Exploring the Incredible New Californian Releases from the Highly Talented Paul Lato…

Paul Lato was born in Poland. He worked as a certified sommelier in one of Toronto’s most exclusive restaurants and only visited California for the first time in the early 1990s.  Jim Clendenen, the owner of ABC Winery and Clendenen Wines, was influential in finally getting Paul to pack up and move to California to take up a job at Bien Nacido Vineyards. But it was really only after a rave review after a chance encounter between Robert Parker and “the Polish sommelier making wine” that Paul’s stardom was truly sealed. 

Paul was recently in London to launch his famously sought after new releases of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah which are unsurprisingly highly allocated and difficult to secure. After reviewing a large selection of Paul’s incredible 2015 whites and reds, there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to taste the new 2016 releases. The intensity, purity and freshness Paul manages to capture both in his whites and his reds is truly impressive.

These are definitely wines to seek out and find a home for in your cellar. They are not necessarily cheap, but then wines of this quality and precision never are, wherever they are produced. Paul’s wines were certainly some of the most exciting wines I tasted in 2017 and his new vintages look certain to continue his phenomenal run of form.

Paul Lato Le Souvenir Sierra Madre Chardonnay 2011, 14.5 Abv.

Opulent, hedonistic style showing evolved aromatics of stewed quince, honied waxy lemons, stem ginger, pear purée and apple spice. The palate is very creamy, supple and plush, spreading across the mouth with great concentration and intensity. Very youthful but absolutely delicious and great integrity.

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

Paul Lato Le Souvenir Sierra Madre Chardonnay 2015, 13.9 Abv.

Rich opulent nose brimming with lemon confit, intense white citrus pith and tangerine peel. Incredibly finely integrated oak melting into a creamy, textural palate of pineapple and lemon pastille with a tender kiss of salted caramel. Wow. 

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

Paul Lato Le Souvenir Sierra Madre Chardonnay 2016, 14.3 Abv.

Riper, youthful green melon fruits mingle with lemon blossom, notes of sweet Seville oranges and white citrus. Despite a higher Abv than the 2015, there plenty of is tension, glycerol texture and a lovely youthful woodspice finish. 

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

Paul Lato East of Eden Pisoni Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, 14.5 Abv.

This last bottle of Paul’s first vintage of the Pisoni Vineyard Chardonnay. Lovely exotic aromatics of apple pastille fruits, lemon bon bons and fresh buttered white toast. Palate is full and rich, plush and textured, showing excellent youthful crystalline purity, bright yellow citrus and the most delicious brioche and lemon biscuit finish. Very classy.

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

Paul Lato East of Eden Pisoni Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, 14.3 Abv.

Very fine, floral, pin point aromatics with incredible purity and focus. White citrus, yellow citrus pastille and custard cream pastries. Palate shows impressive tension and vibrancy, energy and freshness all wrapped in a wave of intense concentration. Great length and power but with an incredible fruit ~ minerality equilibrium.

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

The skin contact Batana Malvasia Bianca 2016 from Paul Lato – one of the most exciting whites I tasted from anywhere in 2018!

Paul Lato Batana Larner Vineyard Malvasia Bianca 2016, 13.5 Abv.

Lifted exotic aromatic nose of pithy pear, baked apples, tangerine peel, marmalade, stem ginger and resinous sappy spice. Taut and fresh, mouth-wateringly vibrant and bright, brimming with cherry skin pith, crunchy quince, green apple and passion fruit sorbet. Profound purity, intensity and complexity. One of the most impressive wines I have tasted in a very long time.

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

Paul Lato Lancelot Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, 14.8 Abv.

Cool, dark, earthy broody nose of forest floor, sous bois and earthy red forest berries. 10 years old and beautifully youthful, showing a subtle lick of oak and savoury notes of peaches, red currant, loganberry and red plums. Fine minerality and complexity. Delicious now.

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

Paul Lato Suertes Solomon Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Maria Valley, 14.8 Abv.

Earthy red foresty nose with hedgerow spice, sappy red plum, pomegranate and blood oranges. Very plush and concentrated, piercing intensity and a long, fruit driven finish with crazy complexity, textural breadth and mineral nuance.

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

Paul Lato Suertes Solomon Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Santa Maria Valley, 14.1 Abv.

Lifted perfumed nose of bramble berry, pomegranate, gun flint, graphite and black cherry spice. Beautifully fresh and pure, vibrant and intense with crystalline sappy red forest fruits, spice orange peel and macerated blood orange and graphite finish. Wow. Really beautiful, harmonious wine with artisanal character.

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

Paul Lato Atticus John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, 14.2 Abv.

Beautifully fragrant nose with a more piquant note. Plenty of cherry blossom, rose petals, lavender and sweet lilac depth that intermingles with sour red cherry, red apple and pomegranate spice. Palate is pithy and sleek, textured and spicy with classical Pinot Noir elegance, vibrantly fresh acids and a long, harmonious finish.

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

Paul Lato Cinematique Syrah Larner Vineyard Syrah 2008, 15 Abv.

Lovely deep, broody, savoury nose with almost Priorat style depth, bramble berry fruits, sweet red currant, freshly sliced bresaola and stewed earthy plums. There is a subtle kiss of oak, creamy foresty depth, a lovely smoky intricacy and a sweet toasty coffee bean finish.

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

Paul Lato Il Padrino Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah 2009, 15 Abv.

A wonderfully complex nose filled with wood smoke, charcoal embers, spicy black currant, cured meats and savoury graphite spice. Palate is cool and fleshy, piquant and exotic with black berry confit, coffee bean, espresso and a long, sappy, meaty, black olive finish. Drinking very well now.

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

Paul Lato Il Padrino Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah 2014, 15.4 Abv

Darker, more taut mineral aromatics speak of this cooler Syrah vineyard. Quite saline and mineral with cassis, black berry, graphite and sea breeze nuances. Beautifully pure and creamy, textured and mineral, embroidered by bright acids and a real energy. Very impressive expression.

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

 

Lunch with Paul Lato and his wines at new 1 Star Michelin restaurant Hide by Ollie Dabbous.

Paul Lato with Hide Restaurant and Hedonism Wines owner Yevgeny Chichvarkin.

Allocations available in the UK through importer Tiger Vines.

Tasting the Kelley Fox Skin Contact Pinot Gris 2017 – An Exciting Benchmark Example From Oregon…

2017 finally broke the pattern of the unusually warm vintages in Oregon since 2011. The winter rainfall and snowpack were excellent and the spring was generally wetter and cooler than average. Bud bloom in the Maresh Vineyard began around 22nd June and most of July was warm and even with morning clouds burned off by the afternoon. One could feel the ocean coolness behind the summer warmth. 

By 23rd August, veraison had begun in most of the blocks and by 28th August, during the return of hot weather, it was 80-100% complete. Mid-September brought cooling and some pre-harvest rain with the average highs being 19.4 degrees C the last ten days. Blocks at Maresh were picked in early October.

Kelley reduced the usual whole cluster usage to 0% for the Maresh Vineyard Pinot Gris in 2017 making the wines extra elegant, bright and perfumed with low alcohols.

Kelley Fox Wines Maresh Vineyard Pinot Gris, Dundee Hills, Oregon, 12.8 Abv. 

A fascinating copper blood orange tinted Pinot Gris produced from the fruit of vines planted on their own rootstock in 1991 in the northeast corner of the Maresh Vineyard. The wine saw 14 to 16 days of skin contact and elevage in a concrete amphora tank for 5 months with malolactic completed. The bouquet is loaded with dusty minerality of volcanic basalt, wet slate and crushed rocks complexed by pithy strawberry, red cherry skin aromatics, ripe quince and sweet ripe figs. Beautifully fresh, vibrant and light on its feet, the wine tiptoes across the palate with smokey sappy spice, resinous blood orange nuances, quince purée and wet river pebble minerality. There are delicate pithy phenolics from a fortnight of skin contact but also such a bright purity and crisp linearity. More complex and vinous than a lookalike Rose wine, this is a wonderful creation with an earthy savoury salinity that finishes with a long lasting complexity and intrigue. Lovely wine.

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

Pahlmeyer’s Hits the Ground Running with the Launch of Their Fort Ross-Seaview AVA Pinot Noir in the UK…

Produced from fruit sourced from the Wayfarer Vineyard in Sonoma Coast’s relatively newly formed Fort Ross-Seaview AVA which was only established in 2011, this 2014 Pinot Noir is the third vintage release from owner Jayson Pahlmeyer of the Napa Valley Pahlmeyer Estate. With close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, these remote coastal vineyards of Northern Sonoma are situated in one of the most beautiful parts of California with dramatic rolling hills and majestic old redwood trees peppering the landscape.

The Fort Ross-Seaview AVA is fast developing a cult following for its pristine cool climate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs and this is another wine for connoisseurs to follow. Never knowingly sold cheap, the Wayfarer Pinot Noir and Chardonnay will hit the retail shelves in the UK at circa £110-£120 per bottle. Punchy prices but the allocations are small and the demand is high… so expect these to sell out fast.

Wayfarer Pinot Noir 2014 Wayfarer Vineyard, Fort Ross-Seaview AVA, Sonoma Coast, 14.5 Abv.

Medium ruby red with a bright crystalline rim, the 2014 Wayfarer Vineyard Pinot Noir has bold, opulent, hedonistic aromatics of sweet pomegranate fruits, sun dried cranberries, sweet red cherries and subtle spicy, sappy hemp leaf notes that mingle with lavender and cherry blossom perfume. The palate shows a sleek, concentrated fleshy fruit texture with impressive depth, savoury forest berry complexity and hints of stewed blood oranges, bright intense linear acids and a finely detailed, harmonious chalky tannin finish. Classic cool climate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir that many will find irresistible. Drink now to 2022+

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

Wines available in the UK from The Wine Treasury

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)

A New World Chardonnay That Can Challenge the Best of Burgundy – Tasting the Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard Chardonnay…

A new wine for me but this Rhys white was just incredible, an absolute Old World styled thriller. I rated this wine in a blind tasting without any knowledge of its provenance other than “being from the New World.” It featured as one of my top 3 wines out of 16 premium Chardonnays tasted blind on the day.

Looking a little further into this producer, I see that Rhys Vineyards aspires to make great Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah from some of California’s most unique and expressive vineyards. This pursuit has lead them to search the state for exciting rocky soils that exist within the mountainous, cool, Coastal climate zone.

Over the last 15 years they have developed seven estate vineyards, six in the Santa Cruz Mountains and one in Anderson Valley, each of which is capable of producing uniquely compelling, distinctive, soil driven wine.

At their best, Rhys feel Santa Cruz Mountain wines offer all the key ingredients for truly fine wine… “breathtaking balance, terrific concentration, uncommon minerality, thrilling complexity and Old World age worthiness”.

Rhys Vineyards Horseshoe Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Santa Cruz Mountains, 13 Abv. (50cl bottle)

It has a beautifully rich, opulent nose with green gauge fruits, yellow citrus and delicious zesty pineapple and mineral Alka Zelzer notes. The palate is incredibly creamy, rich and intense but also racy, classically proportioned and quite profound. After being open some time in the glass, hints of lemon pie, mint leaf, dried herbs and salted caramel brittle develop but all very much in a subtle, complexing way combining with delicious creme brûlée notes and harmonious, sleek, savoury chalky lemon notes. An absolutely delicious wine with really impressive mineral precision. A very distinguished wine to drink now or cellar for 10 to 15 more years.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 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)

The Magnificence of Pinot Noir Exemplified by the Storm Brothers – Tasting Ernst Storm’s Californian Range…

The Storm brothers, Hannes, 41, and Ernst, 38, grew up in the Western Cape of South Africa, where as teens, they moved to Hermanus in the famed wine growing region of Walker Bay. Fast forward 2 decades and incredibly, both are established winemakers producing high quality, evocative, terroir focused wines.

While Walker Bay based Hannes Storms’ wines have been featured on the Fine Wine Safari before, this is my first encounter with brother Ernst’s exciting wines. Ernst’s career includes successful stints making wine in South Africa at Amani Winery and in the Sierra Foothills of California. He later settled down in California’s Santa Barbara County, where he was winemaker at Curtis Winery while slowly developing his own brand over the past 15 years. With ten vintages of his own wines now under his belt, he is now focusing on his own winemaking project full time.

Rooted in the hills of Santa Barbara County, Storm Wines emphasizes old world influences using new world winemaking techniques. The Mediterranean climate, diverse soils, and exciting new opportunities in this flourishing Central Coast wine region have combined to drive Ernst’s passion for producing his wines.

Ernst’s wines are authentically handcrafted using a combination of Old and New World winemaking techniques. From being present while picking the grapes in the early morning hours, to basket pressing, to only using gravity on the red wines. Fining and filtration is only utilised when absolutely necessary in the reds and occasionally on the whites, making sure the wines express the unique qualities of the fruit’s origin.

Notary Public White Wine Santa Ynez Valley 2014, 13.5 Abv

A Chenin Blanc / Chardonnay blend focusing on the $25-$30 in USA or £35 in the UK. Bright dusty granitic lemon line zesty nose, lime peel and white citrus. Almost Chablis like minerality and restraint. Stony, intense saline freshness, sleek fine boned cool climate texture and an attractive leanness and seductive, alluring pithy austerity.

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

Notary Public Santa Ynez Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, 13 Abv. 

Sweet sour plum nose with intense fragrant lift with cassis and black currant leafy spice. Pretty cherry pith, pink musk and delicious cherry sherbet mineral pithy spice. Thoroughly delicious expression, such energy and focus, I really love the purity and textural focus. Real character, real class. (Interestingly, this expression really reminded me of Craig Wessels’ Hemel-en-Aarde expression of Cabernet at Restless River, in Walker Bay.)

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

The fruit for this wine is 100% from the famous John Sebastiano Vineyard and only 200 cases were produced using Clone/Rootstock: 44%-115/101-14 and 56% -667/101-14 grown on Marina sand and Chamise shaly loam soils.

Picked between 8/22/14 – 8/24/14, the grapes saw a 5-7 day cold soak with 12 days on the skins. Grapes were basket pressed before fermentation and aged in new tight grained French oak after fermentation with no fining or filtration used.

Storm John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Rita Hills, 13.8 Abv. 

Savoury earthy bramble berry fruit nose showing quince, pomegranate, raisined cranberry, raspberry herbal tea infusions, and subtle sous bois and clove spice. Sweet fruited, opulent texture, dense and quite broad but retains a little more of a rustic, hearty, old world expression.

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

Produced from 100% Presqu’ile Vineyard fruit with only 220 cases produced from fruit grown on Clone/Rootstock: 667/own root on Marina sandy loam soils. 20% whole cluster used with a 6 day cold soak and 14 days on the skins. Wine was aged in 25% new French Oak for 10 months with ageing on lees, and no fining or filtration was utilised.

Storm Presqui’le Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Rita Hills, 13 Abv.

Restrained, shy spicy earthy nose with wet earth, blood orange, raisined cherries, and a sprinkling of mineral, crushed river pebble dust. A very elegant, sleek, fresh Pinot Noir style with electrically fresh acids, a suave fleshy mouth feel, notes of black tea and plenty of sophistication on a long, lingering bramble berry laced finish. Very classy.

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

Storm Slide Hill Vineyard Syrah 2014, Edna Valley, 14.1 Abv. 

Perfumed, lifted blueberry, black currant and savoury peppery meaty spice. Dusty, smokey charcoal, creamy oak, blueberry crumble, and then develops a seductive strawberry coulis complexity. Plush, lush, savoury and beautifully vibrant with an alluring saline vein, and tantalising seashore, maritime black fruited finish. Really impressive.

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

Wines imported into the UK by Tiger Vines.