After a Short Absence, MR de Compostella Returns With One of their Most Iconic Releases to Date – Tasting the New 2020 Vintage…

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 producing 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, since the 2004 maiden MR vintage, they have created one of South Africa’s most consistently high scoring premium quality icon Bordeaux blends in the Cape.

Assembling a new vintage of MR de Compostella is a massive feat of precision winemaking, organoleptic assessment and blending to create a wine whose whole is clearly greater than the sum of its parts. It is for this reason that utmost attention is paid to all blending building blocks from all varieties to ensure that the finished wine has the density, intensity, structure and finessed power to age for at least 20, 30 or 40 years in bottle. If these prerequisites cannot be met, the MR wine will not be bottled, like previously in 2010 and 2019, when the wine was declassified into the Raats Family Jasper red blend.

With the 2018 MR receiving the highest of international critical scores yet, and then no 2019 bottled, all eyes were on the 2020 to see what Bruwer and Mzokhona could create using their winemaking magic. With the international global release scheduled for late November, I recently met up with Bruwer Raats to assess the new 2020 edition of this Cape icon Red.

MR de Compostella 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv. 

Never made with exactly the same blend in any two vintages, the 2020 is a classic Cape Bordeaux assemblage of 30% Cabernet Franc, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Malbec, 16% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot with a total production of only 1,000 x 6. The wine displays a real intensity in the glass with a ruby red rim and a red / black plum heart. The aromatics are vibrant and fabulously perfumed, bursting from the glass with expressive notes of red and black berry fruits, black currant, raspberry, red and black cherry, before notes of earthy blueberry emerge with suggestions of pressed violets, lavender, sweet sandalwood, star anise and graphite spice. On the palate, the vintage’s regal elegance emerges with exhilarating acids framing the plush opulent red and back berry fruits, saline cassis, tart red cherry and a blueberry confectionary generosity. Tasting the wine with Bruwer Raats, inevitable comparisons were made to the iconic 2017 MR, with both wines sharing a beautifully bright acid freshness and a weightless concentration of pure berry fruits with only the slightest suggestion of vanilla oak spice. This really is a wine with a mixed palette of colours, flavours and fruits and the most seamlessly elegant, finessed velvety tannins. Following on from the 2018 blockbuster, with no 2019 MR produced, this 2020 is a bold, enchanting, characterful wine full of precision that trumpets the return of this incredible benchmark Cape classic. A breathtaking wine on so many levels. Drink from 2024 to 2045+.

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

Vilafonte Excels with Another Impressive Wine of Harmony and Balance – Tasting the New Release Series C 2020…

After returning from a very successful Cape Wine 2022 wine fair, the tragedies and hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic almost seem a distant faded nightmare. But as I start tasting a fresh wave of exciting new 2020 red releases, the memories of this unprecedented time come flowing back especially when you consider that many producers in the Cape, at the time, feared that they would not be able to even pick their succulent grapes as harvest approached. But if there is one thing wine producers are well versed at coping with, it is extreme disruption and endless uncertainties.

The 2019/2020 growing season brought fair and favourable conditions with a return to a more traditional cold and wet winter. With Spring came warm, fair-weather conditions resulting in an even, two-week early bud-break. As is often the case in the Cape vineyards, windy conditions during flowering resulted in a variable berry set and looser clusters with small intense berries. Thankfully, temperatures during ripening remained modest without any heatwaves, leading to an even, measured pace of ripening and picking. By the time the national Covid-19 lockdown was announced by the national government on the 26th March 2020, Vilafonte had already processed all wines safely to barrel.

Looking back to February 2020, it seems crazy to think that my visit then to the Vilafonte winery at the time would be part of my last visit to South Africa for over two years due to the pandemic. While the overall harvest continued into March, I clearly remember watching multiple trucks offloading the freshly picked Malbec grapes in late February that were tiny pea berry sized, pitch black, perfectly healthy and faultlessly formed. Spirits were high for another exceptional, high-quality harvest.

Vilafonte Series C 2020, WO Paarl, 14.5% Abv.

The 2020 Vilafonte Series C is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 10% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Franc that was aged for 22 months in 68% new French oak barriques with the balance in older used French oak barrels. In the glass, the wine displays an intensely dark, alluring purple black colour and an expressive aromatics of violets, sweet macerated black cherries, blue berries, smoky cassis and touches of Christmas pudding, sweet cherry tobacco, melted liquorice, milk chocolate and ginger cake nuances. There are slight caramelised touches to the aromatics with hints of vanilla pod, clove oil, camphor and sweet cedar spice that melt seamlessly back into the rich, opulent black and blue fruited complexity. Full, rich and elegantly textured, the palate is laden with spicy black fruits, black cherry compote, black currant pastille and intriguing layers of cinnamon spice, salty liquorice and sun raisined blue berries. There in an impressive intensity and concentration on display yet the wine remains fine grained, harmonious and fresh, finishing with spicy, supple velvety tannins and yet more stony, pithy minerality. Delightfully ripe and sometimes erring on the side of hedonistic exoticism, the core essence of this wine is nevertheless built around balance, concentration, purity of fruit and brazen intensity without ever becoming overbearing. A wonderfully individual expression of the vintage, this delicious 2020 continues the Series C’s rock-solid consistency of premium form. Drink from 2024 and comfortably over the next 10 to 12+ years.

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

Brothers Pierre and JP Winshaw Honour Their Ancestors with An Accomplished Cape Bordeaux Blend – Tasting the Charles Winshaw Cuvee from Winshaw Vineyards…

I first met brothers Pierre and John Philip (JP) Winshaw in 2018 when I was asked to co-chair the incredible Whole Bunch Tasting titled ‘The Wines That Raised Us’, just before the Cape Wine 2018 trade fair. The Winshaw brothers had pulled a number of incredibly rare old South African heritage bottles out of their grandfather, Bill Winshaw’s cellar, to present to the who’s who of the world’s wine trade. It was at this prestigious tasting that I rated my first South African wine 100 points – the Chateau Libertas 1957, now a legendary wine.

Today, the Winshaws combine traditional farming with grape growing on their Stellenbosch property Klein Welmoed, selling fruit to some of Stellenbosch’s most notable producers. But the brothers not only make their own wines under the Usana label, but they have also more recently, started making a premium range of Cape Bordeaux blends under the Winshaw Vineyards label. The line-up includes a delicious straight Malbec (which I recently rated 93/100) and two super cuvees, one based around Cabernet Sauvignon and one based around Cabernet Franc. The two red blends honour their great-grandfather Dr William Charles Winshaw, founder of Stellenbosch Farmers Winery (SFW), and the second their grandfather Bill, another key figure in the history of the SFW.

Ahead of my departure for Cape Wine 2022, I decided to get into the spirit of things by tasting and reviewing the Charles Winshaw Cuvee, their Cabernet Sauvignon based blend.

Winshaw Vineyards ‘Charles Winshaw Cuvee’ 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

A serious blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 4% Merlot, I tasted this wine over the course of three days to assess its true fine wine potential. On opening, the aromatics showed classical Stellenbosch Cabernet notes of sweet tobacco, tannery leather, black currant, black plum, chai tea and freshly tilled earth notes. The palate was full and glycerol with creamy soft sweet tannins, layers of black and blue berry fruits with the classic 2017 vintage weightless concentration. Fabulously balanced with classical poise and harmony. But on day two and day three, the wine shed some of its initial sapidity and sweet tea leaf and tobacco notes to reveal an incredible purity, depth of blue and black berry fruits and a seamlessly vibrant cherry-laden tangy intensity on the finish. I am so pleased I gave this wine the time and space to really show its blue-blooded pedigree. As the cliché goes, the first glass was delicious, but the last glass was mind blowing. Track this beauty down if you can as the R300 local price tag (£16-£18) is ridiculously cheap. Drink now and over the next 12 to 15+ years.

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

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)