Tasting a Complete MR de Compostella Vertical From 2004 to 2017 in London With Bruwer Raats…

Bruwer Raats is a larger than life character making larger than life wines from both his Raats Family Winery in Stellenbosch as well as for his cult wine label MR de Compostella at which he is partnered by the accomplished Zulu winemaker Mzokona Mvemve. While riding high on the instant success of memorable early wines like his maiden 2001 Raats Family Wines Cabernet Franc, Bruwer entered into the collaborative project of MR de Compostella and finally released the maiden vintage 2004 back in 2006.

 

Guided by a lofty and ambitious philosophy of achieving the very best final quality blend through extremely ruthless barrel selection and an over riding obsession with consistency of quality vintage after vintage before any uniformity of blend percentages, what was developed was an incredibly fine wine with breath taking complexity and depth as well as notable age ability. All the blends so far, excluding the declassified 2010, have made use of all five Bordeaux red varieties namely Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot… and normally in descending percentages similar to this order with alcohol levels of between 14 and 14.5 Abv.

 

As part of London fine wine merchant Handford Wines’ 30th Anniversary celebrations, Bruwer Raats was recently in London to present the first ever full vertical of MR de Compostella reds covering 13 vintages from 2004 through to the current release 2017. The flight also included the only ever declassified vintage, the 2010, which was used to create a second wine under the name of Red Jasper. Named after Bruwer’s father, the ‘Jasper’ red Bordeaux blend is now in its seventh vintage and the current release 2017 has also been highly lauded by critics becoming a distinguished red wine in its own right.

 

One of the most outstanding features of this impressive cult wine is undoubtedly its age ability, so much so that much of the past stocks sold and exported around the world still reside in collectors’ cellars globally. Having the opportunity to taste effectively 14 vintages back to back is almost certainly a once in a life time affair for most people but also a crucially important exercise to reveal and document the ongoing evolution of these great wines. While I tasted and made notes for all the wines, the focus centred more around appreciating the wines stylistically and evaluating where how well they were evolving rather than placing them in a scored hierarchy.

 

MR de Compostella Vertical 2004 to 2017:

MR de Compostella 2004, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 GSMW)

33% Cabernet Franc, 18% Petit Verdot, 17% Malbec, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Merlot

An incredibly dense, dark, youthful wine that obviously has benefitted from being made in one of the best red wine vintages in several decades at the time. Full and broad, the wine retains freshness, complexity, creamy dense dark fruits and a long vital finish. Tannins are starting to resolve but certainly this wine has another 20+ years ahead of it. Very impressive debut.

 

MR de Compostella 2005, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 GSMW)

33% Cabernet Franc, 17% Petit Verdot, 17% Malbec, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Merlot

From a warm dry vintage, the 2005s were perhaps lauded more highly across the industry under the halo of another very fine vintage in the northern hemisphere and Bordeaux in particular. While many are maturing and losing a bit of lustre, this 2005 certainly shines, retaining a sleek structure, sweet ripe black brambly fruits and plenty of youthful elegance and freshness. Drinking well now but will certainly cellar for 10+ more years easily.

MR de Compostella 2006, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 GSMW)

26% Cabernet Franc, 18% Petit Verdot, 8% Malbec, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot

From another block buster vintage, 2006 was good for whites and reds and this wine really is shining at the moment. Dense, concentrated but weightlessly intense, this wine has lovely mineral tannins, a full, sleek silky mouthfeel and a general aura of distinguished elegance. Certainly no rush here at all. Lovely wine.

MR de Compostella 2007, 14 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 GSMW)

32% Cabernet Franc, 16% Petit Verdot, 20% Malbec, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot

From a cool, difficult year that had heat spikes at harvest time. Wines generally were leafy and packed full of pyrazines and while this wine has a lovely complex leafy, sappy berry fruit base, the green herbal notes melt into the black fruit and with 10 years of age, this wine is starting to resemble a classic, fragrant, complex French Bordeaux more and more by the day. Super expressive aromatics, sleek creamy black and red berry fruits and a long, fine grained finish with plenty of acidity to preserve it further. Not the most iconic MR but certainly drinking very very well at the moment.

MR de Compostella 2008, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 GSMW)

37.5% Cabernet Franc, 7.5% Petit Verdot, 10% Malbec, 37.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7.5% Merlot

Ooh, the 2008. The vintage that put MR on the map with the chunky 96pt score from Neal Martin writing for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. While the wines had never scored less than 93, this moved the wine into a new league, a new ball game… and made global collectors sit up and take serious notice. Like a purring Rolls Royce engine… I think MR has been described before… and this 2008 while certainly not as rich, showy and opulent as some vintages, displays an incredible focus, sleek graphite tannin structure, intensity of black saline fruit and the most old world Bordeaux Grand Cru Classe elegance and linearity. Wow! While currently in a more understated phase of evolution than some of the other vintages, it’s definitely a wine built for the long haul. A true collectable classic.

MR de Compostella 2009, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 GSMW)

25% Cabernet Franc, 12.5% Petit Verdot, 25% Malbec, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12.5% Merlot

Another highly lauded red wine vintage across the industry in SA, this wine is in a more muscular, dense, power packed mould with rich layers of earthy black fruits, tannery leather, sweet baking herbs and a lovely sheen of cedary spice. Full bodied and broad shouldered, this will be an interesting wine to follow into the future. Drinking well now after a little decant.

Raats Red Jasper 2010, 14 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 GSMW)

80% Cabernet Franc, 7.5% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec, 7.5% Cabernet Sauvignon

Bruwer has always been very clear about the standards expected from his wines to make the MR blend. First and foremost, they need to be as good or better that the preceding vintage’s components. While I was a little critical of him at the time for not bottling a 2010, tasting this wine shows why he didn’t. Delicious and totally impressive now with 7 years of age, the wine simply does not have the same length, power or concentration experienced on other MR vintages. Beautifully elegant, packed full of cedary, earthy black bramble berry fruits, the tannins are very sleek and soft and the finish a touch short. But still a pleasure to drink nonetheless.

MR de Compostella 2011, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 GSMW)

52% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 20% Malbec, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Merlot

Showing a little bit of earthy, savoury, coffee bean, leathery evolution on the nose, the palate is still taut and vital with savoury red and black berry fruits, a fine line of acidity and a long finish of graphite and mineral dust. Perhaps a bit shut down now but another one to watch into the future.

MR de Compostella 2012, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 GSMW)

28% Cabernet Franc, 18% Petit Verdot, 21% Malbec, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot

Never shy and always a real charmer, the 2012 does what it says on the tin and then a whole lot more. Rich, cool, dark fruited opulent nose full of blueberry, vanilla pod, black currant and cassis leaf. So sumptuous, generous in fruit and utterly charming while retaining a distinguished air of quality. Always been a lovely wine and I suspect there is not a lot of it around now as it is such a seductive wine that’s hard to resist drinking in its youth. Drink now or bury in your cellar for another 10+ years.

MR de Compostella 2013, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 GSMW)

41% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petit Verdot, 17% Malbec, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot

A vintage that did not stand out on paper but in the vertical flight was one of the most impressive wines. With a dusty nose full of wet stone minerality, the aromatics speak of a cooler vintage style laced with graphite, dried straw, baking herbs and pithy black berry fruits. The palate is where the wine takes off like a rocket and really shines. Woven together very tightly, the intensity and vibrant saline black berry intensity combined with tart crunchy acids make this wine stand out from the rest at the moment. So elegant and persistent on the finish, this is the real deal. A super classy wine drinking well now but with many years ahead of it still.

MR de Compostella 2014, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 GSMW)

45% Cabernet Franc, 18% Petit Verdot, 17% Malbec, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Merlot

Like the 2012, the 2014 has always been moulded an opulent and generous style with creamy overt black and blue berry fruits, sweet vanilla spices and a rich, layered, textured palate that just keeps on giving. Probably a vintage that won’t shut down, so if you enjoy youthful opulence, this is the one for you.

 

Tasting in the private room at London restaurant High Timber owned by Neleen Strauss and Gary Jordan.

MR de Compostella 2015, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 GSMW)

40% Cabernet Franc, 11% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Merlot

The 2015 is genuinely a compelling wine with a classic nose more reminiscent of a fine, opulent Cru Classe Pauillac. 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. More structured and intense than its riper, plumper predecessor 2014, the 2015 delivers more intensity with tannic restraint and brooding classical depth. Bit of a block buster but also shutting down a bit now. A wine for 30 to 40 years surely.

MR de Compostella 2016, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 GSMW)

17% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 12% Malbec, 63% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Merlot

A warm, dry vintage that is reflected in the lower than usual Cabernet Franc and the higher Cabernet Sauvignon portion from a cooler vineyard close to the sea in False Bay. Rich, plush and ultra opulent and expressive but also perfumed and lifted with violets, sweet lavender and sleek polished oak melting into classic Cabernet cassis and saline black berry opulence. Lovely precision and focus but is also sufficiently taut and textured. A wonderfully luxurious style of MR.

MR de Compostella 2017, 14.5 Abv.

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 GSMW)

43% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 10% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Merlot

The nose chimes with the beautiful aromatics of the black Cabernet fruits, both Franc and Sauvignon. Superbly bright and lifted, this classy wine reveals attractive perfumed notes of cherry blossom, violets, lilacs and fresh rose petals underpinned by seductive chocolate coated red cherries and crème de cassis. On the palate the wine is medium bodied but very refined and elegant balancing intensity of fruit and flavour with textural harmony and finesse. Super fine and minerally tightly focused, this is a wine for the long haul but which can also be drunk in its youth due to its bright freshness and creamy elegant length. Is this the best MR to date? I think so… but only time will tell.

MR de Compostella 2017 – An Iconic Wine That Flirts With Perfection…

Mvemve Raats is a critically acclaimed collaboration between friends and winemakers Mzokhona Mvemve and Bruwer Raats. Bruwer is of course the owner, winemaker and mastermind behind Raats Family Wines, where he has earned a reputation for top notch Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc over the past 20+ years.

Mzokhona Mvemve, the first Indaba Scholarship recipient, is a graduate of Stellenbosch University and one of South Africa’s first qualified black oenologists. Together they have created, since the 2004 maiden MR vintage, one of South Africa’s most consistently high scoring premium quality icon Bordeaux blends in the Cape.

The 2017 is due for release in the South African market at the end of August 2019.

MR de Compostella 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

The highly anticipated MR de Compostella 2017 red blend is composed of 43% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 10% Malbec and 6% Petit Verdot. A very deep garnet-purple colour, the nose chimes with the beautiful aromatics of the Cabernet fruits, both Franc and Sauvignon. Superbly bright and lifted, this classy wine reveals attractive perfumed notes of cherry blossom, violets, lilacs and fresh rose petals underpinned by seductive chocolate coated red cherries, crème de cassis, sweet sappy sandalwood spice, bay leaves, fresh pencil shavings and crushed granite rocks. On the palate, the wine is more medium bodied but very refined striking an instant resemblance to the perfumed precision and seductive caressing texture of a Chateau Margaux first growth Bordeaux. There is power, there is intensity and there is focus aplenty but it is all delivered with such majestic elegance and finessed structure to be awe inspiring. Super fine and minerally tightly focused, the vivacious palate shows layers of cigar box, maraschino cherry, crushed black berries, cedar spice and fine-grained mineral sandy tannins. Already possessing incredible poise and focus, this wine shows clarity of purpose and an attention to detail very rarely seen on South African red wines. With little to no perceptible oak character, this impressive blend finishes with a very long, minerally accented persistence that is both compelling and incredibly pretty. A profound wine of beauty and certainly this winery’s most noteworthy release since its blockbuster 2015. Cellar for another 5 years from release and drink over the next 30+ years.

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

The wines of Raats Family Wines and MR de Compostella are distributed in the UK by Alliance Wines.

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.