To mark the upcoming launch of Series C 2015 from Vilafonté, a blind tasting was convened which would see it included in a line-up next to nine of its more notable peers. Vilafonté is of, course, the Paarl property jointly owned by Warwick’s Mike Ratcliffe and eminent US wine personalities Phil Freese and Zelma Long. The trio have worked hard to position this wine at the top of its category since the 2003 maiden vintage and Ratcliffe, master brand custodian that he is, is normally quite weary about where and when it gets shown so respect to all for having the courage to undertake the exercise.
Invitations to the tasting were sent out to a few select members of the trade and media and in the end a five-person panel was convened consisting of me, Harald Bresselschmidt, the chef patron of Aubdergine restaurant plus his sommelier Ralph Reynolds, Roland Peens of Wine Cellar and Francois Rautenbach, head of the Premier Wine Direct programme for Singita Game Reserves.
Scoring was done according to the 100-point system and here’s how the wines ranked once the tasters’ scores had been averaged:
1.= Ernie Els Signature 2013 – 92.6
1.= Vilafonté Series C 2015 – 92.6
3. Morgenster 2013 – 92.2
4. Tokara Director’s Reserve 2013 – 91.6
5. De Toren Fusion V 2015 – 91.4
6. Thelema Rabelais 2013 – 91.2
7.= Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2014 – 91.0
7.= MR de Compostella 2015 – 91.0
9.= Meerlust Rubicon 2014 – 90.4
9.= Warwick Trilogy 2015 – 90.4
Some general observations. There were no “clunkers” (all the wines rating above the important 90-point threshold) but then there shouldn’t have been given that this was a seeded selection. That said, there was a feeling among the tasters that high overall quality was at the cost of “personality”, the wines appearing somewhat “international” rather than of a particular place. Many of the wines were marked by dense black and blue fruit, lots of extract, relatively high alcohols and prominent oak – very “polished” but a bit safe.
It might be argued, though, that there is a market segment out there which considers concentration of fruit and smoothness of texture the epitome of luxury and all these producers are doing is catering for it accordingly. Speaking about the joint top two wines, namely Vilafonté Series C 2015 and Ernie Els 2013, Peens said that he felt that though very modern, their high quality was beyond question. “They’ve been pushed to the limit but not over the edge. They’ve got plenty of “wow” factor”.
The one wine which appeared as something of a stylistic outlier on the day was the MR de Compostella 2015 – with its 40% component of Cabernet Franc, it appeared relatively “green” but the panel felt that this peculiarity was worth celebrating as it provided that little bit of extra character.
For the record, my individual top three wines were:
1. Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2014 – 95
2. Morgenster 2013 – 94
3. Tokara Director’s Reserve 2013 – 93
I have been critical of the Paul Sauer in recent vintages but 2014 appears to be a resounding return to form – I liked the CWG bottling when tasted prior to this year’s auction (see here) and the standard bottling again impressed.
The Vilafonté Series C 2015 is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 9% Malbec, matured for 22 months in French oak, 67% new. It is set for global release on 1 November at R950 a bottle from the cellar door.