Ridge Monte Bello 2018 – Tasting One of the Most Highly Anticipated En-primeur Releases of the Year…

One of my favourite wine producers at anytime of the year let alone around Christmas time has got to be Ridge Vineyards. Is there a more Christmassy wine to match roast turkey and cranberry sauce than a fabulous vintage of Lytton Springs or Geyserville Zinfandel? But for me it has got to be their Monte Bello red blend and Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon that register as two of the most expressive fine wines produced anywhere in the world.

The latest Ridge releases are always highly anticipated and recently I tasted their Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 and also their benchmark Monte Bello red blend 2018. Only 75% of the components made the final blend for Monte Bello. Chatting to Eric Baugher in London, the 2012-2016 vintages were hot and dry, while 2017 was more hot and wet to start before reverting back to a hot and dry summer, with fruit harvested late August.

Tasting with Ridge’s Eric Baugher in London.

The 2018 growing season was marked by unusually erratic and unpredictable swings in temperature and rainfall. The 2018 vintage was back to drought conditions in December – January, usually the coldest and wettest months of winter, with some storms in March with massive rain bringing some relief. Some showers in the Monte Bello vineyard during bloom (mid-May) definitely resulted in reduced yields. The final run up to harvest was mild, not too hot or cold but water stress did finally kick in towards end of August as harvest beckoned, as a result of the dry winter conditions.

Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Santa Cruz Mountains, 13.8 Abv.

77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc blend. This 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon displays a very harmonious, integrated aromatic profile already with subtle notes of violets, lavender and white blossom supported by blueberry and black currant fruits, vanilla pod spice and pretty, complexing spice finery of cinnamon stick, tobacco leaf, and dried mint. The palate shows weight and gravitas, a broad fleshy texture twinned with vibrantly fresh acids and dry, powder fine tannins. Already so elegant and balanced but certainly plenty of extra horsepower waiting to exert itself. Give this wine a couple more years in the cellar and start popping corks from 2022+ onwards.

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

Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 2018, Santa Cruz Mountains (Barrel Sample Blend)

The Monte Bello site of Ridge Vineyards lies 2600 feet above sea level in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The 2018 is an indicative blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc. Young and plush, the attractive nose is understandably dense and dark fruited with a noticeable vail of brûléed oak spice, buttered brown toast and vanilla pod espresso nuances. But scratch the veneer and there are ample fruit notes of black currant, earthy cassis, black bramble berry dusted with toasted coffee bean spice. On the palate the flavours are more integrated and tight knit with a real freshness of acidity bolstering black berries, black cherry and a crunchy blue berry vitality. Sleek and mouth-fillingly textural but also quite a bit more serious than the Cabernet Sauvignon (blend) with additional multi-dimensional layers of leafy sap, graphite and a pulsating muscular mineral tannin core. An enthralling, captivating wine that carries off a very well rehearsed act of fine wine seduction.

(Wine Safari Score: 97-98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The 2018 Ridge Monte Bello is scheduled for physical release in the Autumn of 2021 but is being offered for sale En-primeur now from fine wine merchants.

Premium Napa Valley Estate Diamond Creek Release Another Iconic Trio of Wines in 2017…

Owner Phil Ross stands at the helm of this iconic estate being only the second generation to run this winery in its 52 year history. As Napa’s foremost Cabernet estate, Diamond Creek continues to produce wines of heroic character and definition, whose promise with age is simply breath-taking. The three single vineyards – Volcanic Hill, Gravelly Meadow and Red Rock Terrace – are revered by connoisseurs the world over. 

These three, distinctly different vineyards are tucked away in a cavernous hillside surrounded by thick forest on secluded Diamond Mountain. It really is a remarkable place. Even more remarkable considering the visionary Al Brounstein had no idea what lay beneath the dense woodland when he happened to make room for vines in the late 1960s. Al famously borrowed tractors from Robert Mondavi and the Heitz family to prepare the virgin soil vineyards only to reveal three distinct terroir soils. So he decided he couldn’t blend them together like many encouraged him to do at the time. The original vineyards were planted in 1968 and 1972 with some additional plantings in 1995.

Diamond Creek produces on average 24,000 bottles per year or around 6,000 bottles per vineyard with 15 permanent employees working in the vineyards and cellar. 1971 was the first vintage but 1972 is considered the first official, commercial vintage release.

We have all heard about the famous 60 Minutes US news TV show that documented the “French Paradox” – one of the pivotal moments in Californian wine history and one of two events that Phil Ross states as being an absolute game changer for Diamond Creek and its sales. The other was of course The Judgement of Paris in 1976, though regrettably, Steven Spurrier did not ask Diamond Creek to submit a wine.

Phil Ross considers 2017 another great vintage in a similar mould to the epic 2016 as the drought was over with beneficial spring weather. There were some unfortunate fires at the end of the season but luckily 95% of Diamond Creek and their Napa neighbours had already finished harvesting. Quality at Diamond Creek is considered to be very good.

Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace 2017, 14.5 Abv.

Fabulous hallmark elegance and opulence with defined notes of blueberry and liquorice tinged with black currant, saline creme de cassis and a hedonistic, youthful kiss of salted caramel vanilla pod spice. Palate is supremely elegant with saline, intense, piquant notes of red berry confit reduction, blueberry spice, tart crunchy acids and a super intense, long graphite laced finish. Elegance and power, precision and purity. Fantastic!

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

Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow 2017, 14.5 Abv.

The Gravelly Meadow is altogether darker and more broody with pronounced notes of crushed granite, black cherry, blueberry spice, violets and cherry blossom. The palate follows with creamy, gravelly, stony piquant black berry fruits, cherry stone, graphite, salted caramel and drying, suave mineral tannins. Broader, denser and more four-square, this is much more masculine in frame and texture and noticeably more broody, restrained and mineral in a more Paulliac / St Estephe style.

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

Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill 2017, 14.5 Abv

A massive wine that eats up the 100% new French oak but still reveals fabulously intense perfumed aromas of black cherry, kirsch liquor, blueberry reduction, creme de cassis and subtle notes of musk, violets and purple flowers. So fabulous expressive and complex already, showing a palate of incredible generosity, sweet blue and black fruited concentration framed by intense, sweet tannins dusted with nuances of blueberry jam on brown toast and vanilla pod sweet spice. Fantastic power, plush concentration and genuinely impressive depth and breadth! Wow, such a complete wine!

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

Christian Moueix and the Dominus Estate Release One of Napa Valley’s Most Iconic 2016 Wines…

It all started in the late 1960s, while studying at the university of California at Davis, Christian Moueix discovered his love for the Napa Valley and its expressive wines. In 1981, he discovered the historic Napanook Vineyard, a 42 hectare site which provided fruit for some of the finest Napa wines from the 1940s and 1950s. In 1982, Moueix entered into a partnership to develop the vineyard and in 1995, became its sole owner.

In the 2016 growing season, rainy days were spread out evenly over the course of a warmer than average winter. November 2015 to March 2016 saw 31.2 inches total rainfall (78cm). With soil water reserves full, the vines grew quickly with dense canopies. Flowering (9th May) and veraison (21st July) unfolded in warm and dry conditions and one heat spike of 39°C was recorded on 26th July. Ripening slowed down in August because of cooler temperatures and late morning fog. Leaf plucking and higher temperatures in September helped the fruit to ripen consistently.

I last visited California in March 2017 and already then the excitement surrounding the 2016 vintage was palpable. Another drought vintage that yielded exceptional quality with power and balance. Along with other iconic Napa producers like Ridge, Diamond Creek, Spottswoode and Stags Leap Winery, the Dominus Estate forms a powerful cornerstone of a small sought after group of more classically orientated producers who’s final outlook and philosophy always tips a hat to the old world and Bordeaux in particular.

Dominos Napanook Proprietary Red 2016, Napa Valley

84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Cabernet Franc. Exotically spicy nose with layers of cherry spice, cinnamon, sweet cedar, blueberry and green peppercorn spice with a faint touch of orange liquor. Palate shows opulent fleshy weight, loose knit saline acids and a piquant, spicy, bramble berry finish. Plenty of intensity and power with accessible opulence. Drink now to 2030+.

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

 

Dominus Proprietary Red 2016, Napa Valley

84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc. This is the 33rd vintage of Dominus. Deep dark beauty packed full of graphite spice, minerality, spicy black berry and sappy black plum intensity. Plush, creamy and textural, this shows plenty of regal sweet tannin focus with fine grained grip and a long blueberry and bramble berry confit finish. This fine vintage trades on massive concentration, opulent weight and a tight classical gravelly mineral finish.

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

Three Sticks Release their New Benchmark Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2016…

This week in late September was all about Californian wine in London with the Collectable California Tasting at the US Embassy showcasing some incredible wines from Harlan to Scarecrow, Ovid to Silver Oak. However great the Californian reds are, one thing these US producers are masters of is the production of really interesting premium Chardonnay.

One of my favourite whites on show was the exceptional 2016 new release Three Sticks Chardonnay. Owned by proprietor William S. Price III, the Durell Vineyard forms part of this producers flagship vineyard holdings and has been the source of iconic Sonoma Chardonnay for several decades.

Grown on rocky ancient river bed and red volcanic clay soils, this vineyard site has been recognised for its ability to produce exceptional Chardonnay grapes that show wonderful fruit intensity along with impressive harmony while simultaneously expressing the minerality inherent in this site’s terroir.

Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, Sonoma Coast, 14.5 Abv.

A delicious bright enticing lemon yellow, this wine has a lofty complex bouquet of pithy white citrus, leesy lemon cream biscuits, dried herbs, gingerbread and a pronounced crushed gravel minerality. Full, round, intense and glycerol in the mouth with the silky, fleshy lemon pastille fruit concentration punctuated by piquant, zippy fresh acids and sweet grapefruit confit and vanilla pod oak complexity. The pedigree of the Durell Vineyard fruit is clear for all to see. Classically cool climate Californian in style, this is a truly flavour packed expression of premium Sonoma coast Chardonnay.

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

Silver Oak Cellars Delivers Once Again With Their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignons…

Silver Oak Cellars is an iconic family-owned Californian winery dedicated to producing truly premium Cabernet Sauvignon. Silver Oak was established in 1972 by Ray Duncan and Justin Meyer and is currently operated by Ray’s sons David Duncan, who serves as the President and CEO, and his brother, Tim Duncan, who serves as Executive Vice President. 

Silver Oak has two wineries… one in Oakville in the centre of Napa Valley and one in Geyserville in the Alexander Valley. The Duncan Family also established Twomey Cellars back in 1999, named after Ray Duncan’s mother, where they produce Pinot Noir, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Twomey has its own wineries in Calistoga and Healdsburg. 

After an amenable spring, drought conditions prevailed throughout the year leading to an early harvest in California, making this one of the main signatures of the 2014 growing season in Napa Valley. The best 2014s are fragrant, aromatically expressive, opulent and accessible wines that retain structural delineation, freshness and finesse. While 2014 yielded quite different red expressions to 2013, the wines show excellent medium to long term ageing potential.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, 14 Abv.

The wine that started it all back in 1972, the Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 has a delicate but complex sweet fruited nose with strata of wet tobacco, sweet leaf, black plum and a subtle macerated fruit cake opulence. The palate is majestic and very classy, finely poised, elegant but also self assured. The concentration is notable yet the structure seamless, almost weightless – zero gravity finesse! After the block buster 2013 Alexander Valley, we definitely have another full throttle lift off here as well. A truly grand gentlemanly expression of age worthy Californian Cabernet.

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

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, 14.2 Abv.

A legendary wine from an iconic wine region, this 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet shows a rather exotic piquant expression but with archetypal Cabernet notes of cassis reduction, saline oyster shell, sweet black cherry and an alluring cinnamon, vanilla pod oak spice. Full bodied and imposing, this wine is powerful yet finely symmetrical and super toned with beautifully precise sweet tannins, sweet tobacco hints and a long, concentrated creamy depth. Very fine harmony and finesse, this is a deceptively accessible Napa Valley cuvée but one with plenty of heart, soul and extract for the long term. It could even evolve into a real Californian classic.

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

#LifeisaCabernet

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)

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.