Ridge Vineyards Prepares For An Iconic Monte Bello Chardonnay 2016 Release…

Ridge produced its first Chardonnay in 1962 from mature vines planted in the late 1940s on the Monte Bello estate vineyard. Production has never exceeded ten barrels, and Monte Bello Chardonnay was sold principally at the winery cellar door. Several great vintages, among them the 1973, ‘74, ‘79, and ‘84, showed that the cool climate and fractured limestone sub-soils were well suited to this varietal.

By 1985, the old vines were producing less then a half-ton per acre and were pulled out. The younger vines, planted in the 1970s, provide the majority of grapes today. Initially these newer plantings were on the “lower” vineyard, not yet farmed as part of the Monte Bello estate, so the wine was called “Santa Cruz Mountains” but these vines have long since been included in Monte Bello. Since 2009 the wine has been designated Ridge Estate Chardonnay. In years when differences among the multiple lots are sufficient to warrant a separate bottling, Ridge produce a limited amount of Monte Bello Chardonnay as well.

From a superb vintage, the Ridge Estate Chardonnay 2016, now sold out ex-cellar, garnered some massive scores from US wine critics on release further helping to build the expectations for the premium Monte Bello Chardonnay 2016, due for release in August/September 2019.

Tasting with Eric Baugher from Ridge Vineyards in London.

Winter 2015/16 was long and cold and for a second year, crop size was reduced by Spring rains at bloom. Cool weather in August slowed ripening and stretched the Chardonnay harvest out to mid-September 2016.

Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Chardonnay 2016, Santa Cruz Mountains, 14.4 Abv.

Deadly serious expression of Chardonnay from this famed vineyard. Nose is ultra complex and mineral with smokey yellow citrus fruits, hints of struck match reduction and a alluring yellow grapefruit and pear purée note. The palate shows such wonderful balance and harmony, piercing white citrus pastille fruit intensity, crushed limestone minerality and pithy lemon grass spice leading to the most memorable, seductive fresh finish punctuated with delicious saline nuances. Another profound Burgundian Chardonnay expression from Ridge Vineyards that is unquestionably a drop dead gorgeous wine to rival any Grand Cru white from the Cote d’Or.

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

An Exciting New South African Chenin Blanc Project From Carl van der Merwe and Betz Family Winery in Washington State Hits the Streets…

I had a wonderful tasting of Betz Family Wines in London recently looking at their delicious 2015 Bordeaux based varietal reds from Washington State. Bob Betz is of course a fellow Master of Wine who graduated in 1997 and made a name for himself making some truly superb wines across primarily micro sites in Yakima Valley AVA, Red Mountain AVA and Walla Walla AVA. Bob Betz sold his winery around 6 years ago to Steve Griessel and still acts for the winery occasionally in a consulting capacity.

However, I was very surprised to learn of their exciting new project in South Africa where Steve Griessel has taken a 50% shareholding in a new project with Carl van der Merwe of The Great South African Wine Co. (part owned between Wendy Applebaum and winemaker Carl van der Merwe).

 

A new Chenin Blanc venture of which Carl is the head winemaker, uses four old vine vineyard sites in Stellenbosch that are on long term leases – one 40 year old vineyard in the Bottelary Hills, two 35 to 40 year old vineyards in the Helderberg and one 38 year old vineyard in Faure. All vines are unirrigated to produce a fantastic Chenin Blanc that is fermented with 100% wild yeasts in barrel, 20% new French oak for nine months, with the total ageing of the 2017 vintage lasting for around 13 months with the remaining wine in used neutral oak. Around 20% of the 2017 underwent malolactic fermentation in barrel.

Based on Chenin Blanc from some sandy and rocky sites, the vines are located primarily on granitic soils only 9km from the sea, conditions that help deliver fruit with a wonderful maritime salinity and bright freshness. Carl van der Merwe is one of South Africa’s most talented winemakers and never one to enter into new projects lightly. The end goal of this venture is undoubtedly to produce some truly profound Chenin Blanc wines which will be sold exclusively in the USA. So something to look out for in the States to bring back home. Everyone loves a unicorn… especially if it’s old vine Chenin!!

 

Quinta Essentia Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

This really is an impressive wine and once allowed a little time in the glass explodes on your palate like an avalanche of flavours. The aromatics are loaded with sweet pineapple pastille, orange blossom, lemon cordial, sweet yellow nectarine nuances before a final reprise of tangerine zest and Seville orange confit. Intricately multi-layered between granitic minerality and sweet yellow fruit intensity, there is also a subtle hint of lactic vanilla oak spice but it is already beautifully integrated. The palate is incredibly intense and fleshy with more wet thatch notes, pineapple pastille, crunchy white peach and honey drizzled on warm white toast. The acids bristle on the palate and perfectly balance the rich, fleshy fruit concentration leading to a very long, bold, complex finish. Not quite in the league of Carl’s epic Diva Chenin Blanc produced at De Morgenzon but certainly a show stopper in its own kind of way.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Quintuplet of South African Quaffers That You Just Can’t Go Wrong With…

It’s the question that occupies the minds of most wine consumers and also many wine buyers… which wines offer great value!?

Today we opened up a selection of excellent value wines for a visiting UK wine journalist and I snuck in after lunch to taste and review five of my favourites.

Welbedacht Estate Bohemian Syrah, WO Wellington 2016 – 92+/100

A big, bold, impressive creation not unlike its owner Schalk Burger Senior. Packed full of sweet blueberry, baking spices, grilled herbs, black olive, black cherry and pithy plum skins. Fleshy and broad, this wine has grown in stature and acquired extra balance and depth in the past 6 months. Ready to go now. Braai optional!

Mullineux Family Wines Kloof Street Red 2017, WO Swartland, 14 Abv. – 91/100

A blend of 90% Syrah, 4% Carignan, 2% Grenache, 2% Cinsault, 1% Tinta Barroca, 1% Mourvèdre. Beautiful sweet grilled herbs, barbecued meat fat and fleshy, sappy black berry fruits. Plenty of cured meat nuances, black olive and a deliciously distinguished long finish. Real class for the money.

Bosman 8 Generations 2018, WO Wellington, 12 Abv. – 88+/100

Clean direct and pure, this shows grassy thatch, dry bush veld and sweet resinous sappy notes. Definite dried lemon peel, herbs and gravel minerality and a cool, stony finish. Impressive price / quality ratio.

Alheit Family Flotsam & Jetsam 2017, WO Western Cape, 13.5 Abv. – 91+/100

Fabulously sappy, stemmy, grassy, wet thatch and mineral yellow orchard fruits. Classy depth and superb concentration. Lovely wine with a sprinkle of Chris Alheit magic.

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2014, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13 Abv. – 92/100

Instant Meursault-like richness and exoticism, liquid minerality, resinous sap and spice and an underlying core of smokey, peachy, spicy apple and citrus pastille fruits. Old world ringer. Just tastes so Burgundian! An intriguing cool climate Walker Bay wine that packs a really complex punch.

David & Nadia Wines Producing Grand Cru Quality Chenin Blancs in South Africa…

I’ve written a number of articles and been involved in numerous discussions about Chenin Blanc and whether or not it might just be the only grape out there that can truly rival the greatness, diversity of styles, ageability and collectabity of Chardonnay. To my surprise, I am yet to be berated by any journalists, wine commentators or consumers for making such assertions.

While my belief is not restricted solely to South African expressions, it is certainly solidified by the premium quality of wines now being produced by a multitude of top drawer wineries in the Cape. One such winery is David & Nadia run by David Sadie (no relation to Eben Sadie). David was born and bred in the Swartland and studied viticulture and oenology at the University of Stellenbosch. It was there that he met and later married Nadia, a qualified soil scientist and viticulturalist. Together, they have crafted some of the most profound wines coming out of South Africa including the fabulous Skaliekop and Hoe Steen single vineyard Chenin Blancs.

David & Nadia sell around 30% of their wines to the local market with 70% exported around the world. David says that their philosophy is simple… “they are just trying to be honest with every vintage” using 25 hectares of vineyards of which they farm 16 of those hectares. The 2016 yields were the lowest recorded to date until the 2018 vintage which marked the fourth consecutive year of drought in the Western Cape.

David Sadie tasting with UK wine critic Jancis Robinson MW OBE… who appears to be enjoying his wines!

The 2018 harvest saw a 90% loss of yield, certainly conditions not seen in the Swartland since a drought cycle in the 1960s. With the help of Andre Bruyns, their assistant winemaker, they tried to alleviate conditions with what David calls “biological wine making” – not specifically organic or biodynamic, but often incorporating best practices from both philosophies.

In the last three years since 2016 they have invested heavily in Grenache, trying to plant at least a hectare per year, a variety closer to David’s long term vision and hopefully leading to single vineyard cuvees in future. David has planted old clones normally used for bulk production as they appear to work well in the dry land conditions of the Swartland. Grenache is certainly seen as the future red variety for the winery as opposed to the Swartland stalwart Syrah.

The stellar 2017 vintage is often compared to the excellent 2015, where producers did not experience the heat spikes seen in 2016, but was certainly an exciting vintage to taste alongside expressions going back to 2014.

Mixed Flight:

David & Nadia Chenin Blanc 2017, 13 Abv.

From seven different vineyards with one new addition planted in the 1960s. Cool restrained nose of fresh straw, white citrus, pineapple pastille and peach pips. Spent a year in old oak without imparting any oak character but enhancing the textural breadth of the wine. Palate shows impressive fleshy concentration, bristling acids and delicious sweet pineapple, pear puree, granitic minerality and a long, intense, persistent finish.

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

David & Nadia Aristagos 2017, 13 Abv.

A blend of 58% Chenin, 14% Viognier, 13% Clairette Blanche, 7% Semillon, 5% Roussanne, and 3% Marsanne and shows a wonderfully complex aromatic profile with orange blossom, fresh hay, yellow citrus, waxy peaches, incense and yellow peaches. Massive breadth and depth, full of vibrance, spicy yellow orchard fruits, marzipan and a sleek, linear granite and salty pineapple finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

David & Nadia Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc 2017, 13 Abv.

Famously including some sparsely interplanted Crouchen Blanc, Palomino, Semillon, Muscat and False Pedro adding extra complexity when all harvested together. Rich and textured, opulent and plush with great waxy, yellow fruit aromatics, tangerine, naartjie peel, pineapple, yellow apples and dusty minerality. Pithy, piquant and packed full of mineral spice. Plenty of power and impressive brawn and concentration.

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

David & Nadia Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2017, 12.5 Abv.

From vines planted on shale soils in 1985. A complex melange of waxy yellow fruits, incense, lanolin, marzipan and greengage plum fruits. Searing bright acids enliven the palate that shows vibrant concentration, hints of soap stone, white pepper and yellow orchard fruits. So pure, so precise and wonderfully elegant with a delicious tangy pear drop finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

David & Nadia Topography Semillon 2017, 11 Abv.

Siebritskloof fruit made 100% in stainless but finished off with 12 months in old big foudre. Shows obvious green apple, green peppercorn, lanolin, pithy granitic mineral spice. Wonderful freshness, fine balance and a real stony, dusty depth with hints of lemon sherbet, crunchy pear and tart green apple. Really delicious expression.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Red Flight:

David & Nadia Grenache 2017, 13 Abv.

Up to 50% whole bunch with four months ageing on its skins finished off with 12 months in old 500 litre oak barrels. 70% loss of yields in the vintage lead to an intensely focused, perfumed spicy red Grenache brimming with rose petals, violets and cherry blossom and multiple layers of red cherry and cranberry fruits. The palate is sleek, cool, ultra pure and bright with such elegance, crystalline red cherry and a slightly dry, gritty tannin grip on the finish. Wonderful allure and fleshy mineral depth. A super pretty but serious effort.

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

David & Nadia Elpidios 2016, 13 Abv.

34% Carignan, 33% Syrah, 14% Cinsault, 14% Pinotage, 5% Grenache. Lovely smokey melange of reds and black berry fruits, sweet plum, raisined cranberry and granitic spice. Wonderfully integrated, harmonious and balanced with impressive spiced complexity.

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

David & Nadia Topography Pinotage 2017, 12 Abv.

Spent 21 days on skins with a lot of whole berries. Lovely elegant pure aromatics of oak spice, marzipan, Turkish delight and an almost Cinsault styled finesse and perfumed complexity. Super fine texture, subtlety and elegantly fleshy but fresh, rounded and wonderfully cool and saline with plenty of red and black berry fruits, pithy spice and fine granitic powdery grippy tannins. Very impressive expression.

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

Vintage Flight: David & Nadia Skaliekop Chenin Blanc Single Vineyard

David & Nadia Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2016, 13 Abv.

Creamy, rich and opulent expression, touch of sweet & sour, pineapple pastille, liquid minerality, sweet lemon cordial and piercing yellow citrus. Lovely power, flesh, and sumptuous hedonism.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

David & Nadia Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2015, 14 Abv.

Surprisingly quite closed and restrained. Taut and mineral. Granite and slate, white citrus and spicy nuances with touches of straw, thatch, herbs and lemon confit and a subtle, linear finish. Closed for business.

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

David & Nadia Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2014, 13.5 Abv.

Rich expressive nose with dusty granitic spice, stony minerality, yellow orchard fruits, waxy green apples and subtle exotic vanilla pod finish. Lovely elegance, harmonious concentration and fruit intensity but certainly quite subtle and softly spoken expression.

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

Vintage Flight: David & Nadia Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc Single Vineyard

David & Nadia Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc 2016, 13 Abv.

1 x 400 litre barrel. Superb complexity and textural finesse. This has a Grand Cru feel to the wine, plush concentration, focused yellow fruit concentration and harmonious acids, amazing balance and a delicious white pear, pineapple pastille finish. Wow.

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

David & Nadia Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc 2015, 13 Abv.

Quite dusty and restrained, intense, concentrated textural balance with superb depth. Fresh and piquant, powerful yet regal showing elegance with fleshy concentration, pineapple pastille nuances and a structured acid frame. Very impressive indeed. Everything and more you could hope for from one of South Africa’s Grand Crus of Chenin Blanc.

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

David & Nadia Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc 2014, 13 Abv.

2 x 300 litre barrels. Touch of smokey, flinty struck match mixed with yellow apple purée and citrus pastille fruit nuances. Sleek, very polished and dusty liquid minerality with pithy pear and reductive herby, saline restraint. Characterful effort for the vintage.

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

Wines are distributed to the trade in the UK by Justerini & Brooks.

Ramey Wine Cellars & Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Masterclass with David Ramey and Jim Clendenen…

As one of the most important quality white wine categories globally, Chardonnay can also be one of the most controversial and divisive varieties for a multitude of reasons. From topics like Premox in White Burgundy to prices of White Burgundy, to whether anyone other than the Chablisienne should even contemplate trying to produce premium unoaked Chardonnay or not, much of the dialogue seems to pivot on the divide between what Burgundy and France produces and then what everyone else does.

But what the big New World versus Burgundy Blind Chardonnay Challenge taste off revealed… (link below)

https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2018/06/18/the-great-blind-chardonnay-challenge-2018-new-world-chardonnay-giving-burgundy-a-run-for-its-money/

… was that some New World countries are certainly producing some incredibly profound premium quality Chardonnay in styles that can easily challenge the greats of the Côte d’Or. Among the best of these are probably New Zealand, Australia and of course California (with South Africa still narrowly off the pace of the top runners but improving incredibly quickly).

The evolution in Californian Chardonnay has certainly been profound with top quality producers favouring freshness, elegance, focus, acidity and structure over stereotypical aspects of fruit sweetness, heavy oak and higher alcohols. Certainly none of the later traits were present when Californian wine legends David Ramey and Jim Clendenen rolled into London to present a joint Chardonnay masterclass with a selection of their older vintages.

Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay Flight:

Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, 14.5 Abv.

Around 30% new oak, crystalline and bright fruited showing piercing lemon cordial, yellow grapefruit zest and pineapple pastille with the most subtle, integrated kiss of vanilla oak spice. Lush and concentrated, this beauty show piercing lemon confit intensity, wonderful breadth and power but packed with the most delicious harmony and complexity. Very impressive.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, 14.5 Abv.

Lovely Burgundian nose of pithy limestone, wet chalk, pineapple pastille, lemon rock candy and creamy butterscotch. Lovely fleshy weight, super relaxed balance texture, green apple zip, vanilla pod spice and finely punctuated with bright lemony acids and flinty, chalky mineral frame. A very attractive proposition at the moment, but no rush.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2007, 14.5 Abv.

From a cooler, leaner, pithy vintage, this archive release is a tantalising wine that offers hints of tertiary honied complexity but also retains youthful lemon and lime pithy freshness. Lovey lemon cordial, lemon crumble, buttered pastries sprinkled with grapefruit marmalade. Intense core structure, vibrant acids, smokey pithy oak spice and a delicious greengage, smoky truffle tinged finish. Really profound and a consistently very solid performer.

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

David Ramey in full flow…

Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2005, 14.5 Abv.

About 2/3rd aged in new oak, after sitting in the glass for over 30 minutes, this 2005 remains aromatically restrained, positively shy. A few rigorous swirls coax out notes of lemon confit, shiitake mushrooms, earthy bruised yellow orchard fruits and dusty, chalky mineral pithy yellow grapefruit. Full, intense and mouth coating, there is wonderful concentration that is accentuated by softer acids, a fleshy glycerol texture and spicy vanilla pod limestone mineral finish. Very harmonious offering drinking impressively now.

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

Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Flight:

Au Bon Climate Bien Nacido Hillside Chardonnay 2015, 13.5 Abv.

Youthful opulence with some exuberance but still aromatically primary revealing green apple, banana bon bons, yellow rock candy, quince and green pear purée. The palate is more Burgundian with the most delicious lemon cordial, apple sweets, honeydew melon and subtle creamy oak spice. This is a baby that will benefit from at least another 2 years in the cellar to open its shoulders.

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

Au Bon Climate Bien Nacido Hillside Chardonnay 2010, 13.5 Abv.

Super tight, mineral and restrained, this is a surprisingly mineral, taut effort that plays its cards very close to its chest. Hints of green lime peel, limestone and wet chalk follow to an incredible tart, fresh, limey pastille and lemon cordial palate brimming with energy, vibrancy, concentration and character. Incredibly youthful, this is a real eye-opener. Wow!

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Au Bon Climate Bien Nacido Hillside Chardonnay 2007, 13.5 Abv.

Complex nose of old lemons, bruised yellow orchard fruits and honied apple purée. Very savoury, more evolved with an oxidative complexity, honied lemons, butterscotch, toffee apple and sweet lemon cordial. Oxidative lift starts to blow off leaving a beautifully nuanced food friendly expression.

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

Au Bon Climate Bien Nacido Hillside Chardonnay 2005, 13.5 Abv.

Super complex expression, with lovely waxy apple purée, wet chalk, sour plum, wet chalk, greengage, and lovely honied green citrus. Plenty of flinty, earthy complexity, wonderfully fleshy and full, great palate breadth, finishing with real punch and intensity, concentration and depth. Lovely food wine.

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

Ramey Wine Cellars and Au Bon Climat are distributed to trade in the UK by Fields, Morris & Verdin.

Looking For Some New Summer Reading? Here’s One for the Winos… Root Cause by Steven Laine.

Reading journalist Jamie Goode’s post recently on Twitter about ‘every good writer needs to read in order to become a better writer’ reminded me that we are now all so busy and consumed with online social media that when we aren’t trawling through Facebook or Twitter we are probably eating or sleeping. But I have to say, I do love a good read and while I’m normally too tired in the evenings to read in bed like my good wife does, a weekend away or a nice half-term break is normally a good queue for pulling out a good book.

But of course those of us in the wine trade can get a bit “wined out” and holiday reading often takes on a completely different subject matter, or in my case, it is normally a fine tomb of non-fiction history or else a top sports autobiography. So it was a great surprise to be sent a pre-release review copy of novel “Root Cause” by author Steven Laine.

I’m not going to rehash the whole storyline in a non-spoiler kind of way but needless to say, this is a really fun, clever, well written fiction soft back novel that covers a wine trade team comprised of Corvina and Brian who together set about investigating and discovering the cause and spread of a new genetically modified strain of resistant phylloxera that threatens to wipe out the world’s great vineyards once again.

So if you do get a chance to pick up a few new books this summer, you could certainly do a lot worse than reading this enjoyable, creative, globe trotting wine themed novel by Steven Laine. It won’t change your life but it will keep you entertained.

A Decade of Seeking Maremma Perfection – Tasting the Immaculate 10th Vintage of Val di Toro…

I recently tasted the delicious Val di Toro X Vendemmia 2015 red from Anna Maria Cruciata and Hugh Maxwell, owners of the dynamic Val di Toro estate in the Maremma that lies between Grosseto and Scansano. Wow, I thought, has it really been ten years since I first tasted their maiden release red? A decade of growth and a decade of fine tuning has now resulted in one of their greatest red creations to date.

The 2015 vintage was an incredible year in the Maremma and also a year Hugh and Anna decided to put their organically grown Sangiovese grapes into large new Slavonian oak botte where it was aged for 24 months before being bottled. The results have been captured immaculately in bottle and represent the pinnacle of the Val di Toro journey to quality.

 

Val di Toro 2015 X Vendemmia Maremma Toscana Sangiovese, 14.5 Abv.

Always a dense, concentrated red wine, Val di Toro has never lacked intensity or depth. But what the 2015 reveals is definitely a vinous revelation and a notable step up in quality. The aromatics portray a picture of beauty, seductive perfume, sweet red cherry, sandalwood, resinous sappy oak spice, vanilla pod, aniseed root and a bold lashing of caramelised red cranberries. The palate is regal and broad, incredibly fine grained and suave with a fine balance and ambitious textural harmony. Who knew Sangiovese tannins could be so sweet and sensual? Still very youthful, there are no edges to speak of and elegance and finesse are the words that inspire a palate built around intensity, sublime balance and succulent length. In many ways, the addition of the botte ageing has added an almost “Brunello’esque” gravitas to the wine and an intriguing extra level of complexity and allure. This is surely a wine that will age and improve for a good 10 to 15 years but also a vinous delicacy that is so delicious to drink in its vibrant halo of youth.

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