After returning from a very successful Cape Wine 2022 wine fair, the tragedies and hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic almost seem a distant faded nightmare. But as I start tasting a fresh wave of exciting new 2020 red releases, the memories of this unprecedented time come flowing back especially when you consider that many producers in the Cape, at the time, feared that they would not be able to even pick their succulent grapes as harvest approached. But if there is one thing wine producers are well versed at coping with, it is extreme disruption and endless uncertainties.
The 2019/2020 growing season brought fair and favourable conditions with a return to a more traditional cold and wet winter. 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.
Looking back to February 2020, it seems crazy to think that my visit then to the Vilafonte winery at the time would be part of my last visit to South Africa for over two years due to the pandemic. While the overall harvest continued into March, I clearly remember watching multiple trucks offloading the freshly picked Malbec grapes in late February that were tiny pea berry sized, pitch black, perfectly healthy and faultlessly formed. Spirits were high for another exceptional, high-quality harvest.
Vilafonte Series C 2020, WO Paarl, 14.5% Abv.
The 2020 Vilafonte Series C is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 10% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Franc that was aged for 22 months in 68% new French oak barriques with the balance in older used French oak barrels. In the glass, the wine displays an intensely dark, alluring purple black colour and an expressive aromatics of violets, sweet macerated black cherries, blue berries, smoky cassis and touches of Christmas pudding, sweet cherry tobacco, melted liquorice, milk chocolate and ginger cake nuances. There are slight caramelised touches to the aromatics with hints of vanilla pod, clove oil, camphor and sweet cedar spice that melt seamlessly back into the rich, opulent black and blue fruited complexity. Full, rich and elegantly textured, the palate is laden with spicy black fruits, black cherry compote, black currant pastille and intriguing layers of cinnamon spice, salty liquorice and sun raisined blue berries. There in an impressive intensity and concentration on display yet the wine remains fine grained, harmonious and fresh, finishing with spicy, supple velvety tannins and yet more stony, pithy minerality. Delightfully ripe and sometimes erring on the side of hedonistic exoticism, the core essence of this wine is nevertheless built around balance, concentration, purity of fruit and brazen intensity without ever becoming overbearing. A wonderfully individual expression of the vintage, this delicious 2020 continues the Series C’s rock-solid consistency of premium form. Drink from 2024 and comfortably over the next 10 to 12+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)