Putting Merlot On the Map ~ Tasting Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot…

Inspired after a visit to Bordeaux, Dan Duckhorn produced the first vintage of Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot in 1978. Highlighting Estate vineyards and top sites, their renowned Merlot reflects the diversity of the valley’s many appellations. Blended with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon to add a little extra depth, power and structure, this wine typifies high quality Merlot like only France, Tuscany and California can produce.


Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot 2013, 14.5 Abv.

This pretty 2013 Merlot displays a saturated red- purple plum colour matched by an expressive, opulent bouquet. There are lashings of sweet black cherries, blueberry, graphite, black plum and dusty, smokey cassis with a sprinkling of mocha choc spice and creamy vanilla pod spice. The palate too is lush and generous with a very finely structured, elegant texture and sleek powdery tannins. The flavours are creamy and intense, with bright piercing cherry acids, blueberry pie, creme de cassis concentration, and finishes with a beautifully tight knit elegance and focus. A serious expression for Duckhorn, for Merlot and for Napa Valley in a fantastic Californian vintage.

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


Visiting Napa Valley and Sonoma with the Wine Institute of California – Day 1 in San Francisco…

For the past 10 years I’ve tried to make a habit of visiting the US wine lands of either California, Oregon or Washington State at least every 2 years to keep up to speed. With my last two trips being in Washington State and Oregon for Pinot Camp, it’s great to finally make it back to California. 


Along with the French classics, Italian wine and of course South African wine, I have a massive passion for American wines. I love their precision, polish, opulence, structure, and age worthiness. I rarely ever meet a customer who does not enjoy a mature Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, Russian River Pinot Noir or Sonoma Zinfandel! 


So today was Day 1 and touch down in San Francisco ahead of a jam packed schedule of lectures, visits and tastings in Napa Valley and Sonoma. What a beautiful city it is too. Much excitement awaits in the week ahead.

The Bay Bridge, not to be confused with the Golden Gate Bridge.


The AT&T Baseball Stadium on the Waterfront. Home of the San Francisco Giants.

Tasting the Legendary Diamond Creek 2014 New Releases with Philip Ross…

For more than four decades, Diamond Creek has been a touchstone for those who prize long-lived, highly sought-after expressions of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.


As Napa’s foremost Cabernet estate, Diamond Creek continues to produce wines of heroic character and definition, whose promise with age is simply breath-taking. The three single vineyards – Volcanic Hill, Gravelly Meadow and Red Rock Terrace – are revered by connoisseurs the world over. 


These three, distinctly different vineyards are tucked away in a cavernous hillside surrounded by thick forest on secluded Diamond Mountain. It really is a remarkable place. Even more remarkable considering the visionary Al Brounstein had no idea what lay beneath the dense woodland when he happened to make room for vines in the late 1960s.
These 2014s from Diamond Creek join 2012 and 2013 in a trio of historic vintages at a time when many of the world’s top red wine producing regions have struggled with difficult growing conditions. 


Red Rock Terrace 2014, 14.5 Abv.

Blue berry pie, cassis and graphite nose with exotic spice, cherry and kirsch liquor. The fruit from this cool north facing vineyard make this wine extra bright and crisp and the palate is so vibrant, fresh and supremely elegant. (Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


Gravelly Meadow 2014, 14.5 Abv.

Beautiful wine made from grapes grown on 5 acres of old river bed soils. Nose is laden with minerality. Quite primal. Mixed cooperage with medium to heavy toasting suits the power of this wine. So much spice and dusty gravel make this wine feel a little more austere and restrained. Palate is textured and complex with black plum, saline cassis, black current leaf and finishes with a fantastically long, seamless intensity. A real wow wine! (Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


Volcanic Hill 2014, 14.5 Abv.

A more restrained, dark, broody nose with hints of dusty sweet black plums and violet perfume. Palate is broad and powerful with a fruit cake edge, raisined cherries and lashings of ripe cassis fruit. A real plush luxurious core of concentration from the warmest of the three Diamond Creek vineyards. A very impressive wine. (Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Such a privilege to taste these wines. An even greater privilege would be to put a case of each of these gems in a cellar and age for 20-30 years! 

Opus One 2013 – Another star studded Napa Valley release…

This week seems to have been a week full of colliding wine stars, none more so than yesterday. After already accepting an invitation to attend a private tasting and dinner with Opus One at the 1 Michelin Star Harwood Arms, I then had to sadly pass on a fantastic, subsequent tasting and dinner invite with my good pal Eduardo Chadwick at 67 Pall Mall, celebrating the triumph of Vina Chadwick’s 100 point score from James Suckling, a first for a Chilean wine.


For those unaware, Opus One 2013 received a 100 point score from Suckling and was rated his No.1 Wine of 2016, with Vina Chadwick 2014 cracking Chile’s first 100 points and following Opus One 2013 as Suckling’s No.2 Wine of 2016. So, whether or not you agree with James Suckling’s score pronouncements, we can surely agree that both are certainly fine wines of the highest order. 


I did however recently attend an incredible Vina Chadwick Masterclass with their importer, Hatch Mansfield, and got to taste an amazing vertical of this fantastic wine back to 2000. Yesterday was the turn of Opus One. 


Varietals: Opus One 2013
 ~ Cabernet Sauvignon 79%; Cabernet Franc 7%; Merlot 6%; Petit Verdot 6%; Malbec 2%. Skin contact 18 days and 17.5 months aging in new French oak.


A very dry and unseasonably warm winter gave the vines an early start to the growing season. Flowering occurred under near-perfect conditions which led to excellent fruit set throughout their Oakville estate vineyards and ensured a bountiful harvest in 2013 – though smaller than in 2012. Ideal conditions continued during the summer with moderate temperatures prevailing until harvest began after midnight on September 5th. Harvest was completed on October 8th.

Tasting Note: Opus One 2013, Napa Valley is a beautifully rich, dark Bordeaux blend using all 5 Bordeaux varieties. The nose is perfumed, pristine and pure with lashings of blueberry confit, creme de cassis, black cherry liqueur and damson plums. Wave upon wave of violets, cherry blossom and white flowers waft from the glass. Without even tasting, you know this is serious kit. The palate is dense and seamless with pinpoint purity. Hard to imagine tasting more polished, refined tannins. The 5 varieties are packaged into a super elegant parcel that builds to a crescendo in the mouth. With complex black fruits to the fore, the oak is subtle and superbly integrated already. There’s a lovely, seductive, fresh long finish that goes on and on. This is a fine wine that moves you, sensorially and emotionally. (Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

On this occasion, 1 Michelin star The Harwood Arms provided a fantastic gastronomic back drop to enjoy both the Opus One Overture NV Red Blend (91/100), the Opus One 2006 (95/100), the Opus One 2013 (97/100) and a superb, classically toned, graphite laden, Silver Oak 1995 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (94+/100).

Grilled Mackerel and fennel salad
Norfolk Quail and black pudding scotch egg
Rump of Herdwick lamb


The Harwood Arms, Walham Grove, Fulham, SW6 1QP

Alternative USA, but not as you know it…

Today I was invited to one of the most exciting tastings of the year… there have been many … and it’s already November!! A fantastic mix of California, Oregon, Washington and Vermont wines expertly presented by Doug Wregg of Les Caves des Pyrene.

Detritus of the USA tasting
Craig Hawkins’ El Bandito Cortez 2014 gate crashing the USA tasting

This was a timely tasting of new releases as we prepare to finalise the final wine selection for our annual Thanks Giving Tasting. I expected a few gems but was not prepared to be confronted by over 24 individual, intensely profound white and red wines.

Ryme “Hers” Vermentino 2015, early picked, fresh lime and lemon crystalline style
A spectacular Ribolla Gialla aged 6 months skin contact. A profound wine.
La Clarine Albariño from the Sierra Foothills

I’m certainly no new comer to Californian wines and no new comer to even many of the producers on taste today. But the quality of wines was expertly chosen and thoroughly exhilarating. Some fantastic new vintages. 

Beautiful Grenache Gris from 105 year old vines on own rootstock bush vines
Cortese grapes a low pH and long extraction in eggs
70 year old Carignan, 90 year old Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon blend
A 40% Arneis, 30% Dolcetto, 15% Barbera, and 15% Nebbiolo

While there were too many wines to individually single out, I was massively impressed with Ryan and Megan’s wines from Ryme Winery and certainly the selection from Ruth Lewandowski Winery.

Mutated Pinot Noir that yields white grape a la Pinot Blanc like Henri Gouges Nuits St Georges white
Sauvignon Blanc aged 4 years under flor. Spectacular and uber rare.
 

Reacquainting myself with the Lo-fi Wines and the superb micro cuvees from Minimus, Golden Cluster, Kelly Fox and Ovum also made for a tantalising tasting.

The beautiful, ethereal Momtazi 2013 Pinot Noir from McMinnville AVA
Ovum “Off the Grid” Riesling fermented 6m and aged 9m on lees. RS 10-12g/l and TA 9.5g/l
Ovum “In The Dark” Gewürztraminer from Rogue Valley.

Last but not least, an exciting Vermont AVA Petillant Naturelle made from hybrid grape La Crescent, wrapped up a superb tasting and freshened up the palate nicely. A real eye opener tasting.

La Crescent Grapes aged 14 days on skins, with no added Sulphur

Most of the micro cuvees were made in tiny quantities, many being indeed single barrel volumes. But quality was never compromised and attention to detail was pinpoint. 

Epic langoustines at Terroir Restaurant
Golden Cluster Coury Old Vines Semillon 2014

I look forward to securing allocations of some of these fantastic wines and making them available to my customers for Thanks Giving and beyond, if they last that long!

Exotic, rich vibrant Chenin style
Golden Cluster Dion Syrah from North Oregon
Own rootstock Pinot Noir vines regrafted to Syrah

Marketing is a journey, not a destination – Brand California’s battle to remain relevant in the UK market

After the recent tumult surrounding the closing of the Wines of California promotion office in London, many people with a vested interest in selling Californian wines in the UK have expressed varying degrees of concern for the future of Californian wine sales in the on and off trade. What threats lurk in the market?

More than a direct “threat” from any one competitor country… one needs to be weary of the region falling out of fashion, and becoming irrelevant and marginalised. Import figures would then start to drop, listings in the restaurant on-trade would drop and sales would start to slowly spiral downwards, undoing  more than a decades worth of positive brand building.

If you think it can’t happen, then think again… or just look at Bordeaux. While Bordeaux may still be a big player in the UK market with a lot of wine still being consumed, it has definitely started to lose its dominance and relevance as prices have spiralled upwards and started to exclude an entire new generation of wine drinkers. The arrogance and inaccessibility of the whole Bordeaux infrastructure and their lack of marketing has also taken its toll. They have multiple dilemmas now.

Journalists and consumers will always follow a wine “flavour of the month”. Keeping Californian wines popular, relevant and accessible will mean continuing marketing, promotions, tastings and introducing new consumers to all quality levels of production. Think of this process as a never ending journey, not a destination. Hopefully the powers in California do not think they have reached their destination… because it actually doesn’t exist! Just ask the Australian’s who are battling to stay relevant in the highly competitive UK market after years of dominance.


But if direct competitors were to emerge that could steal market share and listings from Californian wines, this threat would probably come from premium South Africa and also Italy, namely Tuscany, Bolgheri, and Maremma.

Chile and Argentina have a very small offering and relatively little diversity. Australia still seems incapable of throwing off the shackles of the “sweet bottled sunshine” wines mantra and their poor performance in the fine wine market sector acts as evidence to this fact. 

Many merchants have seen steady growth in their Californian sales segment over the past 10 years. It would be a crying shame if the great wine names of California became less available in the UK. Let’s hope plans to appoint a new PR agency and a “regional ambassador” or “face of California wines” meets with success… soon.