The Vilafonte Winery Prepares to Release Another Effusively Modern 2019 Series M Vintage…

2019 represents the first post-drought Series M vintage to be released by the team at the Vilafonte winery in Paarl and the vintage clearly illustrates what is possible when nature decides to co-operate to yield some exceptional raw materials. According to winemaker Chris de Vries, the vintage was really a tale of two seasons. While rains initially remained elusive, there was an upswing in rainfall towards the end of the 2018 winter and continuing into spring and early summer.

Weather fluctuations in the spring did however result in uneven bud-break and berry set. Conditions improved somewhat at the onset of summer with a warmer November being very conducive to healthy vineyard growth. Some uneven ripening was remedied with in-bunch sorting after veraison and by the time harvest arrived at the beginning of February, the fruit quality was looking exceptional.

The Series M 2019 is a blend of 48% Malbec, 34% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc which was aged for 22 months in 22 percent new French oak barriques with the balance in a mixture of older French oak barrels. 51 barrels were produced.

Vilafonte Series M 2019, WO Paarl, 14% Abv.

This excellent vintage has yielded a truly impressive wine for the Vilafonte team displaying a brilliant and intense ruby and red plum hue. The aromatics are expansive and hedonistic sending notes of violets and crushed red cherries, raspberries and pressed rose petals soaring out the glass with confidence and vigour. Fabulously complex and intricate, attractive notes of wild berries and red currant follow to the dense, full bodied palate that boasts a broad seductive array of black liquorice and black plum, cocoa powder and brown toast crust nuances. The Malbec and Merlot are like a marriage made in heaven, offering svelte supple tannins and a texture that wraps its arms around you in the most comforting embrace. With time in the glass, the full fleshy palate shows further layers of baked plums, blue berries and red cherries all underpinned by fresh vital acids. This is most definitely one of the most powerful, potent and heady wines produced in the Series M range to date displaying an impressively ample fine wine self-confident personality. Drink this wine in its youth or cellar for 20+ years.

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

South African Icon Winery Vilafonte Releases Their New 2020 Seriously Old Dirt Super Second Wine onto the Market…

I have not visited South Africa since February 2020, though this is about to be remedied very soon. But on my last trip, I found most of the best wine shops festooned with bottles of the Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt red blend, which admittedly, is one of my favourite premium second wines from South Africa along with the export-only version of Meerlust Red.

Well priced, always over-delivering and increasingly available in the correct off-trade and on-trade retail channels, I have long punted this wine to be one of South Africa’s best global ambassadors for premium red offerings making every new release highly anticipated.

The post 2019 harvest rains marked the onset of a more traditionally wet, cold winter in the Cape after 4 to 5 years of drought and abnormal seasonal rainfall. But with Spring, fair weather beckoned healthy, homogenous vine growth in the early season. Windy conditions during flowering might have threatened fruit set but generally yielded looser clusters and smaller berries. Temperatures during ripening were moderate without the usual heatwaves which led to a long, calm, measured picking season overall.

Vilafonte Serious Old Dirt 2020, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.

This is another serious effort from the Vilafonte team after last year’s award winning 2019 release. The 2020 blend consists of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc and was matured for 18 months in older French oak barriques. Moving more towards a distinctly Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blend compared to earlier editions which often featured more Merlot and Malbec, this rich ruby red coloured wine shows all the classic aromatics of black currant, strawberry shortbread, gingerbread cookie dough, cherry tobacco and hints of vanilla pod spice. Always a wine that unashamedly aspires to a higher, more hedonistic mantra, like the 2019, this 2020 exhibits a supremely well-honed, polished, elegant textural mouthfeel with effortlessly friendly tannins, an intense but weightless black and red berry fruit concentration and a plush, long, tightly focused finished. Knowing that this wine traditionally holds a lot of secrets, I reviewed it over two consecutive night’s tasting but came to the same conclusion in the end – that this is yet another very polished wine with age-worthy credentials that will appeal to seasoned collectors and the man in the street alike. A serious wine that is also seriously delicious! Drink from release and over the next 10 to 15 years.

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

The Ancient Vilafonte Soils Yield Another Blockbuster Series C Cabernet Sauvignon Red Blend in 2019…

The first post-drought vintage is about to be released by the team at the Vilafonte winery in Paarl and the 2019 vintage clearly illustrates what is possible when nature decides to co-operate to help yield some exceptional raw materials to make another iconic Cabernet Sauvignon based red blend. The discussions are already starting as to whether this blockbuster 2019 vintage will join other great historic vintages like 2003, 2009, 2015 and 2017 in redefining premium South African fine wine quality.

Speaking to winemaker Chris de Vries, the vintage was really a tale of two seasons. While rains initially remained elusive, there was an upswing in rainfall towards the end of the 2018 winter and continuing into spring and early summer. Weather fluctuations in the spring did however result in uneven bud-break and berry set. Conditions improved somewhat at the onset of summer with a warmer November being very conducive to healthy vineyard growth. Some uneven ripening was remedied with in-bunch sorting after veraison and by the time harvest arrived at the beginning of February, the fruit quality was looking exceptional.

Vilafonte Series C 2019, WO Paarl, 14.5% Abv.

The Series C 2019 is a blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Malbec and 4% Cabernet Franc that was aged for 22 months in 74% new French oak barriques with the remainder aged in older, multiple passage barrels. A deep ruby-purple colour, this really is an impressively intense and striking blend that is seductive and alluring from the moment the cork is pulled. The aromatics offer glimpses of black cherries, earthy stewed black plums, black currants, fertile loam, tilled earth, freshly cut hedgerow together with hints of hoisin plum sauce and melted chocolate nuances. The palate is medium to full bodied but incredibly pure and polished with a confident, approachable accessibility, sleek rounded tannins and layer upon layer of seamless creamy black berry fruits, saline liquorice, sweet cedar spice and a subtle blueberry accent on the vibrant fresh finish. This wine does not try and hide its sweet seductive black fruits yet there is certainly a subtle subtext of earthy, stony minerality that runs in unison with all the vivid fruit concentration. But beware all the seductive sex appeal on this wine because only the foolish would drink all their bottles on release before allowing this serious blend to hit its straps after 8 to 10+ years ageing. A deliciously accomplished wine.

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

Vilafonte Forges Ahead with Another Jaw-Dropping 2018 Series M Fine Wine Release…

I was in the Cape in 2018 around harvest time and again at the Vilafonte winery in February 2020 only days after the Series M 2018 had been bottled. Proprietor Mike Ratcliffe and US partners Phil Freese and Zelma Long, visiting for the 2020 harvest, struggled to contain their excitement over the final 2018 results. After reviewing the superb Series C 2018 in September 2020, I knew all eyes would be on the Series M that Mike described as possibly the best the winery had ever produced. With maturing vineyards, ever greater fine tuning of their precision viticulture techniques as well as winemaker Chris de Vries just getting to know his terroir better and better, further improvements in quality seem an almost certainty.

The 2018 vintage was certainly marked by one of the worst droughts on record and presented some significant challenges for all vine growers and winemakers in the Western Cape. With water resources at an all time low and strict rationing in effect, reduced water availability for irrigation led to reduced vine vigour and canopy sizes. Some unseasonable rains and low temperatures in October and November disrupted fruit set and further reduced the number and size of berries on grape clusters.

In the end, harvest timings were close to normal, beginning on February 2nd and continuing uninterrupted until February 27th. Overall, the vintage saw yields contract by -24% following a very generous crop in 2017 and the fruit was marked by berries being on average -25% smaller in size than normal leading to wines with an intense inky colour, piercing concentration and striking fruit richness.

Vilafonte Series M 2018, WO Paarl, 14.5% Abv.

The 2018 Series M is a blend of 45% Merlot, 41% Malbec, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc that was aged for 22 months in 24% new French oak barriques with the remainder aged in used French oak barrels. This wine exhibits an alluringly deep dark garnet-purple colour and wilfully offers forth an exhilarating aromatic array of seductive notions of blueberries, boysenberries, black plum and sweet cassis. The purity and detail is very impressive with delicate violet and vanilla pod nuances combining with notes of star anise, warm buttered brown toast smothered with black cherry preserve, freshly baked pastries, hints of mocha and espresso and some subtle background cedar spice complexing oak notes. The palate shows a wonderfully expansive and multi-dimensional flavour explosion together with a carefully measured richness, pinpoint purity and truly show stopping concentration all delivered with subtlety and jaw-dropping finesse. There is boldness and creamy textured fine-grained supporting tannins but first and foremost, there is freshness, supreme balance and sublime harmony. This very well may be one of the finest young Vilafonte reds I have ever tasted on release. Drink now or cellar for 15+ years.

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

Seriously Old Dirt 2019 – Vilafonte Release the Newest Edition of Their Sought-After Second Wine…

The success and popularity of the Seriously Old Dirt label by Vilafonte has undoubtedly been one of the most significant success stories within the South African wine industry over the past 5 years. Just when you thought the global wine market, both locally and internationally, was over traded and over supplied, along comes an incredibly exciting brand that has been crafted with expertise and vision and constructed around the basic principles of accessible structure, youthful intensity and an underlying feel and character of uncompromising quality from premium Stellenbosch and Paarl terroirs.

While the Seriously Old Dirt second wine from premium boutique cellar Vilafonte based in Paarl, can no longer lay claim to only use the off-cuts from its bigger brothers Series M and Series C, the growth in the demand for this label can nevertheless be directly linked to the stylistic precision and expertise honed and perfected within the Vilafonte winery. With unused blending components from the Vilafonte vineyards forming the basic building blocks now joined by additional specially selected premium parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon fruit, the Seriously Old Dirt production has been allowed to grow in order to meet an insatiable demand.

Following on from three drought affected vintages in 2016, 2017 and 2018, the preceding winter to the harvest 2019 had a late start with good rainfall with fluctuating weather conditions resulting in an uneven budbreak. Weather conditions improved at the onset of summer and by November, warmer weather was conducive to healthy vineyard growth.

Malbec grapes being off-loaded at Vilafonte from the 2020 harvest.

As a testament to vineyard resilience, wines from the 2019 vintage from across the Cape winelands show impressive freshness, concentration and elegance but also an underlying minerality and structural classicism. The 2019 Seriously Old Dirt blend was matured for 18 months in older French oak barriques and consists of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec, 5% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. The wine is scheduled for a mid-February release date in the home market.

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2019, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.

This wine casts an attractive plummy purple-black colour and offers up vibrant notes of candied Parma violets, crème de cassis, sun raisined black cherries and hints of blueberry confit with an overlay of graphite and cedar spice. There is a lovely youthful maritime salinity and black liquorice nuance that melts into notes of iodine and Chinese five spice. The palate is medium bodied, fresh and supple but slowly unfurls to reveal a solid frame of creamy mineral tannins, ample Cabernet Sauvignon extract and a long, pleasingly drying grippy structure that is bolstered by salty cassis, taut black orchard fruits, stewed black cherries and hints of complexing bay leaf herbal spice. The 2019 vintage yielded wines with freshness, structural classicism, mineral tension and harmony and this superb new release from Vilafonte speaks honestly of the vintage and continues to fly the flag for premium second wines that offer exceptional quality, value for money and age-ability. Drink this on release with some lovely slow roasted lamb or age for 2 to 3+ years to allow it to open its shoulders further. A great wine for the savvy fine wine drinker.

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

Wine Safari New Release Review – Tasting the Resplendent New Vilafonte Series C 2018 Red Blend…

I am very fortunate that despite almost a year of minimal international travel and intermittent lockdowns, I have been able to taste many of the best wines of South Africa both blind and sighted in my capacity as the lead reviewer for the Fine Wine Safari as well as in the capacity of South African Panel Chair for the 2020 Decanter World Wine Awards. As a result, I have luckily had ample opportunity to get up close and personal with many of the new release 2018 Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet based blends and formulate my opinions on the wines that this fourth drought year yielded.

The 2018 vintage was certainly marked by one of the worst droughts on record and presented some significant challenges for all vine growers and winemakers in the Western Cape. With water resources at an all time low and strict rationing in effect, reduced water availability for irrigation led to reduced vine vigour and canopy sizes. Some unseasonable rains and low temperatures in October and November disrupted fruit set and further reduced the number and size of berries on grape clusters.

In the end, harvest timings were close to normal, beginning on February 2nd and continuing uninterrupted until February 27th. Overall, the vintage saw yields contract by -24% following a very generous crop in 2017 and the fruit was marked by berries being on average -25% smaller in size than normal leading to wines with an intense inky colour, piercing concentration and striking fruit richness – the perfect building blocks for another impressive Vilafonte Series C blend.

Vilafonte Series C 2018, WO Paarl, 14.5% Abv.

This new release Series C 2018 is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 14% Malbec and 11% Cabernet Franc and saw 22 months in 69% new French oak barriques with the balance aged in older French oak. Following in the footsteps of three fantastic vintages in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the 2018 boldly asserts its own character and persona not wanting to live in the shadow of any of its predecessors. The aromatics are opulent and richly fruited with extroverted, evocative notes of violets and black cherry kirsch liquor, crème de cassis, ripe sloes and fresh juniper berries. The youthful fruit brightness is gently caressed by a creamy, seductive veil of subtle vanilla oak spice, cocoa powder, warm brown toast and lightly roasted coffee bean nuances. What many of the very best red 2018 blends show in glimpses, this wine reveals with generous excess. Softly textured and impressively suave and harmonious, the palate is filled with a piercing black currant concentration, salty black liquorice and an attractive vanilla pod spice complexity that coats the palate and grows slowly and persistently in volume, depth and breadth. Not only is one of the true signs of great winemaking marked by allowing a wine to express its terroir, but this must inevitably go hand in hand with the ability of a wine to truly illustrate its vintage in as many vivid colours and flavours as possible. 2018 reds have always shown an incredible translucent purity and sweet fruited concentration, extreme elegance with a compact core of power from day one with the more detailed finery never being obscured by any one single component in the glass. This beautiful Series C is a tremendous piece of winemaking resulting from an ongoing mission of vinous refinement. When all is said and done and we eventually look back on the 2018 wines objectively, I predict that this Series C will stand amongst the top wines of the vintage. Drink on release or cellar with confidence for another 10 to 15+ years.

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

Vilafonte Prepare to Release Their New Seriously Old Dirt Red Blend – Tasting the 2018 Vintage of the Most Desirable Second Wine On the South African Market…

It seems an age ago now, visiting with Phil Freese and Zelma Long at the Vilafonte Winery on the 13th February in Stellenbosch. Who could possibly have known what lay just around the corner! Nevertheless, my brief visit to South Africa was very productive with one of the highlights being able to visit the Vilafonte Winery again together with the iconic duo of Phil and Zelma, the US partners in crime with Mike Ratcliffe at one of the most exciting premium quality wineries in South Africa.

Right from the very beginning with the 2012 Seriously Old Dirt vintage, I championed the vision of a truly special super premium second wine that over delivers in bucket loads. When I tasted the Seriously Old Dirt way back then, I knew that this ‘Members Only’ blend was a wine I needed to push on behalf of consumers and indirectly encourage owner Mike Ratcliffe to do the right thing and unleash this fabulous blend onto the wider wine world.

Seven vintages in to the project and Seriously Old Dirt is surely the number one premium selling second wine in South Africa. The consumer uptake and affinity has been exceptional both in South Africa and internationally. The new 2018 release was marked by the worst drought on record and the challenges that accompany such a vintage. After a drought spell from 2015 to 2018, water resources were at an all time low and rationing was put in place in the Western Cape.

Tasting with Phil Freese, Zelma Long and Chris de Vries.

Low moisture in spring and limited water availability led to a reduced vigour and canopy size. Some unseasonable rains and low temperatures in October and November disrupted fruit set and reduced the number and size of berries on each cluster. Harvest time proceeded on schedule, commencing February 2nd and continuing uninterrupted through to February 27th. In 2018, yields were down -24% following a generous 2017 crop. (However, production was increased as parcels of premium fruit were bought in to up the production and meet demand. This in all likelihood will be the practice going forward.)

The Seriously Old Dirt was matured for 21 months in older French oak barriques and 135 barrels were produced or approximately 40,000 bottles which is indeed a big jump up in quantity from the previous vintages of 8 to 10,000 bottles. But as always, quality is at the forefront of the Vilafonte operation and this is another exceptional release of Seriously Old Dirt. Due for earlier than planned release on the 25th June 2020.

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2018, 13.5 Abv. (Bottled Dec 2019)

89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, 4% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. A Cabernet Sauvignon driven blend this vintage, the 2018 sees a pronounced spicy aromatic lift of sweet black berry fruits, leafy cassis, sweet sandalwood and spicy damson black plums. Cool, focused and fairly linear at this youthful stage, the tannins are satin smooth and the texture generous yet structured. Finely layered and fresh, attractive black cherry, blue berry and black currant notes melt into mineral nuances of graphite and wet granite. Wonderfully polished and sophisticated as you’d expect from Vilafonte, this wine will be ready to drink on release but will undoubtedly benefit from a few years extra cellaring to allow the large Cabernet Sauvignon component to mellow and reveal further tertiary treats for the drinker. Seriously Old Dirt is on a seriously good run of form!

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

Yet Another Iconic Series M Release from Vilafonte and the High Flying Team in Search of Perfection…

It’s always a privilege to visit premium wineries and in mid-February I fortuitously managed a pre-lockdown trip to South Africa and the Cape winelands. One of the highlights and surprises was certainly dropping in to taste the new Vilafonte Series C and M releases at their cellar in Stellenbosch only to be met and hosted by Mike Ratcliffe’s co-owners, Phil Freese and Zelma Long, both of who were out visiting from California for the new harvest as well as the prestigious Cape Wine Auction charity event.

After a quick sweep around the cellar catching up on the latest 2020 vintage news with Phil and Zelma as well as winemaker Chris de Vries, we hit the 2019 barrels to get a sneak peak of what treats lie just around the corner for Vilafonte lovers.

With Phil Freese, Zelma Long and winemaker Chris de Vries.
The 2019 Series C and M maturing in barrel.

With the 2018s having just been bottled weeks earlier in January, we all gave them a respectful pass before sitting down for a thrilling masterclass with both Phil and Zelma tasting not only the 2017 Series C but also the new Series M, due for general release in South Africa in May 2020.

Always a privilege tasting with Phil & Zelma. Their insight is inspiring.

After the incredibly dry and hot 2016, the 2017 harvest presented an abundant crop of sterling quality. Yields rose by +57% despite the fourth year in a sequence of below-average rainfall for the Western Cape Province. This follows Vilafonte’s smallest per-hectare crop in 2016 and moves back closer 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 the 2017 harvest was warm and fair – perfect ripening conditions. Harvest commenced on the 6th of February with a few short pauses, and concluded on the 1st of March 2017.

The last pickings of the 2020 Malbec fruit being off loaded with the first Merlot grape arrivals.

Vilafonte Series M 2017, WO Paarl, 14 Abv.

Deliciously opulent and hedonistic, this 2017 Series M blend of 42% Merlot, 39% Malbec and 19% Cabernet Sauvignon is loaded with complex dark fruit notes of blue berries, black berry crumble, creme de cassis and a dusting of vanilla pod spice. Immaculately integrated oak is expertly applied but never overwhelms the lifted perfume notes of violets and fresh iris flowers. The palate shows all the vintage character elegance of 2017 displaying amazing weightless concentration, sleek sweet tannins and a lithe, opulent silky soft sweet fruited structure. This really is precision winemaking anchored around supreme balance and sublime harmony. Fabulously persistent and intense on the finish, this wine will seduce drinkers from release with its accessibility, generosity and finesse but is undoubtedly going to be another superb age worthy premium red for the cellar. Drink from release and for 20+ years.

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

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 Winery Putting Super Premium Second Wines on the South African Map – Tasting the Seriously Old Dirt 2017 New Release…

The essence of a great second wine always starts with premium fruit. When it comes to Vilafonté, very few South African Bordeaux blends can rival this producer’s wines for critical acclaim or consistency of premium quality, vintage after vintage. But a great second wine like Seriously Old Dirt not only has to leverage its own inherent fruit quality but also its own innate vintage conditions to shape a wine representative of its vineyard surroundings, its terroir as well as its ultimate ambition. 2017 has been the dark horse vintage in South Africa that has taken everyone by surprise, producing whites and reds of unimagined high quality when growers were grappling with peak drought conditions in the Cape.

 

For Vilafonte, 2017 yielded an abundant crop of high quality. Yields rose by 57% percent, despite the fourth year in a sequence of below-average rainfall for the Western Cape winelands. This follows Vilafonte’s smallest per-hectare crop in 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 with perfect ripening conditions. Harvest commenced on the 6th of February with a few short pauses and concluded on the 1st of March 2017.

 

Seriously Old Dirt 2017 by Vilafonte, WO Paarl, 13.5 Abv.

This sixth edition was matured for twenty-one months in older French oak barriques with the Seriously Old Dirt 2017 being a blend of 37% Malbec, 36% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc producing 89 barrels. The wine succeeds in displaying a truly graceful elegance, freshness and the saline intensity of the vintage while never losing sight of its core role of delivering generosity, purity and sleek textural harmony and precision. Beautifully fragrant and perfumed, the aromatics reveal no less distinction than is found on the Vilafonte Series M or C with opulent layers of mocha, cocoa power, espresso, sour plum and sappy blue berry vanilla crumble. The palate and tannins are finely polished and as sleek and elegant as the chiselled lines on a Florentine white marble Adonis displaying the seductive allure of red cherry, sweet tobacco and red currant allspice. Deceptively light to medium bodied, this five star vintage red packs an inconceivable amount of pleasure into a small bottle. Luxurious and hedonistic, this is definitely a wine for the educated vinous bargain hunter who is unwilling to compromise on quality.

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