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 our 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 bend 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/

Vilafonte Blazing an Impressive Quality Trail with Their Seriously Old Dirt Second Wine – Their 2015 and New Release 2016 Reviewed…

I have been following Vilafonte’s Seriously Old Dirt releases quite closely since I first quaffed a few sneaky “members only” 2012 maiden release bottles with Mike Ratcliffe back in 2014 in Stellenbosch. But as a proper, true second wine of Vilafonte Series C and M, Seriously Old Dirt is a cuvee that has increased in quality in parallel to the amazing Vilafonte first wine releases.

But of course, everyone likes a fine wine bargain and everyone likes a plush, elegant premium wine with engineered structural accessibility while retaining age worthy credentials. So on the eve of the 2016 Vilafonte Series M release, I took the opportunity to re-examine not only the epic 2015 Seriously Old Dirt release but also taste the 2016 vintage for the first time. I was suitably impressed on many levels!

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2015,  WO Paarl, 13.5 Abv.

With more than a decade of vintages and a wealth of critical accolades and 90+ point ratings, Vilafonté has become a benchmark for South African Bordeaux blends. In 2012 they introduced a limited-production 2nd label – Seriously Old Dirt – that was initially only made availble to their private mailing list of international wine club members. Roll on three years and the epic 2015 follows on where the confident and solid 2014 (92/100 Greg Sherwood MW) left off. A wonderfully dense polished wine that is rich and full-bodied with complex aromas of pure black currant, black cherries, balsamic and fruitcake, lifted with Christmasy aromas of freshly cut cedar, nutmeg and all spice. The palate is impressively elegant and soft on entry with a ‘light on its feet’ texture but also a supremely concentrated, luscious mouth feel framed by a vibrant, fresh acidity that adds to the premium feel and expressiveness of this wine. Made in a proper second wine production model, this vintage is dead serious but can be approached and drunk now but will undoubtedly age beautifully for a decade and a half plus.

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

 

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2016, WO Paarl, 13.6 Abv.

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 76%, Merlot 13% and Malbec 11%. A deep purple black plum robe is cast by this new release Bordeaux blend. The nose is aromatically very complex and expressive, slowly unfurling layers of sweet fragrant black currant, blueberry compote, sweet pithy black cherries and alluring notes of sweet tobacco, wet autumn leaves, violets and dried mint leaf. Beautifully modern and incredibly precise, this medium bodied red blend observes the signature light touch accessibility of a genuinely premium second wine while teasing the palate with tremendous intensity of Cabernet-led creme de cassis, black currant pastille fruits, fruitcake, macerated damson plums and sun raisined black cherries. The flavours gently build in the mouth making you more and more aware of not only the persistent intensity of fruit but also the vibrant chiselled acids and chalky, powdery tannins. This is probably the most impressively assembled Bordeaux blend yet produced under the Seriously Old Dirt label and mirrors the incredible quality ascent witnessed in both the Vilafonte Series C and M 2016 releases. A really fabulous cuvee that imparts a lasting feel of grandeur and pleasure to the drinker. Like all previous releases, this is ready to go now but will age gracefully for at least 10 to 15+ years. 

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

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 7: La Chapelle de La Mission Haut Brion 2014, Pessac-Leognan…

In 1682, the Lazarist Fathers, a community founded by Saint Vincent de Paul, received the La Mission Haut Brion estate as a legacy from Madame Olive de Lestonnac and over the centuries has been owned by a number of illustrious families, the last being the current owners Domaine Clarence Dillon who purchased the property in 1983. For most of this time, La Mission Haut Brion  has been producing exceptional red and white wines from their highly prized Pessac-Leognan terroir.

 

Graves is the large red and white wine region located to the southeast of the city of Bordeaux along the Garonne River. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the red wines from the area, while the whites are mixtures of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The most important area within the Graves is the village of Pessac-Leognan. Most of the great chateaux, including Haut Brion, a premier cru and the only wine outside of the Medoc to be included in the 1855 Classification, are located in this small appellation. Graves derives its name from the rocky, stony terrain of the region and many people believe that the stony soil radiates the day’s heat at night and thus makes the grapes ripen earlier than some of the other regions in Bordeaux.

This is the first time I have revisited this wine since I tasted it En-primeur at the chateau in 2015. More importantly for me, it was one of the few wines from the 2014 vintage that I purchased a case of for myself at the time. So there was of course an added interest to crack a bottle and assess the contents. With critical scores ranging from 88/100 to 94/100 for this specific wine, I really had no idea what to expect.

La Chapelle de La Mission-Haut-Brion 2014, Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, 14 Abv.

This opulent second wine of Chateau La Mission Haut Brion is a blend of 45% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and incorporates 8% of press wine. Impressively deep and dark in colour suggesting this wine has concentration and adequate extraction to add a bit of extra second wine muscle. With now 5 years of age from vintage, the aromatics are still seductively scent laden with lifted notes of fresh violets, cherry blossom, crushed blackberries, blueberries, Christmas cinnamon stick and freshly sawn cedar suggesting a fine degree of fruit ripeness without being outlandish, with all hints of crushed leaves and sappy spice notes dissipating as the black forest fruits envelope the nose with a complex brambly fragrance. The palate is also wonderfully generous and sweet fruited with a medium bodied weighting, fine sleek polished tannins and a most comforting melange of black currant, bramble berries, black cherry and salty black licorice. There is a satisfying hint of sweet tobacco, subtle layers of freshly tilled earth in true Graves style but also a pronounced mineral classism enhanced by vibrant fresh acids. A very pretty, distinguished second wine expression that is showing fine drinkability already but no doubt will be even more complex and exponentially more enjoyable with another 5 to 8+ years of additional bottle ageing. I really liked this wine in barrel and I love it more so now.

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

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 South African Red Wines of the Year 2018…

What a fascinating and historical year 2018 was for red wines in South Africa. With the exception of only a few wineries, most premium producers released their incredible 2015 wines made from what is generally being regarded as probably the best quality vintage in South Africa’s modern post-apartheid era of winemaking.

Having already released the Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Whites of the Year, I have been overwhelmed with the comments of agreement and support for my selections. But then again, many will argue that the list included a multitude of excellent 2017 vintage wines and that the “white category” still remains South Africa’s strongest talent. While all of this may be true, 2018 saw the release of multiple red wines that pushed quality boundaries like never before. We’ll hand some of that to the vintage conditions of 2015 and 2017 but I’d also like to credit the growing confidence, expertise, knowhow and ambition of winemakers across the South African landscape.

If you are a seasoned veteran of premium South African wines, you will nod knowingly and expectantly at many of my red selections. If you are new to the South African category, perhaps living in the USA, Europe or Asia, make an effort to track these wines down now as many might still be available and all are definitely worth buying, even at their sometimes lofty price points! In my mind, they all represent relative value for money for what they are. Enjoy!

Kanonkop Paul Sauer Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Meerlust Rubicon Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Vilafonte Series C 2016 Red Blend, Paarl – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Boekenhoutskloof Journeyman Red Blend 2015, WO Western Cape – 97+/100 GregSherwood MW

Donovan Rall Ava Syrah 2017, Swartland – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Tokara Telos Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

MR de Compostella Red Blend 2016, Stellenbosch – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Iron Syrah 2016, Swartland – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Stellenbosch – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Duncan Savage Red Blend 2015, WO Western Cape – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone who helped make 2018 such a memorable year! 🍷🎄 🦄

Don’t miss my “Year in Photographs” coming up before New Years Eve 2018.

Vilafonte’s Co-Owner Mike Ratcliffe Unveils the Phenomenal New Release Series C 2016 in London…

So all it took was a fleeting flying visit to London to give a small select group of wine trade buyers a sneak peak of this exciting new Vilafonte Series C 2016 blend and the hype and excitement was in full swing. Co-proprietor Mike Ratcliffe scheduled this pre-release tasting to allow a few UK market heavy weights a chance to hear about and taste the success story of the 2016 vintage first hand before the official South African launch on the 1st of November.  

The first plantings were made at Vilafonte on their 42 hectares way back in 1995 and at the time included Petit Verdot which was the only one of the five Bordeaux varieties which proved to be unsatisfactory and was subsequently grubbed up. On the plus side, varieties like Malbec proved to be incredibly successful along with the classics of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, all planted on the 750+ million year old low potential “Vilafonte” soils of Paarl.

With the first commercial release now already the 2003 vintage, Vilafonte can no longer be regarded as one of the fine wine new kids on the block but rather one of the leading lights in the premium red wine category in South Africa. To put the new release into proper context, the 2016 was tasted along side an illustrious array of older vintages of both Series C and Series M.

With Co-owner Mike Ratcliffe

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2014, 13.5 Abv. (Second Label of Vilafonte)

A blend of 41% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Malbec and produced from the same meticulously farmed vineyards as the Series C and M wines, inevitably when you are making complex blends, there will be high quality wine components that don’t make the final Grand Vins, which are instead redirected to the second wine Seriously Old Dirt. The 2014 shows a sophisticated dark broody nose full of earthy black berry, cassis leaf, crushed gravel and blueberry spice. The palate is plush and restrained, full of complex layers of black bramble berry fruit, tobacco spice, graphite and liquid minerality. Very grown up, wonderfully classical and texturally incredibly pure and polished with little oak imprint. A superb introduction to the profound wines of Vilafonte. 

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series M 2015, 14 Abv. 

40% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon and 29% Malbec, with 22 months ageing in French oak. 68 barrels produced. The bouquet shows a leaning towards a plummier opulence with liquid graphite, dusty gravel, black cherries, damson plum, brûléed coffee beans and subtle sweet chocolate and tomato puree nuance. The palate texture is incredibly classical and fine, harking back to some of the finest right bank Merlot based blends produced. The finish shows saline plum, cassis, piquant lipstick spice and the most dreamy creamy chocolate eclair generosity. Delicious wine from a very classy, top notch vintage. This is certainly one for the cellar.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series C 2009, 14.8 Abv.

54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc and 8% Malbec aged 23 months in 100% new French oak. 23 barrels produced. Still an impressively dark garnet red rim, the bouquet resonates with complex notes of wet tannery leather, dusty chew tobacco, dried thyme and sage, espresso, freshly tilled earth and stewed red currants. This big bold vintage is rich and youthful, full of creamy brioche, black currant and sweet black plum notes with cool fresh acidity harmoniously balanced by eminently powerful and bold sweet textural tannins. A vintage regarded as one of the greats and showing very gracefully. In a happy place at the moment but certainly no rush to drink this one.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series C 2014, 14.5 Abv

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Malbec aged 22 months in 70% new French oak. 48 barrels produced. Wonderfully pure, fine and fragrant with a noticeably youthful fragrance of black cherries, graphite, violets and caramelised red berry fruits. A lovely fine hedonistic opulence is present in the glass with the most intricate and expensive oak profile, vanilla pod spice and supple, creamy, polished mineral tannins. Wonderful purity and freshness to behold. Wow, not the most famous vintage for red wine collectors in South Africa but a wine with a surfeit of poise and elegance, purity, focus and harmony. A splendid wine indeed.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series C 2015, 14.5 Abv.

57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 9% Malbec aged 22 months in 67% new French oak. 44 barrels produced. A superbly distinguished classical red blend with a lush opulent bouquet of black cassis, espresso, dried sage, sweet tobacco, graphite spice and buttered brown toast. What a wonderfully proportioned wine that really takes South African red wine quality to the next level. Purity and precision, seamlessly integrated oak with effortless power, concentration and balance. This has all the hallmarks of greatness.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series C 2016, 14.5 Abv.

62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 12% Malbec and 11% Cabernet Franc aged 22 months in 77% new French oak. 30 barrels produced. The most focused and intricate of aromatics, the small, tight, compact black grape bunches harvested in 2016 are accurately captured and represented perfectly in this stunning premium wine. Less distinctly showy and opulent than the 2015 blockbuster at the same stage of its evolution, this is an incredibly finely composed red blend with massive precision but also plenty of curb appeal, revealing fragrant layers of crushed violets, blueberry pie, vanilla pod spice, buttered brown toast, saline cassis, liquid minerality and a graphite complexity. Within a restrained, concentrated style, this vintage represents the most intelligent extraction and tannin management possible reflecting the care required to handle the small, thick skinned berries in this drought vintage. A hauntingly pretty wine that is seriously compact and complete and dare I say a step up in quality on even the spectacular 2015 release. Drink from release or cellar for 25+ years as this wine certainly has the structure and stuffing for the long haul.

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

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)