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)

Diamond Creek’s New 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Releases On Fire Yet Again…

Al Brounstein created Diamond Creek in 1968 with his purchase of 31 hectares in the Diamond Creek canyon. It’s a good thing the land was bought by Al because the previous owner at the time was considering turning the entire site into another golf course.

Now one of Napa’s foremost Cabernet Sauvignon focused estates, Diamond Creek continues to produce wines of exceptional character and definition and whose promise with age is simply breath-taking. The three single vineyards – Volcanic Hill, Gravelly Meadow and Red Rock Terrace – are simply revered by connoisseurs the world over. 

These three distinctly different vineyards are tucked away in a sprawling hillside canyon surrounded by dense forest on the secluded Diamond Mountain. It really is a remarkable place. Even more remarkable considering that 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.

Tasting in London with Diamond Creek’s Phil Ross.

According to Phil Ross, the 2016 wines resemble the 2013 reds with a normal Spring then a warm June / July leading to a cooler August and September with fruit picked in nearly October, which is normal for Diamond Creek, but late for Napa Valley. The results as usual are exceptional.

Diamond Creek Red rock Terrace 2016, Napa Valley, 14.5

Red iron soils yield a rich, opulent expressive nose of blueberry, black plum, mulberry, cassis and salty black liquorice. There are also lovely exotic top notes of cinnamon and clove and vanilla wood spice. Super suave and opulent, the texture is velvety and elegant as usual for this vineyard with impressive finesse and delicacy. Flavours are seamless, focused and oh so pure, finishing with a very long, cassis and blueberry pie concentration.

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

Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow 2016, Napa Valley, 14.5 Abv.

Gravelly sandy based soils with the lowest yields. Shows the intensity and focus of black cassis fruit and dark blueberry fruits but with a pronounced chassis of dusty graphite and crushed gravel minerality complimented by vanilla wood spice and cherry kirsch liquor notes. Beautifully polished, seamless structure with very fine grained powdery dry tannins adding persistence and shape and a fine frame on which the concentrated blue and black berry fruits can coat and caress. More mid palate weight and tension than Red Rock Terrace and a touch more muscle, power and depth. Very impressive release.

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

Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill 2016, Napa Valley, 14.5 Abv.

Grown on course ashy volcanic sandy soils, this wine is big, bold and processes tremendous power with dense, plush, opulent grandeur loaded with lashings of blue and black berry fruit, black cherry kirsch, caramelised black currants and sweet salty black liquorice. Less perfumed fragrance and aromatic nuances than the other two cuvees, but on the palate, this is wine impressively full and textured, fleshy and broad with hints of stewed plum, sun dried black cherries, caramelised black currants and the sweetest, plushest, round powdery tannins. Delicious.

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

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – The Long Awaited Iconic 2013 Vintage is Finally Released…

A legendary wine from an iconic wine region, the long awaited Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 was released in February 2018. The Napa Valley AVA saw just 50.8cm of rain during the winter months leading up to the 2013 growing season; any meaningful precipitation ceased in December of 2012. The lack of rain and a relatively warm spring led to an early start to the growing season. Summer was remarkably mild. During critical ripening, air temperatures remained stable, creating a long, slow harvest.

The seasonal trifecta of moderate temperatures, low soil moisture and little precipitation led to a vintage that will be remembered for its structured and concentrated wines. Harvest started on September 2nd and on October 4th the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon was arriving at the winery.

The 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is comprised of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. It was blended in early 2014 and aged for 24 months in 85% new American oak and 15% one-passage American oak barrels from Silver Oak’s own Missouri cooperage, The Oak. Early blending assured a balanced core and allowed all components to achieve greater harmony during barrel aging. It was then aged for an additional 20 months in bottle before being released in February of 2018.

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, California, 13.5 Abv.

Wonderfully dense, opulent and masculine. Where the Alexander Valley 2013 is more pretty… beauty personified, the Napa is a gladiator, full of muscle, density, broody black fruits and then a fine dollop of intrigue. All the classical components are there, dusty cassis, liquid graphite, violets, salty Victoria plums and an alluring cedary wood spice note. On the palate the black fruits melt into a dense melange of black berry confit, taut salty liquorice, graphite, cassis, blueberry pastille and muscular, intense, liquid minerality. The road map of this wine is clear. One can see exactly where this wine is going, an understanding that is integral to the impressive rating of this epic Napa release. Will it appeal fully to customers looking to drink it right now? No, maybe less so. But for pure pedigree, power, opulence and intensity, this wine is nearly unsurpassed. Buy it now and cellar it. It will never ever disappoint such is the long term track record of Silver Oak. This wine offers guaranteed drinking pleasure over 30 to 40+ years if cellared optimally.

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

The New Dominus Proprietary Red Unveiled in London at the Annual J.P.Moueix Portfolio Tasting…

One of the added benefits of attending the annual tasting of all the J.P.Moueix Bordeaux En-primeur samples is the opportunity to also get a UK pre-release sneak peek of their finished bottled Californian wines including Othelo, Napanook and their iconic Dominus.

With such strong US home market demand, allocation quantities through Corney & Barrow, the official UK agent for J.P.Moueix and Dominus, have continued to shrink over the past few years as Robert Parker Jr. has dished out 100 point perfect scores to multiple vintages.

Edouard Moueix presenting the family’s Bordeaux and Californian wines in London at private members club Home House.

2015 represents another block buster vintage which also garnered 100 points from Mr Parker, both when tasted in barrel and again in bottle. However, the Dominus proprietary red while always being a big, dense, powerful wine on release also has an incredible propensity to age, evolving into a classical Bordeaux blend expression that often takes your breath away with its sublime mature beauty and balance. The same can certainly not be said for a number of big glossy Napa reds out in the market place.

UK release scheduled for September 2018.

Dominus Proprietary Red 2015, Napa Valley, 14.5 Abv.

A dense dark imposing colour, the 2015 grand vin was bottled in July 2017 and is a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. The aromatics show a pronounced Cabernet Sauvignon character, packed full of sweet dark earthy cassis fruit, black plum, bramble berry and topped with perfumed notes of lavender, violets, black chocolate and cedar spice. The palate is dense and fleshy, overtly opulent and textural as is to be expected. Very glycerol and broad, there are piquant layers of sweet black currant, brûléed black cherries and spicy graphite tannins that are plush and sweet. A big voluptuous wine that captures your attention and holds it with a certain flashy accessibility not seen in too many young Dominus vintages. But as always, this is the real deal and another seriously fine wine from the Moueix stable that is sure to age very well. Drink from 2020 to 2048+

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