Ridge Vineyards Prepares For An Iconic Monte Bello Chardonnay 2016 Release…

Ridge produced its first Chardonnay in 1962 from mature vines planted in the late 1940s on the Monte Bello estate vineyard. Production has never exceeded ten barrels, and Monte Bello Chardonnay was sold principally at the winery cellar door. Several great vintages, among them the 1973, ‘74, ‘79, and ‘84, showed that the cool climate and fractured limestone sub-soils were well suited to this varietal.

By 1985, the old vines were producing less then a half-ton per acre and were pulled out. The younger vines, planted in the 1970s, provide the majority of grapes today. Initially these newer plantings were on the “lower” vineyard, not yet farmed as part of the Monte Bello estate, so the wine was called “Santa Cruz Mountains” but these vines have long since been included in Monte Bello. Since 2009 the wine has been designated Ridge Estate Chardonnay. In years when differences among the multiple lots are sufficient to warrant a separate bottling, Ridge produce a limited amount of Monte Bello Chardonnay as well.

From a superb vintage, the Ridge Estate Chardonnay 2016, now sold out ex-cellar, garnered some massive scores from US wine critics on release further helping to build the expectations for the premium Monte Bello Chardonnay 2016, due for release in August/September 2019.

Tasting with Eric Baugher from Ridge Vineyards in London.

Winter 2015/16 was long and cold and for a second year, crop size was reduced by Spring rains at bloom. Cool weather in August slowed ripening and stretched the Chardonnay harvest out to mid-September 2016.

Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Chardonnay 2016, Santa Cruz Mountains, 14.4 Abv.

Deadly serious expression of Chardonnay from this famed vineyard. Nose is ultra complex and mineral with smokey yellow citrus fruits, hints of struck match reduction and a alluring yellow grapefruit and pear purée note. The palate shows such wonderful balance and harmony, piercing white citrus pastille fruit intensity, crushed limestone minerality and pithy lemon grass spice leading to the most memorable, seductive fresh finish punctuated with delicious saline nuances. Another profound Burgundian Chardonnay expression from Ridge Vineyards that is unquestionably a drop dead gorgeous wine to rival any Grand Cru white from the Cote d’Or.

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

Ramey Wine Cellars & Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Masterclass with David Ramey and Jim Clendenen…

As one of the most important quality white wine categories globally, Chardonnay can also be one of the most controversial and divisive varieties for a multitude of reasons. From topics like Premox in White Burgundy to prices of White Burgundy, to whether anyone other than the Chablisienne should even contemplate trying to produce premium unoaked Chardonnay or not, much of the dialogue seems to pivot on the divide between what Burgundy and France produces and then what everyone else does.

But what the big New World versus Burgundy Blind Chardonnay Challenge taste off revealed… (link below)

https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2018/06/18/the-great-blind-chardonnay-challenge-2018-new-world-chardonnay-giving-burgundy-a-run-for-its-money/

… was that some New World countries are certainly producing some incredibly profound premium quality Chardonnay in styles that can easily challenge the greats of the Côte d’Or. Among the best of these are probably New Zealand, Australia and of course California (with South Africa still narrowly off the pace of the top runners but improving incredibly quickly).

The evolution in Californian Chardonnay has certainly been profound with top quality producers favouring freshness, elegance, focus, acidity and structure over stereotypical aspects of fruit sweetness, heavy oak and higher alcohols. Certainly none of the later traits were present when Californian wine legends David Ramey and Jim Clendenen rolled into London to present a joint Chardonnay masterclass with a selection of their older vintages.

Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay Flight:

Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, 14.5 Abv.

Around 30% new oak, crystalline and bright fruited showing piercing lemon cordial, yellow grapefruit zest and pineapple pastille with the most subtle, integrated kiss of vanilla oak spice. Lush and concentrated, this beauty show piercing lemon confit intensity, wonderful breadth and power but packed with the most delicious harmony and complexity. Very impressive.

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

Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, 14.5 Abv.

Lovely Burgundian nose of pithy limestone, wet chalk, pineapple pastille, lemon rock candy and creamy butterscotch. Lovely fleshy weight, super relaxed balance texture, green apple zip, vanilla pod spice and finely punctuated with bright lemony acids and flinty, chalky mineral frame. A very attractive proposition at the moment, but no rush.

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

Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2007, 14.5 Abv.

From a cooler, leaner, pithy vintage, this archive release is a tantalising wine that offers hints of tertiary honied complexity but also retains youthful lemon and lime pithy freshness. Lovey lemon cordial, lemon crumble, buttered pastries sprinkled with grapefruit marmalade. Intense core structure, vibrant acids, smokey pithy oak spice and a delicious greengage, smoky truffle tinged finish. Really profound and a consistently very solid performer.

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

David Ramey in full flow…

Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2005, 14.5 Abv.

About 2/3rd aged in new oak, after sitting in the glass for over 30 minutes, this 2005 remains aromatically restrained, positively shy. A few rigorous swirls coax out notes of lemon confit, shiitake mushrooms, earthy bruised yellow orchard fruits and dusty, chalky mineral pithy yellow grapefruit. Full, intense and mouth coating, there is wonderful concentration that is accentuated by softer acids, a fleshy glycerol texture and spicy vanilla pod limestone mineral finish. Very harmonious offering drinking impressively now.

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

Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Flight:

Au Bon Climate Bien Nacido Hillside Chardonnay 2015, 13.5 Abv.

Youthful opulence with some exuberance but still aromatically primary revealing green apple, banana bon bons, yellow rock candy, quince and green pear purée. The palate is more Burgundian with the most delicious lemon cordial, apple sweets, honeydew melon and subtle creamy oak spice. This is a baby that will benefit from at least another 2 years in the cellar to open its shoulders.

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

Au Bon Climate Bien Nacido Hillside Chardonnay 2010, 13.5 Abv.

Super tight, mineral and restrained, this is a surprisingly mineral, taut effort that plays its cards very close to its chest. Hints of green lime peel, limestone and wet chalk follow to an incredible tart, fresh, limey pastille and lemon cordial palate brimming with energy, vibrancy, concentration and character. Incredibly youthful, this is a real eye-opener. Wow!

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

Au Bon Climate Bien Nacido Hillside Chardonnay 2007, 13.5 Abv.

Complex nose of old lemons, bruised yellow orchard fruits and honied apple purée. Very savoury, more evolved with an oxidative complexity, honied lemons, butterscotch, toffee apple and sweet lemon cordial. Oxidative lift starts to blow off leaving a beautifully nuanced food friendly expression.

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

Au Bon Climate Bien Nacido Hillside Chardonnay 2005, 13.5 Abv.

Super complex expression, with lovely waxy apple purée, wet chalk, sour plum, wet chalk, greengage, and lovely honied green citrus. Plenty of flinty, earthy complexity, wonderfully fleshy and full, great palate breadth, finishing with real punch and intensity, concentration and depth. Lovely food wine.

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

Ramey Wine Cellars and Au Bon Climat are distributed to trade in the UK by Fields, Morris & Verdin.

It’s Evolution Versus Revolution at Tesselaarsdal – Tasting the Third Release of their Elegant Pinot Noir…

The brand that is Tesselaarsdal was established in 2015 by long time employee Berene Sauls who started at Hamilton Russell as an au pair originally. With higher vinous aspirations and then valiant  support financially and emotionally from Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell, Berene was cast adrift to fend for herself in the wide world of fine wine after her first release in 2015. Proudly, one of my claims to fame is that I was the first to taste the maiden release 2015 in January 2016 at breakfast, as you do in the trade, at Hamilton Russell when I was invited over to be the panel chair and guest speaker for the Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir Celebration 2016.

As delicious as it was, the 2015 now starts to pale into insignificance along side newer releases like the 2017 and 2018 vintages. With the 2018 about to land in the UK, I took an opportunity to reacquaint myself with the 2017 that has had a nice amount of time to settle in storage.

Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir 2017, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5 Abv.

A winemaking collaboration hand in hand with Emul Ross, the winemaker at Hamilton Russell, Tesselaarsdal 2017 is made from fruit 100% sourced from a vineyard leased from La Vierge in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge from totally unirrigated vineyards. A style of wine that always shows a little bit of sulky reduction early in its evolution, the 2017 seems to have blow most of this off and now starts to up the ante with notes of wild fraises de bois, red bramble berry fruits, freshly cut hedgerow and an interesting melange of sappy red berry fruits, limestone minerality and dried herb spice. On the palate there is a real luminescent brightness, crisp freshness, salinity, and purity of crunchy red berry fruits. Tannins are soft and supple, very elegant as you would expect from the sultry 2017 vintage in Hemel-en-Aarde making the wine very friendly, accessible and opulent already. Ultimately, what I love about this wine is its completeness, its textural harmony, its fruit intensity and of course its saline bite. Only the third vintage, this remains one of my favourite Pinot Noirs produced in South Africa.

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

Brunia Pinot Noir From Cold Mountain Vineyards – A New Side Project from Wade Sander…

Wade Sander is the assistant winemaker at the Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines cellar in Franschhoek. That snippet you might know. But what you probably didn’t know is that he makes a very accomplished Pinot Noir on the side.

In 2017, only 960 bottles were produced from nine year old vines. The wine was then aged 10 months in 228 litre old French oak barrels. The results are impressive for this ‘heart-break variety.’

Cold Mountain Vineyards Brunia Pinot Noir 2017, WO Sondagskloof, 13.5 Abv.

This is definitely a cool, light touch Pinot Noir with a bright, lively cherry ruby red colour. The aromatics are perfumed, lifted and refined showing notes of violets, fresh raspberries, red currant, red cherry combined with a complexing sappy spice. The palate too is equally clean, pure and refined and displays a taught, sappy resinous red cherry and red bramble berry intensity with subtle oak spice notes. There is a lightness and elegance to the texture but also a noticeable core of wound spring tension. This is an eminently classy delicious expression without being profoundly complex in its youth. Effortless to drink, this wine is another fine addition to the ongoing and developing tapestry of Pinot Noir in the new South Africa. Drink now and over the next 10+ years.

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

Tasting Hamilton Russell’s 2018 Releases – A Small Concentrated Vintage of Distinguished Power and Depth…

I recently caught up with my favourite Hemel-en-Aarde couple Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell in London while en route to Prowein. I always love tasting their new releases because you can rest assured that the quality of both their iconic Chardonnay and their Pinot Noir will be pushed higher every year, vintage permitting, as maestro winemaker Emul Ross spins his magic and learns to harness something extra from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley terroir of the winery.

According to Anthony, the 2017 releases were stylistically considered a very elegant vintage and the subsequent 2018s a very low yielding year primarily due to damaging winds at flowering. But they managed to achieve an impressive fruit intensity at low alcohols using their own propagated Hamilton Russell yeasts developed after 1993. The Chardonnay 2018 was bottled in late December 2018.

Tasting the new 2018 releases with Anthony Hamilton Russell and Steven Spurrier.

The Pinot Noir 2018 release shows a tantalising melange of dark Gevrey Chambertin styled fruit with the structural richness of the 2016 combined with the Chambolle Musigny elegance and purity of the Hamilton Russell 2017. But apparently the 2018 wine continues to divide local opinion. The wine was bottled in late January 2019 unfined and with only the very coarsest of filtration.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.2 Abv.

Chatting to Anthony before tasting the 2018, he warned there might still be a hint of reduction on this young white wine. But to be honest, I found it very fresh, pure and delightfully fragrant, though perhaps aromatically a little more restrained and mineral at the moment, showing more yellow citrus, lemon pastille and wet chalk rather than struck match reduction. There is still a very subtle juvenile lick of salted caramel and vanilla spice from the oak barrel ageing, but on the palate, this is where the real pedigree of this wine is revealed. An ultra tight, pinpoint textural finesse, plenty of core energy and a classically restrained Burgundian dry lemon and limestone finish. Wonderfully intense and focused but simultaneously a suave and supremely balanced Chardonnay from the Walker Bay. Give this wine another 6 months in bottle after release and then indulge at will.

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

Enjoying some fine red and white Burgundy with Olive and Anthony while exploring the nuances of the 2018 vintage in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.4 Abv.

Every new release reveals a vintage of Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir that is again purer, finer and more distinguished than the previous vintage. The 2018 is no exception showing a broody dark fruited nose with lashings of black cherry, black currant and salted black plums. At this young stage, the oak is incredibly well integrated allowing both the purity of black berry fruit and the limestone minerality to really shine through. On the palate, alluring hints of blueberry and mulberry dance a tightly choreographed routine supported by a well drilled accompaniment of mineral tannins finishing with a long, sappy, black bramble berry finish. This must surely rank as one of the finest young Pinot Noirs produced at the winery to date. Drink from 2020 until 2035+

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

A wine that divides opinion? Well, if the 2016 Pinot Noir can be considered more structured and Gevrey in style, the 2017s certainly earned an instant following with their feminine Chambolle styled elegance. For me, the 2018 Pinot is a dead ringer for a 1er Cru Nuits St Georges displaying depth and power, concentration and intensity of fruit with an artisanal workman-like Pinot Noir rusticity showing it’s hand. Classicists will be bowled over, novices might initially be slightly more challenged. Either way, the 2018 represents one of the highest quality “new era” Pinot Noir releases from the winery yet.

Tasting Domaine de la Romanee Conti 2016 New Releases – An Excellent Vintage Born of Tumult and Despair…

After the success of the 2015 vintage at Domaine de la Romanee Conti which Aubert de Villaine described as one of the three most successful vintages ever at the domaine, the wines from 2016 had a seemingly impossible act to follow. In the end, some incredibly beautiful wines were produced … “an unexpected success, which now places 2016 amongst the most perfect vintages of these past few years.” ~ Aubert de Villaine.

While the excellent 2015s were born out of a superb vintage and growing season, the 2016s were the prodigy of a tumultuous season, born out of tumult and even despair at great cost. The winter of 2015-2016 was very mild with none of the usual frosts or snow to cleanse the vineyards of latent pests and diseases. Budburst was early in April and the Spring was also the wettest on record with 516mm (20.31 inches) of rain between January and May making for a very busy time in the vineyard for the Chef de Culture Nicolas Jacob.

A momentary cessation of the dreary weather at the end of April was a false dawn with three days of savage frosts descending upon the vineyards of Montrachet, Batard Montrachet, Echezeaux and Grands Echezeaux, burning off virtually all the young shoots. The remaining vineyards in the DRC holdings were miraculously almost untouched yielding an average crop load of exceptional quality. Readings of anthocyanins and tannins taken around the 18th September were superior to even those in 2015. Harvesting started on the hill of Corton on the 23rd September.

Corton Grand Cru 2016

With an average vine age of 46, the three 2016 Corton vineyards yielded a miserly 22 hl/ha to produce 5,040 bottles. With a deep ruby colour, the aromatics of this wine offer up classically mineral, stony, dusty notes of chalk, limestone, unripe red cherries, small black berries, graphite and a touch of sappy stem spice and pink musk. Unmistakably cool climate Pinot Noir. The palate has fine focus and density, fanning out from the front of the mouth to enliven and invigorate the palate with tart red berry fruits, logan berries, cranberry and tart strawberry, all with a characterful mineral laden under tone. There is plenty of concentration, poise and a generous intensity all finely framed by fresh crunchy acids and powder-fine tannins. A very classy expression of Corton. One of the best ever from DRC?

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

Echezeaux and Grands Echezeaux were bottled only in Magnum format and not shown for tasting. 980 of the first and 710 of the latter, will be released at a later date. The yields were a spectacularly small 6hl/ha for the Echezeaux vines and 7hl/ha for the Grands Echezeaux vines. No decision has been made on the release date or who they will be offered to.

Romanee St Vivant Grand Cru 2016

The 2016 RSV vines of an average age of 38 years of age yielded a slightly higher 27 hl/ha or 15,648 bottles. Vintage similarities with the Corton continue here with extra powerful, lifted aromatics. Once again there is the ethereal perfume of sweet red and black berries, Parma violets, pink musk, pink rock candy and sappy strawberry cream all underpinned by classical stony mineral and crush limestone dust. The palate texture is supremely polished and harmonious with noticeably rich fruit concentration, a creamy intensity and pin point balance. This is a deliciously opulent headstrong RSV that shows off the vintage’s small yield concentration concisely. Wonderful length, profound sweet and sour cherry and strawberry promise and feminine, dreamy tannins. Very impressive and oh so mouth watering.

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

Richebourg Grand Cru 2016

The vines in the DRC Richebourg parcel are now averaging 46 years of age and in 2016 yielded 24 hl/ha or 10,416 bottles. If ever there was a vintage that lends itself to the flamboyance of the DRC Richebourg style, you would imagine that the concentration and power of 2016 to be the perfect moment. Indeed, the nose is bold and opulent, rich and seductive showing a wonderfully lifted melange of red and black crunchy berries, exotic baking herbs, graphite spice and complexing dried tobacco leaf and cigar ash nuances. The palate shows fabulous fruit concentration and vibrant freshness but also clear and evident coiled spring tension and intensity, linear acids and an overall powerful, taught skeleton. The finish suggests great potential but is perhaps a little compressed at the moment. Another thoroughly beguiling, characterful, concentrated Richebourg.

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

La Tache Grand Cru Monopole 2016 

Produced from a monopole vineyard with vines averaging 51 years old, the site yielded 31 hl/ha or 21,768 bottles. This famous noble monopole Grand Cru produced a fabulously aristocratic expression in 2016 with floral, fragrant aromatics almost unmatched by any of the other wines. The lifted perfume of dried rose petals, cherry blossom, raspberry herbal tea and crushed violets mingles effortlessly with creamy, spicy red cherry, strawberry and small crunchy black berry fruit nuances. The palate too is powerful, regal and supremely polished with a seamless texture that boast authoritative dusty, powdery tannins harmoniously balanced by intense sappy, spicy red fruits and a leafy, red plum and loganberry confit concentration that lingers with such prowess. A impressively generous, rich and finely crafted La Tache that will turn many heads once again.

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

Romanee Conti Grand Cru Monopole 2016

This legendary vineyard now boasts vines with an average age of 57 years old. In 2016 the site yielded a modest 24 hl/ha or 5,280 bottles. Always producing a profound expression of Pinot Noir, the 2016 is no exception and boldly delivers a supremely complex array of aromatics that seem to have extra levels of depth and intrigue. Together with lifted, perfumed cherry blossom, rose petals and violets there is an extra broody, savoury, bruised red fruit and blood orange note that gracefully teases the senses. The palate as usual combines the most awesome fruit and acid intensity with creamy, supple mineral tannins and a sweet, sappy seductive old vine depth. What a beautiful wine with a splendidly tender, harmonious intensity and a confident, precise regal finish. Always a privilege to taste this wine.

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

One of the Stars of the 2017 En-Primeur Campaign – Tasting Domaine Fourrier’s Clos St Jacques…

Clos Saint Jacques is one of Burgundies most famous Premier Cru vineyards situated in the village of Gevrey Chambertin. The vineyard was split up and sold in 1954 by the Comte de Moucheron to four producers. One of these producers was Henri Esmonin, who at the time of the sale was the metayage for the vineyard and bought 1.6 hectares. The other producers were Armand Rousseau, who purchased 2.20 hectares, the Fourrier family who purchased approximate 1 hectare, and Domaine Clair-Dau who purchased 2 hectares.

Today, this 6.7 hectare vineyard with five strips running from the top to the bottom of the vineyard, are currently owned by five different producers. Sylvie Esmonin, the granddaughter of Henri Esmonin, holds 1.60 hectares. Bruno Clair and Maison Louis Jadot own 1 hectare each, which was split between them from the land purchased by Domaine Clair-Dau. Domaine Fourrier holds 0.89 hectares.

Domaine Jean Marie Fourrier Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St Jacques 2017, 13.5 Abv.

A fine classical vintage that seems to play into the hands of Jean Marie. While there are plenty of easy drinking premier cru’s, the 2017 CSJ displays impressive lifted perfume of pithy black plums, macerated black cherries, black currant confit and a stony, strawberry pip minerality with no overt oak imprint evident. Just fine purity and plenty of focus. The palate too shows fine depth, spicy textured extract, concentrated sweet red and black forest berry fruits tightly underpinned by an impressive stony, graphite minerality. Jean Marie’s wines never lack plush opulence and fruit sweetness, but in a more classical, “pretty” vintage like 2017, his wines strike a superb balance between concentrated fleshy fruit opulence and focused, polished tannin minerality and structure. If you can get an allocation of this beauty, they are certainly worth buying.

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