It was one of those tastings that could barely be topped in dramaturgic terms. One that will certainly not be forgotten, one that will be remembered one day as “The Judgement of Süllberg”. This very high caliber tasting took place in Hamburg’s noble suburb Süllberg at the two star restaurant “Seven Seas”. Already having ruffled the feathers of the finest wines in the world in other tastings, the South African 4 G Wine Estate with its 2014 vintage challenged the entire Premier Cru elite from Bordeaux. The line-up included all the superstars from Ausone to Petrus and chief editor Giuseppe Lauria from the WEINWISSER was the only media representative at this exclusive event. It reminded immediately of the legendary “Judgement of Paris” tasting in 1976, where, back in the day, a number of Californian nobodies challenged the Bordeaux elite – and won the tasting. Should this be the showplace for yet another sensation?
The story of 4 G sounds a bit like a daredevil dream. The project started from the craz idea of two friends, who just happened to be wine lovers. One day they were convinced it would be possible to create a cult wine, even though they weren’t wine experts. One of the two, Philipp G. Axt, became fixated by the idea and developed it further and further in the most detailed way possible. “I was literally obsessed with the idea”, says the smart CEO of the project. Two more friends joined the team – Giorgio Dalla Cia and his son George, formally at Meerlust Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa. And that is how the name was born. All four founders had a “G” in their name. They had set themselves noble goals: to press the first Premier Cru, the first true cult wine from South Africa.
It should be a Bordeaux blend that could stand up against all the great wines of the world; but here comes the challenge: They had neither a winery, nor vineyards. So they decided to just lease some vineyards, actually just a couple of rows of vines. Only the best ones. 2010 was the first vintage of the Bordeaux blend with Syrah, which can vary slightly in its composition with every vintage. The next year, none other than the famous late Denis Dubourdieu took the helm of the project, with his long-term associate Dr. Valérie Lavigne by his side. He was professor at the University of Bordeaux and consultant for some of the best Châteaux in the region and beyond – hence the absolute Mastermind behind this new wine. The first question that popped into my mind was: “Now what Philipp?”. “Valérie is continuing the project the way Dubourdieu would have”, Philipp replies without hesitation to my question of what the future looks like without the star consultant. She has been involved with the wine since the very beginning and enables seamless continuation of all the meticulous work in the cellar and the vineyards. “We leave nothing to chance”, he states with pure confidence.
Blind tasting: A lot about a wine can already be told by its colour
“Precision viticulture” with leased rows of vines
A highly qualified team is working with actual precision viticulture throughout the leased parcels. These are about 15 different vineyards, some of them host only a few rows of grapes for 4 G, strewn across the entire Western Cape. The selection of final grapes is therefore the biggest success factor. Every single berry is checked by hand before it lands in the fermentation vat. For Philipp G. Axt, only the best will suffice, whether it is handselected barrels, the specially made bottle, or a cork of only the finest quality. The labels have a different subtitle every year (2013 “Waldweben”, 2014 “67 IMIZUZU”), and are created by up-andcoming German artist Sebastian Blinde who is based in Berlin. The flagship G. and his little brother THE ECHO OF G. ripen in a simple rented cellar with the goal to show the wine world that the Cape is capable to grow wine that can match with the best in the world. Of course us wine journalists often hear that some rich guy builds himself a huge winery with the ambition to be seen amongst the best of the world. That often translates into a lot of money for a state-of-the-art winery that magically appears out of nowhere and leaves the quality to be discussed. But here everything is different. This project is based on micro-financing from the savings of Philipp himself and a collection of investors that is composed of friends and family. No shiny winery, no flashy tasting room. The small marketing budget is used wisely for tastings like this one and for networking. But beyond the marketing, storytelling and the investments, the truth lies in the glass. In a comparable tasting a little while back, the G. had already left some 100 point wines in the dust and caused quite a commotion within the industry. And this time the outsider clearly topped the podium. The wine experts and top sommeliers at the tasting were flashed. Even though I recognised the wine as one of the two pirates, its grandeur was unmistaken. After all, the 100 Parker points Pingus from Peter Sissek was the other pirate on the list. Even though it fell out of the tase profiles, the Pingus finally didn’t convince and ended up further back in the pack. Yet the G. 2014 had the best rating among all nine bottles covered. What a sensation!
The average rating for the G. was with 18.82 just a smidge ahead of all the others, ahead of Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Lafite, Mouton, Margaux, Haut Brion and Pétrus. The latter was stricken with a subtle hint of cork, which remained undetected for quite some time, and as a guest I didn’t want to be the spoiler, although everyone was aligned that the wine could still be rated. But still, I kept it out of the ranking, which doesn’t narrow the fantastic result for 4 G in any way.
The 2014 G. is an incredibly complex wine with huge souplesse and unexpected finesse, which contributes to the difficulty of recognising it as an overseas wine in a blind tasting. I have praised it with 19.5/20 points. And even though this is just a glimpse: With this star-studded line-up, the G. was on level with the best Bordeaux Grand Crus of 2014! One can of course counter such a tasting by saying big open wines with fruit and extra sweetness are being compared with closed-up wines from difficult vintages, but the latter is not true here because even though 2014 wasn’t the biggest year, it was still an above-average year in Bordeaux. Yes, the same tasting would have to be repeated in ten years but still, there wasn’t just any kind of wine on the table, but the best of the best that this planet has to offer in terms of wine.
That highly-set goal, to be the first Premier Cru of the Cape, is within reach for Philipp G. Axt and his team. And this is one of those epic moments in the wine world, when an underdog manages to climb on the same level as the crème de la crème. And surely since the famous “Judgement of Paris”, these kind of tastings are especially exciting.
The Idea and the Setting of the Tasting
“It was our goal from the beginning to be on eye level with the best reds in the world. We just wanted to check how far along this journey we have come already. And what setting could be better than hinting to the legendary 1976 tasting and the direct comparison with the elite of Bordeaux”, explains the founder of 4 G. The tasting was prepared by Maximilian Wilm, Head Sommelier of the two star restaurant “Seven Seas”. To avoid certain group dynamics amongst the jury, all wines were rated and all notes collected before the open discussion started. Next to the Bordeaux superstars was also a second pirate among the mix, a 2014 Pingus. It seemed only logical to have two pirates and not just one big and intense wine that would be recognised immediately. One of the most surprising aspects of the tasting was however, the challenge to distinguish between Old World and New World. The Mouton could have easily passed as a pirate. This wasn’t the first tasting that confirmed for me personally that both worlds have come much closer to each other over the past 20 years. And whoever has blind tasted a Dominus – especially an older vintage – next to a Bordeaux, knows how difficult it is to make a clear distinction between the two worlds.
The 4 G mini vertical
I received an email from Philipp G. Axt one day, asking me if I had time and wanted to taste his wine. I had already heard of his project and the flashmob he created at Prowein in 2013. Everybody said it was a PR stunt. So I was curious and happy to accept the invitation. I have to admit, the story sounded a bit adventurous: “We started with about half a Million Euro, and leased parcels on existing vineyards, sometimes just a couple of rows across Stellenbosch”, explained Philipp. “That didn’t get us very far though” he added. Later more investors were added, but regardless, the wine was a statement in itself. We tasted two formidable Second Growths and the 2013. The difference between the First Growth and the Second Growth is simply the selection of the best barrels, hence a “barrel selection”. Whoever wants to own a few bottles of the South African First Growth has to be quick, total production currently runs at 13,000 to 14,000 bottles. The European market only gets about 600 bottles of the G., the price is settled accordingly. A bottle goes for about 350 Euro, the second wine comes at around 110 Euro. The rare bottles are available directly from the estate through info@4G-wines.com or at Tesdorpf.
2011 THE ECHO OF G. (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc):
Dense bouquet with explosive fruit and dark berries, crème de cassis and spices. Very clear on the palate with extra fine sweetness, polished, not as concentrated and multifaceted as the First Growth, more focused on charm and fruit. A real charmer with style and finesse. 17+/20 – 2020
2012 THE ECHO OF G. (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot):
Dense, almost racy bouquet with concentrated fruit structure and finer spices, cedar wood. Clearly tighter on the palate and with more bite, more red berry characteristic, very gripping, very nice balance of fruit, spice and freshness. 17.5/20 – 2022
4,488 bottles. Complex, concentrated and multifaceted bouquet along with a mild and cool scent of berries. It is always fascinating, also with Tuscan or Ribera del Duero icon wines, how cool they can seem regardless of high concentration and power. A lot of Cabernet and Petit Verdot spice, cassis, blue berries, slightly floral and fine wood. Plenty of souplesse, just a hint of coconut lets one guess it might be from overseas. Broadly diversified on the palate, rich extraction with polished, tender-creamy outlines, but at the same time not saturating, moreover it is carried by a fine, mineral freshness and silky texture, as well as a hint of Asian spices over the long finish. Jackpot! 19/20 2018 – 2028
Philipp G. Axt during the tasting, organised by Tesdorpf in the “Seven Seas”, Süllberg
The Judgement of Süllberg
Semi blind tasting
Decanting time: 2 hours
To underline the authenticity of the tasting, I have included the exact notes from the actual tasting with just a few corrections. So please excuse the short-hand writing style.
Wine No. 1 – 2014 Lafite
Dense ruby red, purple-colour rim, closedcool, cassis-based bouquet, hint of mint, blueberries. Dense, solid, creamy palate, a lot of Cabernet spiciness, slightly floral, solid, fine tannins, juicy-fine frame, good acidity, royal finesse. 19/20 2028 – 2055
Wine No. 2 – 2014 Pétrus
Transparent, medium dense ruby red. Spontaneous nose, slightly reductive, very slightly compacted, hint of corkage?, followed by massive, dark Cabernet Franc spiciness. Super elegant, nuanced, dancing, steely acidity. 2014 – even though slightly corked still with big wow-effect, in untainted condition would have been in the top ranks. No ranking but rankings from 19 – 19.5 could be justified.
Wine No. 3 – 2014 Pingus (pirate)
Dense, strong opaque ruby red. Juicy fruit, some vanilla, allure of Cabernet Franc/ Petit Verdot. Concentrated, dense, intense bouquet, blue berries, orange peel, peach skins, demanding nature: mint, chocolate, plum, blackberries and Amarena. With air: totally floral, inferno of blueberries, blue flowers, plum, but also a bit alcoholic and oxidative. Pirat 1? (I was sure this had to be one of the pirates). 18.5/20 2018 – 2028
Wine No. 4 – G. 2014 67 IMIZUZU, 4 G Wine Estate
Dense black red, soft purple rim, little rim. Intense, roast-accent nose, noticeable but fine wood, cassis-accented nose, spicy and floral subtones. Intense blue fruit, cool notes, blueberries, blackberries, chocolate. Fantastic acidity, savoury, gripping, dense, tightly woven, silky elegant texture, long and polished fullness without being fat, balanced depth. Pirate no. 2? 19.5/20 – 2018 – 2028
Wine No. 5 – 2014 Ausone
Medium strong ruby red, a bit more rim. Floral, sensual nose, gripping. A lot of souplesse. Blueberries, big drinking flow,great extra sweetness, sublime feminine palate, almost floating, pure finesse. Mint, floral again, elegant, long, subtle, great elasticity, nuanced, a great piece of finesse! Wow. 19.5/20 2024 – 2055
Wine No. 6 – 2014 Haut-Brion
Dense ruby red, medium rim. Dense, strong, broad-spanning bouquet, profound, a lot of Cabernet spice, masculine, cassis, tobacco nuances, blue berries, fairly powerful, dense tannins but velvety sexy. 19+/20 2028 – 2065
Wine No. 7 – 2014 Mouton-Rothschild
Dense ruby red, solid core, medium rim, a lot of Cabernet spice, Petit Verdot, exuberant, broadly fanned dense palate, extra sweetness, solid tannins, dark roast aroma, a lot of herb spiciness, cassis length. 18.5/20 2023 – 2055
Wine No. 8 – 2014 Cheval Blanc
Medium strong ruby, slight note of lactate, tomato, unbalanced. Elegant gripping palate, astringent, juicy acidity, in the mouth as a whole, with great elegance and velvety. 18/20 first, with some air much better and more nuanced. 19/20 2025 – 2050
Wine No. 9 – 2014 Margaux
Medium strong ruby red, transparent kind. Extremely elegant nose, mint, cassis, tobacco, cigar box. Super elegant palate, playful, fine palate, intriguing, long, mouthwatering, mineral-salty, a lot of finesse. 19.5/20 2023 – 2055