Tasting the Tantalising New Releases from Jessica Saurwein – Part 1: Nom Pinot Noir 2020…

If you don’t know Jessica Saurwein and her delicious fine wines, let me introduce you to ex-model, super mum and more latterly a high-flying winemaker with an incredibly deft touch. Now in her 6th year of winemaking under her own brand Saurwein, the 2020 vintage sees some of her most accomplished and seductive releases yet. In December 2020 I reviewed her stunning new release 2020 Riesling (93+/100 GSMW) and now, just ahead of international “Drink Pinot Noir Day”, I get the chance to assess her latest red creations – the Nom Pinot Noir 2020 from WO Elandskloof (think Kaaimansgat / Villiersdorp etc) and also the Om Pinot Noir 2020 from the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge.

Made from vines grown on shale soils in the Elandskloof Valley near Villiersdorp, the vineyards lie at 700 metres above sea-level and are surrounded by towering mountains making this terroir ideal for cooler climate varieties like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Nom Pinot Noir features classic Burgundian clones 115, 667 and 777 from a vineyard planted in 2008. We all know about the dry 2018 vintage and the cooler, more classical 2019 vintage, but 2020 was a year with ideal ripening conditions. Wind during fruit set led to a reduced crop of smaller berries and thus wonderfully intense musts with medium tannins and vibrantly fresh acids.

Jessica at the new home of Saurwein Wines in Stanford

The grapes were hand-picked and cold soaked prior to fermentation which began spontaneously with natural yeasts. Post fermentation, the wine spent 10 months in a combination of new and older 228 litre French oak barrels.

As if two new stellar Pinot Noir releases wasn’t enough, Saurwein Wines has now found a exciting new home at Waterval farm in Stanford. Jessica and family recently moved to the farm and will embark on a regenerative agricultural farming venture including the establishment of a small vineyard over the next year or two. I can’t wait to visit Jessica and Roland at their new home in the near future.

Saurwein Nom Pinot Noir 2020, WO Elandskloof, 14.5% Abv.

The 2020 Pinot Noir shows an abundance of depth and intensity with aromatics brimming with notes of savoury red cherry, red currant, sappy freshly cut hedgerow and earthy, bramble berry spice nuances. The oak is incredibly well integrated and plays very much a minor backing track support role. On the palate, the wine is medium bodied but dense, wonderfully intense yet simultaneously weightless, fleshy and powerful with delicious savoury red and black berry fruits, ripe sun raisined sloe berries, roasted nuts, hints of wild strawberry and a full, opulent mouth coating finish with finely poised tannins and delightfully balanced acids. Another very detailed, opulent, savoury expression of Pinot Noir from the Cape. Drink this on release and over the next 8 to 10 years.

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

A True Burgundy Star On the Rise – Tasting the New 2018 Red Releases from Bruno Desaunay-Bissey…

So much has been written on or about the iconic domaines and wines of Burgundy making it so much more satisfying coming across a top drawer producer that I have not encountered before. Discovering the incredible wines of Bruno Desaunay-Bissey and unravelling the story behind this family domaine has been a great pleasure. These are wines with wonderful focus and purity of fruit, carefully considered extraction, impressively creamy concentration and an understated power all polished off into a final artisanal expression in bottle that shows an authenticity of style that represents Bruno’s own personal taste and passion for wine.

Together with his wife, Marie-Christine Bissey and his son, Bruno manages this small family domaine based in Flagey-Echezeaux that consists of 6 hectares, some of which is owned by the family, including prestigious old vine plots in Echezeaux and Grands Echezeaux, with additional plots farmed on a “fermage” basis. A fermage is a piece of land which is owned by someone other than the person cultivating it, or a farming tenancy in effect.  It is estimated that in 2010, two-thirds of all French agricultural land was tenant-farmed. Because vineyard land tends to inspire affection in the families who own it, even when they have become involved in other activities, fermages are very common in French wine regions even though this may not necessarily be identified on the producer’s wine labels.

With first vintages produced in 1975, it seems almost inconceivable that wines of this quality have managed to enter the market almost unnoticed, especially considering the current clamour and fervour of wine merchants to discover “the next big thing” in Burgundy. Over the years, some of the production was sold off to other domaines and as recently as the mid-1990’s, several of Bruno’s valuable barrels of Grands Echezeaux were being sold to illustrious names like Dominique Laurent. The Grands Echezeaux Grand Cru appellation takes the shape of a triangle with its northern point orientated towards Musigny, its eastern flank bordered by the Clos Vougeot Grand Cru and its western flank by Echezeaux Grand Cru. The Desaunay-Bissey old vine parcel, planted from 1928 onwards, is located on the point of this triangle.

Since 2007 Bruno uses no herbicides or pesticides and all the soil is tilled. Bruno’s winemaking is very terroir-expressive, doing short pre-fermentation macerations, using only indigenous yeasts and crucially, not too much extraction.  Barrel-aging is on average about 33% new except for the Grands Cru reds where a slightly higher percentage is used.  Since the early 1990s, the wines are neither fined nor filtered.  Bruno’s wines are normally only racked twice, once after malolactic fermentations and once before the assemblage.

Bruno cultivates, together with his father-in law, Daniel Bissey, several other parcels of very old vines situated in Vosne (some 80+ years), Echezeaux (some 110+ years) Grands-Echezeaux (70+ years), Chambolle (90+ years) and Nuits St. Georges (60+ years).

Bourgogne Vieilles Vignes 2018, 14.5 Abv.

This ‘entry level’ Bourgogne appellation Pinot Noir displays some of the most seductive exotic notes of purple flowers, pink musk, blueberry and black cherries showing where the old vines start to make their influence felt. On the palate there is focus and tension, powdery tannins and fine textural shape all framed beautifully by bright fresh acids. A delicious offering with intensity and blue and black berry length, hints of wild strawberry and a beautiful saline bite on the finish. This really punches above its weight. Drink now to 2028+.

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

Gevrey-Chambertin 2018, 14% Abv. 

Deep and alluring, this Gevrey shows an impressively broody depth of black currant, blueberries and a savoury, brambley, meaty complexity with a kiss of graphite spice. Pure and expressive, there is impressive concentration and focus on the palate with Parma violets, caramelised cherries, blueberry crumble and some attractive chalky limestone mineral grip on the finish. Vibrant, energetic and textually very polished, this should evolve beautifully over a few more years in bottle but it’s already so mouth-watering and delicious. Archetypal premium quality village Gevrey. Drink from 2022 to 2034+.

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

Chambolle-Musigny Combe d’Orveaux Vieilles Vignes 2018, 14% Abv. 

This famous Chambolle plot yields a richer, earthier expression with a wonderful overlay of perfumed dried flowers, potpourri and subtle savoury Chinese five spice hints. Laser like focus on the palate, the wine shows a potent intensity of red and black berry fruits, mouth-coating richness and a long, liquid minerality on the finish. A very pretty wine that displays impressive powerful and tension behind a classy, elegant demeanour. Drink from 2022 to 2035+.

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

Vosne Romanee Vieilles Vignes 2018, 13.5% Abv. 

Initially this displays a deep, earthy, broody dark fruited aromatics with bramble berry, black currant and layers of savoury Vosne spice. With a little more coaxing, this wine starts to yield notes of pink musk, violets and blueberry hints which follow to a wonderfully chiselled, focused, tight knit palate with incredibly chalky, fleshy sweet tannins. Again, plenty of concentration, blue and back berry fruits, purple rock candy and all the textural power and drive that you could hope for from a top Vosne Romanee producer. Despite being perhaps a little less intricate and exotic, this wine’s power, concentration and pure focus are alone enough to bowl me over and make me contemplate pouring a second glassful. Absolutely delicious. Drink from 2022 to 2034+.

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

Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Les Beaux-Monts 2018, 14% Abv. 

Sourced from an 80+ year old vines, this wine shows pure class and allows its pedigree to shine through in this serious expression of Vosne Romanee. One of the most respected 1er Cru vineyards delivers quality in bucket loads in 2018 with even more perfume, lift and intricacy than the village wine. The aromatics display a splendid array of crunchy wild strawberries, red and black cherries, subtle dried herbs and alluring Vosne spice. The palate reveals incredible depth and breath with piercing mouth-watering concentration, fine-grained tannins like polished marble and a tart, bright maritime salinity on the finish that retains a seductive kiss of pink rock candy. This is a very serious effort indeed. An utterly seductive Pinot. Drink from 2022 to 2038+.

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

Echezeaux Grand Cru 2018, 14% Abv. 

Made from old vines planted in 1902, 1940 and 1945, this Grand Cru red shows a more reticent and broody demeanour to begin with before revealing a complex melange of red and black berry fruits on the nose, seamlessly integrated oak and a subtle freshly tilled earth savoury note. Broad, suave and texturally plush, this is a wine to savour, to lose yourself in and to allow the more intricate finery to reveal itself slowly over time in the glass. The texture is dense, compact, almost creamy, with powder fine tannins, layers of bright blueberry, cassis and Fraises des Bois notes that linger for an age on the finish. Grand Cru Burgundy is not just about more volume, it’s about intricacy and complexity of rhythm, more drum, more base and an altogether more melodic crescendo. Drink from 2022 to 2038+.

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

Grands-Echezeaux Grand Cru 2018, 14% Abv. 

There is plenty of fragrant intricacy and complexity evident on this big hitting Grand Cru all delivered with the most considered delicacy, complexity and subtlety. The wine shows notes of rose petals, violets, pink musk and perfumed red and black orchard fruits underpinned by a grounding of chalky, stony minerality. The palate displays a broad seductive rainbow of flavours starting with tart red berry fruits and strawberry pith before fading to more darker blue and black berry fruit notes. But it’s the tension, taut energy, stony minerality, focus and length of flavour that really makes this a real eye opener. Quality comes at a price and this is certainly worthy of top echelon Grand Cru Burgundy status. Drink from 2022 to 2040+.

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

Wines available in the UK from Importer Wimbledon Wine Cellar London and Handford Wines.

Tasting The Luxurious Wines of Domaine de la Romanee Conti From The Classical 2017 Vintage…

It’s a real anomaly that Domaine de la Romanee Conti releases its new vintage allocations one year after most of burgundy’s producers. So while we finish off the small but swift Burgundy En-primeur 2019 campaign, DRC are only about to release their “in bottle” 2018 vintage wines. But in South Africa, the official DRC agent Great Domaines operates yet another year behind with the 2017 vintage allocations only now going out to a handful of very lucky consumers.

But it was this fact that reminded me that the DRC tasting in London was one I did manage to attend before the UK went into lockdown in late March 2020. So time to post my notes on these rarified wines which are some of the most sought after hedonistic Pinot Noir cuvees known to man.

2017 was the first truly generous vintage for the domaine since 2009 yielding wines packed with generosity, energy, refinement and utter charm that expressed a more classical interpretation of intricate structure, power, intensity and length.

The grandes Dame of the UK wine trade Jancis Robinson MW melting in the presence of “the Pope”…

The vintage was marked by three significant events, namely a threatening frost between the 27th and 29th April, the second a wonderfully early and fast flowering over three days at the end of May, and lastly, a final notable event being the retirement, after 39 years, of Maitre de Chai Bernard Noblet. In the end, when the final bottling was completed in the Spring of 2019, another exceptional vintage had been completed at the world’s most famous wine estate.

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Corton Grand Cru 2017

A fabulously bright and inviting nose greets you with lifted perfumed offerings of crushed red cherry, strawberry compote, violets and earthy red plum. The palate is vibrant and fresh with more classicism, tension and restraint than seen from more riper recent vintages like 2015 and 2016. All the hallmark harmonious balance is on display with a fine mineral under vein, powdery tannins and a fine focused finish of moderate length.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Echezeaux Grand Cru 2017

The Echezeaux displays a strikingly darker fruited nose than the Corton with complex black berry notes, earthy black currant, dark orchard fruits together with alluring notes of sappy wood spice and pink musk. The entry is pure and focused with a crystalline purity of red cherries moving to a mid palate of red and black bramble berries and wild strawberry before becoming slightly more reticent again on the stony, mineral finish. Again, a wine that speaks of the vintage through its elegance and classicism.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Grands Echezeaux Grands Cru 2017

This is a serious offering with perhaps less lift, overt opulence and sex appeal but hides a finely tuned V8 engine under the fine structured curves of its bodywork. There is ample fragrant dark black berry fruits, black bramble berries and a sweet wood spice underpinned by sweet plump chalky tannins, full glycerol concentrated weight and an impressively balanced fruit – acid balance. What this wine may miss now in immediacy and showiness, it more than makes up for with structural precision, classical power and an intense, harmonious long finish.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Richebourg Grand Cru 2017

The aromatics of this expression show the intense stony dusty minerality of Burgundian terroir with notes of graphite and sappy spice lending further interest. The red cranberry and red cherry fruits are subtle and restrained in a way that classical Burg hounds would find highly appealing and reassuring in this age of global warming and ripe, showy vintages. There is nevertheless plenty of concentration, depth and broody structured power that should reveal all in years to come.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Romanee St Vivant Grand Cru 2017

The RSV offers up a harmonious, complex melange of fine limestone dust, wood smoke, wet stones together with hints of cherry pip, forest strawberries and dark broody black orchard fruit notes. The palate is seductive and pure with crystalline red fruit notes, sleek polished marble tannins and a mouthwatering acid freshness. This has the perfect balance of power, minerality and fruit purity.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti La Tache Grand Cru 2017

Sweet, earthy red fruits, red bramble berry and sweet strawberry notes, with chalk spice, piquant minerality, wet stones and sappy chalk duster nuances. Palate is foursquare and fleshy with palate weight, breadth and expansive complexity of red musk, pink and purple rock candy and a silky, sensual, long persistent finish. Utterly sublime and probably wine of the vintage?

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Romanee Conti Grand Cru 2017

Deep dark and broody full of black bramble berry fruits, violets and cassis, salinity and sapidity. Crystalline and glassy with tension, taut tight fisted reticence and finely formed chalky mineral tannins. Broody, restrained and cloaked in mystery, there is subliminal power and depth, textural feel and potency that will come to the fore with time in bottle. One for the classical Burg lovers with deep pockets.

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

Creation Estate’s New Release Emma Pinot Noir Battles it out for Supremacy with the New Art of Pinot Noir 2019 Cuvee…

The beautiful Creation Winery in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge region of Walker Bay has established itself in a relatively short period of time as one of the quality benchmark producers for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in South Africa. Originally from Switzerland, owner JC Martin 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.

Every year there is a mega battle of wills and palates (and maybe egos?) as JC Martin fights it out with his daughter Emma to see who will take the spoils with the international critics for the best rated Creation Pinot Noir between the Emma Cuvee and the Art of Pinot Noir Cuvee from their Creation estate. I love the competitiveness and the resulting quality realised every vintage. Last year the 2018 Emma excelled and was clearly a more intense, complex, mesmerising expression on release. But 2019 was a different beast of a vintage offering up a lot more structure, tension, minerality and sapidity. So it was all to play for!

Game on! I recently tasted these two exceptional wines over two days and the results were as follows…

Creation Emma Pinot Noir 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

A barrel selection by Emma – JC and Caroline’s 18+ year old daughter from the Art of Pinot Noir vineyard barrels. This is certainly a very serious glassful of premium Pinot Noir. Opened on Boxing Day 2020, it was taut and spicy showing some overt oak notes over savoury bramble berry fruits and hints of black plum and sous bois. But tasting this wine over two days really does it justice as not only is it super youthful, but it’s one of the most serious and luxurious expressions of Pinot Noir in South Africa. Day two and this wine blossoms with true Pinot Noir grandeur, unfurling layers of strawberry, cranberry, dusty limestone chalk, sappy stalky spice, red cherry pastille and an underlying structure of crunchy acids, graphite minerality and spicy polished tannins. This is definitely a keeper and will require a few years in the cellar to do it justice. Very impressive yet again.

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

Creation Art of Pinot Noir 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

Like the Emma, the aromatics of this young wine are a little disjointed straight after pulling the cork but allowed a bit of air and time, this wine also comes together impressively. The aromatics are markedly different with more sappy red berry, sour cranberry, sour plum and a savoury, earthy red berry core. There are complexing notes of crushed leaves, sous bois and sour cherry but on the palate the density and concentration is harmonious and polished, pithy and chalky merging with an irony, bloody, red berry tartness and a long, stony, brambly finish. Intense, captivating and thoroughly delicious. Give this 3-5 years before enjoying.

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

So the final verdict sees the Emma, the defending champion, retain the title of Best Creation Pinot with punch! But of course, they do say anything a man can do, a woman can do better!

One From the Cellar – Tasting the Second Release of the Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2018…

I recently hosted a dinner with a couple of good friends where the theme was top Burgundy. Wines were tasted blind while we gave our assessment before revealing the labels and drinking the rest of the bottles with some lovely steaks. One of my clients sneaked the 2016 Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir into the line up and a I can honestly say, hand on heart, that we all thought it was a very good youthful Cotes de Nuits Burgundy red from a good grower at possibly village or premier cru quality level from 2015 or 2016. The grand reveal had us all fooled with the maiden release Crystallum Whole Bunch 2016 showing a beautiful intensity and a youthfully alluring power.

While I was slightly surprised to see Tim Atkin MW recently review the 2018 instead of the new 2019, he nevertheless scored the second release (there was no 2017) a mammoth 97/100 points. So as I am on the cusp of reviewing the 2019 in the coming days, I thought I would enjoy another bottle of the fabulous 2018 from my cellar to recalibrate my palate.

Crystallum Whole Bunch 2018 Pinot Noir, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 14.2% Abv.

The 2018 Whole Bunch Pinot Noir marks the second release of this initially experimental wine made from fruit sourced in the Cuvee Cinema vineyard in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and the Shaw’s Mountain Vineyard. Fermented using 100% of whole bunches, the result is possibly one of Peter-Allan’s most mesmerising creations yet. The aromatics show the best of both worlds with a delicious pure black and red berry fruit concentration, black currant compote, black cherry and red currant notes with subtle hedgerow and underbrush complexity together with the classic whole bunch nuances that offer extra sapidity and a stalky mineral spice. The whole bunch component definitely adds the extra magic that elevates this wine into the ranks of truly special New World Pinot Noirs that firmly tip their hats towards the masters of Burgundy. There is boldness and an extra confident swagger, opulence but also controlled mineral spicy restraint all packaged with an incredibly supple, seamless, harmonious tannin texture. You can drink this wine now but with the maiden 2016 still showing an incredibly youthful glow, it would be a shame not to bury some of these in the cellar for 8 to 10+ years.

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

Ps. I scored the Whole Bunch 2018 the same score on release back in January when I tasted the wine the first time with Peter-Allan.

https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2020/01/17/peter-allan-finlayson-unveils-some-of-his-new-releases-from-crystallum-and-gabrielskloof-in-london/

Fine Wine Safari New Release Notes – Tasting The Maiden Release Crystallum Litigo Pinot Noir 2019…

The Litigo Pinot Noir is an impressive new release for Peter-Allan and Andrew Finlayson after their Bona Fide cuvee was not made into a single vineyard wine but blended away into the very impressive Peter Max 2019. I can’t remember if I knew this fact or not earlier in the year when Peter-Allan hosted a new release tasting dinner in London on the banks of the Thames, but it certainly explains in hindsight the extra depth, precision and concentration evident on the Peter Max 2019!

The new Litigo Cuvee from the Overberg.

The maiden vintage Litigo is made from seven year old vines sourced from Crystallum’s very own Shaw’s Mountain Vineyard just outside the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The Litigo, meaning ‘discussion’ in legal terms, is a wine made in partnership with lawyer Eben van Wyk. Some cuvees come and go, such as the Paradisum Syrah from the Swartland, but I think this is certainly a wine to watch as the vines slowly notch up a little more age.

The wine was fermented using only native yeasts in stainless steel tanks using a 20% whole bunch component with the rest de-stemmed but left intact as whole berries. The wine spent a total of four weeks on the skins after which it went into French and Hungarian oak barrels (30% new) for 11 months before bottling.

Crystallum Litigo Pinot Noir 2019, WO Overberg, 13.6% Abv.

pH 3.60, 13.67% Abv., 5.0 g/l TA, Total sulphites 46 mg/l, Residual sugar 1.7 g/l.

When initially opened, the aromatics were rather broody and foresty, dominated by bramble berry fruits, red currants and wild strawberries. But chilling the bottle down ever so slightly and affording it a little more time to breath and open its shoulders, the wine really does blossom into something quite beautiful. The aromatics are slightly wild and spicy with notes of red cherries, strawberries and earthy mulberry notes embellished with hints of dried baking herbs. There is subtle spice nuances, an attractive violet and rose petal perfume but no real evidence of the 20% whole bunch component or any overt wood spice notes from the 30% new oak, just harmonious integration. The palate is impressively silky and sleek with beautifully pure refined tannins, a light to medium bodied mouthfeel weight and delicate, integrated earthy red berry and pomegranate fruit notes enlivened by soft fresh acids and a seamless finish. One can’t say this wine has the most mineral of profiles but certainly elegance and finesse are the order of the day. A really gentle, generous wine that speaks softly and is very amiable. Drink now and over the next 5 to 8+ years. (Only 1,264 bottles were produced)

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

Creation Wines Shining a Light On Premium Chardonnay Production in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge…

I think it’s indisputable that only handful of producers in South Africa have well and truly cracked the winemaking code for producing top world class quality Chardonnay. So many commentators and consumers get confused between producers making good versus great expressions.

During some lockdown drinking, I thought I’d take the opportunity to revisit one of the wines I’ve found to consistently tick all the quality boxes when it comes to premium Chardonnay made in a style that is unquestionably world class.

Some of the accolades accrued by Creation’s Art of Chardonnay premium range.

Creation Wines are certainly one of the few South African wineries producing Chardonnay expressions that can be considered “next level” when tasted along side top international benchmarks from France, New Zealand, Australia or California. Originally from Switzerland, owner JC Martin 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 focuses mainly on producing premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Creation Art of Chardonnay 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5 Abv.

Made from an 18 year old single vineyard but also from specific vines within the site that show the most balanced growth. This wine has a more complex, creamy, deep, broody nose with delicate leesy biscuit notes, green melon preserve, grapefruit zest, crunchy green pear and lemon cordial. Incredible subtlety, freshness, and a steely 3.3 pH highlights the super taut acidity, intense piercing mid-palate and a suave, stylish finish punctuated by an attractive vanilla pod and oak spice kiss. A very ‘Grand Vin’ Chardonnay indeed that deserves recognition. 4,600 bottles produced. Drink it now and over the next 15+ years.

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

For other top examples of South African Chardonnay, look no further than Kershaw Wines, Leeu Passant, Meerlust, Hamilton Russell, Ataraxia, Restless River, Julien Schaal, Newton Johnson, Storm, Elgin Ridge, Paul Cluver, Crystallum, Bouchard Finlayson, De Morgenzon and Uva Mira. Buy all these wines with confidence.

Domaine Armand Rousseau’s New 2018 Pinot Noir En-primeur Releases Shine Brightly Once Again…

The En-primeur tasting season gives wine merchants and consumers a last look at the new Burgundy releases before most of them are bottled between March and May. After Domaine de la Romanee Conti, there is probably a small handful of Burgundy producers that every collector wants in their cellar. Close to the top of this list has to be the spectacular wines of Domaine Armand Rousseau.

Tightly allocated in every global market, buying Armand Rousseau’s wines on release at beneficial En-primeur prices is every collectors holy grail. So any opportunity to taste and assess these exceptional wines before they disappear into deep dark cellars must be considered a valuable learning experience whether you’re a novice or a professional Burgundy collector.

I recently had a snap shot tasting of three of this producer’s delicious wines drawn from barrel samples.

Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Clos du Chateau Monopole 2018

Showing a gently scented, sweet fruited nose with hints of Gevrey spice, earthy bramble berry, sweet clove and grilled herb spices. Palate is both opulent and plush yet softly textured with underlying Christmas spices and savoury red and black berries. An approachable, concentrated style that’s juicy and harmonious without being profound.

(Wine Safari Score: 92-93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Domaine Armand Rousseau Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 2018

This opulent red shows plentiful notes of earthy bramble berry fruits, wood spice, grilled herbs, stewed winter fruits together with botanical herbs and incense spices. Supremely polished and elegant, there is a phenomenal core of sweet blue and black fruits, black cherry confit together with energetic acids that are beautifully harmonious and integrated into the concentrated palate fruit. Shows all the gentle, seductive understated Charmes Grand Cru elegance and finesse that this vineyard is so well known for. Very impressive.

(Wine Safari Score: 94-96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin Grand Cru 2018

This grand vin shows distinctive aromatic notes of earthy winter fruits, bramble berries, Christmas pudding and sweet grilled herbs and botanical spices with an undertone of savoury cured meats. The palate is focused and elegant yet power packed and intense with more vibrancy, energy and acid freshness than the aromatics initially suggest. Sweetly fruited with a dreamy creamy palate texture, this wine finishes with a long, lingering persistence of kirsch liquor, macerated black plums and wild strawberries. A hugely impressive wine in its infancy but with a long promising regal future ahead.

(Wine Safari Score: 96-97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

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.