The Greatest Kumeu River Tasting Ever Held – Tasting 48 Vintages of a World Class Chardonnay…

It would have been almost impossible for anyone who reads my blog to miss the results of The Great Blind Chardonnay Tasting 2018  held earlier this year where the best of the New World were pitched against some of the best of classic Burgundy in an epic blind wine tasting tussle for Chardonnay supremacy.

In this tasting, the Kumeu River Maté’s Vineyard 2014 performed astonishingly well, further solidifying the widely held belief that this New Zealand winery makes wines every bit as good as the best white Grand Cru Burgundy houses.

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

In the UK market, Farr Vintners have long been one of the leading importers of Kumeu River’s wines over the years, so needless to say I was thrilled to be invited by Farr Vintners owner Stephen Browett to the greatest, most extensive Kumeu River tasting ever held in the UK market. Stephen Browett first visited Kumeu River Winery – and met winemaker Michael Brajkovich – in January 1990 on a visit to Auckland. He’d been tipped off about this new Chardonnay producer (first vintage 1985) by Barry Phillips who had bought the 1987 for the wine list of the legendary White Horse Inn at Chilgrove.

Stephen tasted the 1989 vintage from barrel and placed an order – Farr Vintners has shipped every vintage since then. In 1993 the Estate Chardonnay was joined by “Maté’s Vineyard” and two further single vineyard wines “Hunting Hill” and “Coddington” arrived on the scene in 2006.

After some serious problems with cork closures in the mid / late 1990’s, a decision was taken in 2001 to seal all Kumeu River wines with screwcaps. Michael’s wines now have a world-wide reputation and consistently perform exceptionally well in blind tastings held all around the world.

An illustrious tasting panel included among others Oz Clarke, Steven Spurrier, Jancis Robinson, Neal Martin and Will Lyons .

On the 21st of September 2018, Farr Vintners hosted the most comprehensive tasting ever of the Chardonnays of Kumeu River – with Paul Brajkovich and UK representative Hugh Phillips – at Farr Vintners offices in Battersea Reach, London. The tasting included all vintages of the Estate, Coddington, Hunting Hill and Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay from 2006 to 2017. A total of 48 wines served in 4 flights of 12.

Paul Brajkovich chairing the tasting, the brother of winemaker Michael Brajkovich MW.

Flight 1 – Estate Chardonnay

2017 Estate Chardonnay

Fine restrained nose with plenty of dusty gravel, apple blossom, sweet pear and lemon and lime peel. Sleek, compact palate, quite a gentle, harmonious, fleshy mid palate with rounded acids but a resurgent, pithy, vibrant finish of limestone, lemon peel and white citrus spice.

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

2016 Estate Chardonnay

More dust and gravel with lifted powdery grey slate minerality. Notes of bruised lemon, cassis leaf, lemon cordial and potent intensity. The palate is sleek and finely polished, elegant and positively light on its feet. Middling weight, finely textured, this is open enough to to drink now.

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

2015 Estate Chardonnay

Less dusty minerality on the top notes, more yellow blossom and honey suckle perfume with pithy, grated lemon rind and white citrus notes following close behind. Texturally quite full and fleshy and more crunchy, piquant acids in evidence. Impressive saline vein and a noticeably longer, more intense, concentrated length.

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

2014 Estate Chardonnay

Subtle hints of flint and smokey reduction but with plenty of waxy green apples, white citrus and wet chalk base notes. Definitely extra depth and aromatic definition on this 2014. The palate is polished and sleek, focused and bright with crystalline acids, pithy lime and lemon, white peach, yellow grapefruit and a long, dusty finish with impressive intensity more reminiscent on the single vineyard wines. Delicious.

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

2013 Estate Chardonnay

Lovely deep greengage and white citrus notes with the tell tale liquid minerality and waxy green apple complexity and perhaps just a touch of tertiary yellow orchard fruit nuances appearing. Palate shows a nice pithy grip, some phenolics, again a touch more yellow orchard fruit, pithy limestone bitter lemon and plenty of liquid minerality.

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

2012 Estate Chardonnay

Wonderfully expressive nose of apple pastille, lemon cordial, cassis leaf and wet chalk. Subtle hints of bruised orchard fruits, white peach and honey on white toast. Complex, touch more savoury with crystallised figs, waxy apple, and fine length and intensity.

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

2011 Estate Chardonnay

Complex broody nose of greengage, green apple, wet chalk and pronounced liquid minerality with resinous sappy spice. Plush and fleshy, massive breadth and depth, quite glycerol and packed with white peach but lovely length and depth from bottle development.

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

2010 Estate Chardonnay

Rich, complexity, delicious smokey aromatics mixed with real concentration, power and palate depth. Wonderful power, precision, intensity. Wow. Superb wine.

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

2009 Estate Chardonnay

Cooler, richer, finer texture with citrus Lemon cordial nuances. Vibrant, quite electric, plenty of verve. Another impressive offering.

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

2008 Estate Chardonnay

Coming from a warm year, this wine is creamy, fleshy, quite harmonious with a broad palate. Chalky, pithy peach and liquid chalk notes abound. Expressive in a more mineral style quadrant.

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

2007 Estate Chardonnay

The most tertiary with bruised yellow orchard fruits, root veg and aged yellow plum. Hints of almost botrytis styled dried fruits and savoury, honied breadth. Drinking now.

(Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

2006 Estate Chardonnay

Lovely sweet – sour plum, fine harmony and palate elegance. This wine is in a very comfortable place. Plush, long and beautiful drinking now.

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

Flight 2 – Single Vineyard Coddington
2.4 ha plot with heavyweight clay soils producing only 900 cases. Planted in the mid 1990s, the grapes were pulled out of the Estate blend in 2006. 25% new oak, 11 months on the lees.

2017 Coddington Single Vineyard

Creamy melon and lemon butter exoticism and youthful exuberance. Hint of yellow peach, white pepper and green apple pastille. Full, bold and intense concentration, lovely bright zippy acids, mouth coating lime cordial and sweet lemon confit. Just a baby but really delicious.

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

2016 Coddington Single Vineyard

Fine, harmonious, integrated aromatics suggesting lemon cream biscuits, pithy white citrus and a very fine vein of dusty, gravelly minerality. Rich with hints of sweet and sour, full mid palate flesh and quite a crystalline feel to the wine with impressive purity.

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

2015 Coddington Single Vineyard

Super old world Burgundian nose with nuances of wet chalk, limestone, apple pastille and lemon and lime lift. Palate is subtle, more restrained, but still steely and fresh, with electric acids, a more linear mouthfeel and again, a very old world, detailed, mineral finish. Impressive.

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

2014 Coddington Single Vineyard

Plenty of exotic lemon cream biscuits, white peach and crystalised figs. Palate surprises the senses with massive, unctuous weight, powerfully fleshy body, seamlessly integrated acids and a slightly sappy, spicy, resinous citrus and apple purée finish. Very harmonious and without doubt an impressive glassful.

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

2013 Coddington Single Vineyard

The most seductive nose of lemon blossom, struck match and fresh rain on dry limestone rocks. Wonderfully well proportioned, saline, tart acids, quite piquant in fact and certainly a more maritime feel to the wine with the most mouth watering long, sweet / sour finish. Wow.

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

2012 Coddington Single Vineyard

Sweet, bruised orchard fruits, sour plum and a subtle citrus under note. Some savoury, earthy, root veg notes developing lending complexity and palate weight. Spicy, honied finish suggests this is ready to pull out the cellar and drink.

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

2011 Coddington Single Vineyard

More complex tertiary notes evident here with bruised orchard fruits, waxy lemons and green apples left in your school bag for a few days. Palate has delicious bright acids, a fine fleshy core of fruit and a harmonious, evolving savoury complexity with a teasing lick of mint leaf. Drinking well now.

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

2010 Coddington Single Vineyard

Youthful and intense, this is a great vintage and the wines are all standing the test of time and showing it boldly. Lovely wet chalk minerality, apple cordial and a subtle hint of bruised lemons and savoury white peach. Wonderful complexity follows to the palate that is harmonious and fresh, seamless and finely textured with smokey, piquant, citrusy length. Delicious.

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

2009 Coddington Single Vineyard

Dusty, liquid mineral nose melting into lemon and lime cordial and hard lime candy. Fine wet chalk and lemon fruit intensity and a peach pastille depth.

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

2008 Coddington Single Vineyard

Exotic, earthy, savoury, fruit notes, with bruised peaches, greengage and aged lemons. Fine, elegant texture, harmonious and quite a suave, relaxed engaging wine.

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

2007 Coddington Single Vineyard

Lashings of savoury quince, honey and buttered toast, ripe peach and subtle root veg make for a very exotic, complex expression. Fleshy, sleek, slightly saline, this has a lot of appeal and allure but is simultaneously so youthful. An exciting wine.

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

2006 Coddington Single Vineyard

Superbly harmonious and round, fleshy yet defined and fresh. Sweet and sour plum, greengage and candied lemon fruits. Drinking beautifully now, perhaps not the most distinguished wine in the flight but certainly a profoundly enjoyable fine wine to drink now.

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

Flight 3 – Hunting Hill Single Vineyard

3ha plot producing 1000 cases. Vines are trained in the Lyre trellis system and the vineyard was owned by Kumeu and replanted in 2000 to Chardonnay Clone15. Only 3kms apart from Coddington. North facing, mostly clay soils. Wines are often tight, limey, more mineral, and linear style. Normally employs Francois Freres barrels, up to 25% new.

2017 Hunting Hill Single Vineyard

Apple puree and pineapple lead boldly from the front with backing notes of green melon and apple pastille nuances. Taut and focused, very precise acid frame, electric with out being rasping and a most harmonious, delicious, elegant, crystalline finish. Tight in youth but should blossom into another show stopper.

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

2016 Hunting Hill Single Vineyard

Lovely taught apple and pear phenolic notes which melt wonderfully into the pithy, mineral leanness of struck flint and crushed limestone. Svelt and textured, super precise and focused, this wine has an incredible texture like a polished diamond. Beautiful balance, harmony and mouthwatering precision. Wow.

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

2015 Hunting Hill Single Vineyard

Rich ripe expression with honeysuckle and lemon blossom. Plenty of restraint and delicate white floral citrus notes. Palate is linear and fresh, vibrant and zesty showing great vigour and energy. Lovely depth, power of fruit, intense concentration and above all, superb drinkability. Very Impressive.

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

2014 Hunting Hill Single Vineyard

Finally a vintage of Hunting Hill where you feel the vineyard drops its guard and shows you a snippet of its inner heart. Complex and alluring, multi-dimensional with wet chalk, sweet lemon citrus and boxwood spice and resinous green honeydew melon. Palate shows wonderful concentration, crystalline purity, a full and fleshy palate and the most seductive, sweet – sour, saline length. Great expectations for the 2014 and it does not fail to deliver.

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

2013 Hunting Hill Single Vineyard

Sweet honey and apple pastille nose, this shows plenty of subtle aromatics of struck flint and tart Granny Smith apples. Palate is lithe and fleshy, vibrantly tart with great intensity, power and concentration. Wow, a vintage that plays into the hands of the vineyard to create a real joy of a wine.

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

2012 Hunting Hill Single Vineyard

Cool, smokey struck match reduction, very Burgundian with piquant, bitter green lime and lemon, sour plum, grapefruit and gun flint. Massive palate depth, this wine is a real surprise of the flight showing fine pedigree and complexity and the most delicious, mouth watering drinkability.

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

2011 Hunting Hill Single Vineyard

Slightly muted, earthy savoury nose with limestone and lemon, hairy peaches and wet chalk. Palate is bright and expressive, crystalline and pure, quite saline and maritime with brightness and precision. Beautiful.

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

2010 Hunting Hill Single Vineyard

Dusty chalky limestone minerality leads from the start with youthful lemon lime citrus, lime and nutty, wet chalk mineral breadth and depth. Quite profound and alluring complexity.

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

2009 Hunting Hill Single Vineyard

Tight and mineral, very Burgundian in style with layers of struck match, flint and limestone chalky minerality. Fleshy, round, complex and intense. This is another delicious wine.

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

2008 Hunting Hill Single Vineyard

Savoury yellow blossom and lemon peel with subtle notes of yellow orchard fruits. Plenty of struck flint and spice. Lovely concentrated palate, great intensity, sweet and sour power, vibrant lemons and tart green apples. A super expression.

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

2007 Hunting Hill Single Vineyard

Lovely melange of wet straw, sappy white citrus, lime peel and waxy yellow orchard fruits, complex and balanced, perfectly fresh and mature but with incredible verve and vigour, brightness and fresh citric kick. Very fine indeed. One of the best.

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

2006 Hunting Hill Single Vineyard

Rich and savoury, ripe and plush with linear fruit focus, white citrus and a tart white peach finish. Perhaps lacking some stuffing on the mid palate but with this, like all the other older wines, is drinking beautifully with harmony and mature elegance.

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

Flight 4 – Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay

A 2.6ha vineyard planted with Mendoza clone in 1990 with its first vintage being 1993. Soils are classic clay based and are more pliable. Virused vineyards that ripen slightly later than the others. Often affected by hen and chicken berries leading to quite heavy pressing and more phenolics.

2017 Maté’s Vineyard

Beautiful sweet lemon blossom, white peach and honeysuckle notes, waxy green apples and real lift. The palate is intensely concentrated and rich with power, punch and real energy. This is one to watch, possibly the best expression since 2010 and 2014.

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

2016 Maté’s Vineyard

Intricate nose of dried grass, sweet lemon peel, green fig and dusty minerality. Real allure and intrigue, the palate is bright and fresh, linear and vibrant with a real generosity of flavour on the finish.

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

2015 Maté’s Vineyard

Lovely zesty phenolic nose with green apple skins, white peach and grapefruit citrus. Plenty of palate harmony but also a backing granitic, stoney minerality that keeps the wines opulence in check. The finish is linear and taut, vibrant and decidedly saline and maritime.

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

2014 Maté’s Vineyard

An intriguingly dusty, chalky, mineral nose with white peach stone fruits, greengage plum, soft lemon citrus and crystalline yellow apples. Plenty of dusty minerality, crush gravel and linearity with the finish quite saline again, tart and fleshy, full yet nervy. A wine all about contradictions. Very impressive and certainly one for the cellar if you can find any stock.

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

Tasting with Neal Martin from Vinous and Will Lyons from The Sunday Times.

2013 Maté’s Vineyard

The aromatics open up to reveal an array of yellow fruits, savoury hairy peaches and ripe figs. The theme continues to the palate with plush, fleshy depth, yellow peachy fruit and a more opulent, creamy, tinned fruit salad complexity. Very pleasing but slightly atypical?

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

2012 Maté’s Vineyard

Wonderfully austere nose of crushed gravel and wet grey slate. Palate is broad and harmonious with a real powder puff softness and femininity. Dense but light on its feet, this is wonderful to drink now.

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

2011 Maté’s Vineyard

Compelling notes of greengage, lemon and lime, creamy yellow citrus and a real plush, broad, soft harmonious textural expression.

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

2010 Maté’s Vineyard

Salty fig notes layer a really delicious higher tone of yellow peach, white citrus, creamy pear purée and lime cordial with a lemon biscuit cream finish. Dense, plush and profound. Wow, this is one to track down! Superb and up there with the best in the tasting.

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

2009 Maté’s Vineyard

Quite tight aromatics, restraint, fleshy tropical yellow fruits and a hint of exoticism. Fine silky opulence, plush, textural and very expressive.

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

2008 Maté’s Vineyard

Lemon butter and cream, puréed lemon and piquant spice notes. Broad and plush, fleshy and full with an open knit texture that is certainly drinking well and ready to go now.

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

2007 Maté’s Vineyard

Superb melange of sweet savoury yellow fruited depth, pithy spice, phenolics and sappy intensity. The Lemon – lime cordial note comes through with honey suckle and lemon blossom lift. Super creamy, coating the mouth with amazing plush concentration and a glycerol lacquer. Really delicious with amazing tertiary complexity.

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

2006 Maté’s Vineyard

Citric and spicy, this shows a really complex nose of root veg, bruised orchard fruits and old lemons. Naturally retains a very fleshy texture with hints of sweet and sour quince and an utterly harmonious, mature, pure finish.

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

Neal Martin doing a Johan Berglund …

Conclusions:

An incredibly profound tasting that will serve as a fine historical marker of quality for these superb wines. The oldest were ageing slowly and gracefully with the 2007s being the consistent pick of the older wines. For more recent vintages, the 2010s and 2014s are benchmark great and equal to anything Burgundy can produce with the Chardonnay grape. The 2015s and 2016s make for thoroughly pleasing drinking but it’s the 2017s from the line up of wines that are bold, intense, confident and youthfully intent on following in the footsteps of 2010 and 2014. Fill your cellars if it’s not already too late!

Pinot Passion and Precision Personified – Tasting the New Release Elgin Ridge Biodynamic Pinot Noir 2016…

Organic and biodynamic wine practices have become big business for the wine trade globally over the past few years. But what I really admire about Brian and Marion Smith’s focus at Elgin Ridge in South Africa is not only their unreserved commitment to the philosophy of organic and biodynamic winemaking but also the way they strive to genuinely be respectable and sustainable wine growers, wine makers and wine sellers. It’s certainly not done just in the name of marketing.

Elgin Ridge has had great success with their wines in the UK but latterly even more so in Scandinavia and especially Japan. Tasting their new release Pinot Noir 2016 points straight to varietal purity and precision, two key factors so important when trying to crack complicated connoisseur markets like the UK and Japan.

They may not be the poster boy of Pinot Noir production in South Africa, but rest assured this is one of the most honest, varietally pure and best value Pinot Noir reds you can buy on the market.

Elgin Ridge Pinot Noir 2016, WO Elgin, 13.5 Abv.

This organic naturally fermented Pinot Noir was produced in a very limited 3,440 bottles and was aged for 10 months in French oak barrels. The wine is structured and broody sticking to a serious old world stylistic framework for Pinot Noir. The aromatics are deep and dark with a really savoury baritone black bramble berry expression with a nose loaded with blood and iron, cranberry, incense and waxy red forest berry fruits. The palate shows delicious red fruited Cote de Beaune purity, piquant foresty spice and a dusty, bramble berry complexity. The textural precision and incredible winemaking polish does perhaps mask some of the wines earthy, artisanal charm, but in the end, this wine delivers an astonishing amount of Pinot Noir pleasure at a fantastic price point. So yes Brian and Marion, the biodynamic commitment is rewarding. Drink now to 2026+

Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Domaine Jean-Marc Millot Raises a Few Eyebrows With His New Release Single Amphora Aligote…

Jean-Marc Millot based in Nuits-Saint-Georges has been making elegant, understated, classical red Burgundy wines for several decades but is seldom mentioned in the critic’s lists of winemakers / wineries to watch out for… until recently. But the last couple of years has seen Jean-Marc joined by his daughter Alix Millot as the baton is slowly passed on to the next generation.

So no surprises then when visiting last year, Jean-Marc pointed out a lone Amphora in the winery containing of all things Aligote! The bottling and release of this tiny production curiosity wine was awaited with great anticipation. An En-primeur Amphora sample was reviewed here in January 2018…

https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2018/01/18/a-superb-amphora-white-burgundy-sure-to-make-wine-geeks-weak-at-the-knees-tasting-jean-marc-millots-new-aligote-2017/amp/

As a firm Aligote convert, I have covered some super exciting versions on the Fine Wine Safari from producers like Thibault Ligier-Belair, Francois Mikulski and Michel Lafarge. Well, here is another cracker! 🦄

Domaine Jean-Marc Millot Amphora Aligote ‘Les Deux Terres’ 2017, Burgundy

One sniff and I felt a certain familiarity. But this wine also reveals a truly complex aromatic melange with a pronounced dusty minerality, sake rice wine notes, white citrus, white blossom and an earthy, savoury note of intrigue. The palate shows a beautiful crystalline purity, pear and apple fruits, bright acids and a koshu meets sake rice wine character. If this single Amphora Aligote is exported to Asia, well, European allocations are simply history such is the Asian allure on the palate. The finish is bright and pure with wonderful citric clarity and intensity, with the most mouth-watering edge and stony liquid mineral finish. This has cult written all over it. Drink now to 2022+

(Wine Safari Score: 90+/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

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)