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

Australian Chardonnay Punching Above Its Weight – Tasting Penfolds Yattarna From Adelaide Hills…

Just a few days after the Great Chardonnay Blind Challenge, I was fortuitously served this delicious Aussie Chardonnay with Sunday lunch at my father-in-law. While the same vintage would set you back circa £75 per bottle if purchased now, the quality was very impressive and reinforced the high octane performance of the three Australian contenders entered into the blind Chardonnay challenge.

For me the whole selection process has been an enlightening revelation confirming the true pedigree of top Australian Chardonnays from regions like the Adelaide Hills, Beechworth, Mornington Peninsula and Margaret River. Can South Africa compete with these top Aussie expressions? Hmmm…. I think I feel another Australia versus South Africa blind tasting coming on!!

Penfolds Yattarna Bin 144 Chardonnay 2003, Adelaide Hills, Australia, 13.5 Abv.

A bright, clear medium straw yellow, this 15 year old Chardonnay is in fabulous condition bearing in mind it’s from a fairly warm climate. But Adelaide Hills often manages to conjure up tantalising expressions with fine acidity and great age-worthiness. This wine is bold and luscious with a complex nose of buttered white toast spread with yellow grapefruit preserve, lemon peel and hints of honey and a kiss of butterscotch. But you’d be foolish to think the aromatics are just fruit and oak driven as pronounced notes of wet slate and gravel minerality emerge as the wine sits in the glass. The palate has a fine dense texture with an underlying freshness and vibrancy that makes this wine feel more like 5 years old than 15. The sweet lemon verbena and pithy yellow citrus fruits are concentrated and intense, lingering on the finish and draw you back for one sip after another. A really lovely wine that would not be mistaken for Burgundy but that is almost certainly drinking better than most 2003 white Burgundies. Drink now to 2026+

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

The Great Blind Chardonnay Challenge 2018 – New World Chardonnay Giving Burgundy a Run For Its Money…

Chardonnay is often called the chameleon of grape varieties, adapting itself to its environment and terroir with impressive ease. Yet for almost all Chardonnay producers around the globe white Burgundy Chardonnay remains the zenith of quality and expression for this variety and understandably so when the region boasts iconic appellations like Chevalier Montrachet and Le Montrachet Grand Cru.

But there is only one problem, well, actually a couple of problems. The first and most obvious one is that Burgundy is a small region in reality and production is greatly outstripped by global demand, hence pushing prices of fairly basic quality wines to astronomical levels. Then, just to rub salt in the consumer’s purchasing wounds, Burgundy has been afflicted, and many argue still is, by the dreaded pox… or premature oxidation (premox).

In the context of this senario, the concept of the Great Blind Chardonnay Challenge was born between obsessive UK based oenophiles Keith Prothero and Paul Day. The idea was simple… Keith Prothero would pitch 10 of the world’s best New World Chardonnays against 10 of Burgundies finest with no price limit set for either camp but with wines being drawn from recent vintages, mostly post-2011, and all commercially available in the UK.

Neal Martin from Vinous assessing the selection of Chardonnays

The assertion was obviously that prices of Burgundy bare no relation to their quality and that the New World has more than enough well priced prime talent to challenge for Burgundy’s unassailable crown. So in effect, consumers were being hood winked and almost ‘conned’ into buying labels and names, not wine quality from Burgundy… ‘drinking the label’ as it’s called in the trade.

Amazing service and excellent food at 1 Michelin Star Restaurant La Trompette in Chiswick, London.

After multiple blind selection tastings by both camps, 20 wines were chosen, served and assessed blind over dinner to 12 tasters made up of experienced Burgundy collectors and several trade professionals, who would be asked to rank the wines by quality and then submit their top 5 before the reveal. As a side show, tasters would be asked to list the blind wines as New World or Old World. Wines were served by the sommelier in two random blind flights of 10 with no group discussion permitted during tasting or before result were collected.

The grand reveal!

Fine Wine Safari Chardonnay Tasting Results for Wines Tasted Blind:

1 Kumeu River Mates Vineyard 2014, NZ

NW – 96/100 ✔️

2 Coche-Dury Meursault Les Rougeots 2009

OW – 94/100 ✔️

3 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard 2012, USA

NW – 96/100 ✔️

4 Dom. Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet 2014

OW – 94+/100 ✔️

5 Sorrenberg Beechworth 2016, Aus

NW – 92+/100 ✔️

6 Le Montrachet 2012 Fontaine Gagnard

OW – 93/100 ✔️

7 Neudorf Moutere 2014, NZ

OW – 96/100 (NW✖️)

8 A Ente Meursault Clos des Ambres 2014

OW – 94+/100 ✔️

9 Sandhi Sanford & Benedict 2011, USA

NW – 95/100 ✔️

10 Giaconda Beechworth 2015, Aus

NW – 93/100 ✔️

11 Morgen Long Willamette Valley 2015, USA

NW – 92/100 ✔️

12 Arnaud Ente Meursault 2014

OW – 94+/100 ✔️

13 Flametree Margaret River 2016, Aus

NW – 93+/100 ✔️

14 Bernard Moreau Batard Montrachet 2013

NW – 95+/100 (OW✖️)

15 Tissot Arbois Les Clos 2015, Jura

NW – 92+/100 (OW✖️)

16 Le Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 2011

OW – 93+/100 ✔️

17 Littorai BA Thieriot Vineyard 2014, USA

OW – 95/100 (NW✖️)

18 Jules Desjourneys Pouilly Fuisse 2014

OW – 94/100 ✔️

19 Brokenwood Indigo Vineyard 2016, Aus

OW – 94/100 (NW✖️)

20 Le Montrachet 2014 Marc Colin et Fils

OW – 94+/100 ✔️

My Top Five Wines: (Re-tasted for final order where scores were tied)

1 Kumeu River Mates Vineyard 2014 – 96

2 Rhys Horseshoe Vineyard 2012 – 96

3 Neudorf Moutere 2014 – 96

4 B Moreau Batard Montrachet 2013 – 95+

5 Sandhi Sanford & Benedict 2011 – 95

The Group’s Top 5 Wines:

1 Dom. Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet 2014

2 A Ente Meursault Clos des Ambres 2014

3 Kumeu River Mates Vineyard 2014

4 Neudorf Moutere 2014

5 Sandhi Sanford & Benedict 2011

Conclusions and Observations?

So all in all a fantastic tasting, with 3 out of the top 5 wines from the New World illustrating how good some New World Chardonnay can be and how difficult it is for seasoned professionals to tell the two styles apart. I for one was pleased to pick a worthy 15/20 correctly in the New World versus Old World stakes. It would have been 16/20 if I didn’t try and second guess the Tissot as a natural-style Chardonnay from the New World, very similar in style to a wine tasted in one of our preliminary selection blind tastings. Also, the Jura is not technically Burgundy but we will overlook that point.

There was also an impressively high Top 5 consistency for the whole group, with my personal selection including 3 of the 5 winners. Hats off to the Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet 2014 for taking the overall top honours, but then again at around £650 per bottle, you would expect a wine of this price to perform. Impressively, all the New World wines in the Top 5 were sub-£55 per bottle, confirming that there is still some great value and quality out on the market.

The Burghounds at the tasting were very gracious and humble with the surprise results. Many openly admitted their complete surprise and that maybe they should look at drinking more premium New World Chardonnay in the future. This was a fun exercise held in good humour, among friends, but also at great expense. So certainly a big thank you is due to Keith Prothero and Paul Day for their exceptional vinous generosity.

Chardonnay Specialist Producer Ramey Cellars Introduces Their Stunning New Russian River Valley ‘Rochioli Vineyard’ Chardonnay to the Range…

There is Chardonnay and then there’s Ramey Chardonnay! After Ramey Cellars decided not to renew one of their single vineyard grower contracts, the Rochioli Vineyard was chosen to bolster their prestigious single vineyard portfolio of premium Ramey Chardonnays.

Due for release in the USA in August 2018, the 2015 Chardonnay Rochioli Blend was 85% from Mid-40 Block, clones 4 (planted 1995), and 76 (planted 1995 & 1998), with the remaining 15% being a combination of River block (clone 5 planted in 1989) and Allen Vineyard (clone 76 planted in 2001 and 2005), which the Rochioli family have farmed for many years. The soils here are Yolo sandy loam and overwash, derived from sedimentary formations in an alluvial fan.

Winter 2015 was the warmest on record, resulting in early bud break. Cooler, wetter weather in Spring months slowed development leading to a challenging extended bloom period. The resulting uneven fruit set translated into a small crop with small berries with very concentrated flavours, harvested on the 22nd to 24th August at 23.1 brix.

Ramey utilised whole cluster pressing, native yeast fermentation and full malolactic fermentation in barrel with sur lies batonnage. After 20 months in 23% new French Francois Frères barrels, this wine was lightly fined and settled in tank before bottling without filtration. Only 747 cases were produced.

Ramey Rochioli Vineyard 2015, Russian River Valley, California

Like the best Ramey wines, this Chardonnay combines delicious lemon citrus aromatics, subtle toasty oak and suductive minerality in a most complete package. Plenty of Burgundian influence, intensity and concentration make for a very, very fine Chardonnay and definitely an inspired addition to the iconic Ramey range. But I guess when you make wines as premium as the Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay, any decision to add a new vineyard to the range is going to be based on supreme quality potential. This wine has such depth, bristling lemony / limey acids and a long, long finish with just the most subtle kiss of butterscotch oak. Wow, I’m bowled over by this profound, delicious beauty. Drink from release until 2035+.

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

The Finest Chardonnay in Chile – Tasting the Profound Errazuriz Las Pizarras From Aconcagua Costa…

Chardonnay is a very tricky varietal category. In order to make a wine that will impress, it has to be capable of holding its own against the finest French examples from Burgundy and further afield like Limoux, the Jura and the Bouches du Rhone / Alpilles (think Trevallon Blanc).

But recently, I got the opportunity to taste not only the current release Las Pizarras 2015 Chardonnay, but also the fab 2016 and the future release 2017. As a Chardonnay / white Burgundy aficionado, I would be the first to express my scepticism at the claims that Chilean Chardonnay can be great or even profound. But tasting the Las Pizarras expression from Errazuriz really blew my mind and reset my regional compass for the potential of this varietal.

Errazuriz Las Pizarras Chardonnay 2017, Aconcagua Costa, Chile

Wonderfully vibrant, taut and youthful with an incredible spring in its step, this wine is still embryonic but so expressive, focused and intense. Showing white citrus, green apple and honeydew melon exuberance but with a broody, schisty minerality lurking not far beneath. From a cooler vintage, this 2017 shows piercing acidity, incredible vibrancy and a pristine focus. A rasping dry mineral finish, this is a truly world class Chardonnay unlike anything made in Chile previously. A real eye opener. Drink from 2022 to 2035+

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

Creating A Vinous Stir – Tasting the Impressive New Vintage Releases at Creation Winery…

I recently visited JC Martin and his new right hand man, Gerhard Smith (ex-La Vierge) at their beautiful Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge winery Creation. This was my first, long overdue visit to the winery to taste their current release wines as well as some exciting upcoming new vintages from 2017.

Originally from Switzerland, JC together with his South African wife Carolyn (nee Finlayson), bought their original 22 hectares of virgin land in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and completed their cellar in time for their 2007 harvest. Their Walker Bay estate now encompasses 50 hectares planted with over 11 varieties, but focusing mainly on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Creation is now one of the most successful wineries in the Hemel-en-Aarde / Walker Bay region welcoming over 80,000 visitors per year. A very slick operation with a wonderful restaurant and fabulous wines to match, this winery is now regarded as an absolute “must visit” destination if you are visiting the Cape.

Creation Cool-Climate Chenin Blanc 2017, 14 Abv.

Beautiful floral fragrance, real eloquent lift packed with peaches, white orchard fruits, and pear fruit with real purity and clarity, only using old oak for maturation. Sleek palate, cool fruited, plenty of pithy minerality, honey suckle and a very long, concentrated but subtle length. Very individual style.

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

Creation Viognier 2017, 14 Abv.

Beautiful fragrance, blossom and perfume lift. Musk, dusty talc, peach stone fruits and just a touch of pineapple pastille and honeysuckle. Intense, pithy, peppery yellow orchard fruits, and a crushed gravel minerality. Really expressive cooler climate Condrieu old world style.

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

Chardonnay Flight

Creation Chardonnay 2017, 13.5 Abv.

20% new oak used. Rich opulent expressive nose with lemon bon bons, rich lemon pastille fruits and a youthful kiss of butterscotch. Plenty of core concentration, lemon and white citrus power, green apple and a long expressive length. Really classy effort for 25,000 bottle production.

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

Creation Chardonnay Reserve 2017, 13.5 Abv.

40 % new used. Wonderfully tight, closed and restrained nose with a pronounced stony mineral grey slate depth, lemon rind, limestone, lemon grass and a very precise oak spice lift. The palate shows incredible elegance, finesse and a taut mineral mouthfeel. Very classy and old world in essence.

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

Creation Art of Chardonnay 2016, 13.5 Abv.

50-55% new oak used. Richer, more expressive opulent nose than the younger 2017. Lemon confit, honeysuckle, white peach and pithy yellow stone fruits radiate from the glass. Very plush and complex, this wine exudes class with a very fine use of oak supporting intense concentration and a delicious, mouthwatering acidity that is finely integrated and harmonious. Big but supremely classy.

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

Creation Art of Chardonnay 2017, 13.5 Abv.

Using around 40% new oak, the integration is impressively fine and understated. The aromatics scream of white citrus, green apple pastille fruits, lemon-lime marmalade, pithy wood spice and a delicious exotic Madagascar vanilla pod kiss. Big intense concentration, massive density and structure, the mouth coating breath and depth of the fruit is really something to behold.

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

Pinot Noir Flight

Creation Pinot Noir 2017, 14 Abv.

Wow, beautifully elegant lifted fragrance with such expressive purity and precision. This wine captures the upward quality movement that underpins the entire Creation range, white and red. This wine has Cotes de Beaune written all over it. Lush red berry fruits, bramble berry, sour cherry skins, red plum and a hint of pomegranate. Lovely tart, pithy acids underpin spicy, red and black cherry fruits, cranberry and crunchy almost-ripe strawberries. Mineral grippy tannins, superb overall purity and afine intense finish.

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

Creation Pinot Noir Reserve 2016, 13.5 Abv.

Opulent, rich cherry kirsch liquor nose, massive intensity with a deft touch of subtle wood spice. Definite notes of sappy, whole bunch character are quite pronounced adding real nuance and complexity. The palate is cool, dense and lush with fleshy, blood orange, pithy red cherry, graphite spice and a long earthy forest berry fruit tartness and pithy spice. Tannins are mineral and expansive suggesting you bury this wine in the cellar for 3 to 5 years before drinking.

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

Creation Art of Pinot Noir 2016, 14 Abv.

An impressively complex wine showing great opulence, concentration and depth. The aromatics speak of sun raisined cranberry, red plum, ripe strawberry and sappy red bramble berry fruits. Texturally deep and very expressive, plush and powerful packing a delicious, intense acid – fruit punch. An attractive level of earthy red fruit, blood orange nuances combining with a concentrated frais des boisses finish.

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

Creation E17 2017 (Emma’s Pinot Noir)

Two barrels selected. Spicy, peppery, dark and broody with massive black cherry, dark savoury depth layered with minerality and graphite nuances. Cool, taut, structured and focused, with intensity and forest fruit focus. Finish reveals subtlety, elegance and understated power.

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

Creation Art of Pinot Noir 2017 (Barrel Sample)

30% Whole bunch with a 5 to 6 day cold soak in tank pre-fermentation. Another dark broody exotic nose that’s tight and intense. But the flavour profile differs from the norm with enticing layers of saline cassis, sea breeze, root veg earthiness, black cherry and a complexing hint of reduction. Texturally, the palate is dense, elegant and wonderfully salty with beguiling maritime flavours, black currant, powdery tannins and fresh, framing acids. Very impressive effort. Definitely a super luxury wine release to watch out for.

(Wine Safari Score: 94-95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Gerhard Smith Die Kat Se Snor Pinot Noir 2015, 14 Abv. (The Cat’s Whiskers)

Technically Overberg fruit, this is Gerhard Smith’s own new(ish) project, the 2015 being the second release. Two weeks fermentation on skins, soft press to old barrels, 20% whole bunch used. Lovely spicy intensity and red bramble berry fruits, subtle sweet leafy intensity and an earthy, foresty depth. Fleshy, deep and spicy with fine graphite tannin depth. Drink now.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

JC Martin’s new right hand man… accomplished winemaker Gerhard Smith (ex-La Vierge)

Gerhard Smith Die Kat Se Snor Pinot Noir 2017, +-13.5 Abv.

3 weeks on skins post ferment, 100% whole bunch fruit. Expressive aromatics of crunchy red berry, peppermint crisp, sweet leaf and sappy, resinous black berry. Cool, creamy, earthy fleshy depth, polished tannins, and really accessible already. A very characterful wine with a minimal intervention leaning.

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

Some Additional Wines Opened:

(But reviewed with more brief notes)

Creation Sumac Grenache 2016, 14.5 Abv.

Vibrant, rich, elegant and fresh, with a delicious cherry cranberry twist!

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

Creation Syrah-Grenache 2016, 14.5 Abv.

80/20 blend. Luscious cinnamon and spice melange, fleshy cool black fruits, sweet tannins and a fine plummy, black cherry depth.

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

Creation Syrah 2017 (Barrel Sample)

Wild yeast, 40% whole bunch ferment. Peppery black liquorice spice with saline cassis, black cherry and piquant, grippy oak spice. Delicious purity, fine maritime salinity, and lovely depth. This is quite serious and could be very impressive on release.

(Wine Safari Score: 92-94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Creation Fine Cape Vintage Syrah 2016, 17.5 Abv.

Made in a Port style and fortified with KWV 10 Year Old Brandy spirit. Sweet kirsch liquor and vibrant depth, fresh, sun dried raspberries, black cherry and superb savoury sweet length. Super pure, supremely mouthwatering and impressive depth. One of the best of this style I’ve tasted for some time. The perfect digestive?

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

Masters of Their Terroir – Tasting the Domaine Jean-Claude Ramonet Pernand-Vergelesses Les Belles Filles 2014…

Jean-Claude and Noël Ramonet are at the head of Domaine Ramonet, the iconic Burgundy producer that delivers exceptional quality wines year in, year out, with international demand insatiable. From lowly Aligote all the way up to Montrachet Grand Cru, the wines always show intense terroir minerality, a measure of restraint and a mouth watering, salty fresh acidity.

Produced in the commune of Pernand-Vergelesses in Cote de Beaune, where red and white wine styles are both permitted, the appellation production consists of a little more than half red wine, and slightly less than half white wine. In 2008, there were 135.32 hectares of vineyard surface in production in total for Pernand-Vergelesses wine at Village and Premier Cru level, corresponding to around 750,000 bottles, including almost 400,000 bottles of red wine and a little over 350,000 bottles of white wine.

In keeping with the exceptionally high quality standards of Domaine Ramonet, they too produce one of the most exceptional Pernand-Vergelesses whites from one of the most famous village level “lieu-dits” single vineyard sites, Les Belles Filles. In the great 2014 vintage, they made an absolute cracker of a wine that was able to rival the best Premier Crus sites for quality. Always sought after, these wines can and often do represent exceptional value for money when seen on restaurant or wine bar lists.

Domaine Jean-Claude Ramonet Pernand-Vergelesses Les Belles Filles 2014, Burgundy, 13 Abv.

The 2014 Les Belles Filles starts off tight, taut and as linear as physically possible. Liquid rocks, limestone and dusty wet slate notes dominate the aromatics. A few minutes in the glass allows this wine to open its shoulders slightly, revealing a more complex array of white citrus zest, white blossom, crunchy green pears and a hint of hazelnut savoury spice. Although so youthful and tightly wound, you can already feel the wonderful textural weight that coats the palate and unfurls slowly in alternate layers of minerality and tart, saline pithy citrus fruits. Superbly focused and wonderfully precise for this ‘lesser’ Burgundy appellation wine, the finish packs plenty of punch with more liquid minerality, smokey struck match flinty citrus spice and a cool, clean waxy lemon cordial length. A wine that is initially very reticent, blossoms into a lean, complex, well honed, superbly made white Burgundy with fine nuanced complexity and good ageing potential. Drink from 2020 to 2030+.

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