals that go into The Jem are aged separately. “They aren’t,” says winemaker Mark Le Roux.

A slightly exotic blend in the South African context, shortly after undergoing malolactic fermentation, about 20 different batches of the eight various varietals are meticulously blended to make up The Jem. “This is done to give the wine the maximum amount of time to integrate and bond” says Mark.

It is certainly a wine I have grappled with over the years and is perhaps one I have often failed to fully understand. So when in doubt, crack another bottle and explore further is what they say! With noticeable style changes occurring under Mark Le Roux’s watch towards greater elegance and freshness with real changes really being effected over the past 3 to 5 years, it certainly was time to open and reflect on the contents of a bottle of the newest release – The Jem 2014.

 

Waterford The Jem Red Blend 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

Made from a warm, moderate growing season, 2014 as a vintage is best remembered as the last normal year before four drought seasons. The 2014 Jem blend is made up of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Shiraz, 14% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot, 4% Mourvedre, 3% Sangiovese and 2% Barbera. According to winemaker Mark Le Roux, the Jem is based on both red and black berry fruits with spicy aromatic tones and a polished, textured mouthfeel. The nose does indeed reveal opulent layers of fruit and spice with pronounced notes of oregano, thyme and dusty stony minerality. It certainly invokes notes of high octane wine making that thrives on the exotic. This wine could so easily be another Bordeaux blend based around Cabernet Sauvignon and it would no doubt excel under the watchful eye of Mark Le Roux. But there is a higher striving involved with this wine and since its inception, it has never embraced the establishment but rather courted the esoteric. It is on the palate that the idiosyncratic blend components reveal themselves, showing spicy black olive, red cherry spice, red peppercorns and red currant bramble berry fruits that buffer a darker, denser core of earthy black currant and saline cassis depth. In the past, this wine was perhaps a little too big and bold for me but now with the more recent vintages I can see the evolving tannin elegance, the textured nuances, interwoven acidity and exotic herbal Italianesque spices that set this icon wine apart from its competitors. If you like bold, modern, adventurous red wines, I suggest you crack a couple of these with your Sunday roast beef. Satisfaction is guaranteed. Drink now to 2034+

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

25 Great South African Wines Under £25 Retail – Red and Whites Not to Miss…

Value versus quality. It’s the eternal debate with all New World wine producing nations. Peg your marker in the sand and stand up for top premium quality at the price you think the wine deserves or take perhaps the long view and sell your wine at a more affordable price level with more market accessibility. Who knows what’s right?

All I know is that some of the cracking whites and reds in my 25 for £25 selection could easily sell for a lot more money and no consumers would blink an eye. So does that mean the producers are under pricing themselves? No, not necessarily. Everybody produces different quantities, works from a different cost base and has a different long term business sales vision.

This eclectic collection of reds and whites does not stand alone to make a statement or indeed even seek to provoke discussion but merely serves to illustrate to consumers that South Africa is not only about £35-£75 bottles of white and red from trendy producers. Crack open any of these below wines with absolute confidence!

White Wines 

Fram Grenache Gris 2017, WO Voor-Paardeberg, 11 Abv.

Pithy bramble berry, stalk spice and sap with a zesty tart strawberry pip fruit note, crushed stone minerality and grippy tannin. Class. (£24)

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

Winterhoek 2015, WO Ceres, 13.5 Abv.

Earthy savoury quince, cassis leaf, sweet sour plum and oxidative notes. A different take on Sauvignon more in the Pouilly Fume style. Unique but a bit of a marmite wine. (£8.99)

(Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The Foundry Roussanne 2016, 13.5 Abv.

Fragrant white peach, citrus, orange peel zest with a creamy core and yellow pastille fruit finish. Superb! World class. (£15.99)

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

The Foundry Grenache Blanc 2017, 13.5 Abv.

White peach, yellow citrus and pithy stony fruits. Juicy to its core. Incredible quality with a nutty marzipan finish. Wow! (£15.99)

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

Naudé White Blend 2009, WO Western Cape, 13 Abv.

Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc Blend. Packed full of white citrus, white pepper, stalk spice and bruised orchard fruits on a finish with bright acids. Delicious and super classy. (£17.99)

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

Craven Clairette Blanche 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 11.5 Abv.

Quince, wet grass, apple peel, leesy white peach Bon Bon finish. Drinking very well. (£17.99)

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

Hannes Storm Wild Air Sauvignon Blanc 2017, 13 Abv.

Quince, tropical yellow fruits, gooseberry and a hint of green mango peel. Creamy, mineral, super concentration. Old World style at its best! (£18.99)

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

Craven Chenin Blanc 2017 Karibib Vineyard, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

Dusty, stony mineral fruits, hints of wet bushveld, white peach stone and crushed gravel on the finish. Very youthful. (£20.99)

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

Elgin Ridge Chardonnay 2017, WO Elgin, 13 Abv.

Grapefruit Bon Bon concentration, citrus pastille, lime peel and a toffee apple kiss. Vibrant, intense, incredible piercing length. Really very very special and worthy of an upgraded score since my last tasting note! (£22.95)

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

Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse 2016, 13 Abv.

Semillon, Chardonnay, Roussanne, Clairette Blanche, Chenin Blanc, and Viura Blend. Creamy, complex and such interwoven intrigue. Flavours melt into one another. Fabulously complex, harmonious effort. (£24.99)

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

Julien Schaal Confluence Chardonnay 2017, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13 Abv.

Pithy, citric, mineral and super energetic. Overtones of expensive fresh white Burgundy. Among South Africa’s best Chardonnays no doubt. (£24.99)

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

Rall Grenache Blanc 2017, WO Piekenierskloof, 13.5 Abv.

Piekenierskloof fruit selection. Deliciously stony with pithy white citrus, peach stone and crushed granite minerality. Very pure and elegant. Lovely subtle yellow sour plum finish. Fabulous. (£23.49)

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

Red Wines

Primordial Soup 2017 Blend, WO Western Cape, 13.5 Abv.

Light fresh sappy red bramble berry fruits. Bright, savoury stewed strawberry hints and a long juicy finish. Great value for money. (£7.99)

(Wine Safari Score: 86+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Zorgvliet Silver Myn Argentum 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec blend. Shows sweet plum, cassis and tannery leather. Classical notes with sweet black fruited savoury depth. Well-proportioned and great value. (£9.99)

(Wine Safari Score: 87/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Kaapzicht Cinsault Skuinsberg 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

Stewed winter fruits, damson plum and raisined cranberry with a hint of marzipan and rose petals. Soft, sleek with a granitic minerality. Very fine. (£18.99)

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

Bohemian Syrah 2016, WO Wellington, 14.5 Abv.

Rich savoury, bramble berry black fruits, sweet cassis, cured meats and crushed coriander and peppercorns. V8 Chevy engine under a Porsche bonnet. Plush, smokey savoury finish. Punchy style. (£18.99)

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

Cricket Pitch Red Blend 2013, WO Wellington, 14.5 Abv.

Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc blend. Super perfumed notes of rose petals, violets, lilies with sweet cassis fruit. Sleek, classical Bordeaux Blend expression with fine pedigree. (£19.99)

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

Hat Trick 2012 Cape Blend, WO Wellington, 14.5 Abv.

Pinotage, Merlot, Grenache Blend. Sweet sappy bramble berry savoury black fruited nose. Exotic with hints of peach juice and black currant and a long, musk laden finish. (19.99)

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

La Vierge The Affair Pinot Noir 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5 Abv.

Savoury bramble berry fruits, pomegranate exoticism, tilled earth and blood orange. Fresh, cool and precise. Lovely. (19.99)

(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Crystallum Peter Max Pinot Noir 2016, WO Coastal, 14 Abv.

Starts a bit reductive so give it air. Packed full of cherry stone and cranberry with hints of Victoria plum and pink rock candy. Cool, creamy, sublime balance and delicious depth with typicity. (£24.99)

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

Naude Adoro Red Blend 2007, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz blend showing classic notes of sweet tannery leather, raisined plums, winter stewed compote and earthy black bramble berry fruits with ample spice, salinity and cured meat complexity. A real consumer favourite! (£20.95)

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

David & Nadia Pinotage 2016, WO Swartland, 12.5 Abv.

Deliciously light, lithe and fresh with perfumed, chalky red fruits and luscious, sappy red apple and cranberry intensity on the long, pure finish. Fabulous expression. (£22.99)

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

Thorne & Daughters Wanderer’s Heart 2016, WO Western Cape, 13.5 Abv.

Stony granitic cranberry and sweet tart red cherry. Super pure and precise with amazing freshness and depth with a light weight texture. (£24.99)

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

Kottabos Grenache Syrah 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5 Abv.

Lifted dried rosemary and oregano herbal notes melt into sweet red berry fruits, liquorice, dried mint leaf, peppercorn and a subtle eucalyptus kiss. Delicious. (£24.99)

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

Savage Thief in the Night 2017, WO Western Cape, 13 Abv.

Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah blend showing wonderfully expressive perfumed nose with crystallised cherries, cranberry, Turkish delight and red bramble berry fruits. Such purity, class and distinction. Just wow! (£24.99)

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

Gaja Highlights Their New Tuscan Releases at a High Profile Masterclass in London…

In 2019, as Angelo Gaja reaches 78 years old, he has for the first time all his children, Gaia, Roxanna and Giovanni all working together representing the family’s multiple estates. So it was perhaps extra fitting that today Angelo Gaja was awarded the prestigious Institute of Masters of Wines’s Winemakers’ Winemaker Award at Prowein in Dusseldorf.

However, for this tasting in London, Gaia and Giovanni started by profiling the family’s most recent Gaja winery acquisition in 1996, running through the full range of Ca’Marcanda wines produced in Bolgheri, coastal Tuscany, home of legendary neighbours Guado al Tasso, Ornellaia and Sassicaia.

Ca’Marcanda is also the Gaja winery that has seen the most marked increase in quality over the past 5 years as new plantings age and the family slowly learns the true potential of the estate’s terroir that includes 27 different soil types.

Tasting with Gaia Gaja and Giovanni Gaja at the Lanesborough in London.

75 hectares were bought in Bolgheri in 1996 with another 50 hectares subsequently acquired near Bibbona, outside the DOC Bolgheri appellation, for fruit that goes into the Vistamare white and Sangiovese grapes for some of their non-DOC reds.

Ca’Marcanda Vistamare 2018, 14 Abv.

A blend of Vermentino and Viognier, the wine shows vibrant pithy aromatics loaded with white citrus, salty maritime notes, green apple, ripe pear, sweet blossom and chalky, stony notes. Despite the vintage’s rain, there is a fine stony green apple fruit concentration, rasping white citrus and a delicious fleshy texture.

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

Giovanni, Gaia and UK agent, Patrick McGrath MW from Hatch Mansfield.

Ca’Marcanda Promis 2017, 13.5 Abv.

55% Merlot, 35% Syrah and 10% Sangiovese blend. An incredibly hot, dry year but not in the mould of 2003. The year started dry and hot so conditions were far more anticipated. Over ripeness has been avoided yielding a fine opulent example with plushness, sweet black berry fruited nose from tiny berries that embraces the subtle chocolatey mocha, nutty, oak notes and chalky, dusty mineral tannin on the finish. Very mineral and powerful, perfectly representing the small, thick skinned grapes vinified in this vintage.

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

Ca’Marcanda Magari 2017, 14 Abv.

A blend of 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. The aromatics immediately show ample complex lifted perfume notes with layers of violets, lavender, coastal garrigue and sweet dark black bramble berries. Silky soft elegant texture, there is impressive freshness and generosity framed by chalky mineral graphite tannins, sweet blueberry and black cherry fruit concentration and a delicate concentrated cassis confit length. A wonderfully composed and orchestrated red blend with a lot of class.

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

Ca’Marcanda Camarcanda 2016, 14 Abv.

A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc. The flagship Red comes from the “almost perfect” 2016 vintage where Gaia said everything was in perfect balance and harmony. Already very open and “friendly”, the Carmacanda shows dense dark black currant depth, sweet cassis, graphite spice and a very restrained, fresh, crunchy concentrated finish with real verve and nerve, tension and generosity. The 17 degree C diurnal temperature shift between day and night during vintage really shows its imprint through bright, linear, vibrant glassy acids framing the pure, precise black fruits. Sublime precision and pinpoint elegance with substantial power and drive. This wine has class and quality written all over it. Possibly the finest Camarcanda flagship expression produced to date.

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

Gaja Winery owns wine estates in Barbaresco (Piedmont), Pieve Santa Restituta winery in Montalcino (Tuscany) and Ca’ Marcanda winery in Castagneto Carducci (Tuscany). In 2017, the Gaja family undertook a joint venture with the Graci family. Together they purchased vineyard acreage on the southern slope of Sicily’s Mount Etna, where you can find Nerello Mascalese and Carricante varieties. Plans for the new Gaja winery are currently awaiting planning permission in Sicily.

Tasting Hamilton Russell’s 2018 Releases – A Small Concentrated Vintage of Distinguished Power and Depth…

I recently caught up with my favourite Hemel-en-Aarde couple Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell in London while en route to Prowein. I always love tasting their new releases because you can rest assured that the quality of both their iconic Chardonnay and their Pinot Noir will be pushed higher every year, vintage permitting, as maestro winemaker Emul Ross spins his magic and learns to harness something extra from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley terroir of the winery.

According to Anthony, the 2017 releases were stylistically considered a very elegant vintage and the subsequent 2018s a very low yielding year primarily due to damaging winds at flowering. But they managed to achieve an impressive fruit intensity at low alcohols using their own propagated Hamilton Russell yeasts developed after 1993. The Chardonnay 2018 was bottled in late December 2018.

Tasting the new 2018 releases with Anthony Hamilton Russell and Steven Spurrier.

The Pinot Noir 2018 release shows a tantalising melange of dark Gevrey Chambertin styled fruit with the structural richness of the 2016 combined with the Chambolle Musigny elegance and purity of the Hamilton Russell 2017. But apparently the 2018 wine continues to divide local opinion. The wine was bottled in late January 2019 unfined and with only the very coarsest of filtration.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.2 Abv.

Chatting to Anthony before tasting the 2018, he warned there might still be a hint of reduction on this young white wine. But to be honest, I found it very fresh, pure and delightfully fragrant, though perhaps aromatically a little more restrained and mineral at the moment, showing more yellow citrus, lemon pastille and wet chalk rather than struck match reduction. There is still a very subtle juvenile lick of salted caramel and vanilla spice from the oak barrel ageing, but on the palate, this is where the real pedigree of this wine is revealed. An ultra tight, pinpoint textural finesse, plenty of core energy and a classically restrained Burgundian dry lemon and limestone finish. Wonderfully intense and focused but simultaneously a suave and supremely balanced Chardonnay from the Walker Bay. Give this wine another 6 months in bottle after release and then indulge at will.

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

Enjoying some fine red and white Burgundy with Olive and Anthony while exploring the nuances of the 2018 vintage in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.4 Abv.

Every new release reveals a vintage of Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir that is again purer, finer and more distinguished than the previous vintage. The 2018 is no exception showing a broody dark fruited nose with lashings of black cherry, black currant and salted black plums. At this young stage, the oak is incredibly well integrated allowing both the purity of black berry fruit and the limestone minerality to really shine through. On the palate, alluring hints of blueberry and mulberry dance a tightly choreographed routine supported by a well drilled accompaniment of mineral tannins finishing with a long, sappy, black bramble berry finish. This must surely rank as one of the finest young Pinot Noirs produced at the winery to date. Drink from 2020 until 2035+

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

A wine that divides opinion? Well, if the 2016 Pinot Noir can be considered more structured and Gevrey in style, the 2017s certainly earned an instant following with their feminine Chambolle styled elegance. For me, the 2018 Pinot is a dead ringer for a 1er Cru Nuits St Georges displaying depth and power, concentration and intensity of fruit with an artisanal workman-like Pinot Noir rusticity showing it’s hand. Classicists will be bowled over, novices might initially be slightly more challenged. Either way, the 2018 represents one of the highest quality “new era” Pinot Noir releases from the winery yet.

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/