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.

Great Minds, Great Vision and Great Terroir Meet at Brookdale Wines in Paarl – Tasting the 2018 Vintages with Tim Rudd and Winemaker Duncan Savage…

Since Duncan Savage left Cape Point Vineyards, he has been fully absorbed and focused on taking his Savage brand to the next level and bedding Down his new urban winery in Salt River, Cape Town. But as I discovered when I visited him recently, he does consult to one client, Englishman Tim Rudd at his beautiful Brookdale Winery in Paarl.

Named after the hamlet in Derbyshire where Tim originates from, Brookdale is a fabulous winery planted with 20+ year old Chenin Blanc as well as other Chenin Blanc blocks that are almost 35 years old.

At first I thought Duncan made the acquaintance by buying fruit from Tim, but Duncan was quick to point out that this was not the case and that he just simply discovered that he really clicked with Tim and his ambitious vision to make Brookdale one of South Africa’s top quality focused wine labels… and so the collaboration started.

Owner Tim Rudd and consultant winemaker Duncan Savage.

Old Vine Chenin Blanc almost 35 years old.

It’s all still very early days with few people having even tasted the finished 2017 wines let alone the new barrel samples from 2018. But I believe Neal Martin did manage to taste the 2017s on a recent trip and scored the wines very positively. Much of the day to day work at the winery still involves the ongoing rejuvenation of all current vineyards, many of which were badly neglected over the years before Tim bought the estate, but also now includes a massive replanting programme.

Some of the new plantings of Grenache Noir hidden in the cover crop.

As usual, Duncan is spinning his own kind of winemaking magic with some very fine fruit and with all the ongoing investment being poured into the winery and vineyards, this is definitely a hot name to watch.

Brookdale Block 2 Chenin Blanc 2018, 13.5 Abv.

From a 25 year old block of Chenin Blanc, took 6 months to ferment in 500 litre barrels with full malolactic in barrel. Due to be bottled end Jan / early Feb 2019. Classic Paarl Chenin aromatics of white peach, pineapple pastille, orange citrus and dusty notes of granite and fynbos spice. Palate full and bold, broad textured coating the palate with layers of green apple, white peach, pineapple, finishing with a subtle restrained, piquant mineral gravel note. The wine is deceptively classical with more reserved phenolics than the luscious, opulent nose suggests. A work in progress but already showing excellent pedigree and potential.

(Wine Safari Score: 90-92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Brookdale Block 10.1 Chenin Blanc 2018, 13.5 Abv.

From a block planted in 1985, the aromatics show more pronounced notes of vanilla and oak spice that embraces white citrus, white peach, green apple, thatch, fynbos and peach tea nuances. Palate shows wonderful intensity and tension, focus and textural tautness that is more mineral laden, gravelly and restrained. Quite a grown up expression of old vine Chenin Blanc.

(Wine Safari Score: 93-94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Brookdale 3 Block Blend Chenin Blanc 2018, 13.5 Abv.

With various components of block 2, block 5 and block 10.1 blended together, the aromatics come together in a more restrained, subtle melange of gravelly pineapple pastille, orange citrus, wet thatch and fynbos spice. In converse to the single block expressions in isolation, this wine shows more opulence and sweet flesh on the entry and fine palate texture and reach. Attractive oak spice and peach tea complexity but also lovely elegance and harmony on the finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 92-93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Brookdale Chenin Blanc 2017, 13.5 Abv.

Blend of all the blocks, only 1000 bottles produced from 50% new oak (1 x new 500 litre and 1 x 10 year old 500 litre barrel). No malolactic, the ferment was much quicker than 2018 lasting 4 weeks. The nose shows dusty, earthy, savoury leesy notes of buttered warm baguette, vanilla spice and delicious yellow orchard fruits. Palate is already very expressive with explosive concentration of pineapple pastille, yellow peach, green apple and pithy citrus peel. The acids are bright and vibrant but finely balanced by a generous fleshy glycerol texture that is succinctly punctuated on the finish. An impressive debut.

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

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)

Tasting An Ageworthy South African Cabernet Sauvignon From A Historic Off-Vintage…

After tasting a lot of 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon recently made me think about the age-ability of South African wines. We all expect great vintages like 1974, 1995 and 2015 to age well, but what about off vintages? Tasting this 1977 Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon recently in South Africa from the Distell Tabernacle cellar reinforced the true longevity potential of this grape in South Africa even when sourced from an off-vintage.

The early 70s was a very successful era, with 1970, 1972 and 1974 all being excellent vintages, while 1976 and 1978 were also good. But 1977 was plagued by wet weather and was regarded as a very, very difficult vintage overall receiving a 2/5 star rating. This wine bears testament to the winemaking techniques of Nederburg and their ability to create iconic wines.

Nederburg 1977 Superieur Cabernet Sauvignon, WO Paarl, South Africa

Fine deep notes of black berry, boxwood, plum skins and earthy black currant. Far less tertiary than one would expect, While tasting this wine, I received a brazen nod from Michael Fridjhon that this is certainly a classic Cabernet Sauvignon and a classic Nederburg but not from a lauded vintage. The palate is full, fairly sweet fruited, rich and textural, but also quite compact, pure and relatively unevolved. Showing great black earthy, tobacco Cabernet Sauvignon typicity, this is about as good as Cabernet gets in a cool rainy vintage like 1977. This wine shows power, distinguished chalky tannins, subtle hints of molasses and sweet tobacco spice and is absolutely delicious to drink. An impressive and powerful wine that still has plenty of legs!

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

Exclusive London Preview Tasting of Vilafonte Series C 2015 with Mike Ratcliffe…

A really super tasting tonight with proprietor Mike Ratcliffe, looking at the pre-release Vilafonte Series C 2015 as well as other back vintages. A classical Bordeaux blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 9% Malbec, and 15% Cabernet Franc, this wine was aged 22 months in 67% new French Oak barrels, with the balance being older 2nd fill barrels. 


Vilafonte has risen through the fine wine ranks with Phil Freese and Zelma Long keeping a steadying hand on the rudder. Mike Radcliffe has always been a driving force of quality and market direction and seems intent on elevating this fine wine winery to yet loftier levels of success. With the quality seen today, there seems little doubt that this will be a mere formality.


Vilafonte Series C Blend 2015, Paarl, 14.5 Abv.

Dark mulberry plum colour, this wine has a most seductive nose of blueberry, cassis, and mulberry fruits interwoven with violets, graphite, mocha and cedary oak spice. A very measured, classical style of wine that fawns its Cabernet Sauvignon dominated credentials. Rich, seductive and opulent in its youth as you’d expect, but the extra broody layers of white pepper, dusty minerality and black cherry pith suggest a more serious, complex side to the wine. The palate is dense and creamy, but also so beautifully proportioned like a chiselled, well honed athlete. Great depth, Cab power and harmonious balance, finely polished tannins and sleek integrated fresh acids, this is a very impressive blend from a fantastic vintage. Power and pedigree, a wine that demands your attention and engages your senses. 

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


A Characterful French Inspired Carignan Red from Lourens Family Wines…

Tasted an interesting bottle last night from a new(ish) venture in South Africa ~ Lourens Family Wines made by Franco Lourens, the ex-assistant winemaker at David Finlayson’s Edgebaston Wines, now working with Chris Alheit Family Wines. His first red release is this characterful old bush vine Carignan from fruit sourced in the Paarl region.


Franco has taken this Southern French variety and crafted a plump, fleshy, savoury fruited expression that definitely reflects its homeland origins with real Cotes du Rhone nuances. Named after his father (and investor), the Howard John Carignan 2014 will appeal to Rhone lovers and New World drinkers alike. This wine is priced at £17.99 per bottle in the UK.


There is a natural, minimalist leaning to the wine which used no yeast inoculations, enzymes, added acid or fining agents during production. Winemaking included a portion of whole-bunch grapes which were fermented spontaneously, with maturation lasting 12 months in old French oak. The alcohol has been re-stickered to read 15 Abv, but underneath reads 14 Abv. Probably somewhere inbetween, though picking earlier may have benefited this wine and yielded a higher rating. 


Lourens Family Wines Howard John Carignan 2014 Paarl, 15 Abv.

Tasting Note: Lovely dark seductive opaque red plum colour. There’s a real earthy melange of red fruits on the nose… red apple skins, waxy red plums, pithy baking spices, and a definite black current crumble pie ripeness note. Also hints of incense and Victoria plum confit. The palate is rich, opulent, savoury, ripe and attractively spicy, fanning out over the palate with warming baked black plum, red peppercorns and red apple purée complexity. Very full, round and textural with a hint of prune, fruit cake and raisined cranberries on the finish. This is a full throttle wine that should appeal to Languedoc / Rhone lovers as well as Rhoney New World lovers. (Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)