Australian Chardonnay Punching Above Its Weight – Tasting Penfolds Yattarna From Adelaide Hills…

Just a few days after the Great Chardonnay Blind Challenge, I was fortuitously served this delicious Aussie Chardonnay with Sunday lunch at my father-in-law. While the same vintage would set you back circa £75 per bottle if purchased now, the quality was very impressive and reinforced the high octane performance of the three Australian contenders entered into the blind Chardonnay challenge.

For me the whole selection process has been an enlightening revelation confirming the true pedigree of top Australian Chardonnays from regions like the Adelaide Hills, Beechworth, Mornington Peninsula and Margaret River. Can South Africa compete with these top Aussie expressions? Hmmm…. I think I feel another Australia versus South Africa blind tasting coming on!!

Penfolds Yattarna Bin 144 Chardonnay 2003, Adelaide Hills, Australia, 13.5 Abv.

A bright, clear medium straw yellow, this 15 year old Chardonnay is in fabulous condition bearing in mind it’s from a fairly warm climate. But Adelaide Hills often manages to conjure up tantalising expressions with fine acidity and great age-worthiness. This wine is bold and luscious with a complex nose of buttered white toast spread with yellow grapefruit preserve, lemon peel and hints of honey and a kiss of butterscotch. But you’d be foolish to think the aromatics are just fruit and oak driven as pronounced notes of wet slate and gravel minerality emerge as the wine sits in the glass. The palate has a fine dense texture with an underlying freshness and vibrancy that makes this wine feel more like 5 years old than 15. The sweet lemon verbena and pithy yellow citrus fruits are concentrated and intense, lingering on the finish and draw you back for one sip after another. A really lovely wine that would not be mistaken for Burgundy but that is almost certainly drinking better than most 2003 white Burgundies. Drink now to 2026+

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

The Great Blind Chardonnay Challenge 2018 – New World Chardonnay Giving Burgundy a Run For Its Money…

Chardonnay is often called the chameleon of grape varieties, adapting itself to its environment and terroir with impressive ease. Yet for almost all Chardonnay producers around the globe white Burgundy Chardonnay remains the zenith of quality and expression for this variety and understandably so when the region boasts iconic appellations like Chevalier Montrachet and Le Montrachet Grand Cru.

But there is only one problem, well, actually a couple of problems. The first and most obvious one is that Burgundy is a small region in reality and production is greatly outstripped by global demand, hence pushing prices of fairly basic quality wines to astronomical levels. Then, just to rub salt in the consumer’s purchasing wounds, Burgundy has been afflicted, and many argue still is, by the dreaded pox… or premature oxidation (premox).

In the context of this senario, the concept of the Great Blind Chardonnay Challenge was born between obsessive UK based oenophiles Keith Prothero and Paul Day. The idea was simple… Keith Prothero would pitch 10 of the world’s best New World Chardonnays against 10 of Burgundies finest with no price limit set for either camp but with wines being drawn from recent vintages, mostly post-2011, and all commercially available in the UK.

Neal Martin from Vinous assessing the selection of Chardonnays

The assertion was obviously that prices of Burgundy bare no relation to their quality and that the New World has more than enough well priced prime talent to challenge for Burgundy’s unassailable crown. So in effect, consumers were being hood winked and almost ‘conned’ into buying labels and names, not wine quality from Burgundy… ‘drinking the label’ as it’s called in the trade.

Amazing service and excellent food at 1 Michelin Star Restaurant La Trompette in Chiswick, London.

After multiple blind selection tastings by both camps, 20 wines were chosen, served and assessed blind over dinner to 12 tasters made up of experienced Burgundy collectors and several trade professionals, who would be asked to rank the wines by quality and then submit their top 5 before the reveal. As a side show, tasters would be asked to list the blind wines as New World or Old World. Wines were served by the sommelier in two random blind flights of 10 with no group discussion permitted during tasting or before result were collected.

The grand reveal!

Fine Wine Safari Chardonnay Tasting Results for Wines Tasted Blind:

1 Kumeu River Mates Vineyard 2014, NZ

NW – 96/100 ✔️

2 Coche-Dury Meursault Les Rougeots 2009

OW – 94/100 ✔️

3 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard 2012, USA

NW – 96/100 ✔️

4 Dom. Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet 2014

OW – 94+/100 ✔️

5 Sorrenberg Beechworth 2016, Aus

NW – 92+/100 ✔️

6 Le Montrachet 2012 Fontaine Gagnard

OW – 93/100 ✔️

7 Neudorf Moutere 2014, NZ

OW – 96/100 (NW✖️)

8 A Ente Meursault Clos des Ambres 2014

OW – 94+/100 ✔️

9 Sandhi Sanford & Benedict 2011, USA

NW – 95/100 ✔️

10 Giaconda Beechworth 2015, Aus

NW – 93/100 ✔️

11 Morgen Long Willamette Valley 2015, USA

NW – 92/100 ✔️

12 Arnaud Ente Meursault 2014

OW – 94+/100 ✔️

13 Flametree Margaret River 2016, Aus

NW – 93+/100 ✔️

14 Bernard Moreau Batard Montrachet 2013

NW – 95+/100 (OW✖️)

15 Tissot Arbois Les Clos 2015, Jura

NW – 92+/100 (OW✖️)

16 Le Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 2011

OW – 93+/100 ✔️

17 Littorai BA Thieriot Vineyard 2014, USA

OW – 95/100 (NW✖️)

18 Jules Desjourneys Pouilly Fuisse 2014

OW – 94/100 ✔️

19 Brokenwood Indigo Vineyard 2016, Aus

OW – 94/100 (NW✖️)

20 Le Montrachet 2014 Marc Colin et Fils

OW – 94+/100 ✔️

My Top Five Wines: (Re-tasted for final order where scores were tied)

1 Kumeu River Mates Vineyard 2014 – 96

2 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard 2012 – 96

3 Neudorf Moutere 2014 – 96

4 B Moreau Batard Montrachet 2013 – 95+

5 Sandhi Sanford & Benedict 2011 – 95

The Group’s Top 5 Wines:

1 Dom. Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet 2014

2 A Ente Meursault Clos des Ambres 2014

3 Kumeu River Mates Vineyard 2014

4 Neudorf Moutere 2014

5 Sandhi Sanford & Benedict 2011

Conclusions and Observations?

So all in all a fantastic tasting, with 3 out of the top 5 wines from the New World illustrating how good some New World Chardonnay can be and how difficult it is for seasoned professionals to tell the two styles apart. I for one was pleased to pick a worthy 15/20 correctly in the New World versus Old World stakes. It would have been 16/20 if I didn’t try and second guess the Tissot as a natural-style Chardonnay from the New World, very similar in style to a wine tasted in one of our preliminary selection blind tastings. Also, the Jura is not technically Burgundy but we will overlook that point.

There was also an impressively high Top 5 consistency for the whole group, with my personal selection including 3 of the 5 winners. Hats off to the Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet 2014 for taking the overall top honours, but then again at around £650 per bottle, you would expect a wine of this price to perform. Impressively, all the New World wines in the Top 5 were sub-£55 per bottle, confirming that there is still some great value and quality out on the market.

The Burghounds at the tasting were very gracious and humble with the surprise results. Many openly admitted their complete surprise and that maybe they should look at drinking more premium New World Chardonnay in the future. This was a fun exercise held in good humour, among friends, but also at great expense. So certainly a big thank you is due to Keith Prothero and Paul Day for their exceptional vinous generosity.

Tasting An Ageworthy South African Cabernet Sauvignon From A Historic Off-Vintage…

After tasting a lot of 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon recently made me think about the age-ability of South African wines. We all expect great vintages like 1974, 1995 and 2015 to age well, but what about off vintages? Tasting this 1977 Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon recently in South Africa from the Distell Tabernacle cellar reinforced the true longevity potential of this grape in South Africa even when sourced from an off-vintage.

The early 70s was a very successful era, with 1970, 1972 and 1974 all being excellent vintages, while 1976 and 1978 were also good. But 1977 was plagued by wet weather and was regarded as a very, very difficult vintage overall receiving a 2/5 star rating. This wine bears testament to the winemaking techniques of Nederburg and their ability to create iconic wines.

Nederburg 1977 Superieur Cabernet Sauvignon, WO Paarl, South Africa

Fine deep notes of black berry, boxwood, plum skins and earthy black currant. Far less tertiary than one would expect, While tasting this wine, I received a brazen nod from Michael Fridjhon that this is certainly a classic Cabernet Sauvignon and a classic Nederburg but not from a lauded vintage. The palate is full, fairly sweet fruited, rich and textural, but also quite compact, pure and relatively unevolved. Showing great black earthy, tobacco Cabernet Sauvignon typicity, this is about as good as Cabernet gets in a cool rainy vintage like 1977. This wine shows power, distinguished chalky tannins, subtle hints of molasses and sweet tobacco spice and is absolutely delicious to drink. An impressive and powerful wine that still has plenty of legs!

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

Ornellaia Delivers One of Their Greatest Vintages Ever on Their 30th Anniversary – Tasting the Ornellaia 2015 Bolgheri Superiore…

Ornellaia is a Super Tuscan of international acclaim that is arguably one of the world’s most collectible wines. An uncompromising attention to detail is a mantra by which wine maker Axel Heinz lives. Where Sassicaia often tends to reflect a character of greater minerality and elegant restraint, coming across almost Pinot Noir-like in some years, Ornellaia is boldly more opulent and hedonistic without ever over stepping the mark.

The 2015 vintage of Ornellaia, which marks its 30th vintage anniversary, is without doubt one of the great Ornellaia vintages. I thought I would repost my specific Ornellaia 2015 note on this epic wine as it was perhaps a bit lost in my longer post featuring the Vendemia d’Artista banquet in London.

After the unusual 2014, the 2015 vintage proved to be very regular, almost “textbook” like. After a normal, rainy, mild winter, with just a couple of days with temperatures below zero, the budding arrived on time in the first days of April. Spring was characterized by dry and sunny weather, ideal conditions for a regular vegetative development that culminated in a fast and complete blooming at the end of May.

Winemaker Axel Heinz describing the vintage

Starting in June, water stress gradually became an issue. July will be remembered as particularly scorching and dry, with maximum temperatures that exceeded 30°C every single day of the month. The heat, combined with the absence of rains, raised the spectre of an interruption in the ripening process and possibly an early harvest. Luckily rain came around the 10th of August, with abundant precipitation allowed the grapes to continue ripening, also bringing a much cooler weather during the final stages.

This cool yet sunny weather persisted throughout the harvest, allowing Ornellaia to pick very slowly, waiting for every vineyard to arrive at the perfect point of ripeness, combining a fresh and lively aromatic quality with a perfect phenolic maturation with abundant yet silky and soft tannins. Harvest began on the 29th of August with the Merlot, and ended on the 12th of October with the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

Tenuta dell Ornellaia 2015, Bolgheri Superiore, Toscana, 14 Abv.

Intense broody dark fruited nose brimming with black cherry, crushed gravel and graphite spice. But the minerality of this superb, glamorous, opulent vintage does not outweigh or over power the incredibly intense perfume of lavender, violets and cherry blossom. The underlying note on the palate is dark fruited, powerful and structured with vibrant black tart cherry acidity, suave fleshy textural concentration and the most seductive, complex finish of pithy black cherry, liquorice stick, graphite and chalky tannin spice. A very serious effort, showing great generosity, power, intensity and gravitas. This has the credentials to age for 2 to 3 decades, and the potential to be a future Bolgheri Ornellaia legend.

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

Chardonnay Specialist Producer Ramey Cellars Introduces Their Stunning New Russian River Valley ‘Rochioli Vineyard’ Chardonnay to the Range…

There is Chardonnay and then there’s Ramey Chardonnay! After Ramey Cellars decided not to renew one of their single vineyard grower contracts, the Rochioli Vineyard was chosen to bolster their prestigious single vineyard portfolio of premium Ramey Chardonnays.

Due for release in the USA in August 2018, the 2015 Chardonnay Rochioli Blend was 85% from Mid-40 Block, clones 4 (planted 1995), and 76 (planted 1995 & 1998), with the remaining 15% being a combination of River block (clone 5 planted in 1989) and Allen Vineyard (clone 76 planted in 2001 and 2005), which the Rochioli family have farmed for many years. The soils here are Yolo sandy loam and overwash, derived from sedimentary formations in an alluvial fan.

Winter 2015 was the warmest on record, resulting in early bud break. Cooler, wetter weather in Spring months slowed development leading to a challenging extended bloom period. The resulting uneven fruit set translated into a small crop with small berries with very concentrated flavours, harvested on the 22nd to 24th August at 23.1 brix.

Ramey utilised whole cluster pressing, native yeast fermentation and full malolactic fermentation in barrel with sur lies batonnage. After 20 months in 23% new French Francois Frères barrels, this wine was lightly fined and settled in tank before bottling without filtration. Only 747 cases were produced.

Ramey Rochioli Vineyard 2015, Russian River Valley, California

Like the best Ramey wines, this Chardonnay combines delicious lemon citrus aromatics, subtle toasty oak and suductive minerality in a most complete package. Plenty of Burgundian influence, intensity and concentration make for a very, very fine Chardonnay and definitely an inspired addition to the iconic Ramey range. But I guess when you make wines as premium as the Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay, any decision to add a new vineyard to the range is going to be based on supreme quality potential. This wine has such depth, bristling lemony / limey acids and a long, long finish with just the most subtle kiss of butterscotch oak. Wow, I’m bowled over by this profound, delicious beauty. Drink from release until 2035+.

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

The First “First Growth” of the Languedoc – Tasting the New Release Wines from Mas de Daumas Gassac…

Within half a century, the pioneering winery of Mas de Daumas Gassac has reached the rare status of a “cult wine,” one of the few in the Languedoc region. After being identified in 1971 as a unique terroir by Professor Henri Enjalbert, 50 hectares of vineyards in the Gassac valley were planted on virgin soils using 40 different uncloned grape varieties, laying the foundations for the iconic whites and reds of Daumas Gassac.

It was Professor Emile Peynaud, the genius behind classic French wine making techniques who defined the vinification and maturation procedures at the Domaine, allowing for some truly unique terroir specific wines to be produced. The Noble red wine is made from vines planted on red glacial deposits and incorporates up to 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Tannat, Malbec, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and others.

The domaine’s white is a blend of mainly four noble varieties including Viognier, Petit Manseng, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, but can include up to 20 varieties in the final wine, many picked and co-fermented.

I recently tasted the domaine’s new releases in London with their importer , Les Caves de Pyrennes.

Mas de Daumas Gassac 2016 IGP Saint Guilhem le Desert Blanc, 14 Abv.

The 2016 IGP Saint Guilhem le Desert Blanc is a ripe, opulently fruited white made from a mix of Viognier, Petit Manseng, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. The nose initially offers up notes of white peach, tangerine peel, stem ginger and waxy green apples. Underneath the fruity fragrance lies a more complex melange of limestone, crushed gravel and dried baking herbs. The palate is full, opulent and quite glycerol, rolling around the tongue with real concentration and intensity. The fleshy weight of white citrus and white peach stone fruit is nicely counter balanced with fresh bright acids and a pithy, spicy minerality. A really delicious glassful of white.

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

Mas de Daumas Gassac 2015 IGP Saint Guilhem le Desert Rouge, 13.5 Abv.

The 2015 was a seriously good vintage in France and this is a seriously good red from Daumas Gassac. The 2015 IGP Saint Guilhem le Désert Rouge is a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a smattering of multiple other varieties including Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and Dolcetto. The nose is taut and tight, initially quite broody, offering complex notes of graphite, peppercorn spice, tobacco leaf, liquorice, incense and black currant spice before relaxing a little in the glass to show more fragrant, perfumed nuances of lavender, violets and dried garrique. The palate is quite classically proportioned, ripe and opulent yet fairly broody and restrained. Medium bodied, there is a real polish to the ripe mineral tannins that show a piquant grip and gravelly minerality before melting away into a melange of black berry confit, earthy black bramble berry fruits and spicy blueberry that has just the most subtle kiss of vanilla pod oak spice. Wonderfully compact and focused, this is an impressively regal wine from the vineyards of Aniane. Cellar this beauty for a few more years before cracking and then drink comfortably over a decade or two.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The Most Hotly Anticipated Red Wine Release from the 2015 Vintage – Tasting Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2015, South Africa’s Very Own First Growth…

The Kanonkop Estate is situated on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in the Stellenbosch Region of the Cape and consistently boasts some of South Africa’s most famous premium wines. A fourth generation family estate, Kanonkop was originally purchased by JW Sauer, a cabinet member in the parliament of the Union of South Africa and the estate has been handed down from father to son for over 40 years, now residing in the capable hands of its current owners Paul & Johann Krige.

The name Kanonkop was derived from a kopje (hillock), from which a cannon was fired in the 17th Century to alert farmers in outlying areas that sailing ships plying the waters between Europe and the Far East had entered Table Bay for a stopover at Cape Town. The Estate is situated on 125 hectares, of which 100 hectares are planted with vines. A small quantity of these red grapes are selected for the production of around 7,000 cases of 6 of the Estate’s flagship red Bordeaux blend Paul Sauer, produced by one of South Africa’s most intelligent winemakers, Abrie Beeslaar.

A traditional blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc, the vines are on average 25 years old grown on decomposed Granite, Hutton and Clovelly soils and usually aged around 24 months in new 225 litre French Nevers oak barrels with medium toast.

Kanonkop Wine Estate Paul Sauer 2015, 14 Abv.

The goal with any vintage of Paul Sauer is to find the perfect balance between power and concentration, structure and freshness… allowing a certain amount of tamed accessibility combined with immaculate ageworthy credentials. Indeed, this is the DNA which has allowed a wine like Paul Sauer to become firmly established as one of South Africa’s most respected ‘first growths.’ Given the incredible opulence and concentration of the 2015 vintage, this expression dazzles the senses with the most alluring heady nose of sun dried cherries, black currant pastille sweets, blueberries, plummy hoisin sauce, cedar spice and fragrant violets. There is intensity, an abundance of concentration and impressively integrated wood spice, salted toffee and vanilla pod complexity. The acid-fruit equilibrium is perfectly balanced, wrapped in a velvety cherry kirsch liquor texture and a finely focused blueberry and juniper berry finish. Truly effortless class and so beautifully light on its feet with the most suave, polished tannin symmetry. I cannot think of a better expression of Paul Sauer than this 2015 in the past 25 years of tasting. This is possibly one of the finest South African red wines of my generation. Drink from 2022 to 2055+.

(Wine Safari Score: 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)