One of the most exciting Bordeaux finds over the past couple of years has been the wines of Julien Meyre who owns three Chateau in the Medoc. Of the three Chateau, his Chateau Cap Leon Veyrin is undoubtedly the flagship property boasting blends packed with dense, powerful Cabernet Sauvignon fruit supported by fleshy, opulent Merlot. Recent vintages have garnered impressive 90-plus point scores from Neal Martin at Vinous as well as from James Suckling.
But there is another more modest wine that has recently caught my attention and this is the Le Petit Leon that has been styled as a de-facto second wine of Chateau Cap Leon Veyrin even though some grapes are bought in for this wine. But the quality is outstanding and the presentation top drawer! Certainly one to look out for if you are on the hunt for quality at a great price. (Retail circa £15pb)
Le Petit Leon de Cap Leon Veyrin 2019, Bordeaux, 13.5% Abv.
This 50% Cabernet Sauvignon / 50% Merlot blend is a serious offering that shows intricate aromatics of damson plum, black currant, sweet cherry tobacco with underlying notes of sweet cedar oak, bramble berry and graphite spice. The palate strikes an excellent balance between silky black fruit depth, a creamy texture and broody red berry fruit power. Impressive balance and an all round generous personality with a vibrant fresh tangy persistence. A delicious wine from a block buster vintage. Drink on release and over 3 to 5+ years.
This juicy little newcomer to the world of Bordeaux second wines is a selection derived from the Saint Julien vineyards of Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou. Le Petit Ducru portends an introduction to the Borie signature style, lending qualities from its elder siblings, the Ducru-Beaucaillou and the La Croix Ducru-Beaucaillou, of plushness, balance and Cabernet Sauvignon elegance and power.
The Petit Ducru sees an equally rigorous grape selection and attention to detail winemaking before being aged in barrel for 12 months with one-third new oak. A traditional Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot blend, and depending on the vintage, occasionally with a hint of Petit Verdot, this is an appealing addition to the Bordeaux drinkers’ landscape. Le Petit Ducru aims to be a wine of balance and harmony that is enjoyable in its youth while also possessing enough “stuffing” for moderate beneficial ageing.
Le Petit Ducru de Ducru-Beaucailloux 2018, Saint Julien, Bordeaux, 14.5% Abv.
A new wine in the Ducru-Beaucaillou portfolio launched with the 2018 vintage, Le Petit Ducru wine was formerly called Lalande-Borie. This can loosely be considered the Chateau’s second wine as the La Croix du Beaucaillou, like examples such as Clos du Marquis and Les Forts de Latour, is not a second wine as such, because it comes from a specifically dedicated part of the Ducru-Beaucaillou vineyard located on the south bank of La Mouline. The Le Petit Ducru grapes are all sourced from vineyards of Ducru-Beaucaillou and the maiden 2018 vintage is a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine possesses an impressively deep dark broody opaque colour and shows seductively opulent aromatics of stewed black berries, black currant compote, sweet mulberries, black liquorice, cherry tobacco, grilled herbs and subtle notes of graphite and freshly tilled earth. The palate is plush, bold and opulent with an imposing mouth-filling texture packed with sweet black berry fruits, hints of hoisin plum sauce, burnt brown toast crusts and vanilla pod spice. An impressively opulent and fleshy expression that is kept in check by fresh integrated acids and sweet, creamy tannins which finish with a spicy, dried baking herb piquant twist. Arguably a wine that shows its pedigree and over-delivers for the price. Drink on release and comfortably over the next 8 to 10+ years.
The third wine of the legendary Chateau Margaux, the Margaux du Chateau Margaux 2015 arrives on the market with great expectations for a wine from a highly lauded, ripe, warm Bordeaux vintage. The Margaux du Château Margaux 2015 is the result of the most rigorous selection ever made on their 3rd wine with almost a quarter of the production relegated to a 4th wine sold in bulk. Because of this selection, Chateau Margaux probably have today the most charming and open Margaux du Château Margaux that they have ever produced.
The 2015 winter, which was appreciably colder than those of the previous years, caused a late, but perfectly regular blossoming. Dry and sunny weather in the spring made for optimal conditions, so flowering took place very quickly and homogeneously. The hot, dry weather persisted throughout the months of June and July, to a point where Margaux was afraid there could be water stress, or at least in the most sensitive plots. Fortunately a little rain in August arrived just in time to ensure a quick and regular veraison. The drought, which arrived again in September, together with very warm days and cool nights, enabled the grapes to balance their richness in sugar with good acidity, to render their tannins more silky and to make their aromatic potential more complex.
The harvest of the reds took place from September 18th to October 6th. The small size of the grapes and their thicker skins indicated a very high concentration of tannins and the 2015 weather conditions are in fact the feature of very great vintages, like 2005, 2009 and 2010.
Margaux du Chateau Margaux 2015, AOC Margaux, 14% Abv.
The 2015 Margaux du Chateau Margaux red is a splendid garnet-purple coloured creation with an incredibly inviting aromatics bursting with seductive notes of black berries, crème de cassis, pressed rose petals, lavender, sappy sandalwood and hints of sweet Cohiba cigar tobacco spice. This vintage has got to be the ripest and most opulent expression of this Margaux Bordeaux since the maiden 2009 release, showing a medium to full–bodied flavour packed mouthful, delivering a lush black berry seduction, hints of black forest gateau and a tight knit vein of finely polished spicy tannins which melt away into a fresh, inviting acidity that somewhat reins in the warm 2015 fruit exuberance. But this wine is certainly not lacking in backbone or classicism, revealing plenty of mid-palate concentration and focused precision as you would expect from one of the greatest Chateau in Bordeaux. Drink now on release and over 10 to 15+ years.
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.
The rugby community around the world is one of the most tight-knit sporting bodies in existence, with clubs, provinces and nations eternally bound together in the camaraderie of battle on the rugby pitch. So it is no surprise that ex-Springbok rugby legend Schalk Burger Senior stepped up once again to offer to produce a premium wine for the Richmond Heavies of West London Rugby club, Richmond RFC.
The Richmond Heavies were formed in the 1971-72 season and have remained an integral part of the Richmond Rugby Club in West London ever since with a well-earned reputation as a very strong playing side and an even better touring side. As a celebration of their 50th anniversary, a specially crafted red wine was conceived and created that would represent an appropriate tribute. Drawing on the decades of wine experience of Schalk Burger’s Welbedacht Estate in Wellington, Western Cape, this classical Bordeaux blend is the inaugural choice for the Richmond Heavies eponymous label.
With sadly several unexpected fatalities across playing age groups in recent years, the sales of The 1861 Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot will look to raise extra funds to provide much needed medical services at the club. But the crowning glory of this charitable project is that it is based around the sales of a genuinely premium fine wine that will appeal to collectors and connoisseurs alike. Another superb wine for another worthy rugby cause.
Welbedacht Estate The 1861 Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot 2018, WO Wellington, 14% Abv.
This classic 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot Cape Bordeaux blend displays a gorgeously spicy aromatics of black currant leaf, black cherry, freshly cut cedar, burnt matchstick and graphite spice with undertones of fresh tobacco leaf and black plum compote. The palate is intense but sumptuous, beautifully seamless, boasting a cool and creamy black berry, cassis fruited demeanour with plenty of textural precision, a tight knit focus, layers of pithy black cherry and a delicate but detailed, voluminous mocha-tinged mouthful on the finish. Pure, long and suitably fresh, this delicious red blend is another class act from the Welbedacht Estate of ex-Springbok rugby player Schalk Burger Snr. Enjoy this wine now and over the next 5 to 8+ years.
I have always been a big fan of Bordeaux second and third wines because of the pedigree and excellent value for money they normally offer. At the 2010 En-primeur tastings, I remember tasting with Chateau Margaux’s Paul Pontallier when he revealed the 2009 maiden release of the Margaux du Chateau Margaux, a wine that had yet to be named. In following years when this 2009 vintage finally arrived onto the market, it was decided that distribution would be exclusively through the on-trade and restaurant trade. This was of course a time when Bordeaux prices were running riot in the open market making it incredibly difficult for restaurants to list quality Bordeaux wines at affordable prices.
The third wine of the legendary Chateau Margaux, the Margaux du Chateau Margaux 2014 benefited enormously from the outstanding selection made in this vintage. The Pavillon Rouge and Chateau Margaux assemblages made up just 60% of the harvest in 2014 which allowed the Margaux du Chateau Margaux cuvee to be enhanced with multiple parcels previously destined for Chateau Margaux’s Pavillon Rouge, a wine that regularly sells for over £250+ retail per bottle and double or triple that amount in premium restaurants. The result is one of the finest vintages of this third wine to date composed in equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon (49%) and Merlot (49%) with a small percentage of Petit Verdot. If you see it on a restaurant list at circa £100 per bottle, buy it with confidence.
Margaux du Chateau Margaux 2014, Bordeaux, 13% Abv.
This pretty wine displays a wonderfully inviting perfumed nose of pressed violets, grilled coffee beans, black cherry and buttered brown breakfast toast. Even for a 2014, this seven-year-old wine shows lashings of blackcurrant and black plum fruit with the extra years in bottle giving the wine some glorious complexing notes of tannery leather, tobacco and wood smoke. Close your eyes and it`s like sitting back in a comfy old leather armchair in the library of a grand old London private members club. In the mouth, it reveals plush reassuring nuances of black berry fruits, hints of autumnal foresty bramble berries and a seductive touch of cocoa bean and milk chocolate. The length is long and impressive with fine ripe fleshy tannins and an elegant harmonious texture that screams classy Margaux terroir. A truly impressive wine conceived and blended for relatively early consumption in a restaurant environment but packs more than enough punch to accompany the heartiest of cuisine. Drink now and over the next 6 to 8+ years.
I have made no secret over the years that I love the concept of premium second wines, whether from Bordeaux, Napa Valley or Cape Town. The Meerlust Estate Red Blend last made a local South African market appearance back in 2011, when the Meerlust Estate declassified their Rubicon flagship wine. To avoid confusion, a ‘Meerlust Red’ is made every vintage but only for the international export market where second wines are well entrenched as viable alternatives for mid-week drinking or for less serious occasions but do not cannibalise the sales of the premium cuvee. However, this wine is not normally sold in the home market unless a specific vintage of Rubicon is declassified into the Red Blend like in 2011, 2002, 1990 and 1985.
Inevitably, when the wider market realises that the premium Rubicon Red Blend has not been released, the Meerlust Red acquires a massive and immediate following, such is the pedigree and reputation of the Meerlust Estate. Sold in the local home market for half the price of the Rubicon, the Red Blend is always an exceptional value wine and drinkers would be well advised to fill their cellars to pad out their drinking of the more age worthy vintages of Meerlust Rubicon.
Meerlust Red 2019, WO Stellenbosch
The 2019 Meerlust Red is a blend of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Initially a little reticent on opening, this wine quickly sheds its broody, sulky, spicy veil to reveal a wonderfully complex aromatic array of black plum, black berry compote, orange peel, Christmas pudding over hints of pressed violets, sweet cedar spice and graphite nuances. The palate is plush and fleshy from the word go, showing an open knit, expressive opulence of red currant, bramble berry, black currant, sweet oak spice, black tea and a sleek texture that simply embraces the palate and makes you go back again and again for another sip. Refreshingly vibrant and impressively generous, I suspect this wine will age surprisingly well for over 10+ years even though it’s simply a cracking drinker right now on release. Hats off to the entire Meerlust crew.
It is no secret that for the past decade, Bordeaux negociants have been marking out new territory and colonising a whole new array of fine wine producers outside of their usual Bordeaux remit, from Bolgheri to Napa, Constantia to Aconcagua Valley. Slowly but surely, more and more international producers have been lured in and shifted all or most of their distribution into Europe via ‘the Place’… named after the de facto En-primeur institution that is the Place de Bordeaux.
I regularly get asked about the pros and cons of moving one’s distribution solely to the Place, but I will save that discussion for another day because today the authoritative Bordeaux negociant CVBG rolled into London town and presented a pretty spectacular array of collectable new releases. With Covid protocols in practice, tastings were restricted to timed slots so my notes are short and brief.
The New Italian Releases:
Caiarossa 2018, Toscana
A blend of 30% Syrah, 28% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Sangiovese and 2% Alicante. The initial impression is one of fine-tuned richness and opulence with expressive complexity. Palate is packed with black currant fruits, dusty mocha and lovely well integrated fine grained gravelly tannins. A well-conceived Tuscan blend that performs.
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Bibi Graetz Testamatta 2019, Toscana
This 100% Sangiovese cuvee from the famed Bibi Graetz shows impressive perfume of white lily blossom combined with a lifted, piquant spice that melts into red currants, liquorice and pink musk. In the mouth it is bright, fresh and weightlessly concentrated, bristling with tart red cherry, hints of tar, red liquorice and finishes with a long, classical gravelly mineral persistence. A very smart wine indeed.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Bibi Graetz Colore 2019, Toscana
Produced from three 100% Sangiovese vineyard sites with 70, 80 and 90-year-old vines, this iconic cuvee from Bibi Graetz is a monumental effort resonating with a rich deep opulent nose of extroverted blue and black berry fruit nuances that are layered and cool on the palate with an impressively creamy textured mouthfeel packed with intensity, a sleek salty complexity and a generous caramelised kiss of blueberry fruit. Delicious in every sense.
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Marchesi Antinori Solaia 2018, Toscana
From the famously cooler 2018 growing season in Tuscany, this Solaia retains an authoritatively deep, dark, rich and bold character while simultaneously showing impressive subtlety, complex notes of cedar, lead pencil, graphite and pithy herby black currant fruits. The palate is full and robust, spicy and intense with freshness and fabulous focus. A definitively herby cool vintage character evident in this complex imposing wine.
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Tenuta del Ornellaia Massetino 2019, Toscana
This notoriously difficult to buy, small production second wine from the Masseto estate in Bolgheri is a blend of 94% Merlot with 6% Cabernet Franc. Exceptionally well proportioned and balanced, the nose is positively brimming with dark broody black berry fruits with interwoven notes of sweet cedar spice, black plum, vanilla pod, blueberry crumble and a sleek graphite complexity with fine grained tannins on the finish. Powerful but also seductive.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Tenuta del Ornellaia Masseto 2018, Toscana
This 100% Merlot is wonderfully dark and opaque in colour, the aromatics are vibrant and expressive bursting with notes of violets and pink flowers, dried rose petals and white flowers melting into notes of sour plum and ripe macerated cherries. The palate is cool and fresh with focused glassy acids, an impressive taut linearity and the most engrossing and precise textural balance imaginable. There is intensity and refreshing length of dark berry fruits that combine with strikingly mineral graphite tannins that finish with great power and authority. Another benchmark Masseto.
It must surely be one of the most captivating stories to emerge from the Cape winelands in the past decade – the resurrection of one of South Africa’s most famous wines, the Cordoba Crescendo Cape Bordeaux Blend originally made famous by talented wine maker Chris Keet in the mid to late 1990s. For many, drinking a bottle of Crescendo 1995 ranked as one of the pinnacles of local fine wine experiences and then all of a sudden… the winery disappeared.
I started filling my cellar in South Africa in the mid to late 1990s and was fortunate enough to purchases a number of cases of the Cordoba Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and of course the Crescendo from vintages in 1995, 1996 and 1997. While I did drink and enjoy a majority of the bottles, a number of them were left to mature in my cellar. I certainly had no idea what became of the famous Helderberg estate and what the reasons were for its demise, but when the Oddo family who also have wine ventures in Sancerre, Provence, and Sicily, purchased the famous winery in 2017 and recruited cellar master Schalk-Willem Joubert of Rupert & Rothschild fame to oversee proceedings, the scene looked set for the resumption of quality winemaking.
The first new 2018 release from the estate was launched in South Africa under the Taaibosch Crescendo label earlier this year. As I understand it, the owners are not in a position to use the original Cordoba name anymore and thus moved to the Taaibosch title. All grapes on the estate were hand-picked and once received in the cellar, the grapes were gently transferred by means of gravity to both stainless steel and cement vessels for fermentation. A period of cold soaking followed which enabled a rich extraction of colour, aromas and flavours. Extended maceration followed at the conclusion of fermentation, which assists in providing the wine with a soft texture, increased colour intensity and complexity.
The soil of the Helderberg region is fertile and mostly homogenous across the region. It consists predominantly of Table Mountain sandstone resting on Cape Granite. The soil has excellent water and nutrient holding capacity and is rich in kaolinite, iron and aluminium oxides, causing the distinct red colour, associated to the region. Taaibosch is situated on a lens of withered Malmesbury shale, setting it apart from the other vineyards in the region. The Crescendo 2018 was matured in a combination of 225 litre oak barrels, 9000 litre Foudre vessels and traditional 4500 litre cement tanks for a period of three years. These different vessels each add their own personality to the finished wine, ranging from fruity characters to subtle wood influences. All these elements were then brought together selectively to form a harmonious blend.
Taaibosch Crescendo 2018, WO Stellenbosch
pH 3.57 | RS 3.7g/l | 13.5% Abv
This wine conforms to the classically defined Crescendo blend (Cheval Blanc inspired) of 65% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon harvested from vines of 20 years of age or older. On opening in the early afternoon, the Crescendo 2018 was dense, tight and grippy with mouth coating tannins drying the front and sides of the palate. Nevertheless, the over-riding sensation was one of underlying elegance, purity of fruit and intensity sitting in the clutches of a youthful fist clench. Tasting the wine over the following 4 hours started to reveal its true pedigree which admittedly could easily have been missed on the initial pop and pour prognosis. With a little time to open its shoulders, the aromatics really start to unfurl classic notes of sweet cedary briary spice, saline inky black currant fruits, buttered brown toast, rose oil, dried violets, hints of graphite and led pencil shavings. The palate is decidedly mineral and classical with stony, textured fine grained tannins that are powerful and imposing yet ripe and supple enough to allow the layers of black and red berry fruits to slowly emerge. There is fabulous density, plenty of dry extract and concentration all pointing to a power-packed wine that is built with extended ageing in mind. In many ways, the design and texture of this wine harks back to a bygone era where immediacy and complete accessibility on release were not always the winemaker’s primary objectives. This wine has wonderful gravitas, an individual character and a real palate presence and continues to tantalise the senses right up to the very last sip that is loaded with a lovely broad blood orange acidity and mouth-watering salinity. I feel confident this wine is something really special to bury in your cellar for drinking over a good 15 to 20+ years. An impressive homage to the original Crescendo blends of the late 1990s.
The Guado al Tasso estate is located in the small but prestigious Bolgheri DOC appellation on the coast of Upper Maremma, about one hundred kilometers southwest of Florence. This appellation has a relatively recent history as it was only established in 1994 but has since gained worldwide recognition as a new reference point in the international fine wine scene.
Il Bruciato, the second wine, was first produced in 2002 in one of the most difficult vintages ever for the famous Guado al Tasso estate. The wine is now regarded as a modern interpretation of Bolgheri’s unique terroir made from carefully selected Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes from all around Guado al Tasso’s vineyards.
The 2019 vintage’s growing season saw relatively cool weather in April and May then hot, dry conditions throughout the end of July. The slight delay in the vines’ initial growth cycle evened out as summer began. A sudden rise in temperatures caused the vines to produce lighter, loosely packed clusters, especially notable in the late ripening varieties where fruit set wasn’t yet fully completed. The months of August and September brought steady sunny weather that allowed grapes to progress to full ripeness in optimal conditions.
Harvesting operations began with Merlot at the beginning of September and were completed with Cabernet Sauvignon at the beginning of October. The other grape varieties, Syrah and smaller quantities of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, were picked during the last half of September.
Cabernet Sauvignon was blended with Merlot, Syrah and a small percentage of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and the final blend was reintroduced into barriques where it was left to age before bottling.
Antinori Tenuta Guado Al Tasso Il Bruciato 2019, Bolgheri DOC, 14.5% Abv.
Always an exceptional wine of compelling quality, the fresher, more structured 2018 sold out very quickly after release making the 2019 even more anticipated. An exciting new vintage, the wine is decidedly more opulent and generously fruited with aromatics of black cherry tobacco, black berry, graphite, iron filings, sweet cedar and purple rock candy confectionary nuances on the finish. On the palate there is an impressive depth of fruit with a notable glycerol, mouth-filling breadth together with sweet creamy mineral tannins and a fleshy mocha-laced black berry fruit accessibility. Where the 2018 was slightly more angular, cooler and nervy, the 2019 is more seductive, opulent, luxurious and obviously riper. While this is a wine that has increased in price significantly over the past few years it remains a real must-buy for regular Bolgheri enthusiasts.