94 pts Tim Atkin – Picked comparatively early but still showing over 15% alcohol in 2017, Mount Bullet is typically plush and intense. Produced from five different clones, it’s brooding, tannic and concentrated, with a sheen of 30% new wood, sinewy, grippy tannins and enough acidity to freshen and lengthen the finish. 2022-27
96 pts John Platter – Always a big, sumptuous wine. 17 has 15% alcohol yet its fine integrated acidity & general balance add a lively lightness. The grainy tannins are firm but supple, the flavors rich & deep but there’s also restraint. Oak is obvious, but should integrate in time.
92 pts Wine Advocate – Juicy and lush with a full nose of red, black and blue fruit tones, the 2017 Mount Bullet Merlot blasts out of the glass with juicy fruits, a delightful oak expression and gobs of complexity. Full-bodied, the palate is succulent and delivers notions of plum pie, blackberry reduction and chocolate-covered blueberries and cherries with a soft herbal essence. The wine shows a broad and expansive mid-palate with well-judged acidity and fine-grained tannins before concluding with generous, somersaulting flavors of juicy plum and vanilla crème brûlée that lingers with elements of crème de cassis and redcurrant. It’s an impressive wine that should last until its 15th birthday. Bravo! 2021-2032
The grapes are picked from a small 3 hectare vineyard. The vineyard is divided up into 5 different parcels each with its own respective clone. The soil, trellising and canopy management is constant throughout the vineyard so it is the actual clonal characteristics that determine the different dates of harvest. Over the years we have learnt that there is as much as 11 – 14 days difference between picking the first clone to picking the last clone. The bunches are chilled to 3ºC before being sorted on a conveyor and destemmed. Berries are then hand sorted, before cold maceration ensues for 3 to 6 days at 8ºC. We try to naturally ferment 100% of the different parcels of grapes making up the Mount Bullet. Fermentation temperatures vary between 26 – 30ºC. After pressing, the wine is racked and left to complete its malolactic fermentation and maturation in (225L) French oak barriques for approximately 20 months using a blend of 3 Bordeaux cooperages. The oak used is of a tighter grain and medium toasted. New oak – 25%, 2nd fill – 50% and 3rd fill – 25%
DISCLAIMER: In South Africa this wine is sold under the Shannon Vineyards label, but due to a trademark issue with Shannon Ridge Winery in Napa Valley, we’re obliged to market it in the US under the Downes Family label. You will notice that we’ve had a “Downes Family” sticker applied to the front label, in order to be compliant. (This can be peeled off easily, if you like, once you have received your wine) These are the lengths we go to, in order to bring you great wines like this.
QUESTION: What would you pay for truly GREAT Merlot?
The most expensive wines in Bordeaux come from the “right bank” of the Garonne River and are predominantly Merlot driven, the most expensive of which is Chateau Le Pin, which now sells for $4,000/btl bottle. (yes – you read that right!) Petrus is not far behind. Once you get outside France, there’s Italy with wines like Ornellaia’s Masseto which sells for $800/btl bottle. There are other great Italian Merlot-predominant wines in the $200 – $300 range, but not that many. When it comes to the “new world” Merlots, you’ve got wines like Duckhorn ‘Three Palms’ at $120/btl or Shaeffer and Cakebread at $75/btl. There’s a handful of others in that $50-$75 range, but that’s it really. There’s not much from the southern hemisphere – notably, James Irvine’s ‘Grand’ Merlot from Eden Valley at $75/btl, is one of the best.
And then there’s this wine – Downes Family ‘Mt Bullet’ 2017 (trades in South Africa as Shannon Vineyards). Close your eyes, and stylistically, this is like drinking top flight, right bank Bordeaux, which would easily sell for $400+/btl. It is our opinion that this IS the best Merlot in the new world. Of course, we’re biased, but you’re welcome to prove us wrong. Even though this is pricey when it comes to this category, if you pay attention to what’s inside your glass, instead of what’s written on the label, you’ll quickly agree with us – this is an absolute steal!