One of my most fun days on my Napa Valley Masters Program trip back in 2007 was the viticulture day out in the vineyards with Bruce Cakebread. In March 2017, a most enjoyable afternoon of wine tasting, pizza making and eating was spent with Bruce in Napa Valley. Tonight, I completed the triangle with a most incredible tasting with Bruce’s wife, Rosemary Cakebread, winemaker of Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon based blends, Gallica, in Napa Valley.
Rosemary, previously the winemaker at Spottswoode Vineyard & Winery (1997 to 2006), established Gallica as recently as 2007 where her wines are already making their mark in the industry. Rosemary has earned a reputation for crafting consistent, elegant and restrained wine styles throughout her winemaking career and she describes her Gallica wines as “wonderfully expressive, balanced artisanal wines made from organic vineyards.”
Gallica Vintage Vertical ~ 2009 to 2014
Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, 14.4 Abv.
Oakville, Coombsville, St. Helena. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, 81% new French Oak. Taught broody nose, mineral laden, brambly with plenty of herbal spice. Ripe earthy red currant fruit, sweet tannins and a creamy luscious mouthfeel. Fine, precise acids and an impressively mineral graphite finish.
(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, 14.4 Abv.
Oakville Organic Vineyard. 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot, 19 months in 78% new French Oak. Lifted piercing perfume, purple blossoms, violets and a higher toned polished mahogany, black berry and pithy black cherry spice. Palate also reveals cool dark black berry fruits, creamy vanilla pod spice, liquorice stick and delicious Cabernet Sauvignon purity. Classy, picante style.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, 14.1 Abv
Oakville Organic Vineyard. 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 19 months in 70% new French Oak. Very pronounced dusty gravelly mineral nose with herbal spice, graphite and leafy characters from a fairly cool vintage. Texture is sleek, precise, and quite suave, elegantly textured but with more angular presence in the mouth. Pronounced acids shape a cool, taught palate that displays beautiful black cherry and bramble berry fruits, herbal spice and silky, dry tannins on the finish. Classy and classically elegant wine. Very nice.
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, 14.5 Abv.
Oakville Organic Vineyard. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 20 months in French Oak. Taught deep dark rich broody wine with tension, dark spicy Cabernet cedar and herbal notes, dusty graphite, hedge row spice and pithy black current fruits. Fine sweet front palate, supple entry, lovely fleshy black pastille weight of fruit that is more opulent than the nose suggests. Such precision, pin point mineral tannins and delicious pithy graphite tension and power. Very impressive wine.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, 14.5 Abv.
Oakville Organic Vineyard. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 20 months in French Oak. Sweet sour red plum, wet tobacco, forest leaves and pronounced exotic red fruit notes. Quite dusty, granitic and mineral, with dark black picante fruit nuances developing. Palate texture is lush, plush, creamy, dreamy, with expansive sweet tannins, fleshy blueberry and cassis pastille fruit weight. A real turbo charged vintage in the best sense. Harmonious balance, this wine does not put a foot out of place. Hedonistic, opulent, but retains classical shape. A really impressive all round great wine from a fantastic benchmark vintage.
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, 14.5 Abv.
Oakville Organic Vineyard. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 19 months in French Oak. Youthful, opulent exotic nose brimming with blue berry crumble, mulberries, cassis pastille fruits, vanilla bean spice, graphite and such delicious opulent aromatic lift. The palate is ultra opulent but also hugely concentrated and generous. Tannins are textural, grippy but sweet, acids ultra vibrant but then quietly melt away into the mouth watering blueberry fruit concentration. Young and precocious, the brûlée coffee bean espresso complexity really underlines the showy attractiveness of this wine. A definite crowd pleaser. Give it another year in bottle to assimilate the oak more seamlessly.
Well, it’s that time of year when we gather to bid farewell to fine wine friend Keith Prothero before he decamps to the Cape for the summer / UK Winter. I volunteered to organise the lunch finale with Bruce Poole, co-owner of Chez Bruce, Keith’s favourite restaurant in London and below is a little snap shot of the epic wines consumed. All wines were tasted blind before they were revealed.
First up, a vibrant, tantalising Clos des Goisses 1996 Champagne from Philipponnat with a fine leesy biscuit lift and a pronounced, creamy citrus note. Beautiful definition, purity, and a salty briney undertone that melts away into dusty lemon, buttered toast and a crisp, vibrant finish with great structure. A good bottle drinking at its peak. (96/100 GS)
The first flight of five whites started with an impressive Niepoort Coche White Blend 2011, briming with creamy peachy yellow fruits, lovely struck match reduction, ample minerality, woodsmoke, cassis leaf, wet slate, and wonderfully fine depth. I loved the tension and profound, subtle, buttery depth. Truly one of Portugal’s finest still white wines. Malcolm Thwaites, who has just recently visited Dirk Niepoort during harvest, actually called the wine amazingly! (95+/100 GS)
Next up, Keith’s Sandhi Sanford & Benedict 2011 Chardonnay. Initially smokey and seductive, with intense saline notes, lemon and lime cordial richness, huge concentration, this was a complete ringer for an old world Burgundian grand vin. Only after it had sat in the glass for a while, did it finally start to reveal some exotic new world fruit notes. A monumental effort from California and the ultimate ringer capable of fooling even the most talented tasters. (96/100 GS)
The Sandhi was followed by one of the truly great white wines of Burgundy, a superb bottle of J-F Coche Dury Meursault 2013. Wow, tasted blind, this was intensely taught, pin point, and precise showing lime, stoney liquid minerals, crushed limestone tension and focus. Very intense with seamless texture, regal mineral complexity, subtle passion fruit hints and great rigour on the finish. “Wines like this should challenge the senses, not entertain them!” was a very poignant comment from Nigel Platts Martin. (96/100 GS)
At these lunches, we always seem to open our “back up bottles” even when not required, and here again, my Didier Dagueneau Buisson Menard Pouilly Fume 1997 was added to the first flight. An interesting bottle, it had tasters scratching their heads endlessly as the wine unfurled in the glass. Plenty of white peach, passion fruit, pineapple and stoney minerality were in evidence. Beautifully exotic with a mercurial dry finish. “A bit of an upstart”… but certainly showed its class in my mind. (93/100 GS)
Just as we were about to move on to the reds, we were treated to another late addition and definite rarity. A fine bottle of Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2002. The initial nose was quite lactic, with hints of cottage cheese and cream, yet also full of oyster shell, fennel, pineapple and aniseed. There was a touch of wet dog to the wine combined with great minerality which led many of us to the Loire. But this was classic, elegant, fresh, super fine Grand Cru Chablis at its best and developed wonderfully in the glass. (94/100 GS)
The first three reds revealed a Rhoney theme but with a few twists. First up was Neal Martin’s amazing Jaboulet Cornas 1972 that showed a bouquet of rich brûlée oranges, savoury cured meats, and cherry confit. Rich and textural, this beautifully lifted wine sang a wonderful melody, and while mature, was thoroughly enchanting. So typical of the Northern Rhone, almost all at the table plumped for Hermitage or even perhaps a great vintage of Crozes-Hermitage. La Chapelle was even mentioned. But Cornas it was. I would have expected a little more blood and iron for a Cornas but perhaps the Jaboulet personality was shinning through more than the appellation’s terroir. A real treat. (93+/100 GS)
The wine that followed was younger and required a bit more thought. Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage a Jacques Perrin 2000. Very complex Mourvèdre dominated wine (60%) loaded with black berry and bramble fruits with saddle leather, cured meats, liquorice, tar and sweet earthy black fruit notes. Dense and concentrated, this was a delicious grand vin wine almost certainly drunk too young. Give this classic another decade at least. (96+/100 GS)
So we were well and truly treading a Rhone path, when the next red from Alex Lake had us all a bit fooled. A Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz 2002 was not to my memory picked out as New World by anyone. Smoky lifted nose with granite dust, aniseed root, and earthy black berries, this was a very compact, focused wine with plenty of tension, crisp acids, and a subtle, restrained, savoury boxwood and pepper corn spice finish. A very smart wine that along with the Mullineux reds, is one of the few new world Syrahs / Shirazes Keith openly admits to drinking! Nice to taste this wine again with more age, but still a long life ahead of it. (95/100 GS)
The next pair of reds charmed some more than others, but as a devout Italian fine wine lover, the next two reds had me weak at the knees, (or was that the previous 10 bottles?). An utterly sublime Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino 1999 was bursting with sweet cherry blossom perfume, savoury earthy notes, saddle leather and wet tobacco, gun smoke, and graphite. Plenty of energy, this really was a superb, seductive hedonistic red full of character. (96+/100 GS)
To partner the Soldera was another real rarity ~ a Valdicava Madonna Del Piano Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1990. Not a wine you come across very often anymore, this wine had all the archetypal power and prowess Valdicava’s Riserva’s are so famous for, except this one was finally giving an impression that despite being beautifully fresh and vital, it was approaching peek drinkability after 27 years! Dark and smoky, dense and dusty, it was quite saline, tight and precise, with pithy caramelised cherry fruits, grilled herbs, leather, graphite, aniseed and meaty savoury bramble berry depth. Very fine acids and also a touch of VA just to add more lift and complexity. The Riserva can be a hard wine to understand in its youth, or when James Suckling scores them 100 points, like with the 2010. But after tasting a maturing vintage like this, a lot of puzzle pieces fall into place. (96+/100 GS)
At this point, we were all amazed that no Burgundy or Bordeaux had featured in the flights yet! But the next wine broke the drought. A most majestic Chateau Cheval Blanc 1985 from St Emilion. This was a real treat and must be one of my favourite vintages of Cheval Blanc. Loaded with black berry fruits, gun powder, briary, and aniseed notes, it was also so vibrant, energetic and packed full of saline cassis, a touch of ink, leafy spice, sandalwood and buttered brown toast. Drinking in the perfect harmonious mid point between youth and maturity. For me, a top right bank Bordeaux ready to drink does not get much better than this. (98/100 GS)
The last red was possibly another late addition, hence it was not included in the Rhone flight. But in many ways, it received more deserving attention being served in isolation. A contender for wine of the lunch, the Les Cailloux Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvée Centenaire 1990 from Lucien & Andre Brunel was indeed profound. A solid 100 pointer on the Wine Advocate scale, Robert Parker once described this wine as one of the greatest vintages ever made at the estate. This bottle was deliciously saline, rich, intense and dense but never tipping over to heavy in anyway. Sleek, crystalline, and supremely elegantly textured, this wine is still so youthful, fresh and perfumed, showing its true class. A really profound wine. (98/100 GS)
To accompany a most delicious cheese dessert course, two sublime sweet wines were served. The iconic Mullineux Olerasay No.1 Chenin Blanc NV made from a Solera system. The word that encapsulates this wine is effortless harmony. It is neither too sweet nor too unctuous, merely finely balanced and beautifully intense. A lot of effort goes into making straw wines of this quality, and this blend deserves a big score if for no other reason, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Amazing wine. (98/100 GS)
Before we could cross our T’s and dot our I’s, we were treated to another profound dessert wine ~ the Reinhold Heart Ohligsberger 2010 Mosel Eiswein. After a long afternoon of intense, thought provoking fine wines, nothing could possibly refresh the senses better than a delicious, vibrant glass of rapier fresh Eiswein. Packed full of lemon and lime cordial notes, white peaches, and sweet yellow grapefruit, the acidity balanced the sugar brilliantly and was the perfect ending to a fascinating afternoon of fine wine and of course exceptional Michelin starred food.
Bon voyage Keith, I am sure most of us will still be talking about many of these wines by the time you return in 6 months time.
Fog Monster wines from Amador County, California (Sierra Foothills) is another boutique project from Andrea and Chris Mullineux of Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines. Andrea, originally from California, together with husband Chris, have been sourcing unique vineyard parcels in the Sierra Foothills, where the vineyards are exposed to interesting Californian climatic conditions.
In the case of coastal California, the offshore marine layer is typically propelled inland by a pressure gradient which develops as a result of intense heating inland, blanketing coastal communities in cooler air which, if saturated, also contains fog. The fog often lingers until the heat of the sun becomes strong enough to evaporate it, often lasting into the afternoon.
I have not tasted this wine for several years, even though I have several bottles hidden in my cellar, but today it stood out as a real revelation, brimming with characterful energy and freshness. Made from Chenin Blanc from the Story Vineyard (un-grafted rootstocks at 1900 feet), the wine is essentially esoteric in nature, but certainly delicious with broad appeal.
Fog Monster Chenin Blanc 2012, Amador County, California, 12 Abv.
Rich Sauternes yellow colour, the aromatics are initially tight and broody, showing pithy mineraly lemon zest and peach stone fruit. Complexity grows rapidly in the glass where apple puree, orange blossom, and dried Sauternes-like notes of orange peel and lemon / peach tea infusions develop. The mouthfeel is so cool, taught, and tight knit, bristling with wound spring tension and core freshness on a most seductive, textured, lengthy finish. Beautiful weight, fine balance and incredible precision. A really lovely natural leaning, minimal intervention wine.
Inspired after a visit to Bordeaux, Dan Duckhorn produced the first vintage of Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot in 1978. Highlighting Estate vineyards and top sites, their renowned Merlot reflects the diversity of the valley’s many appellations. Blended with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon to add a little extra depth, power and structure, this wine typifies high quality Merlot like only France, Tuscany and California can produce.
Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot 2013, 14.5 Abv.
This pretty 2013 Merlot displays a saturated red- purple plum colour matched by an expressive, opulent bouquet. There are lashings of sweet black cherries, blueberry, graphite, black plum and dusty, smokey cassis with a sprinkling of mocha choc spice and creamy vanilla pod spice. The palate too is lush and generous with a very finely structured, elegant texture and sleek powdery tannins. The flavours are creamy and intense, with bright piercing cherry acids, blueberry pie, creme de cassis concentration, and finishes with a beautifully tight knit elegance and focus. A serious expression for Duckhorn, for Merlot and for Napa Valley in a fantastic Californian vintage.
I first met the wonderful Kelley Fox around 3 years ago at the Real Wine Fair in London. After several years of buying and selling a plethora of great Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley, a spell of tasting disappointing Pinot Noirs from Oregon followed despite being such a committed convert after attending the Oregon Pinot Camp in 2009.
But my good friend Doug Wregg from wine importer Les Caves de Pyrenees showed me the way to the superb Kelley Fox Wines and once again, my faith in the finest potential of Oregon Pinot Noir was restored.
The Momtazi Vineyard is a fully Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyard in the McMinnville Foothills A.V.A. (American Viticultural Area), in Northern Oregon, planted in 1998 with 114 and 115 Pinot Noir clones.
The 2013 vintage in the Willamette Valley was a year of consistent warm, dry weather until late September, that is. After a relatively dry winter and early spring, bud break in the Willamette Valley overall was the earliest since 1992. Summer was consistently warm, but with none of the heat spikes over 37 deg C like in 2009, for example. Veraison in relevant blocks occurred around the end of August/early September. Then the rains came. Not just any rains but typhoon-like rains at the end of September. But picking still only occurred on the 7th of October in the Momtazi vineyard with fruit considered some of the best quality in years.
This is one Pinot Noir worth investing some time in. With a nose this expressive and pretty, there is no point rushing. Contemplation is required. The bouquet is seriously seductive and beguiling, revealing subtle perfumed cherry blossom, cherry confit, blood oranges, polished rosewood and ruby grapefruit complexity. But this wine possesses an extra dimension, an inner core of Pinot beauty that marries red and black forest berry fruits, dusty chalky minerality, subtle sappy notes and dreamy resinous oak spice. The palate is no less impressive, with such a fine knit texture, creamy finessed talcum powder tannins and an inseparable, integrated acidity balance. Layers of black spicy cherry fruits roll into pomegranate, juniper, red liquorice stick, bramble berry and sweet creamy musk. There is such a feminine, harmonious gentleness to this wine that surely has to be one of the finest Pinot Noirs produced in the Willamette Valley. A real treat. Drink now to 2025+.
Californian Pinot Noir can be good, sometimes very good. But affordable and good value, that’s more of an issue. Indeed, other than Burgundy and New Zealand, and the odd Aussie Victoria vintage, the cooler sites of Sonoma and Sonoma Coast are one of the few alternative regions capable of making some incredibly impressive and expressive Pinot Noir.
This beautiful Migration Pinot has been establishing itself over the past few vintages, as a very strong performer at a very reasonable, affordable price point for top Pinot (think £35-£38 per bottle).
Duckhorn’s Migration Russian River Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County, 14.5 Abv.
This has a classic Sonoma Russian River nose of earthy black berry, bramble berry fruits and a sappy, meaty, savoury, cooler climate spicy aromatic profile. In its youth, there is dusty choc mocha and plenty of oak spice. The palate is finely balanced showing creamy strawberry confit and raisined cherries. From a drought vintage, there is fine acid freshness but also massive fruit concentration and length. But unlike similar styled vintages, there is very little alcohol lift despite the 14.5 Abv. Full-bodied yet gorgeously pure and complex, this is a very fine effort from Duckhorn Wine Company. Drink now to 2025+.
There are a handful of iconic wineries in California that proudly tip their caps to the classical regions of Bordeaux. In this group I include Dominus, Inglenook, Ridge, Diamond Creek and of course Silver Oak.
Founded by Raymond Twomey Duncan and Justin Meyer in 1972, this estate focuses unashamedly on Cabernet Sauvignon, using select fruit from mostly their own vineyards and ageing the wines in American oak barrels made in their own cooperage in Missouri. These are wines I love tasting, love cellaring and love drinking with some age.
In March 2017 I finally visited Silver Oak’s impressive Napa Valley winery allowing me to tick off a long standing wish on my winery bucket list! Yesterday, at the wonderful Golden State Tasting in London, I got another close look at the entire range and tasted the new releases with Export Director Vivian Gay, before enjoying a couple of older bottles with Vivian at dinner.
If you love great Bordeaux from ripe years like 2009 or 2010, these are wines that you need to discover and put in your cellar!
Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012, 14.4 Abv
From another “exceptional vintage” in California, this 2012 red is the product of a fine, moderate growing season featuring only one day above 37 degrees celsius from May through to the end of Sept. A classical blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, this is another block buster from Napa Valley. There are lifted aromatics of spicy plum, black cherry, black current leaf, sage and exotic nutmeg and sandlewood notes. The palate is well structured as you’d expect from the Napa Valley Cuvee, showing compact black berry fruit, vanilla pod spice, a sweet silky creamy texture and salty black cherry and cassis with a sprinkle of savoury hoisin sauce complexity. This is an imposing, dense, concentrated wine that demands your attention. The finish is classical, polished and long with cedar, vanilla, and sappy black current leaf on the finish … that goes on and on. Cellar this beauty for 8 to 10 years to acquire more tertiary complexity or enjoy now with a nice steak.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Here are a few of my favourite pictures taken during and after my trip to Napa Valley and Sonoma in March 2017.