Tim Atkin agrees with us and suggests we are NOT overselling this wine – here is what he had to say:
94 Pts – Elgin suffered less from the heat in 2018, according to James Downes, so this is a correspondingly focused, dense, compact Mount Bullet with inky color, chewy tannins, chocolate, damson and blueberry flavors, bright acidity and the structure to age further in bottle. 2023-30
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 through out 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 3°C before being sorted on a conveyor and destemmed. Berries are then hand sorted, before cold maceration ensues for 3 to 6 days at 8°C. We try to naturally ferment 100% of the different parcels of grapes making up the Mount Bullet. Fermentation temperatures vary between 26 – 30°C. After pressing, the wine is racked and left to complete its malolactic fermentation and maturation in oak barriques.
Considerable emphasis is placed on maximizing the different clone expressions and therefore each parcel is vinified and matured separately before final blending. The wine has a fragrance of ripe red fruits such as plums and dark cherries, with earthy complexity and yet still expressing minerality. Maintaining a good acidity lends to outstanding freshness with a well integrated ripe and seductive tannin structure. Incorporating a minimal winemaking intervention approach, such as natural ferment and only two “punch downs” daily, retains silkiness and elegance.
DISCLAIMER: As mentioned, 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, 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” Merlot, 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. But there’s not much else that’s noteworthy.
But then there’s this wine – Downes Family ‘Mt Bullet’ 2018 (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. Now add to all this the concentration of the 2018 vintage, following 3 years of brutal drought in the Cape, and now you’re now talking about a wine with the power of some of the great Bordeaux, like Ausone, Lafleur and Cheval Blanc which sell for $600-$1000/btl. Yes, we really said that.
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!