Groote Post has always been best known for its coastal Sauvignon Blanc but in recent years its other wines notably their Chardonnay, Shiraz and Pinot Noir have gained greater recognition from international critics. But it is undoubtedly the Seasalter white blend that seems to garner the most column inches in the wine press. As the story goes, it all happened with owner, Nick Pentz back in 2013, when on one of his regular wine marketing trips to the UK, he visited the tiny mediaeval village of Seasalter, which had been a local centre for salt production in the Iron Age. He immediately fell for the quaint name which resonated with the harsh, barren conditions on the Cape West Coast which is battered by the cold Atlantic Ocean. As Nick says… “one way or another, I was determined that I would use this name on a Groote Post wine one day.”
With the Groote Post winemaker Lukas Wentzel regularly experimenting with Sauvignon Blanc, partial oaking, and the addition of Semillon, the Seasalter blend was a wine just waiting to happen. So in the 2015 vintage, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon was assembled for bottling. The Seasalter is a blend of 90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Semillon with 30% of the Sauvignon Blanc fermented and aged for 8 months in 300 litre French oak barrels. The remaining components were fermented in stainless steel tanks and left on the fine lees until bottling.
Groote Poste Seasalter Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon 2022, WO Darling, 13.47% Abv.
This is a delicious West Coast wine that has been earning itself a solid reputation over the past few years. Made in the Darling Hills, just 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, the cool breezes help keep the temperature in the region down making it a perfect terroir for its blend of 90% Sauvignon Blanc with 10% Semillon added to give a bit of richness and extra textural weight. On the nose there are enticing notes of white peach, green apple, freshly cut pears, white citrus, yellow grapefruit zest and a subtle sea spray salinity. The palate is equally captivating with delicious layers of unripe tangerines, passionfruit, yellow citrus, creamy lemon, Granny Smith apples, and yet more maritime coastal salinity. This 2022 is pitch perfect with the Sauvignon Blanc doing all the heavy lifting and the Semillon playing a supporting role in adding palate texture and extra herbal complexity. The touch of oak ageing is almost imperceptible but leaves a subconscious imprint of creaminess and savoury depth. I taste the Seasalter, Groote Post’s highly acclaimed flagship Sauvignon Blanc, every year and I can say with certainly that they have absolutely nailed it with this 2022 release. Drink now on release or cellar for extra complexity for 3 to 5+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wines available to the UK trade from Hayward Bros and retails for circa £16.99-£17.99 per bottle.
We all loved the incredible heart-warming movie Blind Ambition, an emotional fly on the wall documentary following four Zimbabwean refugees who were forced to flee their homeland in search of a better life in South Africa only to become some of the best and most well know sommeliers in the country. Well, of course the four of them went on to compete in the World Wine Blind Tasting Championships – the Olympics of the wine world so to speak – representing Zimbabwe among some of the world’s most talented wine professionals. A wonderful movie, which if you have not seen it yet, you are definitely missing out! (It will touch you deeply even if you are not an obsessive wino!)
The movie was released in 2021 and two years later it is satisfying to see Tongai Joseph Dhafana selling his successful Mosi Wine brand both in and outside of South Africa, Tinashe Nyamudoka travelling around the world promoting his Kumusha Wines brand, and then of course thrilling to finally taste the Austrian wines inspired by Pardon Taguzu, who now lives with his family in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, a country I know and love dearly, working as a successful wine importer and sommelier director at Swirl and Sip Fine Wines.
Pardon Taguzu very kindly offered to send me a selection of his Dzimbahwe wine range, and this is the first of several reviews of the wines. But seeing as they are Austrian, I thought I would start with the wine made from the country’s most famous grape variety, Gruner Veltliner.
This Classic Gruner is a pale crystalline yellow with a lime green glimmer. On the nose the wine is elegantly fresh and pure with delicate notes of white blossom, aromatic flinty spice, white peach rock candy and subtle green apple pastille nuances. The palate is both elegant and gentle with a mouth coating dry pithy fruit extract of peach stones, nectarine, white pear and dusty lemon bon bons, all held in beautiful symmetry by tangy fresh acids and a soft, subtle salinity. This is a deliciously dry and expressive example of one of Europe’s great classical white wine grapes – Gruner Veltliner. A really lovely wine that will hit the spot whether you are doing serious food and wine matching or just kicking back with an aperitif. Drink now and over the next 3 to 5+ years.
Terre Paisible – meaning Peaceful Land in French – is a new winery in the heart of the Franschhoek Valley. With impressive views of the Simonsberg mountains, the broader winery branding is in keeping with the new owner’s philosophy of “where the land is a source of energy and revitalisation – a place to recharge and re-set, where a sense of abundance and peace envelops you.” All mantras firmly in keeping with the peaceful beauty and luxury of the famed Franschhoek Valley of course. On the estate, old vine plantings are accompanied by productive olive groves as well as several export certified fruit orchards, all of which are said to be farmed sustainably.
The current release range is made up of two tiers covering the Vigne d’Or Red Blend 2018, Chardonnay 2021 and a vibrantly fresh Franschhoek Sauvignon Blanc 2022. Their more premium tier currently only consists of two wines, the Terre Paisible Les Dames de 1987 ‘Old Vine’ Sauvignon Blanc 2022 and the Isabelle Rosé 2022, though this range will surely grow as the winery finds its feet properly. Within the current range, famed winemaker Adam Mason is currently acting as consultant and in this capacity, he blended and bottled the 2018 red and 2021 Chardonnay but fully vinified and bottled the 2022 whites and Rosé releases. I tasted tank samples of the two 2022 Sauvignon Blancs with Adam Mason at Cape Wine in October 2022 and was suitably impressed. On my last visit to the Cape in March 2023, I made a point of tracking down a bottle of the old vine Sauvignon Blanc 2022 to see how this finished wine was developing. Oh boy, I am glad I did!
Harvested from 35-year-old vines, the 2022 Les Dames de 1987 Sauvignon Blanc expresses the more tropical and exotic fruit spectrum of the variety showcasing deliciously complex pineapple and nectarine aromas. After whole bunch pressing and minimal settling the wine was fermented in stainless steel before racking to a 4000 litre foudre for maturation. Ripe but incredibly sophisticated, there is also great precision and textural delicacy in evidence. Nine months maturation on its fine lees in a 4000L foudre provided the wine with a classical French Bordeaux meets Loire Valley character and the wine is undoubtedly made in a style that will reward further ageing in the cellar.
Terre Paisible Les Dames de 1987 ‘Old Vines’ Sauvignon Blanc 2022, WO Franschhoek, 13% Abv.
1.3g/l RS | 5.4g/l TA | 3.29pH
A superb expression of Sauvignon harvested from 35-year-old vines that spent 9 months on its lees in a 4000 litre foudre yielding a classy old world style expression with complex aromatics of leesy white citrus, yellow grapefruit, pineapple, quince and a deliciously fresh, savoury undertone. The palate texture is creamy and silky soft with a supple tangy acidity that highlights the tangerine peel and green apple pastille intensity. Such harmony and balance with vibrant energetic crystalline freshness and purity that draws you back again and again for another sip. This is more Pouilly Fume meets white Bordeaux than barrel aged Kiwi-style Sauvignon Blanc, where minerality and acidity lead and the textural precision and intensity of the old vine fruit dominates the long, persistent finish. This is grown up, top shelf Sauvignon Blanc like only a masterful winemaker like Adam Mason can deliver! Simply one of the most impressive and sophisticated Sauvignon Blancs I have tasted from South Africa in a very long time. Drink on release or cellar for extra complexity for another 5 to 8+ years.
I tasted this profound new release from the Raats Family Winery back in October 2022 with Bruwer Raats at his farm and featured it as part of my longer write-up of new Raats and Bruwer Vintners releases. But such is the magnificence of this wine, and specifically the 2021, that I thought I would repost my review individually in case anyone missed it. This new 2021 is undoubtedly one of the best and most serious Chenin Blancs Bruwer Raats has released during his illustrious career and certainly a wine collectors will not want to miss.
The Eden 2021 Chenin Blanc is made from fruit grown in a beautifully manicured 13 to 17 year old Chenin Blanc vineyard alongside the Raats Family Winery in Stellenbosch on the Vlaeberg Road in the Polkadraai Hills. When Bruwer Raats released the first vintage of his high density planted Montpellier Clone Chenin Blanc in 2014, the wine represented a culmination of years of planning and work to produce a wine unlike anything else that had been produced in South Africa. Now in its eighth vintage, Bruwer’s vision of producing a premium white wine of unrivalled quality is finally being realised.
Raats Family Eden High-Density Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2021, WO Polkadraai Hills, 13% Abv.
With only 1,734 bottles produced, the wine was aged in 50% concrete egg and 50% oak barrels and reveals a magical melange of fresh orange citrus, tangerine, white peach and Granny Smith apple fruits over a very subtle maritime salinity and granitic minerality. The palate is intense and linear, ultra focused and fresh but layered with generous fruit concentration but also overt minerality and wet river pebble nuances. An incredibly impressive expression of ultra premium Chenin Blanc. Drink from 2025 and over the next 20+ years.
One of the greatest measures of a wine’s quality and style can usually be achieved when lining up the finest creations in a blind line-up against all one’s global peers. If you want to be the best, you need to pit yourself against the best. This philosophy applies equally in business, sport and of course fine wine and it was this simple principle that inspired the original “Judgement Tastings” many years ago… the first popularised benchmark exploration being the Judgement of Paris held by the late Steven Spurrier back in 1976, pitting the best of California against the best of France.
In the same pioneering spirit of competition, a group of London fine wine enthusiasts set out, some years ago, to compare the finest Grenache wine expressions from around the world in a rigorous blind comparative tasting. Roll on several years, and not only have the finest offerings from around the world increased in number, but the “Grenache fine wine category” itself has evolved dramatically to include some incredible new expressions, primarily from Spain and South Africa.
So with the latest 2023 edition of the Judgement of Wimbledon held recently with one of the most impressive line-ups to date, the results were always going to be highly anticipated. This year, the 14 wine blind flight included 3 wines from Sierra de Gredos, the mountainous region west of Madrid, 4 wines from Priorat in Catalonia, 1 wine from Monsant next door to Priorat, 1 wine from Vinos de la Tierra Castilla y Leon, 3 old vine wines from South Africa, 1 wine from Rioja and 1 from the USA. Where possible, the latest releases were included covering vintages 2020 to 2014.
The Judgement of Wimbledon 2023 tasting featured seven judges, 14 wines double decanted, tasted blind and rated using the 100-point scoring system. With regards to the wine selection, a more elegant, classical, mineral and pure fruited aesthetic was followed in conjunction with high critical scores from international reviewers for the vintages on the tasting, or else for previous vintages if the latest releases had not been rated yet. Previous Judgement tastings have including more “obvious” riper expressions of Grenache from Australia, the USA, and Chateauneuf du Pape (Rayas), so these were excluded from this years selection as a point of difference.
My personal tasting notes and scores were as follows, followed by the group average results.
The Judgement of Wimbledon Tasting Line-up: (including Greg Sherwood MW’s blind notes)
Wine 1 – Terroir al Limit Les Manyes 2019, Priorat, Spain
Light translucent colour reveals an aromatics of tar and leather, freshly tilled earth and bramble berry spice. Very sappy, smoky with a deep peppery spicy seam. Quite phenolic and very spicy on the palate with quite a dense glycerol mouthfeel, plenty of crushed peppercorns, austere liquid minerality and wood spice on the finish.
(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wine 2 – Comando G Rumbo Al Norte 2020, Gredos, Spain
Very pale colour in the glass before a nose of vermouth spices, strawberry reduction, tomato juice, dried orange peel, tangerine and blood orange. The palate is taut and incredibly saline with a very polished textural feel, tight knit tannins and a quite exotic finish of red berries, Xmas spices and granitic minerality.
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wine 3 – Telmo Rodriguez Pegaso Granito 2018, Vinos de la Tierra Castillo y Leon, Spain
A darker, deeper expression on the eye and the nose, showing complex layers of black currant pastille, cassis and salty blueberry. The tannins are pure silk showing a powdery texture, a tight grained minerality, pear notes and a long focused harmonious finish. Impressive and immediately hedonistic.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wine 4 – Naude Family Wines Grenache 2019, Darling, South Africa
Another light, translucent coloured expression. The nose shows a delicate smoky elegance layered with sapidity, crushed granitic spice and dried herbs. On the palate there is a supremely elegant mouthfeel, pinpoint acids, delicate freshness and a wonderfully cool, focused saline precision on the finish. Very harmonious and classy despite its evident youthfulness.
A much riper, denser opulent expression with plenty of sun dried red berries, hints of diesel rag, and sweet grilled herbs. On the palate there is a plush texture, plenty of fleshy red berry fruits, red bruised apple, notes of raspberry coulis and wood spice. The entire package is very impressive with a sleek texture and compact mouthfeel. Very classy.
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wine 6 – Mas Martinet Els Escurcons 2019, Priorat, Spain
Another dense, darkly coloured expression. On the nose the aromatics show a nervy, crushed gravel, limestone mineral dustiness mixed with sweet grilled herbs, sweet leaf, red cherry, orange peel and sweet vermouth botanical notes. There is impressive ripeness on the palate with a fleshy richness, Poire William and balancing acidity complimented by supremely creamy chalky tannins. An impressive wine with red and black berry fruits and a deliciously creamy persistence.
Medium dark colour with some transparency. The nose is quite lifted and perfumed with notes of cherry cola, herbal tea, cherry tobacco and leafy spice. The palate is as attractive as the aromas, showing deliciously vibrant acids, a glycerol textured breadth but also lovely complexity, a smoky minerality, and a long, powdery tannic finish. Very powerful and intense making for a serious wine indeed.
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wine 8 – Torres Mas de la Rosa 2018, Priorat, Spain
Another dark coloured wine, the aromatics are expressive and perfumed with raspberry herbal tea, red cherry, cherry cola and subtle vermouth herbal spices over a subtle blueberry muffin spice. There is a lovely fleshy richness that offers breadth and depth with a sweet / sour acidity but also incredible precision and balance. Some ripeness here but also a beautiful acid balance.
(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wine 9 – Mas Martinet – Cami Pesseroles 2019, Priorat, Spain
This is a more lush, plush opulent expression with plenty of depth and breadth both on the nose and palate. The nose reveals warming stewed black plum, dark orchard fruits and subtle sweet vermouth and grilled herb spices. The palate is medium to full with an intense fruit concentration tempered by an earthy tart sweet / sour acidity, and a very sweet tannin profile. Lovely concentration on a wine that leaves a little less to the imagination but delicious nevertheless.
(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wine 10 – Sadie Family Wines Soldaat 2021, Piekenierskloof, South Africa
Light and translucent in colour, this youthful expression is smoky and reductive with saline maritime notes over black currant pastille and purple rock candy and subtle musk notes. The palate is salty and spicy, tart yet rich, taut and nervy with plenty of red berry fruits, tart red apple, and a sweet plummy complexity.
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wine 11 – 4 Monos La Isilla 2019, Gredos, Spain
A more classical rendition of Grenache with all the archetypal notes of grilled herbs, smoky black berry, hints of salty cassis, oyster shell and subtle tar and roses complexity. The texture is dense and fleshy, bristling with more red fruits, bright acids and sweet and sour Victoria plum notes. Tight knit, polished and very impressive indeed.
(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wine 12 – Comando G El Tamboril 2020, Gredos, Spain
A taut, classical note with plenty of herbal aromatics, hints of plum and tar, smoky railway yard and earthy black berry. The palate shows a hint of saline flinty reduction but also massively mineral drying tannins, chalky grip and immense power. This is muscle in a bottle, one for the cellar, but a potential block buster. Very impressive.
(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wine 13 – Naude Family Wines Grenache 2020, Darling, South Africa
Light and ethereal in colour, the nose shows sweet sappy red berry fruits, cool red cherry, earthy red plum and grated red apple skins. The palate is liquid lazerbeams, saline and tart yet mouth-wateringly salty and mineral. This is elegance with extreme precision and power but all delivered so deftly. A really incredible expression.
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wine 14 – A Tribute to Grace Morro View Vineyard Santa Barbara County County Grenache 2014, California, USA
Rich and ripe with sur-maturité notes on the nose with hints of sweet figs, caramel, stewed plums and earthy savoury cherry liquor. The tannins are rasping and dry, mouth puckering and grippy with dried fruits that indicate the grapes were picked perhaps a bit too late.
(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The Group Tasting Score Averages and Rankings:
Conclusions and Observations:
One thing you can be sure of when you do blind tastings like this is that the results will never conform to preconceived expectations. Indeed, that was certainly the case with the 2023 Judgement of Wimbledon tasting. Some of the obvious surprises were the low ratings for both the Comando G Rumbo Al Norte 2020 and the Les Manyes 2019, though this could be down to their youthfulness. Equally, a big surprise was the dominant performance of another Sierra de Gredos wine, the El Tamboril 2020, that shone incredibly brightly and seduced all the tasters.
Also, taking previous critical ratings and retail prices into consideration, all three South African Grenache wines performed incredibly well, with purity, precision and balance in the face of stiff competition from wines that were sometimes close to 10 times their price. The Naudé Family Wines Grenache was one of the original wines that inspired the Judgement tastings all those years ago, so hats off to an impressive 4th and 5th placing for Ian Naudé’s two incredible reds. World class in every sense of the word! Until next year and the 2024 Judgement… cheers!
After reviewing the Thelema estate Merlot 2019 recently, it’s always interesting to trade up and assess their Reserve Merlot. Annually among the top examples produced in South Africa, the 2020 vintage had its challenges for producers and many wines seem to show more accessibility early on.
But this Reserve Merlot displays plenty of meaty depth opening initially with leafy, sappy notes of sandalwood, wood spice, capsicum, black plum and black currants over roasted coffee beans and grilled herbs. Initially quite tight and broody as you’d expect from a young wine like this, with a few hours of breathing, the palate opens up beautifully to reveal a medium bodied depth and breadth, an impressive fruit intensity melting into integrated oak spice nuances and sweet polished tannins, a fleshy plummy texture with expressive black berries, black cherry, stewed black plums, brûléed espresso hints and a tangy fresh acidity on the finish. A classy and characterful red. Let this 2020 settle in the cellar for another year or two then drink over 10+ years.
There are a lot of very decent South African Chardonnays on the market, but only a few exceptional examples as many producers do seem to be using either fruit from areas that are perhaps just a little bit too warm, are using grapes from vines planted on the wrong terroir, or perhaps some winemakers have simply hit a bit of a glass ceiling of knowledge when it comes to pushing the boundaries of quality and complexity for this generic grape that is so easily shaped by its terroir but also the hand of the winemaker. In reality, I suspect most of the stumbling blocks in trying to reach ever higher quality relate to vineyard terroir, micro-climates and how much insight a specific winemaker intrinsically has into the Chardonnay grape itself within a Burgundian or a New World style context.
When I was contacted by the owners of Draaibroek Wines, a new Hemel-en-Aarde brand a couple of years ago, and asked if I would be prepared to review their maiden release 2019, I have to say I did not expect much beyond the ordinary. However, as the provenance of the grapes became clearer and who their consulting winemaker was, it is fair to say my interest was substantially peaked. The maiden Chardonnay was made by accomplished winemaker Stephanie Wiid of Thistle and Weed fame, from grapes sourced in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge from the La Vierge farm. My full 92-point review from August 2020 can be read here… https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2020/08/19/an-exciting-new-release-from-the-hemel-en-aarde-ridge-tasting-the-onskuld-chardonnay-2019/
But this is a winery project in a hurry and not content to dabble with mediocrity as witnessed by the exceptional quality of only their second release. The 2020 was rated an impressive 95/100 points on the Fine Wine Safari and only narrowly missed out on 5 Stars (95/100 points and higher) in the South African Platter’s blind tastings. It was indeed a very accomplished wine that augured well for future releases. I then tasted the third vintage 2021 release at Cape Wine 2022 in October last year but did not manage to write a substantive tasting review until retasting this wine again recently. In the interim period, the wine has scored an impressive 96/100 points blind and been awarded 5 Stars in the annual Platter’s Guide.
Sourced from the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge ward in the Walker Bay wine region, the grapes are grown in a single 11-year-old North – East facing trellised vineyard at around 300 metres altitude consisting of clay-rich Bokkeveld shale soils. Made with a philosophy of minimalist intervention, the grapes were hand harvested on the 5th of March and whole bunch pressed before being fermented in French oak barrels, 30% of which were new, and matured on its fine lees for 11 months. A barrel selection was then made prior to blending and bottling.
Draaiboek Wines Onskuld Chardonnay 2021, WO Hemel-en-Aarde, 13.5% Abv.
2.30 g/l RS | 6.1g/l TA | 3.28 pH
The 2021 Chardonnay from Draaiboek Wines is certainly an impressive creation. Immediately lifted and expressive on the nose, the aromatics boast complex layers that slowly unfurl to reveal pristine notes of white flowers, freshly baked baguette, spicy green apples, white citrus, waxy lemon rind and subtle hints of nutmeg. The palate is beautifully weighted with a medium bodied palate breadth and tangy acids that show deliciously racy, saline notes of Seville oranges, tangerine, granny smith apples and warm apple strudel pastries. Such a mouth-watering, joyful expression from one of the best white wine vintages in South Africa in the past decade. Drink this now or cellar comfortably for added complexity for 3 to 8+ years. (3,670 bottles produced.)
Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta is one of Angelo Gaja’s two Tuscan properties, on the site of an old church, Santa Restituta, which dates back to the 4th century. As is the family’s style, theirs is a fusion of modern and traditional winemaking. Gaja also owns land on the Buonconvento Northern side of Montalcino and some prestigious lands in the South, a stone’s throw from Sesti in Argiano. The Northern sites normally all go into the Brunello di Montalcino ‘normale’ with Sugarille and Rennina, located around the winery on the Southern side of the town, being bottled individually as Crus. These three Brunellos from one of the finest names in Italian wine are always impeccably crafted and full of character and finesse.
In 2019, Gaja bought a five-hectare vineyard in the southwestern area of Montalcino at a higher altitude of 400 meters above sea level in the area of Bolsignano, followed in 2020 by an additional five-hectare plot of land acquired near the so-called Passo del Lume Spento at 630 meters in elevation in an attempt to mitigate potential global warming problems in the future. Drinkers and critics alike look forward to seeing how these new parcels will be incorporated into the wine range and what changes they may make to the current wine style and quality.
For now, we get to enjoy the new releases from the 2018 vintage, which considering it was a warm and dry year in Montalcino, has produced wines noted for their freshness, bright fruits and textural finesse. The 2018 Gaja Brunello is made up from a selection of grapes from the Rennina and Sugarille vineyards that are blended with those from Torrenieri, in the northeastern area of Montalcino. While the soil in Rennina and Sugarille is clay-calcareous with high amounts of galestro (the rocky, schistous clay soil), the ground in Torrenieri is a mixture of clay, silt, and sand. The grapes from the different vineyards were then fermented and macerated separately for around three weeks. After 24 months of ageing in oak, the wines were blended and then aged for another six months in concrete vats before bottling.
Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino 2018 DOP, 14.5% Abv.
The 2018 vintage is certainly noted for its freshness, finesse and linearity and among the best producers, there was a small but tantalising array of top-class wines produced. This characterful Gaja Brunello di Montalcino displays an impressive aromatic complexity, textural elegance and savoury depth of fruit on the palate. On the nose the wine reveals expressive notes of crushed blueberries, savoury cured meats, freshly cut bresaola, chargrilled charcuterie, grilled herbs and roasted chestnuts over pithy red cherry, sun raisined cranberry and red liquorice nuances. The palate is initially taut, broody and slightly introspective but once given air starts to open up, fanning its peacock tail of flavours. The elegance and freshness on the palate eventually give way to more assertive characteristics of sweet black cherries, rosemary and thyme herbal hints, ripe black orchard stone fruits, an alluring salinity and gentle hints of balsamic and vanilla pod spice on the finish. This is an altogether cooler, more herbal, mineral expression that will undoubtedly enjoy an eager following among Brunello lovers and collectors. Drink now or cellar for another 8 to 10+ years.
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+.
Semillon is a complicated grape variety that needs to be allowed time in the cellar to show at its very best. After reviewing this wine back in February 2021, I noted that it was indeed a noteworthy expression but would undoubtedly benefit from further ageing in the cellar. To my surprise, I was recently served the wine blind from a friends collection and I’m pleased to say this old vine Semillon has blossomed into an exceptional fine wine.
These 118-year-old vines come from the famous Landau du Val vineyard in the Bo-Hoek area of the Franschhoek Valley, once owned by the late Basil Landau, and really do yield some very special fruit capable of making some truly profound white wines. Harvested February 2017, the fruit was picked and chilled overnight before being destemmed without crushing and left to macerate on the skins for 24 hours before pressing. The juice was settled in tank and then transferred to old 500 litre French oak barrels for natural fermentation which lasted 6 weeks. After fermentation, bâtonnage was performed once a week to add richness and texture to the wine. The wine was bottled unfiltered and unfined after 12 months ageing in barrel.
As with many other complex wines, cuisines and works of art, it seems unreasonable to expect that every critic will taste classic old vine Semillon in the same manner and see eye to eye with their critical ratings. In this instance, I simply cannot see eye to eye with my original rating and was so moved by the wine that I felt a new review would be the only respectful thing to do! This is undoubtedly an impressive wine fashioned by subtlety and whispered nuances, liquid minerality and a slowly evolving textural passion play that eventually seduces the drinker.
Black Elephant Vintners The Dark Side of the Vine Semillon 2017, W.O. Franschhoek, 12.25% Abv.
RS 2.30 g/l | TA 5.6 g/l | pH 3.41
This is one of the most impressive old vine Semillons produced in South Africa. What started life as a super taut, tightly wound nervy vintage white is now finally starting to reveal some of its true inner secrets after almost 6 years ageing in barrel and bottle. This vintage still requires beneficial air time in glass or decanter to breathe, but it has definitely evolved and started opening up previously hidden doors of complexity and texture. The aromatics are rich and alluring, packed full of honey and white citrus, nectarine peel, crushed gravel minerality and notes of dried nuts with a subtle lick of lanolin and tinned petit pois. On the palate, a wonderful structural depth and breadth is revealed, impressively dense and glycerol with a real sensation of dry extract concentration from the exceptional old vine fruit. There is plenty of crunchy white peach stone fruit, dried herbs, tart green pear, yellow grapefruit confit and a long leesy finish framed by tangy fresh acids. I said in my original review back in February 2021 that this was “another complex, restrained offering that will take a little time in the cellar to show at its very best.” That has indeed been the case and now, this 2017 vintage is truly on fire. Time to enjoy the classism and quality of this very fine Semillon expression. Drink from 2023 to 2033+.