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)

What Future For South African Second Wines? Tasting Top Super Premium Vilafonte’s Seriously Old Dirt Cuvee…

South Africa is currently enjoying a very buoyant year for red wine releases at a time when the onslaught of big white wine reviews seems almost relentless. Much of this new found red success is undoubtedly down to the incredible “once in a generation” 2015 vintage that has produced some of the most lauded and iconic red wines in the modern era of the South African wine industry.

One of the questions that this new found success raises for me as prices push to new super premium levels is the potential role second wines currently play or could play in the future development of the South African fine wine market. They are not a new phenomenon. After all, anyone who loves top South African Bordeaux blends will remember the declassified Meerlust Rubicon 2011 blended away into the delicious Meerlust Red 2011, or the MR de Compostella 2010 that was “declassified” to create the new Red Jasper 2010, now an established brand on the market. Or even the De Toren Z, which started off life as an “off-cut” blend of Fusion V but which has now also established itself as a popular fine wine in its own right regularly scoring as high if not higher than the Fusion V from international wine critics.

On this blog, I have already been running a series of reviews on second wines from top Bordeaux Chateaux as I look to identify the over performers, the dark horses and the unexpectedly great second wines worthy of consumer attention. These wines after all serve an important role in the market, giving fine wine consumers a glimpse of the greatness they might encounter with the more expensive, more premium first wines. With a lower price tag comes an abundance of powerful premium branding, desirability but also affordability and of course a greater degree of earlier drinking accessibility.

In this vein, I cracked a bottle of premium brand Vilafonte’s Seriously Old Dirt 2014, a wine produced from unique ancient soils with quality assured for current enjoyment in a true second wine model. Made with a 6-7 day cold soak, partial natural fermentation with an extended fermentation period, the wine was aged in French oak barrels for 22 months. Vine age varies between 4 and 20 years old and the 2014 vintage surpasses both the 2012 and 2013 vintages that were released almost exclusively to the Vilafonte Wine Club and is a blend of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2014, WO Paarl, 13.5 Abv.

Lovely rich, opulent nuanced nose of cedar, vanilla pod, polished teak, creamy choc spice, mocha, black berry, black plum and crushed rose petals. The palate is medium-bodied with a truly plush, succulent mouthfeel, infused with brown sugar, cassis and leafy plum. Tannins are very fine grained and classical, sweet but retaining ample mineral, stony graphite grip. A seductive, enticing wine that definitely shows its aspiring pedigree and noble parentage. Drink now to 2028+

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

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

Argentinian Malbec Riding Global Demand – Tasting the Zuccardi Aluvional Series That’s Taking Malbec to New Quality Heights…

Zuccardi Wineries Aluvional Series is a selection of wines made from the best soils of alluvial origin in the Uco Valley, Mendoza. In developing the Zuccardi Aluvional Series, the winemaker wanted to highlight the uniqueness and authenticity of each terroir, in this case the Tupungato Alto terroir, using the Malbec grape.

The erosive force of the floods generated by melting glaciers and down water, ice and rock with brutal force, can be seen in the soils with rocks of great magnitude, rounded edges and heterogeneity. It is through these environmental hallmarks that these differences can become key pointers in dictating the style and origin of this type of true terroir driven Malbec.

Zuccardi Aluvional Gualta Tupungato Alto Malbec 2013, Uco Valley, Mendoza, 14.5 Abv.

Deep dense dark opaque colour, as black as a heavily overcast night in the Patagonian dessert. The nose is intricate and complex, teasing you with subtle notes of cedar wood spice, leafy plum skins, sappy black berries and brûléed coffee bean nuances. The palate is as bold and intense as the colour and nose suggest it will be, however, the tart, vibrantly fresh black berry acidity lift raises this wine up as if to make it walk on tip toes. Beautiful freshness, deliciously complex concentration, plenty of sappy, stalky spice and a long, coco powder dusted black berry finish. A very accomplished wine that will no doubt make a lot of friends among Malbec lovers! Drink now to 2028.

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

Attending the London Launch of Bodegas Noemia’s New Releases with Owner ~ Winemaker Hans Vinding-Diers…

I have been buying the impressively individual Patagonian Malbecs from Bodegas Noemia for several years. But unlike the swathes of other Argentinian Malbecs on the market, however well made and enjoyable to drink they may be, many lack that extra individuality, tension, freshness, finesse and complexity. These are all the characteristics that for me, typify the wines made by Hans Vinding-Diers.


Listening to Hans speak is such a privilege as he conveys so animatedly, his passion and determination to make the very best wines possible, very much in the same vein that other winemaking greats do such as Dirk Niepoort in Portugal or indeed his cousin, Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus in Spain.


The new releases for Bodegas Noemia included the new, never before tasted, 2016 A Lisa in its new style Burgundy bottle, the J.Alberto Malbec 2015, and lastly the hotly anticipated Noemia 2015 old vine Malbec.


Bodegas Noemia A Lisa Malbec 2016, Patagonia, 13 Abv.

The new bottle shape seems to be in recognition that this wine is pulling in a different direction to most Malbecs. Pie Franco vines from selection massale, grown on sandy soils from multiple selected vineyards, yearns to be more Burgundy than Bordeaux. Still in a very youthful posture, the nose is rich and spicy with layers of cedar and sappy spice, stem ginger, clove and boxwood. In its Burgundian guise, the wine is impressively elegant and fragrant, showing violets, incense and waxy red berry fruit lift. The palate possess a wonderful, delineated texture, being formed of a 75% stainless steel portion and a 25% portion aged in 2nd, 3rd and 4th fill French oak barrels for 9 months. This new release is superbly suave, elegantly fleshy, and true to its feminine form. A great buy for the price point. 

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


J.Alberto Malbec 2015, Patagonia, 13.5 Abv.

This stalwart of the range is a 95% Malbec and 5% Merlot blend from a 4 hectare vineyard that has been farmed organically and biodynamically since 2006. 30% was aged in cement tank and 70% in second fill French oak. Vines were planted in 1955 on gravel and clay, with alluvial riverbed soils. At 1.8 meters depth, the vines hit the slightly saline water table, anecdotally adding a slight salty twang to the musts. The 2015 is voluptuously rich, dark and broody with notes of incense, spice, bramble berry, cassis and sweet Victoria plum. There is such a dense texture, an opulent fleshy mocha tinged mulberry depth and a beautifully complex breadth. This is a seriously impressive wine with focus, balance and length. 

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


Bodegas Noemia 2015, Patagonia, 14.5 Abv.

I recently reviewed the amazing 2012 from Hans and the wine still lingers in the back of my mind. Again, this is another 100% Malbec from the designated 1.5 hectare old vine Malbec vineyard planted in 1932. Cropped at only 30 hectolitres per hectare, this premium wine displays a rich, intense broody nose of black plum, cassis, and strawberry confit, with a really dense core and intensity. The nose draws you in and holds you transfixed. 33% new French oak in 600 litre barrels is used making the palate seamless, harmonious and creamy but also with such impressive balance and finesse. The wine has a start but no defined finish, with complex, opulent flavours that just linger on, and on, and on! Such subtlety, this wine really shows a happy vineyard made by a happy winemaker. A real beauty. (Bottled December 2016)

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

Argentina Coming of Age ~ Tasting Bodegas Noemia 2012 from Patagonia… 

There is obviously a rich vein of South African wine content reviewed regularly on this blog. But even when I try and divert my stare, some kind of South African connection seems to find a way of sneaking into my non-SA wine reviews. Bodegas Noemia’s Hans Vinding-Diers is a South African born Dane who’s father Peter produced some epic wines at Rustenberg in the 1970s. Indeed, Hans was born on the Rustenberg estate in Stellenbosch. To complete the triangle, Hans is the cousin of renowned Danish winemaker Peter Sisseck.


Having made wine all over the world, Bordeaux trained Hans now plies his trade in the Rio Negro Valley 998km south of Buenos Aires in the middle of a desert. In this barren region, viticulture is only made possible by channel irrigation excavated in the 1820s by British colonists. The Andes snow-melt fed rivers of Neuquen and Limay supply the water for a growing season that varies in temperature between 28 and 9 degrees C.

After initially consulting for a local Patagonian winery, a two year search yielded the 1.5 hectare Mainque Vineyard of ancient and abandoned mostly Malbec vines planted in the 1930s and 1950s. In partnership with Countess Noemi Marone Cinzano, Bodegas Noemia produces three wines from fruit certified biodynamic since 2008. The range consists of Bodegas Noemia A Lisa, the J.Alberto and the flagship Noemia.


Bodegas Noemia Malbec 2012, Patagonia

Combining concentration and elegance, this wine is produced from 100% Malbec from 74 year old vines, which are aged for 18 months in new French oak. The 2012 has a deep purple black colour still and a nose of opulent floral savoury sappy black fruits, botanical herbs, burnt sugar, sweet plums, and strawberry confit. A real concentration of sweet berry fruits balanced by a bold, pronounced crisp acidity. There is beautiful complexity of sweet cherry, savoury cured meats, black berries, blood oranges and cognac spice. A powerful wine with precise refined tannins, fine freshness and an underlying mineral backbone on a very long finish. So characterful, slightly extrovert, but classically opulent. A masterclass in Malbec. 

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

Fabien Jouves’ Mas del Périé Cahors Amphore Malbec 2015 ~ Benchmark Biodynamic Cahors Red…

Mas del Périé is run by Fabien Jouves and is located on the Haut Plateau south west of Cahors in Trespoux Rassiels. The soils in the vineyards where the grapes for the Amphore Cuvee is made is a complex mix of clay and Limestone with iron. 


The vines are managed along organic and biodynamique principles and the fruit is handpicked and selected at the winery prior to fermentation in inert old oak Vats before transferring to amphorae for ageing and maceration for 6 to 9 months. The resulting wines are neither filtered nor fined. Fabien’s 5 years in Bordeaux also taught him a thing or two about how to manage the rustic Cahors tannins.


Fabien breaks most preconceptions about  French Cahors wines, creating such rich, mineral, textured expressions that are both modern, accessible and ageworthy at the same time. Not everything exciting happening with Malbec is taking place in Argentina…. Cahors offers some exceptional expressions. 


Tasting Note: Dense, overt style with lifted black berry fragrance, leafy ripe pithy plum skins and plenty of sappy black plum and blue berry crumble notes. Opulent, with a fleshy seamless texture, powdery tannins and a fresh, energetic intensity and pronounced black peppercorn complexity. Beautiful savoury nuances from the amphorae make this wine taste almost Northern Rhone in style. Such generosity, and drinkability, this Cuvee must be the best value for money style in Fabian’s whole range. (Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)