The End of the Beginning – Tasting the Maiden Release Tokara Telos 2015 in London with Owner G.T.Ferreira…

The Tokara farm was bought by GT Ferreira in 1995 without a single vine on the property, initially with view to being a “gentleman’s residence.” But with such illustrious neighbours as Thelema and Rustenberg, it was always written in the stars that this prime property would be planted and established as a great wine producing estate in its own right. The Tokara winery has also had the exceptionally good fortune to have the same steady hand of Miles Mossop overseeing the wine production for the past 18 years, a factor that has almost certainly helped hasten the dawning of this new super premium wine Tokara Telos. Miles has since announced that 2018 will be his last vintage at Tokara as he leaves to pursue new winemaking projects. We all wish him the best.

I like to think that I have been a close long term observer of the ongoing progress at the Tokara winery, watching over almost two decades as the wines became finer and more accomplished with every subsequent vintage release. However, the Director’s Reserve white blend was undoubtedly the first wine to make international and local critics sit up and genuinely take serious notice of the potential of this winery. But for many years the reds somehow seemed to lag behind the fame of the whites until more recently, when some very smart red wines started to be bottled under the Director’s Reserve red blend label.

Owner of Tokara, GT Ferreira, the successful South African financier who calls Tokara home

The Tokara Telos red blend maiden release can therefore be regarded as the coming of age moment for winery, its vines, and in many ways, the conclusion of a long held vision. Indeed Telos, for those not schooled in classical Greek, is a noun used to describe “the end term of a goal-directed process; especially, the Aristotelian final cause.” So is this the end? No, not at all… it is merely the end of the beginning!

The 2015 vintage saw the driest growing conditions and subsequently the earliest harvest at Tokara in many years. The main Cabernet Sauvignon portion of the wine was harvested on the 5th of March 2015 at 26 degrees balling, the Merlot on the 3rd of February at 24.6 degrees balling and the Malbec on the 24th of February at 24.4 degrees balling. It was one of the smallest crops on record and on average had harvest dates that were two weeks earlier than previous years. At harvest, grapes were placed in a cold room overnight and sorted twice on a Pellene Mechanical sorter and subsequent individual berry sorting on a vibrating table. After a four day cold maceration in tank, with 30% whole berry and 70% crushed berries, natural fermentation was allowed to proceed with wild yeasts.

As has become all the rage with new premium releases in South Africa, the Tokara Telos 2015 was presented ‘sighted’ within an impressive flight of what can only be called ultra-premium Bordeaux reds all rated 100 points by Robert Parker on release. Hell, if you are going to go down the whole comparative benchmarking route, why not do it properly and present your wine alongside the best there is!? Needless to say, this approach needs more than a little confidence and self-belief to be effective. According to the owners, the Telos launch was held in London before South Africa as a nod of acknowledgment to a market that has been one of Tokara’s most supportive and receptive over the past years. A subsequent launch is planned for Johannesburg and then again at the winery in Cape Town.

Tokara Telos 2015, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

A 17 year old single vineyard block making up a 1,000 bottle blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec and 3% Merlot, aged for 22 months in 63% new oak with medium toast and ‘house toast’. 2.1 g/l RS, 6.2 TA, 3.52pH. This young 2015 red blend displays an impressively perfumed nose with subtle potpourri and dried pink flower fragrance, violets and hints of lavender. Dusty graphite and gravelly minerality is tightly interwoven with attractive black berry, dusty bramble berry nuances and subtle fleshly cut hedgerow spice. The palate is sleek, lithe and particularly suave and fine boned with a very polished, sultry, light touch elegance and textural focus. There is already impressive complexity but also a modicum of classical restraint that seems to overtly shy away from elevated ripeness, oakiness or glossy sweet fruit characters. This is a rare South African expression that boasts a vibrant natural acidity and very ripe, fine grained powdery mineral tannins that cushion a beautifully natural sense of balance, harmony and finesse, all elements coming together seamlessly and effortlessly at such an early stage in the wines evolution. A really polished, faultless, old world leaning expression that is undoubtedly a new and impressive tour de force on the South African fine wine scene. Drink this wine from 2020+  onwards and cellar comfortably for over 20+ years.

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

Other Bordeaux Wines Tasted Alongside the Telos 2015:

Chateau Montrose 2010, Saint Estephe, 14 Abv.

An expectedly dense, dark, broody expression, that is quite reserved and closed. But it slowly offers up dark earthy black berry, bramble berry, and sweet graphite and cedar spice notes. An attractive sweet tobacco depth and spicy cassis opulence meanders to a finish with steely precision, incredible focus, monolithic structure and pristine depth. Very young but a profound wine nonetheless. One for the cellar!

(Wine Safari Score: 98-99/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 2009, Saint Estephe 13.5 Abv.

Sweet leafy cedary red currant fruit notes elucidating a delicious ripe cassis opulence with boxwood hints and a soft, sappy, black fruited core. This wine screams Cabernet Sauvignon and fans it’s aromatic tail with lead pencil, graphite and violet complexity. Still showing a relatively chunky palate with plenty of textural flesh, fine vibrant freshness and an impressively sweet bramble berry and tannery leather length.

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

Chateau Leoville-Poyferre 2009, Saint Julien, 14 Abv.

Dark, deep, spicy, black currant and earthy cassis depth with an incredibly complex nose of graphite, dusty gravel and liquid minerality. A plump, opulent sweet pocket of overt fruit and piquant tannins coat the palate that shows a sweet, glycerol, cinnamon tinged earthy red currant depth. A very smart effort with an incredibly seamless balance. Classy.

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

Chateau Pavie 2009, St Emilion Grand Cru Classe,14.5 Abv.

A more opulent, generous nose with overt, ripe notes of molasses tinged black plum, earthy black berry confit and caramelised plums. The only wine in the flight with obvious sur maturite palate sweetness but almost pleasantly so, showing a more bold and riper side of right Bank Bordeaux. A wine with many merits and a delicious drinkability. Perhaps a little overblown for your classical connoisseur Claret drinker?

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

Chateau Cheval Blanc 2005, St Emilion Grand Cru Classe (A), 14 Abv.

Already 13 years old, the 2005 is starting to show subtle tertiary aromatic hints of sous bois, earthy red currants, bruised red plums, black tea and sweet tannery leather. There is no lack of classism, graphite and gravelly liquid minerality either. A super Bordeaux example with depth, elegance and fine length.

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

Chateau Latour 1996, Pauillac, 12.5 Abv.

A 22 years old expressive, classical Pauillac Claret that reveals sweet roasted herbs, briary, red currant and piquant sweet pipe tobacco spice. Lovely maturity, dusty grainy tannins and fine tertiary complexity. The 1996 is a classic power packed Latour ageing gracefully and showing plenty of pedigree.

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

Steven Spurrier in attendance at 67 Pall Mall

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – The Long Awaited Iconic 2013 Vintage is Finally Released…

A legendary wine from an iconic wine region, the long awaited Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 was released in February 2018. The Napa Valley AVA saw just 50.8cm of rain during the winter months leading up to the 2013 growing season; any meaningful precipitation ceased in December of 2012. The lack of rain and a relatively warm spring led to an early start to the growing season. Summer was remarkably mild. During critical ripening, air temperatures remained stable, creating a long, slow harvest.

The seasonal trifecta of moderate temperatures, low soil moisture and little precipitation led to a vintage that will be remembered for its structured and concentrated wines. Harvest started on September 2nd and on October 4th the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon was arriving at the winery.

The 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is comprised of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. It was blended in early 2014 and aged for 24 months in 85% new American oak and 15% one-passage American oak barrels from Silver Oak’s own Missouri cooperage, The Oak. Early blending assured a balanced core and allowed all components to achieve greater harmony during barrel aging. It was then aged for an additional 20 months in bottle before being released in February of 2018.

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, California, 13.5 Abv.

Wonderfully dense, opulent and masculine. Where the Alexander Valley 2013 is more pretty… beauty personified, the Napa is a gladiator, full of muscle, density, broody black fruits and then a fine dollop of intrigue. All the classical components are there, dusty cassis, liquid graphite, violets, salty Victoria plums and an alluring cedary wood spice note. On the palate the black fruits melt into a dense melange of black berry confit, taut salty liquorice, graphite, cassis, blueberry pastille and muscular, intense, liquid minerality. The road map of this wine is clear. One can see exactly where this wine is going, an understanding that is integral to the impressive rating of this epic Napa release. Will it appeal fully to customers looking to drink it right now? No, maybe less so. But for pure pedigree, power, opulence and intensity, this wine is nearly unsurpassed. Buy it now and cellar it. It will never ever disappoint such is the long term track record of Silver Oak. This wine offers guaranteed drinking pleasure over 30 to 40+ years if cellared optimally.

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

Tasting Pomerol Icon Chateau Lafleur 2017 En-primeur with Cellar Master Omri Ram in London …

Excellent tasting today with Omri Ram from Chateau Lafleur. A lot of intrigue surrounds the 2017 vintage in general and Omri feels they have a slightly different storyline to their neighbours. For Chateau Lafleur, 2017 was a good continuation of 2016 in a dry mode and rising temperatures. A hot beginning and an early start to the season normally leads to a great finish. But vine growth starting early exposes the vines to a frost risk, which has not struck in a serious way in Bordeaux since 1991. In that year, Lafleur made only 8 barrels compared to a long term average of 40 to 50 barrels and the trauma is sorely remembered.

In 2014 they bought anti-frost bucket candles, deploying 1500 of them in the vineyards in 2017 the day before the frost struck. With forecasts of frost, the candles were lit which acted to stabilised the temperatures to around 0.82 degrees C while neighbours vineyards dropped to -3 or -4 degrees C, resulting in severe losses to young green shoots.

Vintage comparisons… according to Omri Ram…

2015 = like a super 2009

2016 = like a super 2010

2017 = also more like a 2016-styled wine

Chateau Lafleur Cellar Master Omri Ram

Chateau Grand Village Rouge 2017, Bordeaux Superieur

97% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc in the 2017 blend with a very pure clay-limestone expression. Big, plump, opulent nose brimming with black fruits and limestone linearity. The palate is beautifully taut, crisp and pure, showing beautiful freshness, clarity of fruit and wonderful harmonious length. A real triumph for the vintage.

(Wine Safari Score: 89-92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Acte 9 2017

100% Merlot picked on the 21st of September and 2017 is the first and possibly last vintage to be made from pure Merlot. Normally the blend includes up to 50% Cabernet Franc. Almost like a mini-Lafleur in essence, only 1,200 bottles were produced. Full and expressive on the nose, there are wonderful black plum notes, buttered brown toast, blackberry confit with just a dusting of mocha and cocoa powder. Super elegant palate, very pinpoint and precise, excellent purity, harmony and subtlety with a soft, feminine, sultry length.

(Wine Safari Score: 90-92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Les Pensees de Chateau Lafleur 2017

Smallest parcel in Lafleur at 0.69 hectares. Not made as a second wine to Lafleur, more as a defined expression from the same clay dominated parcel. Using 52% Merlot and 48% Cabernet Franc, the aromatics are more vibrant, crunchy and fresh revealing hints of cassis reduction, graphite and a saline, kirsch note. The palate boasts sweet violet tinged black berry, cherry confit with fine core depth and a plush, long length. An accessible, classy expression.

(Wine Safari Score: 91-93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau Lafleur 2017

With vineyards unharmed by the frost, the blend is 47% Merlot and 53% Cabernet Franc. Merlot was picked before the rains on the 8-12th September as the fruit was beautifully ripe. The aromatics are wonderfully precise, pure and focused, with black bramble berry fruits, black cherry and blackberry jam on buttered brown toast. The palate is broad and expansive, filling the mouth, coating it with concentrated black plum, creamy saline cassis, milk chocolate nuances and chalky, gravelly fine tannins. Wonderful front palate weight, a dense core of fruit and a really profound textural harmony and elegance. Still embryonic, this wine has the genetics and the pedigree to be another fantastic Lafleur vintage.

(Wine Safari Score: 96-98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Note: The lovely red wines of Lafleur were blended already at the end of January 2018, allowing almost the full passage of maturation to take place as a “finished wine” in oak. Usually a more common practice of the past Omri says, but nowadays, most chateaux show “cleverly constructed wines” with a notional blend drawn from the best barrels to show trade buyers at En-primeur. So yet another subtle level of authenticity in the portfolio of the Guinaudeau family reds.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay, A Benchmark Wine In the South African Wine Industry – The 2017 Vintage Reviewed…

I recently caught up with Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell to taste their new releases of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. So much has been written about 2017 as the third consecutive “drought savaged” vintage in South Africa. But in reality, Walker Bay and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley got off relatively unscathed, producing wines with great concentration, vigour and freshness. No doubt this will Be yet another fast selling vintage for this dynamic estate.

90% of the 2017 Chardonnay was barrel fermented and aged in 228 litre barriques for 9 months, 31% first fill, 33% second fill, 33% third fill and 3% fourth fill… 47% blonde, 40% medium, 10% medium long toast, with 4% aged in foudre, 5% stainless steel, and 1% in ceramic eggs. 1.4 g/l RS.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.16 Abv.

This wine was tasted from barrel in March 2017 and showed great potential with bright acidity accentuating the wine’s natural limestone minerality. After 9 months ageing in French oak barrels, the wine is still very primary on the nose, revealing notes of sweet lemon cordial, green honeydew melon, green pear, white blossom and waxy green apple skins. There is lovely nervy tension to the palate which is much tauter and leaner than the nose suggests. Framed by vibrant, steely acids, the white citrus and lemon butter flavours are concertina’d into a complex press of green apple pastilles, pithy green gauge fruits and a stony liquid minerality. Not revealing all its grandeur just yet, but undoubtedly serves as a grand road map to the full pleasures that await the drinker in 6 to 12 months time. A real triumph for the vintage and another benchmark Chardonnay from this winery. Drink now to 2030+

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

Masters of Their Terroir – Tasting the Domaine Jean-Claude Ramonet Pernand-Vergelesses Les Belles Filles 2014…

Jean-Claude and Noël Ramonet are at the head of Domaine Ramonet, the iconic Burgundy producer that delivers exceptional quality wines year in, year out, with international demand insatiable. From lowly Aligote all the way up to Montrachet Grand Cru, the wines always show intense terroir minerality, a measure of restraint and a mouth watering, salty fresh acidity.

Produced in the commune of Pernand-Vergelesses in Cote de Beaune, where red and white wine styles are both permitted, the appellation production consists of a little more than half red wine, and slightly less than half white wine. In 2008, there were 135.32 hectares of vineyard surface in production in total for Pernand-Vergelesses wine at Village and Premier Cru level, corresponding to around 750,000 bottles, including almost 400,000 bottles of red wine and a little over 350,000 bottles of white wine.

In keeping with the exceptionally high quality standards of Domaine Ramonet, they too produce one of the most exceptional Pernand-Vergelesses whites from one of the most famous village level “lieu-dits” single vineyard sites, Les Belles Filles. In the great 2014 vintage, they made an absolute cracker of a wine that was able to rival the best Premier Crus sites for quality. Always sought after, these wines can and often do represent exceptional value for money when seen on restaurant or wine bar lists.

Domaine Jean-Claude Ramonet Pernand-Vergelesses Les Belles Filles 2014, Burgundy, 13 Abv.

The 2014 Les Belles Filles starts off tight, taut and as linear as physically possible. Liquid rocks, limestone and dusty wet slate notes dominate the aromatics. A few minutes in the glass allows this wine to open its shoulders slightly, revealing a more complex array of white citrus zest, white blossom, crunchy green pears and a hint of hazelnut savoury spice. Although so youthful and tightly wound, you can already feel the wonderful textural weight that coats the palate and unfurls slowly in alternate layers of minerality and tart, saline pithy citrus fruits. Superbly focused and wonderfully precise for this ‘lesser’ Burgundy appellation wine, the finish packs plenty of punch with more liquid minerality, smokey struck match flinty citrus spice and a cool, clean waxy lemon cordial length. A wine that is initially very reticent, blossoms into a lean, complex, well honed, superbly made white Burgundy with fine nuanced complexity and good ageing potential. Drink from 2020 to 2030+.

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

Ridge Monte Bello: One of The World’s Most Legendary Red Wines – Tasting the New Release 2014…

In 1886, high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the first Monte Bello vineyards were planted, and winery construction begun. A first vintage from the young vines followed in 1892. During Prohibition (1920-1933), the vineyard was not fully maintained; some vines survived into the late 30’s, but by the 1940s they were effectively abandoned. Eight acres of Cabernet Sauvignon were replanted in 1949. These were the source of the first Ridge Monte Bello (1962) and subsequent vintages until 1974 when younger blocks replanted in the 1960’s were considered for inclusion. Since then, the historic vineyards on the ridge have gradually been replanted.

Vintage 2014

Lack of winter rain affected both vines and cover crops, limiting available nutrients. Still, the vines carried a decent-size crop, which ripened in September. Fermentations progressed slowly; extraction was decided by careful tasting. Malolactic fermentations started in tank and finished by February. Merlot, which suffered in 2013, was strong in 2014. Petit Verdot remained challenged by drought.

Winemaking : Grapes were harvested between the 2nd and 24th of September. Fermentation on the native yeasts proceeded with grapes destemmed and 100% whole berries. Automated berry sorting was followed by hand sorting. Pressed at ten days with natural malolactic fermentation taking place. In 2014, nineteen of twenty-six Monte Bello parcels were selected for blending, after which the wine was aged in oak barrels: 100% new air-dried oak, 97% American oak, 2% French oak; 1% Hungarian oak, for 17 months.

Ridge Monte Bello 2014, Santa Cruz Mountains, California, 13.5 Abv.

Always exciting to taste a new vintage of Monte Bello. It is truly one of the world’s great icon wines that never disappoints. What is so wonderful about this wine is the ultra intelligent path it treads between new world opulence and old world classical restraint. In 2014, the Monte Bello is a delicious blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. There is a wonderful Cabernet laden nose of blueberry crumble, cassis, black plum, buttered brown toast and a piquant note of cedar wood spice, walnut skins, graphite and vanilla pod spice. The palate conveys such wonderful concentration and depth yet remains so elegantly poised, harmonious and finely balanced. A multi layered wine that is supremely seamless, revealing more saline black current, blue berries, black cherry , vanilla bean, salty liquorice hints and a very long, polished finish. Certainly a very well honed, muscular athlete that is a wonder to behold. The tannins will hold this beautiful wine in pole position for many years to come but should be good to start drinking in the next 2 to 3 years and over the next 30+ years.

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

Another Block Buster On the Way – Tasting the 2017 Meerlust Chardonnay with Owner Hannes Myburgh…

This 1756 wine estate has long been the pride and joy of South Africans since the 1970s and the corresponding love for this estate and its wines is practically ingrained in the South African psyche.

I’ve known both owner Hannes Myburgh and winemaker Chris Williams for a very long time so catching up with either of them in London is always a privilege. After a brief visit to Ireland, Hannes was straight back into the London trade to present a fantastic Rubicon Vertical in London, for which the write up is to follow soon.

But the Meerlust Chardonnay is a wine which has a following almost as passionate and loyal as that of the Rubicon. So today, given the opportunity, I dived straight in to review this new vintage classic.

Meerlust Chardonnay 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

A very pale, faded apple core yellow, this is another wonderfully expressive Chardonnay from Chris Williams championing the “less is more” mantra with this restrained style. The nose is complex yet classically restrained revealing layers of smokey green Granny Smith apples, green pears, crunchy honeydew melon and a tantalising suggestion of struck match and dusty minerality. Lovely clarity, purity and focus throughout. Despite the lower 13 Abv, this wine is jam packed with intense flavours of sweet ripe lemons, lime cordial, honey suckle, toffee apple and green gauge fruits, embroidered and embellished with intense piercing fresh acids. Very polished and grown up, you can see instantly why this impressive wine remains a perennial consumer favourite. Another real beauty to drink from release and for 10+ years.

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