Van Biljon Wines – The Undiscovered Fine Wine Gem in the Heart of the Polkadraai Hills of Stellenbosch…

This beautiful small boutique farm is situated in the famed Polkadraai Hills region of Stellenbosch, sitting alongside famous neighbours like Reyneke Wines, Raats Family Wines and De Toren. While most of these excellent wines rose to fame for originating in Stellenbosch, more recently, as collectors and connoisseurs have started to scratch a little deeper into the finer details of the individual wards and terroirs of the region, the Polkadraai has risen to new heights of fame globally. Known for its deep fertile soils and well drained decomposed granitic soils and moderating sea breezes off the False Bay lying to the South, the terroir has formed a perfect home to the classic Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

As if the wonderful terroir wasn’t enough, the wines are made by one of the great winemakers of the Cape, Chris Keet, creator of the legendary Cordoba Crescendo 1995 Cape Bordeaux Red that lights up the Cape fine wine auction houses with big R8000+ prices (£400) when bottles occasionally come on the market for sale. Chris is a master with Bordeaux varieties and meticulously crafts an impressive Cape Bordeaux Blend using traditional winemaking techniques combined with modern technology to produce wines with intensity, concentration, balance and structure.

Tasting the Van Biljon 2017 and 2018 and the Keet First Verse 2018 Bordeaux blend with Chris Keet at the winery in March 2022.

I first became acquainted with the Van Biljon CINQ after tasting the 2013 vintage which I rated 93/100 back in October 2016. Subsequent vintages like the 2014 seemed to just get better and better, rating 94+/100 when tasted in October 2018. I sadly missed the epic 2015 vintage which sold out very quickly to an airline group I understand but was thrilled to taste the fabulous 2017 new release again when Julia Van Biljon was over in London recently. This is definitely a wine that flies under the fine wine radar but undoubtedly deserves to be far better know as it stands among the great Bordeaux Blends produced in the Western Cape winelands.

Van Biljon Wines CINQ 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.4% Abv.

2.3 g/l RS | 5.8 g/l TA | 3.5 pH

The 2017 CINQ is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot, 6% Malbec and 6% Petit Verdot and spent 18 months maturing in selected French oak barrels. This is a seductive and enticing Cape Bordeaux blend that utilises all five red Bordeaux varieties to great effect. On the nose there is initially a pronounced sweet cedar and sappy red fruited spiciness from the Cabernet Franc before notes of dried herbs, chai tea, black currant and dusty graphite come to the fore. The well-honed palate shows considerable elegance and harmony with a fine grained textural balance revealing layers of spicy red and black berry fruits, notes of cherry tobacco and a tart, tangy acidity on a long, weightlessly concentrated finish. Stony drying tannins lend a further air of seriousness, structure and age ability on the long sleek finish. An attractive offering that must rank among the finest releases from Chris Keet and the Van Biljon winery to date. Drink this from release or over the next 10 to 15+ years.

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

For stock availability, please contact Woodwinters UK for trade allocations.

Tasting Bodegas Bianchi’s Lionel Messi L10 Wines…

Tombs have been written about celebrity wines and the variable quality of what’s inside the bottle. So I was delightfully pleased to taste – and enjoy – the Lionel Messi L10 Argentinian wines from Bodegas Bianchi. With a large percentage of the profits going to Messi’s charitable causes, it makes sense that he not only wanted the wines to be top quality but also perceived as good value for money. The better the reputation, the more he’ll sell and the more money he will raise for good causes.

Bodegas Bianchi, one of the largest and oldest family owned wineries in Argentina, have partnered with Lionel Messi to produce a sparkling wine, a fabulous Torrontes white and two impressive Malbec reds. The L10 Malbec ‘normale’ is a bright, pure fruited expression that is fermented in stainless steel, thus preserving the lifted aromatics and crunchy red and black fruits, making it a perfectly versatile mid-week red. But the Salta Torrontes and Malbec Premium were the wines that really stood out at a recent tasting with the winemaker.

Bodegas Bianchi L10 Torrontes 2021, Salta, Argentina, 13% Abv.

At close to 1,900 metres altitude, the Torrentes vineyards of Salta, north of Mendoza are considered some of the best for this varietal in the whole of Argentina, if not the world. With vines trained in a classic Spanish pergola system, the large raised canopies protect the delicate white grape skins from the high UV luminosity that you get at these high altitudes. The cooler vineyard micro-climates also make it possible to yield fabulously fresh, cool, crisp expressions of Torrontes with aromatics bathed in notes of crushed rose petals and jasmine perfume, white peach, pink musk, red apples and hints of green melon. This 2021 is tangy and fresh, boasting an impressively rich mid-palate concentration together with a dense, fleshy peach stone fruit depth topped off with intricate flavours of white citrus, yellow grapefruit, peach pastille and apple rock candy notes. Never oily or heavy, this is top level Torrontes that would be a heavenly food match with delicately aromatic Indian and Asian flavoured seafood and white meat dishes. Who knew high altitude Torrontes could be this exciting!? Wow!

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

L10 Premium Malbec 2020 is a three terroir blend with average yields of 9 tons per hectare. After 4 to 5 days cold maceration, the wines are fermented and aged in 15% new French oak barrels and 85% in stainless steel.

Bodegas Bianchi L10 Malbec Premium 2020, Mendoza, 13% Abv.

A pleasingly deep, rich, opulent expression of premium Malbec that reveals fabulously ripe, intense complex aromatics of black plum liquor, crushed mulberries, raisined black currant, sappy cedar wood spice and hints of graphite. The palate follows in a similar bold vein showing intense black berry fruits, creamy fine grained tannins, sweet black cherry spice, finishing with a stony, pithy, piquant mineral finish. Lovely depth, breadth and intensity. Drink now and over the next 5 to 8+ years.

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

The Vilafonte Winery Prepares to Release Another Effusively Modern 2019 Series M Vintage…

2019 represents the first post-drought Series M vintage to be released by the team at the Vilafonte winery in Paarl and the vintage clearly illustrates what is possible when nature decides to co-operate to yield some exceptional raw materials. According to winemaker Chris de Vries, the vintage was really a tale of two seasons. While rains initially remained elusive, there was an upswing in rainfall towards the end of the 2018 winter and continuing into spring and early summer.

Weather fluctuations in the spring did however result in uneven bud-break and berry set. Conditions improved somewhat at the onset of summer with a warmer November being very conducive to healthy vineyard growth. Some uneven ripening was remedied with in-bunch sorting after veraison and by the time harvest arrived at the beginning of February, the fruit quality was looking exceptional.

The Series M 2019 is a blend of 48% Malbec, 34% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc which was aged for 22 months in 22 percent new French oak barriques with the balance in a mixture of older French oak barrels. 51 barrels were produced.

Vilafonte Series M 2019, WO Paarl, 14% Abv.

This excellent vintage has yielded a truly impressive wine for the Vilafonte team displaying a brilliant and intense ruby and red plum hue. The aromatics are expansive and hedonistic sending notes of violets and crushed red cherries, raspberries and pressed rose petals soaring out the glass with confidence and vigour. Fabulously complex and intricate, attractive notes of wild berries and red currant follow to the dense, full bodied palate that boasts a broad seductive array of black liquorice and black plum, cocoa powder and brown toast crust nuances. The Malbec and Merlot are like a marriage made in heaven, offering svelte supple tannins and a texture that wraps its arms around you in the most comforting embrace. With time in the glass, the full fleshy palate shows further layers of baked plums, blue berries and red cherries all underpinned by fresh vital acids. This is most definitely one of the most powerful, potent and heady wines produced in the Series M range to date displaying an impressively ample fine wine self-confident personality. Drink this wine in its youth or cellar for 20+ years.

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

Vilafonte Forges Ahead with Another Jaw-Dropping 2018 Series M Fine Wine Release…

I was in the Cape in 2018 around harvest time and again at the Vilafonte winery in February 2020 only days after the Series M 2018 had been bottled. Proprietor Mike Ratcliffe and US partners Phil Freese and Zelma Long, visiting for the 2020 harvest, struggled to contain their excitement over the final 2018 results. After reviewing the superb Series C 2018 in September 2020, I knew all eyes would be on the Series M that Mike described as possibly the best the winery had ever produced. With maturing vineyards, ever greater fine tuning of their precision viticulture techniques as well as winemaker Chris de Vries just getting to know his terroir better and better, further improvements in quality seem an almost certainty.

The 2018 vintage was certainly marked by one of the worst droughts on record and presented some significant challenges for all vine growers and winemakers in the Western Cape. With water resources at an all time low and strict rationing in effect, reduced water availability for irrigation led to reduced vine vigour and canopy sizes. Some unseasonable rains and low temperatures in October and November disrupted fruit set and further reduced the number and size of berries on grape clusters.

In the end, harvest timings were close to normal, beginning on February 2nd and continuing uninterrupted until February 27th. Overall, the vintage saw yields contract by -24% following a very generous crop in 2017 and the fruit was marked by berries being on average -25% smaller in size than normal leading to wines with an intense inky colour, piercing concentration and striking fruit richness.

Vilafonte Series M 2018, WO Paarl, 14.5% Abv.

The 2018 Series M is a blend of 45% Merlot, 41% Malbec, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc that was aged for 22 months in 24% new French oak barriques with the remainder aged in used French oak barrels. This wine exhibits an alluringly deep dark garnet-purple colour and wilfully offers forth an exhilarating aromatic array of seductive notions of blueberries, boysenberries, black plum and sweet cassis. The purity and detail is very impressive with delicate violet and vanilla pod nuances combining with notes of star anise, warm buttered brown toast smothered with black cherry preserve, freshly baked pastries, hints of mocha and espresso and some subtle background cedar spice complexing oak notes. The palate shows a wonderfully expansive and multi-dimensional flavour explosion together with a carefully measured richness, pinpoint purity and truly show stopping concentration all delivered with subtlety and jaw-dropping finesse. There is boldness and creamy textured fine-grained supporting tannins but first and foremost, there is freshness, supreme balance and sublime harmony. This very well may be one of the finest young Vilafonte reds I have ever tasted on release. Drink now or cellar for 15+ years.

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

Seriously Old Dirt 2019 – Vilafonte Release the Newest Edition of Their Sought-After Second Wine…

The success and popularity of the Seriously Old Dirt label by Vilafonte has undoubtedly been one of the most significant success stories within the South African wine industry over the past 5 years. Just when you thought the global wine market, both locally and internationally, was over traded and over supplied, along comes an incredibly exciting brand that has been crafted with expertise and vision and constructed around the basic principles of accessible structure, youthful intensity and an underlying feel and character of uncompromising quality from premium Stellenbosch and Paarl terroirs.

While the Seriously Old Dirt second wine from premium boutique cellar Vilafonte based in Paarl, can no longer lay claim to only use the off-cuts from its bigger brothers Series M and Series C, the growth in the demand for this label can nevertheless be directly linked to the stylistic precision and expertise honed and perfected within the Vilafonte winery. With unused blending components from the Vilafonte vineyards forming the basic building blocks now joined by additional specially selected premium parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon fruit, the Seriously Old Dirt production has been allowed to grow in order to meet an insatiable demand.

Following on from three drought affected vintages in 2016, 2017 and 2018, the preceding winter to the harvest 2019 had a late start with good rainfall with fluctuating weather conditions resulting in an uneven budbreak. Weather conditions improved at the onset of summer and by November, warmer weather was conducive to healthy vineyard growth.

Malbec grapes being off-loaded at Vilafonte from the 2020 harvest.

As a testament to vineyard resilience, wines from the 2019 vintage from across the Cape winelands show impressive freshness, concentration and elegance but also an underlying minerality and structural classicism. The 2019 Seriously Old Dirt blend was matured for 18 months in older French oak barriques and consists of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec, 5% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. The wine is scheduled for a mid-February release date in the home market.

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2019, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.

This wine casts an attractive plummy purple-black colour and offers up vibrant notes of candied Parma violets, crème de cassis, sun raisined black cherries and hints of blueberry confit with an overlay of graphite and cedar spice. There is a lovely youthful maritime salinity and black liquorice nuance that melts into notes of iodine and Chinese five spice. The palate is medium bodied, fresh and supple but slowly unfurls to reveal a solid frame of creamy mineral tannins, ample Cabernet Sauvignon extract and a long, pleasingly drying grippy structure that is bolstered by salty cassis, taut black orchard fruits, stewed black cherries and hints of complexing bay leaf herbal spice. The 2019 vintage yielded wines with freshness, structural classicism, mineral tension and harmony and this superb new release from Vilafonte speaks honestly of the vintage and continues to fly the flag for premium second wines that offer exceptional quality, value for money and age-ability. Drink this on release with some lovely slow roasted lamb or age for 2 to 3+ years to allow it to open its shoulders further. A great wine for the savvy fine wine drinker.

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

Yet Another Iconic Series M Release from Vilafonte and the High Flying Team in Search of Perfection…

It’s always a privilege to visit premium wineries and in mid-February I fortuitously managed a pre-lockdown trip to South Africa and the Cape winelands. One of the highlights and surprises was certainly dropping in to taste the new Vilafonte Series C and M releases at their cellar in Stellenbosch only to be met and hosted by Mike Ratcliffe’s co-owners, Phil Freese and Zelma Long, both of who were out visiting from California for the new harvest as well as the prestigious Cape Wine Auction charity event.

After a quick sweep around the cellar catching up on the latest 2020 vintage news with Phil and Zelma as well as winemaker Chris de Vries, we hit the 2019 barrels to get a sneak peak of what treats lie just around the corner for Vilafonte lovers.

With Phil Freese, Zelma Long and winemaker Chris de Vries.
The 2019 Series C and M maturing in barrel.

With the 2018s having just been bottled weeks earlier in January, we all gave them a respectful pass before sitting down for a thrilling masterclass with both Phil and Zelma tasting not only the 2017 Series C but also the new Series M, due for general release in South Africa in May 2020.

Always a privilege tasting with Phil & Zelma. Their insight is inspiring.

After the incredibly dry and hot 2016, the 2017 harvest presented an abundant crop of sterling quality. Yields rose by +57% despite the fourth year in a sequence of below-average rainfall for the Western Cape Province. This follows Vilafonte’s smallest per-hectare crop in 2016 and moves back closer to long-term average yields. Welcome post-harvest rains in the preceding year before leaf fall, coupled with well-timed nutrient applications, allowed the vines to build up reserves before going into winter dormancy.

Winter rains in 2016 approached normal levels, but fell below average in late winter to spring. Bud-break in the spring was very even, with rapid shoot growth which ceased well before bloom, allowing excellent fruit-set. Weather leading up to the 2017 harvest was warm and fair – perfect ripening conditions. Harvest commenced on the 6th of February with a few short pauses, and concluded on the 1st of March 2017.

The last pickings of the 2020 Malbec fruit being off loaded with the first Merlot grape arrivals.

Vilafonte Series M 2017, WO Paarl, 14 Abv.

Deliciously opulent and hedonistic, this 2017 Series M blend of 42% Merlot, 39% Malbec and 19% Cabernet Sauvignon is loaded with complex dark fruit notes of blue berries, black berry crumble, creme de cassis and a dusting of vanilla pod spice. Immaculately integrated oak is expertly applied but never overwhelms the lifted perfume notes of violets and fresh iris flowers. The palate shows all the vintage character elegance of 2017 displaying amazing weightless concentration, sleek sweet tannins and a lithe, opulent silky soft sweet fruited structure. This really is precision winemaking anchored around supreme balance and sublime harmony. Fabulously persistent and intense on the finish, this wine will seduce drinkers from release with its accessibility, generosity and finesse but is undoubtedly going to be another superb age worthy premium red for the cellar. Drink from release and for 20+ years.

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

A Vintage of Elegant Intensity and Quality Elevates Vilafonte Series C 2017 To Must Have Vintage Status…

While I received a sample of the 2017 Series C to taste a number of weeks ago, I had already heard rumours via the grape vine that the Vilafonte Series C 2016 had won the best red blend at the Six Nations Trophy competition. But of course I knew the incredible quality Vilafonte had achieved with their Series C 2016, having reviewed it way back in October 2018, would be an incredibly hard act to follow. Such was the quality focus at this precision viticulture winery that even the second wine, Seriously Old Dirt 2016 has become something of a collectable commodity in Europe of late.

 

But after the incredibly dry and hot 2016, the 2017 harvest presented an abundant crop of sterling quality. Yields rose by fifty-seven percent, despite the fourth year in a sequence of below-average rainfall for the Western Cape Province. This follows Vilafonte’s smallest per-hectare crop (2016) and moves back to long-term average yields. Welcome post-harvest rains in the preceding year before leaf fall, coupled with well-timed nutrient applications, allowed the vines to build up reserves before going into winter dormancy.

Winter rains in 2016 approached normal levels, but fell below average in late winter to spring. Bud-break in the spring was very even, with rapid shoot growth which ceased well before bloom, allowing excellent fruit-set. Weather leading up to harvest was warm and fair – perfect ripening conditions according to owner Mike Ratcliffe. Harvest commenced on the 6th of February with a few short pauses, and concluded on the 1st of March2017.

 

Mike Ratcliffe states that “at time of blending, varietal components were very expressive, showing a classical elegance rather than an intensity and power”. Aged for 22 months in 70% new French oak barrique, with the balance in older French oak barriques, the Series C 2017 consists of Cabernet Sauvignon (57%), Merlot (21%), Cabernet Franc (13%) and Malbec (9%) with a total of 46 barrels being produced.

 

Vilafonte Series C 2017, WO Paarl, 14.5 Abv.

After the drought of 2016, all producers can honestly admit to being amazed by the quality both the white and red wines realised in 2017. But for Vilafonte, the pressure would have been incrementally higher after defying the vintage odds in 2016 to produced arguably the finest South African red blend of the vintage with their Series C 2016. But great vintages are all about taking the opportunities nature presents and Vilafonte seems to have been equally ready to make the most of this exceptional vintage. The Series C 2017 certainly displays an incredibly deep, dark broody garnet-purple colour with imposing extract and concentration. On the nose, this youthful release is a little closed to begin with but opens up in the glass offering alluring notes of incense, sweet vanilla pod, caramelised cashew nuts, black berry reduction, juniper berry and dusty, graphite tinged black chocolate exoticism. The palate is velvety and supple with a most generous, multi-layered mouthfeel of blueberry, black cherries, saline cassis and a charcoal tinged buttered brown toasty finish. Where the 2015 release showed a more masculine power, the 2017 is the personification of intensity with elegance, finesse and grace. A producer can wait decades to realise a vintage like this that possesses this degree of poise, intensity and weightless concentration combined with a decadently fruited complexity and composure. A spellbinding new release from Vilafonte. Indulge yourself by drinking a few bottles in its youth, however the 2017 is certainly worthy of over a decade or more of cellaring to realise its full potential.

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

Tasting a Complete MR de Compostella Vertical From 2004 to 2017 in London With Bruwer Raats…

Bruwer Raats is a larger than life character making larger than life wines from both his Raats Family Winery in Stellenbosch as well as for his cult wine label MR de Compostella at which he is partnered by the accomplished Zulu winemaker Mzokona Mvemve. While riding high on the instant success of memorable early wines like his maiden 2001 Raats Family Wines Cabernet Franc, Bruwer entered into the collaborative project of MR de Compostella and finally released the maiden vintage 2004 back in 2006.

 

Guided by a lofty and ambitious philosophy of achieving the very best final quality blend through extremely ruthless barrel selection and an over riding obsession with consistency of quality vintage after vintage before any uniformity of blend percentages, what was developed was an incredibly fine wine with breath taking complexity and depth as well as notable age ability. All the blends so far, excluding the declassified 2010, have made use of all five Bordeaux red varieties namely Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot… and normally in descending percentages similar to this order with alcohol levels of between 14 and 14.5 Abv.

 

As part of London fine wine merchant Handford Wines’ 30th Anniversary celebrations, Bruwer Raats was recently in London to present the first ever full vertical of MR de Compostella reds covering 13 vintages from 2004 through to the current release 2017. The flight also included the only ever declassified vintage, the 2010, which was used to create a second wine under the name of Red Jasper. Named after Bruwer’s father, the ‘Jasper’ red Bordeaux blend is now in its seventh vintage and the current release 2017 has also been highly lauded by critics becoming a distinguished red wine in its own right.

 

One of the most outstanding features of this impressive cult wine is undoubtedly its age ability, so much so that much of the past stocks sold and exported around the world still reside in collectors’ cellars globally. Having the opportunity to taste effectively 14 vintages back to back is almost certainly a once in a life time affair for most people but also a crucially important exercise to reveal and document the ongoing evolution of these great wines. While I tasted and made notes for all the wines, the focus centred more around appreciating the wines stylistically and evaluating where how well they were evolving rather than placing them in a scored hierarchy.

 

MR de Compostella Vertical 2004 to 2017:

MR de Compostella 2004, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 GSMW)

33% Cabernet Franc, 18% Petit Verdot, 17% Malbec, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Merlot

An incredibly dense, dark, youthful wine that obviously has benefitted from being made in one of the best red wine vintages in several decades at the time. Full and broad, the wine retains freshness, complexity, creamy dense dark fruits and a long vital finish. Tannins are starting to resolve but certainly this wine has another 20+ years ahead of it. Very impressive debut.

 

MR de Compostella 2005, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 GSMW)

33% Cabernet Franc, 17% Petit Verdot, 17% Malbec, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Merlot

From a warm dry vintage, the 2005s were perhaps lauded more highly across the industry under the halo of another very fine vintage in the northern hemisphere and Bordeaux in particular. While many are maturing and losing a bit of lustre, this 2005 certainly shines, retaining a sleek structure, sweet ripe black brambly fruits and plenty of youthful elegance and freshness. Drinking well now but will certainly cellar for 10+ more years easily.

MR de Compostella 2006, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 GSMW)

26% Cabernet Franc, 18% Petit Verdot, 8% Malbec, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot

From another block buster vintage, 2006 was good for whites and reds and this wine really is shining at the moment. Dense, concentrated but weightlessly intense, this wine has lovely mineral tannins, a full, sleek silky mouthfeel and a general aura of distinguished elegance. Certainly no rush here at all. Lovely wine.

MR de Compostella 2007, 14 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 GSMW)

32% Cabernet Franc, 16% Petit Verdot, 20% Malbec, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot

From a cool, difficult year that had heat spikes at harvest time. Wines generally were leafy and packed full of pyrazines and while this wine has a lovely complex leafy, sappy berry fruit base, the green herbal notes melt into the black fruit and with 10 years of age, this wine is starting to resemble a classic, fragrant, complex French Bordeaux more and more by the day. Super expressive aromatics, sleek creamy black and red berry fruits and a long, fine grained finish with plenty of acidity to preserve it further. Not the most iconic MR but certainly drinking very very well at the moment.

MR de Compostella 2008, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 GSMW)

37.5% Cabernet Franc, 7.5% Petit Verdot, 10% Malbec, 37.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7.5% Merlot

Ooh, the 2008. The vintage that put MR on the map with the chunky 96pt score from Neal Martin writing for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. While the wines had never scored less than 93, this moved the wine into a new league, a new ball game… and made global collectors sit up and take serious notice. Like a purring Rolls Royce engine… I think MR has been described before… and this 2008 while certainly not as rich, showy and opulent as some vintages, displays an incredible focus, sleek graphite tannin structure, intensity of black saline fruit and the most old world Bordeaux Grand Cru Classe elegance and linearity. Wow! While currently in a more understated phase of evolution than some of the other vintages, it’s definitely a wine built for the long haul. A true collectable classic.

MR de Compostella 2009, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 GSMW)

25% Cabernet Franc, 12.5% Petit Verdot, 25% Malbec, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12.5% Merlot

Another highly lauded red wine vintage across the industry in SA, this wine is in a more muscular, dense, power packed mould with rich layers of earthy black fruits, tannery leather, sweet baking herbs and a lovely sheen of cedary spice. Full bodied and broad shouldered, this will be an interesting wine to follow into the future. Drinking well now after a little decant.

Raats Red Jasper 2010, 14 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 GSMW)

80% Cabernet Franc, 7.5% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec, 7.5% Cabernet Sauvignon

Bruwer has always been very clear about the standards expected from his wines to make the MR blend. First and foremost, they need to be as good or better that the preceding vintage’s components. While I was a little critical of him at the time for not bottling a 2010, tasting this wine shows why he didn’t. Delicious and totally impressive now with 7 years of age, the wine simply does not have the same length, power or concentration experienced on other MR vintages. Beautifully elegant, packed full of cedary, earthy black bramble berry fruits, the tannins are very sleek and soft and the finish a touch short. But still a pleasure to drink nonetheless.

MR de Compostella 2011, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 GSMW)

52% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 20% Malbec, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Merlot

Showing a little bit of earthy, savoury, coffee bean, leathery evolution on the nose, the palate is still taut and vital with savoury red and black berry fruits, a fine line of acidity and a long finish of graphite and mineral dust. Perhaps a bit shut down now but another one to watch into the future.

MR de Compostella 2012, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 GSMW)

28% Cabernet Franc, 18% Petit Verdot, 21% Malbec, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot

Never shy and always a real charmer, the 2012 does what it says on the tin and then a whole lot more. Rich, cool, dark fruited opulent nose full of blueberry, vanilla pod, black currant and cassis leaf. So sumptuous, generous in fruit and utterly charming while retaining a distinguished air of quality. Always been a lovely wine and I suspect there is not a lot of it around now as it is such a seductive wine that’s hard to resist drinking in its youth. Drink now or bury in your cellar for another 10+ years.

MR de Compostella 2013, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 GSMW)

41% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petit Verdot, 17% Malbec, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot

A vintage that did not stand out on paper but in the vertical flight was one of the most impressive wines. With a dusty nose full of wet stone minerality, the aromatics speak of a cooler vintage style laced with graphite, dried straw, baking herbs and pithy black berry fruits. The palate is where the wine takes off like a rocket and really shines. Woven together very tightly, the intensity and vibrant saline black berry intensity combined with tart crunchy acids make this wine stand out from the rest at the moment. So elegant and persistent on the finish, this is the real deal. A super classy wine drinking well now but with many years ahead of it still.

MR de Compostella 2014, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 GSMW)

45% Cabernet Franc, 18% Petit Verdot, 17% Malbec, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Merlot

Like the 2012, the 2014 has always been moulded an opulent and generous style with creamy overt black and blue berry fruits, sweet vanilla spices and a rich, layered, textured palate that just keeps on giving. Probably a vintage that won’t shut down, so if you enjoy youthful opulence, this is the one for you.

 

Tasting in the private room at London restaurant High Timber owned by Neleen Strauss and Gary Jordan.

MR de Compostella 2015, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 GSMW)

40% Cabernet Franc, 11% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Merlot

The 2015 is genuinely a compelling wine with a classic nose more reminiscent of a fine, opulent Cru Classe Pauillac. There are beautiful perfumed notes of assorted purple flowers and fresh violets that melt away to reveal ripe, intense notes of crème de cassis, blueberry crumble, cherry kirsch liquor and damson plum. More structured and intense than its riper, plumper predecessor 2014, the 2015 delivers more intensity with tannic restraint and brooding classical depth. Bit of a block buster but also shutting down a bit now. A wine for 30 to 40 years surely.

MR de Compostella 2016, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 GSMW)

17% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 12% Malbec, 63% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Merlot

A warm, dry vintage that is reflected in the lower than usual Cabernet Franc and the higher Cabernet Sauvignon portion from a cooler vineyard close to the sea in False Bay. Rich, plush and ultra opulent and expressive but also perfumed and lifted with violets, sweet lavender and sleek polished oak melting into classic Cabernet cassis and saline black berry opulence. Lovely precision and focus but is also sufficiently taut and textured. A wonderfully luxurious style of MR.

MR de Compostella 2017, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 GSMW)

43% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 10% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Merlot

The nose chimes with the beautiful aromatics of the black Cabernet fruits, both Franc and Sauvignon. Superbly bright and lifted, this classy wine reveals attractive perfumed notes of cherry blossom, violets, lilacs and fresh rose petals underpinned by seductive chocolate coated red cherries and crème de cassis. On the palate the wine is medium bodied but very refined and elegant balancing intensity of fruit and flavour with textural harmony and finesse. Super fine and minerally tightly focused, this is a wine for the long haul but which can also be drunk in its youth due to its bright freshness and creamy elegant length. Is this the best MR to date? I think so… but only time will tell.

The Winery Putting Super Premium Second Wines on the South African Map – Tasting the Seriously Old Dirt 2017 New Release…

The essence of a great second wine always starts with premium fruit. When it comes to Vilafonté, very few South African Bordeaux blends can rival this producer’s wines for critical acclaim or consistency of premium quality, vintage after vintage. But a great second wine like Seriously Old Dirt not only has to leverage its own inherent fruit quality but also its own innate vintage conditions to shape a wine representative of its vineyard surroundings, its terroir as well as its ultimate ambition. 2017 has been the dark horse vintage in South Africa that has taken everyone by surprise, producing whites and reds of unimagined high quality when growers were grappling with peak drought conditions in the Cape.

 

For Vilafonte, 2017 yielded an abundant crop of high quality. Yields rose by 57% percent, despite the fourth year in a sequence of below-average rainfall for the Western Cape winelands. This follows Vilafonte’s smallest per-hectare crop in 2016 and moves back to long-term average yields. Welcome post-harvest rains in the preceding year before leaf fall, coupled with well-timed nutrient applications, allowed the vines to build up reserves before going into winter dormancy.

Winter rains in 2016 approached normal levels but fell below average in late winter to spring. Bud-break in the spring was very even, with rapid shoot growth which ceased well before bloom, allowing excellent fruit-set. Weather leading up to harvest was warm and fair with perfect ripening conditions. Harvest commenced on the 6th of February with a few short pauses and concluded on the 1st of March 2017.

 

Seriously Old Dirt 2017 by Vilafonte, WO Paarl, 13.5 Abv.

This sixth edition was matured for twenty-one months in older French oak barriques with the Seriously Old Dirt 2017 being a blend of 37% Malbec, 36% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc producing 89 barrels. The wine succeeds in displaying a truly graceful elegance, freshness and the saline intensity of the vintage while never losing sight of its core role of delivering generosity, purity and sleek textural harmony and precision. Beautifully fragrant and perfumed, the aromatics reveal no less distinction than is found on the Vilafonte Series M or C with opulent layers of mocha, cocoa power, espresso, sour plum and sappy blue berry vanilla crumble. The palate and tannins are finely polished and as sleek and elegant as the chiselled lines on a Florentine white marble Adonis displaying the seductive allure of red cherry, sweet tobacco and red currant allspice. Deceptively light to medium bodied, this five star vintage red packs an inconceivable amount of pleasure into a small bottle. Luxurious and hedonistic, this is definitely a wine for the educated vinous bargain hunter who is unwilling to compromise on quality.

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

MR de Compostella 2017 – An Iconic Wine That Flirts With Perfection…

Mvemve Raats is a critically acclaimed collaboration between friends and winemakers Mzokhona Mvemve and Bruwer Raats. Bruwer is of course the owner, winemaker and mastermind behind Raats Family Wines, where he has earned a reputation for top notch Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc over the past 20+ years.

Mzokhona Mvemve, the first Indaba Scholarship recipient, is a graduate of Stellenbosch University and one of South Africa’s first qualified black oenologists. Together they have created, since the 2004 maiden MR vintage, one of South Africa’s most consistently high scoring premium quality icon Bordeaux blends in the Cape.

The 2017 is due for release in the South African market at the end of August 2019.

MR de Compostella 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

The highly anticipated MR de Compostella 2017 red blend is composed of 43% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 10% Malbec and 6% Petit Verdot. A very deep garnet-purple colour, the nose chimes with the beautiful aromatics of the Cabernet fruits, both Franc and Sauvignon. Superbly bright and lifted, this classy wine reveals attractive perfumed notes of cherry blossom, violets, lilacs and fresh rose petals underpinned by seductive chocolate coated red cherries, crème de cassis, sweet sappy sandalwood spice, bay leaves, fresh pencil shavings and crushed granite rocks. On the palate, the wine is more medium bodied but very refined striking an instant resemblance to the perfumed precision and seductive caressing texture of a Chateau Margaux first growth Bordeaux. There is power, there is intensity and there is focus aplenty but it is all delivered with such majestic elegance and finessed structure to be awe inspiring. Super fine and minerally tightly focused, the vivacious palate shows layers of cigar box, maraschino cherry, crushed black berries, cedar spice and fine-grained mineral sandy tannins. Already possessing incredible poise and focus, this wine shows clarity of purpose and an attention to detail very rarely seen on South African red wines. With little to no perceptible oak character, this impressive blend finishes with a very long, minerally accented persistence that is both compelling and incredibly pretty. A profound wine of beauty and certainly this winery’s most noteworthy release since its blockbuster 2015. Cellar for another 5 years from release and drink over the next 30+ years.

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

The wines of Raats Family Wines and MR de Compostella are distributed in the UK by Alliance Wines.