Exploring the Beautiful Historic Estate of Inglenook in Rutherford, Napa Valley…

A big day of tasting on day 4 of our epic California trip, started at the iconic Francis Ford Coppola estate of Inglenook and ended with a tasting and dinner at another iconic estate, Silver Oak Winery in Napa Valley.


Film director Francis Ford Coppola has lived at the estate since the early 70s, raising his family there, slowly piecing the Inglenook entity back together again and restoring it to its former historic glory. Head of winemaking is the famous Philippe Bascule, who was chief winemaker at Chateau Margaux for several decades. 


Philippe’s first vine to bottle vintage at Inglenook was the 2012 vintage. But with the sad demise of Chateau Margaux’s Paul Pontallier on the 28th March 2016 at just 59, it was fully expected that the call would come from the Mentzelopoulos family to recall Philippe back to Bordeaux to take up the wine making responsibilities at Margaux again. 


So Philippe will remain the de facto head wine maker with Chris Phelps acting as the full time man on the ground overseeing future Inglenook production on a day to day basis. Chris made over 10 vintages of Dominus back in the day and now also produces a small amount of super premium Napa Cabernet on the side under the Ad Vinum label from fruit from the “Sleeping Lady Vineyard” in Yountville.

Inglenook Rubicon 2013 

13.8 Abv,. Beautifully fragrant and classical nose with sweet tobacco, chocolate mocha spice, espresso, buttered brown toast, and sweet leafy cedar nuances. Unusually, the Rubicon 2013 is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but certainly does not lack any complexity. Very precise, elegant and focused, this wine oozes class and finesse. Texturally seamless, this wine has Bordeaux in its roots, with intense black berry fruit framed by fresh, vibrant acids. Very fine breadth as well as depth, this is definitely a wine for cellaring. 

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


Inglenook Rubicon 2015 (Cask Sample)
14.2 Abv,. Rich, lush and very intense, the nose is powerful and extrovert, with layers of vanilla pod spice, sweet blueberry, black cherry, kirsch and fleshy black black currant pastille. Tannins are sweet and round and finely balanced. A beautiful work in progress, there is more immediacy and overt generous fruit than the 2013. The finish is very salty and spicy with black liquorice length. Superb!

(Wine Safari Score: 95-96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

14.2 Abv., 87 CS, 8 Franc, 3 PV, 2 Merlot

Very taught, broody and restrained, you need to coax the black, spicy graphite fruit out the glass. Subtle cedary, spicy dusty chalk notes create a very classical feel. Touches of dark chocolate and black berries linger on a very harmonious palate where the acids are soft and incredibly integrated. Slightly shy now, this wine shows great potential. 

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


California Day 3 – Tasting the New Vintages from Silverado Winery…

Owned by Diane Miller, Walt Disney’s daughter, and ex-NFL quarterback husband Ron Miller, Silverado’s winemaking success has been firmly rooted in their six vineyards, allowing them all to express their own inherent quality characteristics. Since opening in 1981, the winery has grown to nearly 162 hectares which are all farmed organically and sustainably, from which Silverado Winery produces Estate and Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Chardonnay wines.


Sadly my buddy Russ Weiss, the Silverado President, was not around when we tasted, but as always, it was great to get an early snap shot of the new vintages that will be heading to the UK later in 2017. I’ve always been a big fan of their wines which thankfully are sold at very reasonable prices in the UK. If you have not tried these wines, seek them out and discover an elegant, pure, supple, restrained expression of Napa and Carneros.


Vineburg Carneros Chardonnay 2015

14.5 Abv., 4% neutral oak, no malo, French puncheons. Dusty, dry lemon, pithy citrus. Chalky and dusty leesy, the palate is vibrant, bright and fresh, packed full of white stone fruits. Classical interpretation. 

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


Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

88% CS, Merlot & Petit Verdot – 14.6 Abv., Rich creamy nose of blue berry crumble and black berry confit. Plenty of graphite and cedar spice with attractive violet perfume. Palate is sleek, linear and fresh, light on its feet and super elegant. Very polished and precise with super creamy sweet tannins. A real beauty. 

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


Solo Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

14.2 Abv., Big dark fruited dusty nose with classic Cab notes of violets, tobacco, black current and graphite. Massive rich intense unctuous core, wonderful balance and fresh vibrant finish. Tannins are creamy and dense, with plenty of power and concentration. Impressive wine, one to age in the cellar. 

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

 

Tasting Kistler Les Noisetiers 2013, Sonoma Coast, 14.1 Abv…

I drank a beautiful bottle of Pierre Yves Colin Morey Chassagne Montrachet Les Maltroie 2014 on Sunday night, and this beautiful Kistler Les Noisetiers just reminded me of PYCM’s taught, steely, determined Chardonnay style. 


I admit an unusual comparison, but these 2013 California Chardonnays, of which I have drunk a few over the past few days, have such cut and tension twinned with pithy lemon and lime intensity and pure limestone minerality. Complete palate austerity… (a good thing!) with so much energy, freshness, and restraint. There is plenty of nervy textural palate richness with a touch of new oak vanilla spice, but I’ve not had a Kistler Chardy this mineral since 2010! Rasping, pithy, mineral and dry… this is so, so classy.

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

California Day 2 – En Route to Sonoma – Tasting the Exclusive Range of Ram’s Gate Winery, Carneros…

A very interesting first visit in Carneros en route to Sonoma. Ram’s Gate Winery was built in 2011 but have been making wine since 2008. Using a dynamic fruit growing and sourcing philosophy, Ram’s Gate grow approximately 20% of their production and buy in contracted fruit for the remaining 80%. 


Ram’s Gate have embraced a fairly unique sales and marketing approach, selling almost all their wines to their “members” and a handful of restaurants in 7 states. None is sold to retailers. There is a very inventive marketing policy as the winery engages with its consumers and doesn’t “sell” wine but prefers to look at their sales policy as “placing wines.” Easy to do when demand outstrips supply.

Wine maker Luke Stanko trained in Canada but originally from Michigan

Wine maker Luke Stanko, runs the show and sincerely expounds his belief in minimalist intervention, terroir focused winemaking. With 12000 cases produced annually, Ram’s Gate is a winery that is rarely quoted by critics and almost never scored, but is most definitely a must visit spot on your way out of San Francisco to Napa. By appointment only, ring ahead to book one of their amazing food and wine matching tastings.

Amazing food and wine pairings

2013 Carneros Chardonnay
13.3 Abv. Only 510 cases of this wine is produced from Clone 4 and Clone 96.

Aged 11 months in one-third new French oak. Real lemon and lime sherbet nose with a subtle lick of butterscotch oak spice. Cool, plush soft textured, showing beautiful harmony, plump lemon fleshiness and cool crisp framing acids. Beautiful elegance with full malo breadth. 

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

The first winery heading out of San Francisco.

2014 Sangiacomo Green Acres Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay

14.6 Abv. 263 cases, Aged 11 months in French oak, 40% new. Made from virused Wente Clone, the aromatics are dominated by green apple Bon bons and liquid grey slate dustiness. Plenty of classical restraint. The palate is where the peacock fans its tail. Rich, intense and ripe, there is textured depth and spicy intensity. Weight and power, with a lemon and green apple pie finish with subtle vanilla pod charisma. 

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

Looking South East to San Pablo Bay

2014 Hyde Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay

15.1 Abv. 793 Cases. Aged 11 months in 40% new French oak. A grand vineyard that shows fine complex aromatic finesse and notes of honey dew melon, cream soda, white peach, honeysuckle, green apple purée and leesy biscuit richness. Broad and powerful concentration, but rich, juicy acids and fine nuanced minerality. Real pedigree evident here.

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


2013 Carneros Pinot Noir

14.5 Abv. 2,122 cases, Aged 11 months in French oak, 45% new, only one parcel used stems. Very expressive nose bursts with cranberry, pomegranate, red cherry, blood orange and boxwood spice. Also lovely spicy, peppery notes, hedgerow and cinnamon spice. Such plush, seductive textural harmony, potpourri spice infused cherry confit and black berry compote. Very alluring, and inviting. 

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


2014 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 

14.9 Abv. 512 cases, Aged 11 months in 66% new French oak from Clone 777. Very lifted fragrant nose that’s thoroughly graceful and feminine. Intensely perfumed, there is rose water, violets, jasmine and and a complex earthy, forest berry note. Very reminiscent of Marlborough Pinot Noir, the seductive smokey nuances meld with blood orange, macerated cherries, and milk chocolate complexity. Very elegant, powdery tannins that are finely composed, and a real pleasure to drink. 

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


2014 Bush Crispo Vineyard Russian River Pinot Noir (Sole purchaser of this vineyard)

14.7 Abv. 513 cases, Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak from 115 and Pommard Clones. A more exotic, rich, expression with black berry and plum, mint chocolate and eucalyptus notes. Full, plump and generous, this is beautifully round, harmonious and textural. Plenty of spicy stewed plums, soft sweet tannins, and an opulent, harmonious bramble fruited finish. A real class act. 

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

Luke Stanko, Commercial Director and Proprietor



Visiting Napa Valley and Sonoma with the Wine Institute of California – Day 1 in San Francisco…

For the past 10 years I’ve tried to make a habit of visiting the US wine lands of either California, Oregon or Washington State at least every 2 years to keep up to speed. With my last two trips being in Washington State and Oregon for Pinot Camp, it’s great to finally make it back to California. 


Along with the French classics, Italian wine and of course South African wine, I have a massive passion for American wines. I love their precision, polish, opulence, structure, and age worthiness. I rarely ever meet a customer who does not enjoy a mature Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, Russian River Pinot Noir or Sonoma Zinfandel! 


So today was Day 1 and touch down in San Francisco ahead of a jam packed schedule of lectures, visits and tastings in Napa Valley and Sonoma. What a beautiful city it is too. Much excitement awaits in the week ahead.

The Bay Bridge, not to be confused with the Golden Gate Bridge.


The AT&T Baseball Stadium on the Waterfront. Home of the San Francisco Giants.

Tasting the Legendary Diamond Creek 2014 New Releases with Philip Ross…

For more than four decades, Diamond Creek has been a touchstone for those who prize long-lived, highly sought-after expressions of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.


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.
These 2014s from Diamond Creek join 2012 and 2013 in a trio of historic vintages at a time when many of the world’s top red wine producing regions have struggled with difficult growing conditions. 


Red Rock Terrace 2014, 14.5 Abv.

Blue berry pie, cassis and graphite nose with exotic spice, cherry and kirsch liquor. The fruit from this cool north facing vineyard make this wine extra bright and crisp and the palate is so vibrant, fresh and supremely elegant. (Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


Gravelly Meadow 2014, 14.5 Abv.

Beautiful wine made from grapes grown on 5 acres of old river bed soils. Nose is laden with minerality. Quite primal. Mixed cooperage with medium to heavy toasting suits the power of this wine. So much spice and dusty gravel make this wine feel a little more austere and restrained. Palate is textured and complex with black plum, saline cassis, black current leaf and finishes with a fantastically long, seamless intensity. A real wow wine! (Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


Volcanic Hill 2014, 14.5 Abv.

A more restrained, dark, broody nose with hints of dusty sweet black plums and violet perfume. Palate is broad and powerful with a fruit cake edge, raisined cherries and lashings of ripe cassis fruit. A real plush luxurious core of concentration from the warmest of the three Diamond Creek vineyards. A very impressive wine. (Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Such a privilege to taste these wines. An even greater privilege would be to put a case of each of these gems in a cellar and age for 20-30 years! 

Marketing is a journey, not a destination – Brand California’s battle to remain relevant in the UK market

After the recent tumult surrounding the closing of the Wines of California promotion office in London, many people with a vested interest in selling Californian wines in the UK have expressed varying degrees of concern for the future of Californian wine sales in the on and off trade. What threats lurk in the market?

More than a direct “threat” from any one competitor country… one needs to be weary of the region falling out of fashion, and becoming irrelevant and marginalised. Import figures would then start to drop, listings in the restaurant on-trade would drop and sales would start to slowly spiral downwards, undoing  more than a decades worth of positive brand building.

If you think it can’t happen, then think again… or just look at Bordeaux. While Bordeaux may still be a big player in the UK market with a lot of wine still being consumed, it has definitely started to lose its dominance and relevance as prices have spiralled upwards and started to exclude an entire new generation of wine drinkers. The arrogance and inaccessibility of the whole Bordeaux infrastructure and their lack of marketing has also taken its toll. They have multiple dilemmas now.

Journalists and consumers will always follow a wine “flavour of the month”. Keeping Californian wines popular, relevant and accessible will mean continuing marketing, promotions, tastings and introducing new consumers to all quality levels of production. Think of this process as a never ending journey, not a destination. Hopefully the powers in California do not think they have reached their destination… because it actually doesn’t exist! Just ask the Australian’s who are battling to stay relevant in the highly competitive UK market after years of dominance.


But if direct competitors were to emerge that could steal market share and listings from Californian wines, this threat would probably come from premium South Africa and also Italy, namely Tuscany, Bolgheri, and Maremma.

Chile and Argentina have a very small offering and relatively little diversity. Australia still seems incapable of throwing off the shackles of the “sweet bottled sunshine” wines mantra and their poor performance in the fine wine market sector acts as evidence to this fact. 

Many merchants have seen steady growth in their Californian sales segment over the past 10 years. It would be a crying shame if the great wine names of California became less available in the UK. Let’s hope plans to appoint a new PR agency and a “regional ambassador” or “face of California wines” meets with success… soon.