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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.