A Vintage of Elegant Intensity and Quality Elevates Vilafonte Series C 2017 To Must Have Vintage Status…

While I received a sample of the 2017 Series C to taste a number of weeks ago, I had already heard rumours via the grape vine that the Vilafonte Series C 2016 had won the best red blend at the Six Nations Trophy competition. But of course I knew the incredible quality Vilafonte had achieved with their Series C 2016, having reviewed it way back in October 2018, would be an incredibly hard act to follow. Such was the quality focus at this precision viticulture winery that even the second wine, Seriously Old Dirt 2016 has become something of a collectable commodity in Europe of late.

 

But after the incredibly dry and hot 2016, the 2017 harvest presented an abundant crop of sterling quality. Yields rose by fifty-seven percent, despite the fourth year in a sequence of below-average rainfall for the Western Cape Province. This follows Vilafonte’s smallest per-hectare crop (2016) and moves back to long-term average yields. Welcome post-harvest rains in the preceding year before leaf fall, coupled with well-timed nutrient applications, allowed the vines to build up reserves before going into winter dormancy.

Winter rains in 2016 approached normal levels, but fell below average in late winter to spring. Bud-break in the spring was very even, with rapid shoot growth which ceased well before bloom, allowing excellent fruit-set. Weather leading up to harvest was warm and fair – perfect ripening conditions according to owner Mike Ratcliffe. Harvest commenced on the 6th of February with a few short pauses, and concluded on the 1st of March2017.

 

Mike Ratcliffe states that “at time of blending, varietal components were very expressive, showing a classical elegance rather than an intensity and power”. Aged for 22 months in 70% new French oak barrique, with the balance in older French oak barriques, the Series C 2017 consists of Cabernet Sauvignon (57%), Merlot (21%), Cabernet Franc (13%) and Malbec (9%) with a total of 46 barrels being produced.

 

Vilafonte Series C 2017, WO Paarl, 14.5 Abv.

After the drought of 2016, all producers can honestly admit to being amazed by the quality both the white and red wines realised in 2017. But for Vilafonte, the pressure would have been incrementally higher after defying the vintage odds in 2016 to produced arguably the finest South African red blend of the vintage with their Series C 2016. But great vintages are all about taking the opportunities nature presents and Vilafonte seems to have been equally ready to make the most of this exceptional vintage. The Series C 2017 certainly displays an incredibly deep, dark broody garnet-purple colour with imposing extract and concentration. On the nose, this youthful release is a little closed to begin with but opens up in the glass offering alluring notes of incense, sweet vanilla pod, caramelised cashew nuts, black berry reduction, juniper berry and dusty, graphite tinged black chocolate exoticism. The palate is velvety and supple with a most generous, multi-layered mouthfeel of blueberry, black cherries, saline cassis and a charcoal tinged buttered brown toasty finish. Where the 2015 release showed a more masculine power, the 2017 is the personification of intensity with elegance, finesse and grace. A producer can wait decades to realise a vintage like this that possesses this degree of poise, intensity and weightless concentration combined with a decadently fruited complexity and composure. A spellbinding new release from Vilafonte. Indulge yourself by drinking a few bottles in its youth, however the 2017 is certainly worthy of over a decade or more of cellaring to realise its full potential.

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

The Bizios Estate in Greece’s Nemea Region Releases Its 2018 Asproskampos White Blend…

Elias Bizios is the owner of an impressive estate in Asproskampos, known to the locals as “little Tuscany” in Nemea, Greece. Here Elias has farmed a small patch of vineyards but always found it difficult to make a living with such a small production. So it was always his ambition to acquire additional adjoining vineyard holdings to increase his production. 

In 2016, Wimbledon Wine Cellar owned by Greek Cypriot Andrew Pavli based in London, purchased an additional 3 hectares of prime Malagouzia, Agiorgritiko Assyrtiko and Chardonnay vineyards with view to enlarging the total production at the Bizios Estate. This increased production has now started to come to fruition and the release of the 2018 white blend modelled predominantly around the Malagouzia grape but bolstered by the classism and pedigree of Chardonnay has created yet another exceptional white expression that really shows the potential of well made Greek white wines.

Bizios Aspros Kampos Chardonnay Malagouzia Blend 2018, Nemea, Greece, 13 Abv.

The 2018 vintage is a delicious blend of 65% Chardonnay and 35% Malagouzia ia and presents itself as an impressively fragrant, aromatic expression full of waxy green apples, spiced pears, dried baking herbs, warm fresh white baguette and a fine dusty stony mineral note. The palate is equally appealing with a really harmonious fleshy glycerol round mouthfeel boasting notes of green honeydew melon, apple pastilles and candied sweet fig. The acidity is supple, soft and gentle and keeps the wine pure and vibrant but also incredibly generous and friendly. A really appealing expression and one of my favourites since the 2016!

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

Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines Release Another Sublime Range of New Single Terroir Vintages…

Ask any international critic to mention their top 5 prestige fine wine producers in South Africa and without doubt Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines will feature in the lineup regardless of whether that person is a Syrah or Chenin Blanc obsessive.

Within their range, it is undoubtedly the Single Terroir releases from Andrea and Chris Mullineux representing different terroir expressions that year on year push the boundaries of quality but have also cemented this estate’s international standing amongst the great wineries of the world.

Whether buying for further cellaring or as a sneaky investment, this range of Mullineux wines represents a star buy. Available from Great Domaines in South Africa, Skurnik Wines in the USA and Fields Morris & Verdin in the UK.

Mullineux Granite Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Swartland

Produced from two 42-year-old parcels on the Paardeberg, the wine shows attractive sweet crunchy green fruits, massive palate concentration of green melon, sweet lemon and herb spice and a very long, plush, bon bon infused candied finish. Plenty of texture and mouthfeel but also a fabulously confident vein of steely Chenin acidity. Truly classy.

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

Mullineux Quartz Leliefontein Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Swartland

From a single 37-year-old vineyard on the Kasteelberg. This youthful wine is steely, tighter and more mineral with dried herbs, lemon grass, apple peel, pithy green fruits and crunchy orchard fruits nuances. Broad and fleshy, a very harmonious mid-palate dominates with the fruit / acid / mineral balance beautifully integrated and seemless. Lovely vein of acidity with impressive generosity and appeal.

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

Mullineux Granite Syrah 2017, WO Swartland

Fruit sourced from a 23-year-old vineyard on the Paardeberg. Shows high toned notes of red fruit, raspberry confit, cherries dipped in chocolate, cinnamon and exotic sweet clove tobacco spice. Sleek, opulent and generous, immaculately polished, concentrated yet weightless, this is super classy and elegant with a certain deft feminine touch.

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

Mullineux Schist Roundstone Syrah 2017, WO Swartland

This beautifully manicured 20-year-old vineyard on the Mullineux’s Kasteelberg farm Roundstone shows a more tight and broody expression with darker, blacker berry fruits and more classical notes of black olive, cured meets, earthy savoury black plum and a sweet black peppercorn tinged berry spice finish. A super sleek, elegant and consummately confident, self assured polished expression of premium Syrah that epitomises the whole Mullineux red wine experience.

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

Mullineux Iron Syrah 2017, WO Swartland

This single 18-year-old vineyard near Malmesbury is perhaps never as seductive as the Schist cuvée when young but perhaps it’s the extra stern profile that always makes this one of my favourites. A big, bold wine that combines the old world savoury, mineral character of the Northern Rhône with the new world elegance of the Swartland. Plenty of dried allspice, grilled herbs, massively savoury and bloody with a meaty density and a plush, powerful textural depth, spicy, stony mineral tannins and a long, long rasping, powerful chalky length. The very best of both Old and New World styles, this wine is more challenging but will be infinitely more rewarding in the long run.

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

Three Sticks Release their New Benchmark Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2016…

This week in late September was all about Californian wine in London with the Collectable California Tasting at the US Embassy showcasing some incredible wines from Harlan to Scarecrow, Ovid to Silver Oak. However great the Californian reds are, one thing these US producers are masters of is the production of really interesting premium Chardonnay.

One of my favourite whites on show was the exceptional 2016 new release Three Sticks Chardonnay. Owned by proprietor William S. Price III, the Durell Vineyard forms part of this producers flagship vineyard holdings and has been the source of iconic Sonoma Chardonnay for several decades.

Grown on rocky ancient river bed and red volcanic clay soils, this vineyard site has been recognised for its ability to produce exceptional Chardonnay grapes that show wonderful fruit intensity along with impressive harmony while simultaneously expressing the minerality inherent in this site’s terroir.

Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, Sonoma Coast, 14.5 Abv.

A delicious bright enticing lemon yellow, this wine has a lofty complex bouquet of pithy white citrus, leesy lemon cream biscuits, dried herbs, gingerbread and a pronounced crushed gravel minerality. Full, round, intense and glycerol in the mouth with the silky, fleshy lemon pastille fruit concentration punctuated by piquant, zippy fresh acids and sweet grapefruit confit and vanilla pod oak complexity. The pedigree of the Durell Vineyard fruit is clear for all to see. Classically cool climate Californian in style, this is a truly flavour packed expression of premium Sonoma coast Chardonnay.

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

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Release Two Incredible Benchmark Wines For the 2019 Cape Winemakers Guild Auction…

One of the original goals of the Cape Winemakers Guild was to allow an elite group of producers in South Africa an opportunity to push boundaries and experiment in order to produce the most profound quality wines on the market. Some of the specially selected winemakers at the CWG have made a little more effort than most to take this opportunity to make and profile wines that leave you speechless and that command instant respect.

Few have done this more effectively than Andrea Mullineux, one half of the wunderkind duo at Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines. The other half of this duo, Chris Mullineux was recently in London for the New Wave Tasting 2019 and I caught up with him over lunch at the iconic Chez Bruce restaurant to taste not only these two new CWG releases, but also the full line up of their white and red single terroir new releases.

The CWG wines are only available to buy at the auction in Cape Town but if you can’t make it, speak to Roland Peens at Wine Cellar who can bid on behalf of consumers and private clients. Contact him at: Roland@winecellar.co.za

Cape Winemakers Guild Leeu Passant ‘The Gris’ Semillon Old Vines 2018, WO Paardeberg, 13.5 Abv.

Super fragrant and lifted with aromatics dominated by an incredible saline, mineral spicy note underpinned by stalk spice, tangerine peel and white citrus. Creamy and glycerol on the palate, the concentration is clearly marked and the white blossom, green apple and briney pithiness is effortless and magically long. Outstanding effort once again.

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

Cape Winemakers Guild Leeu Passant Radicales Libres Chardonnay, 14.9 Abv.

Grapes from Bokkeveld Shale soils on the Tradauw-Joubert estate in Barrydale but produced and aged in the Leeu Passant cellars in Franschhoek. The aromatic profile screams ‘Jura meets Tondonia’ with plush saline, spicy, peppery white citrus fruits with top notes of dusty, stony minerality. The palate is big and bold but very expressive with density, breadth and incredible concentration. Of course the wine is defined by superb balance, piercing acidity which is padded out by sensual fleshy savoury fruit gravitas. The finish shows fabulous crystallised lemons, white peach pastilles and an exotic candied persistence. Really something very special.

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

Marques de Murrieta Launches Their Spectacular New Reserva Tinto 2015 In London and Previews Their Castillo Ygay 2010 For the First Time…

As well as being the oldest winery in the new era of Rioja, being established in 1852, Finca Ygay remains the largest single estate in Rioja (Alta) with 300 hectares of prime vineyards. Current owner, Vicente Dalmau Cebrian-Sagarriga, Count of Creixell, has over the past 25 years in charge focused on updating and upgrading both the quality of Marques de Murrieta’s wines as well as the international reputation of the entire estate.

My last visit to the Finca Ygay estate was in 2017 after they had broken ground on their new wine cellar which received the 2018 harvest and will also take in the 2019 vintage despite the new layout only being due for completion in 2020.

With wine distribution now in 100 countries around the world, Vicente chose London as one of his first stops to launch the new 2015 Reserva Tinto and also preview their new 2010 Castillo Ygay, due for release next year.

Marques de Murrieta Reserva Rioja Tinto 2015, 14 Abv.

Grapes are sourced at the estate from vineyards located at 320m to 485m altitude with harvest starting on the 14th September and finishing on the 16th October. The 2015 is a traditional blend of 80% Tempranillo, 12% Graciano, 6% Mazuelo and 2% Garnacha. Grapes are destalked and destemmed before fermentation in stainless steel followed by 18 months ageing in 225 litre American oak barrels 7 of which are in new oak before being racked to 2nd and 3rd fill barrels.

A deliciously seductive nose of sun dried strawberries dipped in milk chocolate, ripe cherries and red bramble berries drizzled with balsamic with a subtle top note of mocha, cocoa and vanilla pod spice. The texture is plush and sensual, wonderfully elegant and fresh yet so supple and harmonious with the finest of powdery chalky tannins, sweet cherry liquor notes, strawberry confit and spicy vanilla pod oak notes on the finish. A really impressive benchmark expression of Reserva Tinto from a very good vintage in Rioja.

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

Marques de Murrieta Dalmau Reserva 2014, Rioja DOCa, 14 Abv.

A selection of the best fruit from a 465 meter altitude plot. The 2014 is a blend of 75% Tempranillo, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Graciano which was fermented for 11 days before 21 months ageing in new French oak Allier 225 litre barriques.

Rated internationally by critics from between 97 and 99/100, this wines reputation certainly preceded it. The aromatics are big and bold, packed full of dark chocolate, sweet black cherry and black current laced with cocoa powder and espresso vanilla pod spice. Seductive brambly black fruit notes fill the palate, punctuated by intense smokey black cherry concentration, piercing acids and layers of unctuous, hedonistic, opulent sweet tannins and glycerol fruit weight. This is certainly a very serious effort and possibly the best expression of the Dalmau blend produced to date. A seductive, thought provoking wine. Modern styled Rioja doesn’t get much better than this.

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

Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial Rioja Tinto 2010, Rioja Alta, 14 Abv.

Castillo Ygay is always made from the grapes from the same La Plana single vineyard planted in 1950 and located on the highest plateau of the Finca Ygay estate at 485 meters altitude. A classical blend of 85% Tempranillo and 15% Mazuelo grapes that were picked on the 21st October. After fermentation, the wines were aged for 24 months in 225 litre American and French oak barriques.

The perfume and lifted fragrance on this wine are profound. The aromatics are more complex, nuanced and delicate than its predecessor 2009 with ethereal sweet violets, dried lavender, cherry blossom, kirsch liquor and hints of balsamic spice. The palate is more Burgundian than Bordeaux with incredible intensity and purity but also a lithe, delicate texture, weightless concentration and a long, sun raisined strawberry fruit finish. The tannins are like silk and the oak immaculately integrated already. While deemed “not ready” for release until March 2020, further time in bottle should only make this special wine even more spectacular. A real show stopper that is certain to take the world by storm. One of the best Ygay Tintos since the epic 2001 vintage.

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

Meerlust Rubicon 2016 – Slow and Steady Outlook Assures Another Great Vintage…

Meerlust Estate has been the pride of the Myburgh family since 1756. Today, the dedication to quality winemaking continues under the guidance of 8th generation, Hannes Myburgh. Cellar Master, Chris Williams has worked on the estate since 1995 and has been in charge of winemaking since 2004.

 

The Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on low yielding, predominantly biotite partially decomposed granite gravel topsoil rich in quartz and feldspar to a depth of approximately 600mm with a loamy clay subsoil. The Merlot vineyards are planted on more clay rich, yet well drained soils to ensure moisture retention and availability to the vines roots right through the summer. There are considerable deposits of iron-rich Laterite in the Merlot vineyards which accentuates the fruit definition and mineral profile of the wine.

The Cabernet Franc Vineyard is situated on very well drained, stony Vilafontes soil with approximately 20% clay which is ideal for this variety.The Petit Verdot is on Oakleaf 3 soils on a northerly aspect to ensure full phenolic ripeness. The 2016 growing season was unusually cool but quite dry, presenting unique problems of fruit set and ripening. Irrigation was used strategically even on the mature vineyards to ensure slow ripening and proper flavour and tannin development. The Merlot and the Cabernets were extensively suckered from early in the season, and during veraison ‘vendage vert’ was applied extensively to ensure an evenly ripe crop.

 

Meerlust Rubicon 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

The Rubicon component parts were transferred to barrel early for malolactic fermentation in 55% new Nevers French oak, 25% second fill barrels and the remaining 20% in older French oak barrels. The final blend of the 2016 is indicative of the vintage and its impact on the estate’s vineyards with 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, the lowest in Rubicon history, with 28% Merlot, exhibiting this varieties great expression in the unusual 2016 vintage, 20% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. The wine was barrel aged for 16 months before bottling. Having tasted this wine a few weeks after bottling in 2018 at the winery, it has certainly settled down beautifully and first impressions suggest further ageing in bottle will only be beneficial. It is pure, bright and generous with sweet notes of plump ripe black plums, sweet cherry tobacco, sappy sandalwood, graphite and cedar spice. The palate is still a touch taut on the entry but quickly fans out onto the mid-palate with sappy sweet black plum fruits from the high percentage of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Thoroughly honest in style, generous and approachable, this wine is both vibrantly fresh and charmingly drinkable now on release with impressively integrated creamy oak. A wine that recognizes its vintage limitations but still succeeds in delivering a wonderfully delicious and gregarious Bordeaux blend expression. Drink now until 2028+.

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