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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 6: Petit-Figeac de Château Figeac 2014, Saint Emilion Grand Cru…

The latest edition to the Wine Safari Bordeaux second wine series features a wine from one of my favourite Saint Emilion Grand Cru estates, Château Figeac owned by the Manoncourt family. Only the third vintage of this new second wine produced, Petit-Figeac de Château Figeac was created starting with the 2012 vintage.

Figeac is the largest estate in Saint-Émilion with 40 hectares (99 acres) of vineyards. Due to its soil, which is dominated by gravel, the estate is planted with grape varieties more reminiscent of the left bank, including 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Cabernet Franc and only 30% Merlot. Most other Saint-Émilion wines are dominated by Merlot, and Figeac therefore bears a certain resemblance to the wines of the Medoc and Graves despite being situated on Bordeaux’s right bank.

From 1945 to 2011, the estate produced a second wine called La Grange Neuve de Figeac and since 2006 a ‘special wine’ named Petit-Figeac. From the 2012 vintage, Petit-Figeac became the single official second wine of Chateau Figeac.

Petit-Figeac de Château Figeac 2014, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 13 Abv.

A blend of 50% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, the aromatics reveal a real melange of plush ripe black fruits tinged with graphite spice. There are layers of cassis, blueberry, black bramble berries and black plum. As the wine unfurls in the glass, distinct notes of black cherry, mocha, espresso, sweet tobacco and milk chocolate become more pronounced. The palate texture is ultra soft and seductive, super supple with beautifully plush powdery tannins, vibrant cherry pith, hints of cola and liquorice and a subtle saline finish. A thoroughly charming high quality effort that Claret lovers can drink now or cellar for another 5 to 8+ years.

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

The Most Hotly Anticipated Red Wine Release from the 2015 Vintage – Tasting Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2015, South Africa’s Very Own First Growth…

The Kanonkop Estate is situated on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in the Stellenbosch Region of the Cape and consistently boasts some of South Africa’s most famous premium wines. A fourth generation family estate, Kanonkop was originally purchased by JW Sauer, a cabinet member in the parliament of the Union of South Africa and the estate has been handed down from father to son for over 40 years, now residing in the capable hands of its current owners Paul & Johann Krige.

The name Kanonkop was derived from a kopje (hillock), from which a cannon was fired in the 17th Century to alert farmers in outlying areas that sailing ships plying the waters between Europe and the Far East had entered Table Bay for a stopover at Cape Town. The Estate is situated on 125 hectares, of which 100 hectares are planted with vines. A small quantity of these red grapes are selected for the production of around 7,000 cases of 6 of the Estate’s flagship red Bordeaux blend Paul Sauer, produced by one of South Africa’s most intelligent winemakers, Abrie Beeslaar.

A traditional blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, the vines are on average 25 years old grown on decomposed Granite, Hutton and Clovelly soils and usually aged around 24 months in new 225 litre French Nevers oak barrels with medium toast.

Kanonkop Wine Estate Paul Sauer 2015, 14 Abv.

The goal with any vintage of Paul Sauer is to find the perfect balance between power and concentration, structure and freshness… allowing a certain amount of tamed accessibility combined with immaculate ageworthy credentials. Indeed, this is the DNA which has allowed a wine like Paul Sauer to become firmly established as one of South Africa’s most respected ‘first growths.’ Given the incredible opulence and concentration of the 2015 vintage, this expression dazzles the senses with the most alluring heady nose of sun dried cherries, black currant pastille sweets, blueberries, plummy hoisin sauce, cedar spice and fragrant violets. There is intensity, an abundance of concentration and impressively integrated wood spice, salted toffee and vanilla pod complexity. The acid-fruit equilibrium is perfectly balanced, wrapped in a velvety cherry kirsch liquor texture and a finely focused blueberry and juniper berry finish. Truly effortless class and so beautifully light on its feet with the most suave, polished tannin symmetry. I cannot think of a better expression of Paul Sauer than this 2015 in the past 25 years of tasting. This is possibly one of the finest South African red wines of my generation. Drink from 2022 to 2055+.

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

Returning to Authenticity – Tasting the New Era of Biodynamic Wines from Avignonesi…

Unravelling the conundrum that is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has been a long term goal of mine. As someone who lives and breathes Italian wines, I have never quite understood the true appeal of Sangiovese wines from Vino Nobile primarily because so much rustic fare has been produced over the years, wines with hard angular tannins, tart acidity and thin fruit.

Exit stage door left, enter Max de Zarobe and Virginie Saverys, the philanthropic-styled current owners of Avignonesi. It’s been a long time since I’ve met such candid, honest talking winery owners such as Max and Virginie, which is thoroughly refreshing in a wine world filled with plenty of smoke and mirrors.

Tasting with winemaker Matteo Giustianini and owner Virginie.

After two days of multiple vineyard visits, winery exploration and wine tastings, it quickly became apparent the amount of passion, knowhow (and money), Max and Virginie have committed to their Avignonesi winery project which they took full ownership of in 2009.

Rejuvenated 42 year old Sangiovese vines in the Avignonesi vineyards.

As successful ship owners in Antwerp, Max and Virginie are quick to point out that turning Avignonesi around from a volume orientated commercial beast into one of Europe’s largest quality focused, organic, biodynamic wineries has been akin to turning a super tanker around, a seemingly ‘simple’ task that takes an astonishing half a day… and perhaps a decade for the winery.

Tasting through the full range of wines from Avignonesi, located near Montepulciano in southern Tuscany, it becomes clear some very impressive wines have been produced in a region that has struggled to replicate the success of Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and more latterly, the Maremma.

Winemaker Matteo Giustianini and viticulturalist Alesio Gorini expertly oversee the 179 hectares of vines, planted over 9 sites, with 102 hectares of Sangiovese and some historic Merlot planted on what are effectively very recent, young geological soils. The results are indeed positive and confirm the region’s innate ability to produce truly great red wines once the right amount of application, investment and attention to detail are applied.

Avignonesi Ventisei Rosso 2017, IGT Toscana Rosso Organic, 13 Abv.

Bright and lifted, the aromatics are lush and fruity, brimming with strawberry confit, strawberry pips, sappy red bramble berries and plum sauce. The palate is equally rich and expressive with an overt illusion of sweetness, layered with strawberry coulis, red cherry and sweet red plums. Full bodied, mouth-filling but deliciously fresh and thoroughly unpretentious.

(Wine Safari Score: 88+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Avignonesi Ventisei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 2015, 14 Abv.

A blend of 90% Sangiovese plumped out with 10% Merlot, the nose shows complex hits of botanical herbs, black berries and pithy black cherry with a subtle hint of cinnamon and oak spice. The palate is very elegant, sleek and polished, revealing layers of black currant, mulberry confit, balsamic and sweet, pithy, vanilla pod spice. Fine balanced with lovely approachability and very sleek, tamed tannins.

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

Avignonesi Cantaloro IGT Toscana 2015, 13.5 Abv.

A blend of 38.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, and 25.5% Sangiovese. The aromatics are bright and exotic with notes of sour plum, red cherry, mango skins and blood oranges. There is a lovely texture and elegance, sleek fine creamy tannins with hints of black cherry, baking herbs, vanilla pod spice and a long, cool, menthol tinged black currant finish. Seamless, cool, classy blend.

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

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2014, 13.5 Abv.

100% Sangiovese from a more challenging vintage, the 2014 shows lush opulent notes of freshly cut hedge row, bramble berries, violets, forest floor, truffle oil and strawberries drizzled with balsamic reduction. There is plenty of ripe savoury fruit on the palate which shows a gentle touch of extraction, a fleshy soft red berry core and a long, red cherry and pink rock candy finish. Delicious approachability and drinkability already.

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

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2015, 14Abv.

100% Sangiovese, this nose is jam packed full of perfume, fruit and opulence. This great vintage delivers ripe lifted notes of sweet strawberry, red berry, red plum and pithy, resinous sappy notes. Deliciously exotic on the palate, the tannins are sweet and ripe, powdery and silky soft, melting into the sweet red cherry and strawberry fruit melange. The finish is more structured, revealing power and intensity with an impressively long length. Big impressive vintage for sure.

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

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG Grandi Annate 2013, 14 Abv.

Only produced in the best years, this 2013 is a deliciously crafted wine with a complex, more tertiary nose of bramble berry fruits, botanical herbs, summer flowers, sweet red cherries and subtle rosemary and nutmeg hints. Palate is sleek and deep, earthy and savoury with delicious wood spice and cinnamon notes, graphite minerality and soft polished tannins on a classy, noble, classical finish. Fine poise and power. A wine not to be underestimated.

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

Avignonesi Grifi 2012, IGT Toscana, 14.5 Abv.

Made from Sangiovese sourced from old vines in Montepulciano and Cabernet Sauvignon from Cortona, the 2012 was a hot, dry vintage and is evidenced in the glass with a deep, dark colour and an overtly opulent nose of sweet black cherry confit, cherry liquor, black plums, vanilla pod spice and roasted herbs. The palate shows power and depth, savoury black plum fruit, tannery leather, tobacco, chalky tannins and an opulent, earthy, foresty finish. An expressive, powerful wine.

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

Avignonesi Merlot Desiderio 2015, IGT Toscana Organic, 14.5 Abv.

Made from 100% Merlot sourced mostly from a vineyard near Cortona and a vineyard near Montepulciano called Le Badelle. There is a more international aromatic profile to this wine, with a lifted, opulent nose of black plum, sweet cherry kirsch liquor, grilled herbs, hoisin sauce and vanilla pod spice. The palate is generous and ripe, sweetly fruited and plushly textured with hints of black currant pastille, black cherry and blueberry crumble. Well proportioned, finely polished graphite tannins and a long, dense finish with a tantalising saline kiss of liquorice. Modern and intense, but beautiful execution.

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

50/50 2013 IGT Toscana, 13.5 Abv

This 50% / 50% Blend of Sangiovese from Gaiole in Chianti and Merlot was first produced in 1988 in a joint venture between Avignonesi and Capannelle in Chianti Classico. The Merlot is produced by Avignonesi from the Lodola estate located in Valiano and shows a richly embroidered aromatic display of sweet black cherry, black plums, kirsch liquor, blueberry muffins and sweet mint sauce. The palate is bold and fleshy but also very supple, finely balanced and elegant with the Sangiovese sap and spice marrying harmoniously with the overt, blueberry and vanilla pod creaminess of the Merlot. A big, bold, adventurous red expression, this wine delivers pleasure on so many levels, always remaining fresh, elegantly balanced and finely poised, making it eminently drinkable now or cellar-worthy for 10 to 15 years.

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

The amazing Vin Santo storage building, where wines are aged for up to 10 years in small oak barrels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tokara Telos 2015, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

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

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

Other Bordeaux Wines Tasted Alongside the Telos 2015:

Chateau Montrose 2010, Saint Estephe, 14 Abv.

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

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

Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 2009, Saint Estephe 13.5 Abv.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chateau Latour 1996, Pauillac, 12.5 Abv.

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

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

Steven Spurrier in attendance at 67 Pall Mall

The Alternative Face of Elgin – Tasting the Shannon Vineyards Wines with Co-Owner Stuart Downes…

Elgin is famous for cool climate expressions of both red and white wines. While most producers are focusing on Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Shannon Vineyards have spent a lot of time and effort fine tuning their Semillon and Merlot, two varieties that have arguably had variable single varietal bottling success in South Africa until more recently. But I think it’s fair to say times have changed and consumers and wine merchants are more sympathetic to these varieties in their different guises.

Brothers Stuart and James Downes are the current owners and their focus has been on producing exceptional fruit from cool mountain hillside vineyards combined with minimal intervention winemaking. Stuart recently passed through London on the way back from the USA and presented his current releases.

Shannon Vineyards Semillon 2015, Elgin, 13.5 Abv.

0.5 Hectares of GD1 Australian Semillon clone with 15 years vine age. Shows real lift, dusty, spicy complexity with cut grass, lemon spice, crushed gravel, rain on dry grey slate petrichor characteristics. Definite herbaceous pyrazine hint but deliciously balanced by bright, creamy, ultra fresh yellow fruits, white citrus and a mouth watering grassy, piquant finish.

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

Shannon Vineyards Sanctuary Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Elgin, 13 Abv

Bright fragrant notes of cut grass, stable straw, pithy yellow citrus, white pepper and crushed gooseberries. Acids are tart, crystalline and bright with spicy green apple, crunchy tart peach and lemon grass notes. Fresh, laser like focus and tension. Great example of cool climate Sauvignon.

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

Shannon Vineyards Rockview Ridge Pinot Noir 2014, Elgin, 13 Abv.

Using 667 & 777 clones, also 115 & 113. Dusty, sappy, spicy, cedary aromatic profile with notes of crushed gravel and subtle smokey charcoal embers. Palate is sleek, elegant, light weight but retains a fleshy red cherry and sappy bramble berry concentration with hints of Asian spices. Quite a subtle feminine style with a complexing white truffle earthiness on the finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 88+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Shannon Vineyards Merlot 2015, Elgin, 14 Abv.

Dark, warming, enticing nose of black damson plums, cut grass, black berry and baking spice herbaceousness with a dusting of milk chocolate gloss. Palate is soft and fruit driven with hints of mint leaf, supple creamy black brambly fruits, cedar spice and an overlay of graphite minerality. Fleshy and plummy, accessible and supple style.

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

Shannon Vineyards Mount Bullet Merlot 2013, Elgin, 14 Abv.

On average 22 months in barrel with a low 3.2 pH. Rich complex blend of 5 Merlot clones, 2 French and 3 Italian. Plush, restrained and very classical profile with black cherry, creamy black plum, cinnamon biscuits and an attractive sappy spice. Beautifully fleshy and sleek textured with incredibly bright cherry acids, black cherry spice, liquorice and a real Italian Tuscan feel. Fine precision, some tension and tautness, finishing with an alluring red cranberry and dusty graphite complexity. A rare distinguished example of one of the Cape’s most difficult grapes to master.

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

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

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

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

Vintage comparisons… according to Omri Ram…

2015 = like a super 2009

2016 = like a super 2010

2017 = also more like a 2016-styled wine

Chateau Lafleur Cellar Master Omri Ram

Chateau Grand Village Rouge 2017, Bordeaux Superieur

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

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

Acte 9 2017

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

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

Les Pensees de Chateau Lafleur 2017

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

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

Chateau Lafleur 2017

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

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

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