After a highly successful 2020 Series C launch earlier this year, April sees this premium boutique winery release their latest right bank’esque expression in the form of the Series M 2020, a wine that is always built around dominant components of Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, although not necessarily in that order. Tasting the new releases from Vilafonte every year is probably the event most akin to tasting in Napa Valley itself, as the wines possess an underlying aesthetic that is very similar to the greatest estates of California. Of course, that phenomenon has not occurred by luck or chance as the foundations of the whole Vilafonte project were fashioned by owner Mike Ratcliffe along with the expert guidance of American viticulturalist Dr Phil Freese and his eminent wife Zelma Long, both long time Napa Valley industry power players.
But where this new release departs from previous expressions, though not necessarily in terms of scoring, is how the styling has seen a subtle but noticeable shift towards a more Bordeaux’esque vision of power with overt classicism and restrained potency. There is definitely something very St Emilion Grand Cru about this wine which I could not get out of my mind when tasting and reviewing this new release. Whether based on winemaking, a changing winery aesthetic or purely vintage variation, I couldn’t tell you. But all I know is that what winemaker Chris de Vries has managed to put in bottle is very, very smart indeed. Trust Mike Ratcliffe to keep consumers on their toes!
The 2019/2020 growing season brought fair and favourable conditions with a return to a more traditional cold and wet winter int the Cape. With Spring came warm, fair-weather conditions resulting in an even, two-week early bud-break. As is often the case in the Cape vineyards, windy conditions during flowering resulted in a variable berry set and looser clusters with small intense berries. Thankfully, temperatures during ripening remained modest without any heatwaves, leading to an even, measured pace of ripening and picking. By the time the national Covid-19 lockdown was announced by the national government on the 26th March 2020, Vilafonte had already processed all wines safely to barrel.
Vilafonte Series M 2020, WO Paarl, 14% Abv.
The 2020 Series M from Vilafonte reverts back to a right bank Merlot dominated blend with a 43% Merlot, 37% Malbec, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Cabernet Franc assemblage and stands out as being particularly old world and classical in style showing pronounced notes of dusty limestone, sweet violets, lilac, dried herbs, sweet cedar, piquant black currants, black cherry and an intense black chocolate cocoa spice. But it’s the palate structure that departs from many more recent vintage releases of Series M revealing a notable St Emilion / Pomerol style elegance, richly illustrated by a fine-grained mineral restraint and a classically pithy black berry complexity that delivers a compelling tension combined with subtle hedonistic nuances. This Series M seems so very grown up, multi-dimensional and mineral-laden, finishing with mouth coating powdery tannins and a soft, plush, understated mocha-laden persistence. Another wonderful expression with incredible energy, intricate earthy accents and a seamless mineral patina. Drink from 2024 to 2040+.
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)