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.

Catena At Hide London – Tasting a Selection of the Catena Winery’s Top Offerings With Laura Catena…

It is always wonderful to catch up with Laura Catena in London to taste through her winery’s fantastic benchmark Argentinean wines. The UK remains one of the Catena’s strongest markets according to Laura, with sales growing both on the high quality end and also on the more affordable value end of the Catena brand range.

But certainly the wineries reputation has come a long way since Laura attended the 1995 Fine Wine Experience in the United States representing the first South American brand to be invited to show their wines at this prestigious tasting event.

Today, the wines remain some of the most respected Argentinean wine brands on the global market with their single vineyard Chardonnays and Malbecs true quality leaders. I joined Laura for another superb London tasting, this time at the excellent Michelin starred Hide restaurant in Piccadilly, where Ollie Dabbous matched courses for a stunning array of Catena wines.

The artistry of Ollie Dabbous at Hide.

White Flight:

Catena Adrianna Vineyard White Stones Vino de Parcela Chardonnay 2015, 13 Abv.

5000ft elevation of the Adriana Vineyard. Dusty lifted aromatic profile with unique notes of dried grass, spearmint, wet pebbles and crushed limestone underpinned by white grapefruit and citrus notes. The palate is lively and energetic packed full of picante lime cordial, freshly squeezed tangerine juice and sleek dry bitter lemon zest. Lovely mineral grip lingers on the long finish. Very grown up style with a real gout de Terroir. Give this wine time in bottle.

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

Catena Adrianna Vineyard White Bones Vino de Parcela Chardonnay 2015, 13 Abv.

5000ft elevation of the Adriana Vineyard. Similar to the White Stones Cuvee but with deeper, richer minerality of Wet chalk, limestone, cassis leaf, black currant reduction and subtle cut grass and crushed mint leaf complexity. Palate texture is full and round showing exceptional freshness but impressive gravitas and concentration while retaining its true Terroir feel and mineral restraint. The finish is exotic and long, teasing the palate with clementine pastilles, lemon cordial and orange peel zest. Very fine indeed.

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

Reds Flight:

Catena Alta Malbec 2015, 13.5 Abv.

Blend of 5 parcels from cuttings from the same parcels but grown on different souls. The nose is very culinary in style, full of dusty chocolate, mocha, cocoa, black currant, brûléed cedar spice and dusty crushed stones. Very Bordeaux’esque in an exotic kind of style, the palate is luxurious and sleek but also tantalisingly fresh, crunchy and pure fruited with a fine cedar and graphite mineral frame and a long, lush sappy finish of bramble berries, black berry confit and damson plum. Wonderful classism and restraint.

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

Nicolas Catena Zapata 2013, 13.5 Abv.

Beautifully precise fragrant nose brimming with the 70+ percent Cabernet Sauvignon notes of dried violets, tart black cherry, savoury wet tobacco, cassis and sappy spice. Very direct and pure fruited with a fine salinity that melts into fine mineral notes of graphite, black currant pastille and creamy, oak spice. Tannins are powdery and fine grained, the acidity bright and potent. A very polished, suave expression with real intensity. Still so very youthful at 5+ years old.

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

Catena Zapata Malbec Nicasia Vineyard La Consulta 2014, Mendoza, 14 Abv.

A beautifully fashioned hedonistic red with great subtlety, delicacy, violet perfume and red cherry and piquant wood spice intensity. All finely integrated and seamless, coating the palate with great lush intensity, creamy tannins, concentrated sappy sweet black and red berry fruits and fabulously juicy acidity. Such harmony and balance with a delicious coffee bean, cocoa and mocha finish. Dreamy and very pretty.

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

Catena Zapata Argentino Malbec 2013, Mendoza, 14 Abv.

Another big, intense, deliciously opulent expression with lifted layers of purple flowers, violets, cherry blossom and pithy crushed blueberries. Quite immediate and upfront, this wine is not only hedonistic, opulent and showy but ultra suave, finely textured, delicately mineral finishing with satin soft black berry confit and graphite spice. A very classy, distinguished expression that is a thoroughly seductive and profound picture of Malbec. Delicious.

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

Catena Zapata Argentino Malbec 2015, Mendoza, 14 Abv. (En Magnum)

A superbly opulent and expressive red that after one sniff leaves you in no doubt that this is another deliciously hedonistic expression. Nose bursts with a measured intensity of creamy brûléed black berry, black cherry pastille and a touch of blue berry crumble with a dusting of mocha choc spice. This vintage offers up extra layers of textured depth and richness with an opulent glycerol mouthfeel, sweet plump tannins and well integrated acids.

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

The Catena wines are distributed by Bibendum / Walker Wodehouse in the UK market.

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/

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)