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.

Mastering New Vintage Angst – Tasting the New Release MR de Compostella 2016 Red Blend…

I’m looking forward to writing up my summary of the best South African red wines of 2018 as the list should feature a tantalising tussle between the last few late release 2015 vintage red creations and some of the follow up 2016 new release challengers. One of the most iconic releases of 2017 was undoubtedly the 2015 MR de Compostella, still arguably the most sought after and collectable Bordeaux-styled fine wine produced in South Africa and one of the very few stalwarts that regularly trades on the Liv-ex International Fine Wine Exchange in London.

Bruwer Raats and his MR de Compostella partner Mzokhona Mvemve state that the “aim with the MR de Compostella wine is to take each of the five components and make a varietal wine in it’s own right. The wines are then tasted blind after one year in barrel. The wines that scored less than 90/100 points are then not considered for the final blend”. This is a very rigorous and ruthless process no doubt but also one which has assured that the final component blend release has never scored lower than 93/100 from international critics since the maiden vintage in 2004. So if you want a track record for your fine wine, there you have it!

The 2016 vintage was the second of the drought vintages and while 2015 was also very hot and dry, it did have the added benefit of plenty of ground water reserves after a wet 2014 winter. So an altogether more challenging set of conditions for the 2016 vintage that puts the achievements of Bruwer and Mzokhona into greater context with the magical new release of MR de Compostella.

MR de Compostella 2016 Bordeaux Blend, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

It happens in all fine classical regions… the angst and agony of a successor vintage following on from a block buster release like… 2015 Bordeaux, 2015 Super Tuscans or indeed 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon based blends in South Africa. Made from grapes from Stellenbosch grown on decomposed dolomite granitic soils, what immediately strikes you is the large percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon that makes up the final blend in 2016. So renowned for his exceptional Cabernet Franc creations, many of Bruwer Raats’ past MR de Compostella red blend releases have had a dominant percentage of Cabernet Franc which can leave a real signature imprint on the final wine.

The 2016 however is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon; 17% Cabernet Franc; 12% Malbec; 6% Petit Verdot and 2% Merlot with a 14.5 Abv, 3.59 pH, and a 5.7 TA. The aromatics are cool, perfumed and spicy showing plenty of overt violet fragrance, cedar spice, cinnamon stick, pencil box and dried mint leaf with an overall tendency towards elegance and classism rather than overt decadence. There is no shortage of sultry black berry fruit complexity with seductive nuances of black currant, pithy black cherry and sun raisined cranberries but they do require a bit of coaxing out the glass. Medium bodied, the palate is wonderfully understated and elegant, quite feminine but very precise and slightly more linear than some of the bigger more opulent, masculine vintages from MR, but is equally beguiling and sophisticated, teasing the senses with delicious notes of blood orange, raspberry coulis, earthy red currant, salty cassis and a sumptuous milk chocolate harmony. A thoroughly enchanting and engaging wine, the 2016 is a little more elegant and light on its feet, more ballerina than gymnast, retaining a keen line of acidity and freshness, impressive subtlety and awesome textural finesse. This has all the markings of another truly great expression. In the end, the wine does not feel Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated at all … with the sum of the component parts greatly surpassed by the finished blend. Drink this beauty from release and over the next 15+ years. Well done boys!

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

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Most Memorable South African Red Wines of 2017…

South Africa must possess some of the most distinguished and diverse high quality white wines in the world. But some how it seems that consumers, connoisseurs and collectors judge a country or region’s prestige almost exclusively based on the quality of the red wines produced. In 2017 South Africa fortuitously released many of its truly greatest 2015 red wines making it a bumper year for red wine ratings and reviews internationally.

My top 10 selection of reds and whites is based on wines that I tasted and drank through the year and that I considered supremely memorable as well as very high in quality. They were not selected purely based on scores.

So again, in no specific order…here is my Top 10 Most Memorable South African Red Wines of 2017.

MR de Compostella Bordeaux Blend 2015, Stellenboch – 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Bruwer Raats may be known as the Chenin King but it has to be his incredible red wines that have truly cemented his global reputation as an iconic fine wine producer. There can be no doubting the quality of his amazing Cabernet Franc reds which he is so proud of. Indeed, who can forget the high powered tasting in Europe where his 2001 Cabernet Franc trumped Cheval Blanc 2001 and was lauded by Jancis Robinson OBE MW as one of the greatest varietal Cabernet Francs in the world. But for me, it is another wine that has always captured my heart.

As a consummate Bordeaux lover, the MR de Compostella has been an absolute eye opener since the maiden 2004 was released. Tasted again recently, the 2004 is still youthfully dense, taught, concentrated and utterly majestic with another 20+ years of life left ahead of it. Having tasted every vintage pre-release since 2004, I like to think I have an intimate knowledge of this wine. So when Bruwer did a pre-release vertical tasting in London earlier this year, we got to see the 2015 in all its noble splendour. I received a few raised eye brows for scoring this wine 98 points, but my argument was simple… When tasted along side critically acclaimed MR vintages that scored 95 or 96 points internationally, the 2015 was considered 15% to 20% better. So I had no hesitation in scoring this wine 98 points and declaring it my 🍷🍷 South African Red Wine of the Year 2017.  

Congratulations Bruwer Raats and team.

Raats Family Wines Eden Single Vineyard High Density Cabernet Franc 2015, Stellenbosch – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

As if making one of the highest rated reds in South Africa wasn’t enough, Bruwer has continued to pursue his passion for all things Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc related, launching the first Raats Eden High Density red and white releases last year to great acclaim. The Eden Cabernet Franc has seduced journalists from far and wide, astounding drinkers with the quality achieved from 6 year old vines. ‘Quality by Design’ is the buzz phrase attributed to these fascinating wines that have been recognised locally in South Africa and internationally as outstanding examples of Cabernet Franc varietal purity and precision. Made in tiny quantities, this is a red wine designed to impress the most accomplished and educated palates. I sense there will be very little disagreement on the inclusion of this wine.

Beeslaar Pinotage 2015, Stellenbosch – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

I recently attended the International Wines & Spirits Competition awards ceremony in London a few weeks ago and sat at the neighbouring table to Abrie Beeslaar and Johan Krige, to witness them being awarded the “International Winery of the Year” for the third year in a row and “Winemaker of the Year” for their outstanding wines at Kanonkop. What an honour. But Abrie also has a small project on the side producing limited amounts of this eponymously named wine from some exceptional Pinotage grapes. Only in its fourth vintage, this impressive Pinotage comes from a 22 year old single block close to Simonsig planted on shale soils. Seeing less new oak than the super premium Kanonkop Black Label, this expression is an opulent, sleek, textured glassful of brilliance with the most incredible harmony, purity and balance. This is exceptional Pinotage that really puts this unique variety on the world wine map. An outstanding effort from Abrie Beeslaar.

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Roundstone Schist Syrah 2015, Swartland – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW  

In March I paid a long awaited visit to Chris and Andrea at their Roundstone farm in the Swartland to taste the new releases of their Mullineux and the Leeu Passant wines. The Schist Syrah, sourced from grapes grown on the Roundstone farm,  has become one of their most sought after wines internationally due to its opulence, fragrance and balanced blueberry fruit intensity that harks back to the great icon wines of the northern Rhone in every way. I do have an inkling that their Granite or Iron Syrah Cuvées may age better over the very long term, but over the medium term, the Schist Syrah represents one of the most outstanding expressions of Syrah coming out of South Africa at the moment.

Duncan Savage Follow the Line 2016 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

Of all the new red wine creations that have come out of the Cape in the past five years, few can rival Follow the Line for its mantel of most delicious cult wine! This wonderful Cinsault / Grenache / Syrah blend from Duncan Savage is a wine that effectively captured the mood of a new generation of wine drinkers looking for characterful, vibrant, energetic, crunchy fresh reds that could be drunk on release or cellared for 10+ years. Since the maiden 2014 release, this wine has got better and better and now that Duncan is settling into his own new urban winery in Salt River in Cape Town, you can expect all his whites and reds to become even more focused and distinguished. One of my favourite red wines from one of my favourite South African winemakers. If you have not tried this wine yet, get your skates on!

Sadie Family Wines Columella Red Blend 2015, Swartland – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

What a year it has been for Eben Sadie! Winemaker awards, sell out wines, continued growing cult status internationally, and high quality wines that seem to get better and better every year despite vintage conditions. With already two whites making my top 10, this has got to be the wine that Eben takes the most pride in producing. He has always been aware of the hype that surrounds the micro vinifications in the Old Vine Series, but the Palladius and Columella are his “day job” and his bread and butter and most certainly his pride and joy. So to have released two of the greatest ever expressions of both of these wines is a true testament to the upward trajectory that Eben continues to travel on. One of the truly great winemakers of the world and one of the greatest wineries. What an accolade to make South African’s proud.

Brian Smith & Niels Verburg The Cabernet Franc 2014, Bot River – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

While neither Brian Smith or Niels Verburg are newcomers to the South African wine scene, their new joint venture red certainly ruffled a few feathers in the local South African wine scene with the release of the THE Cabernet Franc sourced from a small vineyard in the Bot River region. Classy, polished, opulent, and distinguished, this wine has all the attributes of a Napa Valley cult wine including the matching price tag. The greatest thing about this wine has been the discussion and open debate that has resulted after its release… which was one of its primary aims to be fair. The contents is certainly very sexy and luxurious and drinking my first bottle was undoubtedly a very memorable moment.

Boschkloof Epilogue Syrah 2015, Stellenbsoch – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

I remember seeing my Swartland based Rhone junkie friends Ryan Mostert and Samantha Suddons drinking bottles of Boschkloof Syrah and occasionally Epilogue Syrah years ago and thinking that I need to get to grips with these wines (I grew up drinking father Jacques Bormans’ wines!) When Jamet junkies are raving about them, they must be serious. Last Christmas I reviewed the Epilogue 2014 Syrah and rated it as one of my top reds of the year. Surely the epic 2015 vintage would have to be better!? Well, I would say it is equally as good but not better. It is the perennial trap we fall into thinking that block buster vintages always make better wines. For most producers they do, but for the likes of Reenen Borman, his real talents are revealed in the less than perfect vintages (2014 or 2016). But splitting hairs aside, this is one of the most profound northern Rhone, Cote Rotie’esque  expressions of Syrah available in the New World. Well done Reenen!

Naude Family Wines Grenache 2014 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

What a year of change it has been for Ian Naude. After years of serving other masters, he has finally gone solo and become his own boss. Under the Naude Family wines label he will now seduce us with his very best talents in the form of Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Cinsault and Semillon. But just like last year when I included his “older” Chenin Blanc 2013, this year I have found myself simply unable to exclude his most profound, complex and impressive Grenache 2014. Such is the intrigue surrounding this wine that we felt compelled to repeat the “Wine Cellar / Roland Peens” Rayas blind show down again in London at one of the top Michelin star restaurants. Yet again, this fabulous wine beat off the competition and trounced some of the world’s greatest Grenache reds with ease. Sadly, this vineyard grape contract was subsequently lost and has not been made again since. So it is now not only one of the great red wines of South Africa, but it is firmly moving into the Unicorn ranks of collectability. We stand in hope that Ian will venture back into the Grenache minefield and attempt to craft another gem from this temperamental Rhone grape. Meantime, if you find any of the 2014, snap it up immediately!

Vilafonte Series C 2015, Paarl – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

This is another winery project that I have been following closely since its maiden vintage release in 2003. This joint venture between Warwick Estate’s Mike Ratcliffe and Californian wine guru power couple Phil Freese and Zelma long, unashamedly set out to produce the most precise, polished, high quality expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot possible from their manicured vineyards in Paarl. There is a subtle gloss to the wines, there is incredible polish, and the wines are quite international in style in many ways, but above all, there is a sense that the end goal is extreme quality without compromise. Ok, this approach may not work quite as well with wilder Syrah, Grenache or Cinsault, but for international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec… it is surely the path to greatness. Add to the ingredients a 5 star block buster vintage and hey presto, the Series C 2015 miraculously resembles some of the iconic high scoring Chateaux of Pauillac and St Julien from a riper left bank vintage in Bordeaux but with the precision and polish of Napa Valley.

Ground Breaking South African Bordeaux Blend ~ Rating the Epic 2015 MR de Compostella…

Mvemve Raats is a critically acclaimed collaboration between friends and winemakers Mzokhona Mvemve and Bruwer Raats. Bruwer is of course the owner and winemaker of Raats Family Wines, where he has earned a reputation for top notch Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Mzokhona Mvemve, the first Indaba Scholarship recipient, is a graduate of Stellenbosch University and one of South Africa’s first qualified black oenologists.


On Friday the 8th September, Bruwer Raats joined us to launch the 2015 vintage of the MR de Compostella. The grapes for this extremely limited production of MR are sourced from Stellenbosch, widely recognized as the Cape’s premier red wine-producing region, especially when it comes to Bordeaux style varieties. With the 2015 vintage currently being lauded in South Africa as possibly the best all-round vintage in South African viticultural history ever, the stage was perfectly set for Bruwer to perform his magic.


MR de Compostella 2015 Blend, WO Stellenbosch,14.5 Abv.

I have been one of Bruwer Raats’ biggest MR de Compostella followers in the UK market since the maiden 2004 vintage release, and we have tasted the MR pre-release every year together since then, discussing the wine’s blend and vintage complexities over a few bottles of MR and fine left bank claret. So after a great amount of anticipation, we got to taste the MR 2015 together last Friday. This is an absolutely gorgeous, coming of age wine. A blend of 40% Cabernet Franc, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot and 4% Malbec, the 2015 is genuinely a compelling wine with a classic nose more reminiscent of a fine, opulent Cru Classe Pauillac than a Stellenbosch Bordeaux blend. There are beautiful perfumed notes of assorted purple flowers and fresh violets that melt away to reveal ripe, intense notes of crème de cassis, blueberry crumble, cherry kirsch liquor and damson plum. The wine has gravitas, intensity and a room-silencing presence that is neither heavy nor overpowering. Like all MR vintages, it has impressive laser-like precision, a fine grained focus and an amazing fruit purity and concentration that is a hedonistic pleasure to experience. What extract, what fine piercing acids, what power, but all delivered in a sublimely harmonious chorus of black cassis fruits, blueberry confit and graphite spice. It is impossible to tire of this wine, with its palate freshness reigniting your senses continuously. More structured and intense than its riper, plumper predecessor 2014, the 2015 delivers more intensity, with tannic restraint and brooding classical Pauillac’esque depth. Drink this young if you will, but this MR is the closest Bruwer and Mvemve have come to perfection since they started this project in 2004. I expect the 2015 to be going strong in 30 to 40 years time and continuing to seduce connoisseurs  and collectors globally. 

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

South African Fine Wine Coming of Age – The Growth of the Investment Market

Whether you know it or not, a seismic shift in the international perception of South African fine wine is taking place among wine merchants and brokers in global markets.

In order for this to happen, several key factors have had to be realised in a way akin to a proverbial re-alignment of the celestial wine stars. What are these factors you may ask and what exactly encompasses the term “fine wine” in a South African and international context?

The term “fine wine” is generally used by the wine trade, collectors and connoisseurs to describe a wine that has reached a critical level of quality encapsulated by terms such as terroir, finesse, balance, elegance, pedigree, length, and age-worthiness, and that in all likelihood includes a very limited production, scarcity, a demand that far outstrips supply, and an acquired status that raises the wine head and shoulders above most of its peers.

When you factor in this quality status, the added awards from leading wine competitions like the Top 100 SA Wine Challenge, and combine it all with the glue of international acclaim, often in the form of a 20 or 100 point score, from influential wine critics such as Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, Jancis Robinson MW and Tim Atkin MW in the UK, Steve Tanzer and The Wine Spectator in the USA, then and only then do the top echelons of the global wine trade stop, sit up and start to take notice. After all, merchants trading in investment grade fine wines are always looking for the next big thing… their next big meal ticket. And so are collectors!

With Bordeaux En-primeur trading wallowing in the doldrums and losing relevance and Burgundy in the midst of a massive short supply and an unaffordability war resulting from three-plus low yielding harvests, eyes have been turned afresh to newer, less mature fine wine regions including Italy (Piedmont, Brunello and Bolgheri), the USA and more recently, South Africa.

Opportunities exist to be exploited, wines bought and sold to receptive private clients, collectors and investors with the likelihood of a secondary trading market resulting as a direct consequence of rising demand and rising prices.

In one sense, no fine wine lover wants to see their beloved wine estate or favourite wine increase in price and rarity to a point where acquiring it on release and drinking it regularly becomes an impossibility. However, sometimes, it can be beneficial to the entire wine industry when certain wines achieve international fine wine broking investment grade status and success and are traded in the secondary market.