Julien Schaal’s Confluence Chardonnay 2016 Recognized at the Platter 5 Star Awards… 

I have been a long time follower of Julien Schaal’s amazing wines from both Alsace as well as South Africa. Always over delivering in quality terms and offering great value for money, Julien upped the ante in 2014 with the launch of three single vineyard Chardonnay whites: Evidence (Elgin), Confluence (Hemel-en-Aarde), and Renaissance (Elandskloof).


While they are all absolutely delicious terroir specific wines, the Evidence Elgin Chardonnay has always been my perennial favourite. This year however, it was Julien’s Hemel-en-Aarde Confluence Chardonnay 2016 that deservedly cracked him his first 5 Star Platter Wine Guide award. A massive achievement for this young, talented French winemaker, it can only be the beginning of new heights that will surely be reached in coming vintages. 


Julien Schaal Confluence Chardonnay 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13 Abv.

From another drought vintage, this beautiful 2016 shows an opulent lifted nose with real concentration and intense aromatics of sweet honeysuckle, orange blossom, mango peel, lemon and orange rind, and a complex, mineral undertone of wet slate and crushed granite, expertly embellished with brûléed vanilla oak spice, toffee apple and waxy green apple nuances. However impressive the nose is, the palate offers up threefold more. Sculptured acids frame the lush, intense, concentrated citrus fruit flavours, showing layers of lemon marmalade, caramelised oranges, barley sugar, lemongrass spice and pithy apple puree. Rich and fresh, piercing and taught, this wine seems to have it all. Intensity, balance and such mouthwatering length. Well done Julien, this is a truly accomplished Hemel-en-Aarde Chardonnay. Drink now to 2028+

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

The Crystalline Beauty of English Still Wine – Tasting the Court Garden Ditchling White 2016…

It might just be me, it might just be my palate, but I really do enjoy the light, crystalline freshness and tart acidity of well made English still wines. Often written off as an after thought in comparison to the numerous prestigious sparkling wines taking the nation by storm, I have for years been a dissenting voice, challenging the notion that English still wines are frivolous and have no real future. 


This week I was drinking another juicy effort made by Court Garden in East Sussex. In Saxon times the farm was known as the Manor of Ditchling Garden, and from the Middle Ages onwards, it was held by the monks at the priory in Lewes. After the Reformation it was owned by the crown, which is when it became known as Court Garden. 


Established in 2005, Court Garden Vineyard is a family run 6.8 hectare single-estate mainly planted with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. In 2008 they added Pinot Gris, Ortega, Dornfelder and Rondo. The vineyards are situated on an attractive south facing slope with the South Downs as a scenic back drop.


Court Garden Ditchling White Blend 2016, East Sussex, 11.5 Abv.

An accomplished little white from the East Sussex countryside. A blend of 75% Chardonnay, 13% Pinot Gris, and 12% Ortega. Following good summer ripening the Chardonnay was barrel fermented in French oak before being blended. First impressions are of an intense, aromatic, crisp, crunchy green fruited white full of brightness, limey zest, green Granny Smith apples, a touch of white peach and expressive, yellow grapefruit citrus depth. The longer it sits in the glass, the more it broadens and fleshes out. Beautiful clarity, crystalline purity, and impressive underlying stony, chalky minerality. Must be a perfect aperitif style or certainly a very fine seafood / shellfish wine match. Delicious, more’ish and energetically fresh, drink now and over the next 2-3 years. 

(Wine Safari Score: 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW) 

Extreme Passion and Precision – Exploring the Cult Wines of Paul Lato from Santa Maria, California…

From his experience of tasting the finest wines from around the world when he was a head sommelier, Paul Lato realised all the greatest wines possessed characteristics of authenticity, harmony, and of course elegance. These are the qualities he set about trying to achieve when he started making wines in California. His ultimate goal was to create wines that are seamless and textural but with enough structure and balance to complement fine cuisine.


In order to make wines of the highest calibre, Paul selected unique vineyards that are cared for by talented growers and vineyard managers committed to excellence. He sought to locate and source from not only the best vineyards but also the best blocks within each of these vineyards, a tough ask with demand outstripping supply from the very best growers. During the growing season, yields are restricted to achieve maximum concentration of flavour. Harvesting is always based on physiological ripeness, which changes depending on the vintage characteristics.

Cellar work is based on minimal intervention, cleanliness and purity of intention. Because every vintage is different, he does not believe in recipe winemaking. With due respect to science, Paul believes that “true artisanal winemaking is based on intuition, sensitivity and passion”. Keeping the lots small allows for gentle handling throughout the winemaking process.

Making only 4000 cases per year, Paul wants his wines to give pleasure and keep the drinkers palate interested until the very last drop from the bottle. Inevitably, with his high level of attention to detail and quality focus, his wines have garnered high scores from the critics and resulted in a massive cult following, with 90% of his wines produced being sold exclusively through his Paul Lato Wine Club.

Paul Lato Le Souvenir Sierra Madre Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, 13.9 Abv.

A classic Chardonnay which comes from 22 year old Wente clone vines, shows subtle creamy lemon and nutty brûléed citrus fruit lift. Lemon blossom, grapefruit confit and caramel peanut brittle and vanilla bean complexity are all there just teasing the senses. A youthful palate shows nerve, intensity, creamy barley sugar and toffee apple freshness. Intense flavours but nothing over done. Beautiful texture, deliciously vibrant acids, and a subtle minerality lurking beneath the fruit. A very serious multi-dimensional wine that’s also very finely focused. 

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

 

Paul Lato Atticus John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Rita Hills, 14.2 Abv.

Tight intense focused aromatics of black cherry, pomegranate, red tart plums, cranberry and savoury baking spice. Plenty of exotic brûléed notes, intense red fruit layers and peppery, seductive flavours. Sleek, elegant mouthfeel, mouth watering fresh acids, a sweet & sour plummy touch, blood oranges and plenty of bright salty, bramble berry fruit nuances. The ethereal Burgundian lacy texture is most impressive. Fabulous wine.

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

 

Paul Lato il Padrino Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah 2014, Santa Rita Hills, 15.4 Abv.

Dense, opulent show stopper style immediately evident. Massive intensity, perfume and fragrance showing cherry blossom, sweet jasmine, blueberry muffin, coffee bean, sweet expensive oak spice and dusty, mineral limestone complexity. Super plush, broad and intense, the acids build a sturdy frame from which the exotic fruit finery is displayed. Big, bold, well executed expression with incredible finesse, polish and precision.

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

 

The Bizios Estate in Greece’s Nemea Region Releases Another Magical White Blend…

Elias Bizios is the owner of a wonderful estate in Asproskampos, known to the locals as “little Tuscany” in Nemea, Greece. Here Elias farmed a small patch of vineyards but always found it difficult to make a living with such a small production. So it was always his ambition to acquire additional adjoining vineyard holdings to increase his production. 


In 2016, Wimbledon Wine Cellar owned by Andrew Pavli and based in London, purchased an additional 3 hectares of prime Malagousia and Chardonnay vineyards with view to enlarging the total production at the Bizios Estate. This increased production has now come to fruition with the release of the new 2016 white blend modelled predominantly around the Malagouzia grape. With premium Greek wines once again riding high in the global wine trade, this is a super addition for enthusiasts.


Bizios Aspros Kampos Chardonnay Malagouzia Blend 2016, Nemea, Greece, 13 Abv.

An attractive white blend matured in oak barrels that opens with a fairly classical melody of summer fruits but very soon builds to a vibrant complex crescendo. The aromatics are crystalline and pure with pear drops, apple bon bons, honeydew melon and dusty, musky, citrus stick candy complexity. The flavours follow quite precisely to the palate, which shows such intensity, concentration and seductive candied apple fruit depth. Lovely melon fruit complexity, exotic caramelised green and yellow citrus fruits and delicious confectionary shop notes on a palate with harmonious integrated freshness and a lingering subtle apple sherbet persistence. 

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

Graham Beck – In Good Company with Pieter ‘bubbles’ Ferreira and Some Great Bottles of Fizz…

I had been looking forward to my lunch tasting date with Pieter ‘Bubbles’ Ferreira for many weeks. The opportunity to discuss Method Cap Classique (MCC) and Champagne intricacies with one of South Africa’s best winemakers is always a privilege … and of course MCC was my topic of choice for my Master of Wine dissertation completed back in 2007. 

New 2011 Cuvee Clive MCC release
On this trip, Pieter and Graham Beck Export Manager Kobie were on their well rehearsed mission to share the diversity and opportunities that great MCC offers with fine cuisine food matching. 


Expertly conceived and delivered, I can’t think of a better way to promote super premium sparkling wines than this. Well done chaps! Great wines and a wonderful occasion.

Graham Beck Cuvee Clive 2011 Brut, 12.5 Abv. 

This excellent 76% Chardonnay / 24% Pinot Noir prestige cuvee blend spent 6 years on its lees and was created from 120 micro-vinified parcels of fruit from Robertson and Graham Beck’s Firgrove farm in Stellenbosch. This new release shows fantastic lemon cream biscuit and seductive brioche notes, lemon rind, salty briney intensity and subtle wet chalk and savoury lemony sourdough complexity. Such subtlety, interwoven, nuanced blossom fruit and limestone minerality. The palate breadth and depth is tantalising, with tingling acids dancing across the tongue but tempered by rich creamy brioche, and leesy, dusty mineral restraint. Beautiful pin point focus, delicate maritime salty kelp and salt marsh umami notes, and a very long, intense, focused finished. This is a benchmark sparkling wine in every possible way and a phenomenal follow-up to both the 2009 and 2010 Cuvee Clive vintages. Pieter Bubbles Ferreira is a veritable genius! 

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

Burrata, caviar, confit lemon, fennel

Prawn pain perdu, cucumber relish, tarragon with Graham Beck Brut Zero 2011
Ayrshire beef chateaubriand, truffled potato with Graham Beck Vintage Rose 2012

Gooseberry posset, Gin sorbet and Graham Beck Brut NV

Great to be joined by Gary and Cathy Jordan from Jordan Winery in SA

The Ageability of South African White Wines ~ Tasting Meerlust Chardonnay 2006…

I’ve been meaning to organise a grand blind South African aged wine challenge in London with Wine Advocate journalist Neal Martin for some years. But life just seems to get busier and busier and time shorter and shorter for both Neal and myself. Profiling aged South African whites is a tricky endeavour, but when you pick the right wines, the results can be a revelation. But of course, the “right wines” are hard to come by, even in South Africa itself.


I had this bottle of Meerlust Chardonnay 2006, bought on release, on my cellar rack for many years and while I thought it would probably be stoically solid, I had no idea how impressive it would actually be on opening. Well, today it was accidentally opened in error by my wife after I was out at rugby practice with my son all afternoon. But, once opened, I certainly decided to indulge and revel in its sublime youthful brilliance. 


The Burgundians often seem annoyed when buyers ask them about their opinion on premox in white Burgundy, in quite the same way many South African producers used to roll their eyes at continual questions over the burnt rubber characteristics perceived in some wines. But it’s only when you taste a wine like this Meerlust 2006 that your blood really starts to boil at the many white Burgundy failures tasted oxidised at only 6 to 8 years old. 


Meerlust Chardonnay 2006, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5 Abv.

Deep golden yellow lemon colour, there is wonderful clarity and rich allure here. The nose is opulent and complex showing buttered sweet corn, lemon marmalade and salted caramel popcorn. So vital, youthful, vibrant, taught and fresh, showing almost no tertiary development at all. Incredible at 11 years old. As the wine opens, subtle notes of dried basil and thyme herbal spice develop mixed with sweet chalk and wet slate notes. The palate reveals amazing tension, maritime salinity, lemon zest and chalky granitic pithy depth. Wow, so tight and citric with youthful breadth and depth. It’s wines like this that make premoxed white Burgundy inexcusable at any price point. This wine could hardly be more fresh, complex or youthful at 11 years old. A real revelation. Absolutely delicious… for a South African benchmark wine.

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

Great White Burgundy Continues to Offer Unbeatable Drinking Pleasure ~ Tasting Faiveley Bienvenue Batard Montrachet Grand Cru… 

The Faiveley Bienvenue Batard Montrachet Grand Cru is made from a 0.5 hectare plot of vines planted in 1980. The area was a quarry until the 12th century but the wine only started to achieve fame in the 17th century thanks to the Cistercian Abbey of Maizieres and the Lords of Chagny. The Faiveley family purchased the plot in 2008 along with another 0.5 hectares of Batard Montrachet Grand Cru right next door. 


A wonderful east facing exposition, the vines are grown on fine brown soils over hard limestone. Vinification lasts 4 weeks and takes place in French oak barrels, 50 to 60 percent of which are new each year. The lees is regularly stirred while the wines are aged for 18 months before bottling.


Domaine Faiveley Bienvenue-Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru 2011, Burgundy, 13 Abv.

Going on six years old, this Grand Cru white is super fine, showing an intense nose of white citrus, acacia, lime peel, lemon zest, and custard pie. Subtle new oak spice and lovely vanilla pod allure with just a slight suggestion of bottle development starting adding an earthy wet chalk, mineral nuance. The palate is bristling with flavour in a super concentrated expression brimming with brûléed lemons, baked brioche, toffee apple, lemon confit and tart yellow grapefruit marmalade and a creamy, pithy, long candied citrus finish. Super power, beautifully vibrant acids and such energy. Drink this beauty now or keep for another 3 to 8 years. A majestic beauty.

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