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)

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)