California Day 2 – En Route to Sonoma – Tasting the Exclusive Range of Ram’s Gate Winery, Carneros…

A very interesting first visit in Carneros en route to Sonoma. Ram’s Gate Winery was built in 2011 but have been making wine since 2008. Using a dynamic fruit growing and sourcing philosophy, Ram’s Gate grow approximately 20% of their production and buy in contracted fruit for the remaining 80%. 

Ram’s Gate have embraced a fairly unique sales and marketing approach, selling almost all their wines to their “members” and a handful of restaurants in 7 states. None is sold to retailers. There is a very inventive marketing policy as the winery engages with its consumers and doesn’t “sell” wine but prefers to look at their sales policy as “placing wines.” Easy to do when demand outstrips supply.

Wine maker Luke Stanko trained in Canada but originally from Michigan

Wine maker Luke Stanko, runs the show and sincerely expounds his belief in minimalist intervention, terroir focused winemaking. With 12000 cases produced annually, Ram’s Gate is a winery that is rarely quoted by critics and almost never scored, but is most definitely a must visit spot on your way out of San Francisco to Napa. By appointment only, ring ahead to book one of their amazing food and wine matching tastings.

Amazing food and wine pairings

2013 Carneros Chardonnay
13.3 Abv. Only 510 cases of this wine is produced from Clone 4 and Clone 96.

Aged 11 months in one-third new French oak. Real lemon and lime sherbet nose with a subtle lick of butterscotch oak spice. Cool, plush soft textured, showing beautiful harmony, plump lemon fleshiness and cool crisp framing acids. Beautiful elegance with full malo breadth. 

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

The first winery heading out of San Francisco.

2014 Sangiacomo Green Acres Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay

14.6 Abv. 263 cases, Aged 11 months in French oak, 40% new. Made from virused Wente Clone, the aromatics are dominated by green apple Bon bons and liquid grey slate dustiness. Plenty of classical restraint. The palate is where the peacock fans its tail. Rich, intense and ripe, there is textured depth and spicy intensity. Weight and power, with a lemon and green apple pie finish with subtle vanilla pod charisma. 

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

Looking South East to San Pablo Bay

2014 Hyde Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay

15.1 Abv. 793 Cases. Aged 11 months in 40% new French oak. A grand vineyard that shows fine complex aromatic finesse and notes of honey dew melon, cream soda, white peach, honeysuckle, green apple purée and leesy biscuit richness. Broad and powerful concentration, but rich, juicy acids and fine nuanced minerality. Real pedigree evident here.

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

2013 Carneros Pinot Noir

14.5 Abv. 2,122 cases, Aged 11 months in French oak, 45% new, only one parcel used stems. Very expressive nose bursts with cranberry, pomegranate, red cherry, blood orange and boxwood spice. Also lovely spicy, peppery notes, hedgerow and cinnamon spice. Such plush, seductive textural harmony, potpourri spice infused cherry confit and black berry compote. Very alluring, and inviting. 

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

2014 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 

14.9 Abv. 512 cases, Aged 11 months in 66% new French oak from Clone 777. Very lifted fragrant nose that’s thoroughly graceful and feminine. Intensely perfumed, there is rose water, violets, jasmine and and a complex earthy, forest berry note. Very reminiscent of Marlborough Pinot Noir, the seductive smokey nuances meld with blood orange, macerated cherries, and milk chocolate complexity. Very elegant, powdery tannins that are finely composed, and a real pleasure to drink. 

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

2014 Bush Crispo Vineyard Russian River Pinot Noir (Sole purchaser of this vineyard)

14.7 Abv. 513 cases, Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak from 115 and Pommard Clones. A more exotic, rich, expression with black berry and plum, mint chocolate and eucalyptus notes. Full, plump and generous, this is beautifully round, harmonious and textural. Plenty of spicy stewed plums, soft sweet tannins, and an opulent, harmonious bramble fruited finish. A real class act. 

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

Luke Stanko, Commercial Director and Proprietor

The Growing Grandeur of Nuits Saint Georges – Tasting Domaine Faiveley’s Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Les Porets Saint Georges 2011…

We all know that Nuits Saint Georges in the Cotes de Nuits possesses no Grand Crus vineyards. But with changing weather patterns and the influence of global warming, certain areas in Burgundy like Nuits Saint Georges as well as other “lesser” areas further south in the Chalonais, have seen massive advances in wine quality in the past 10 to 15 years. Today I had another encounter with Domaine Faiveley’s Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Les Porets Saint Georges 2011, one of the top 1er Crus in the village.

With Erwan Faiveley taking over the reigns at Domaine Faiveley from his father Francois in 2007, a new direction was set by the family with Bernard Hervé and winemaker Jérôme Flous helping to chart the route to future success. The 2011 harvest began on the 31st August and picking lasted for 9 days. By the time the “juice” was in the bottle, Domaine Faiveley were looking at one of their finest, most elegantly crafted vintages for many years.

Tasting Note: This Nuits 1er Cru has a very richly fruited, lifted, perfumed nose of dried flowers, rose petals, white blossoms, and pretty red cherry and cranberry coulis notes. The palate is supple and streamline, showing complex hints of sweet stalk spice, forest fruits, moderate mid-palate concentration and a very polished tannin profile. This is a very attractive wine with earthy bramble fruits, red plums, bright fresh acids and the most pronounced liquid minerality. A very classy wine that’s drinking superbly well at the moment but with plenty of life still ahead of it. Drink now to 2035+

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


Tasting Fine Marlborough Pinot Noir with the Kiwi Legend Brian Bicknell of Mahi Wines…

I first met Brian Bicknell way back in 2000 when he was still making the characterful wines of Seresin. I thought he was a real cool dude back then and certainly still think so today. So it was wonderful to catch up with Brian this afternoon to taste through his lovely Mahi wines. 

Brian is an ex-Roseworthy graduate and chose Marlborough to settle down in way back in 1996 after making wine all around the world for 15 years. His first Mahi vintages were in 2001, buying fruit from a dedicated group of growers. In 2006 Brian acquired the old Cellier Le Brun winery, finally giving Mahi wines a true home.

Working very naturally in a hands-off manner, Brian focuses on making wines that speak of their terroir and origin. Sourcing fruit from the same vineyards continuously, for many years, has also allowed his knowledge and understanding to grow with every vintage. All his single vineyard wines use wild yeast ferments while his estate wines are a combination of innoculated and wild yeast vinifications.

Tasting Note: Mahi Wines 2013 Pinot Noir, Marlborough, 13.5 Abv. – This wine shows very pretty black fruit aromatics and wonderfully lifted, fragrant perfume. Sweet roses, pink musk, red plums, black cherry and black currant notes waft out the glass intermingled with graphite, gravelly spice and pithy foresty bramble fruits. The palate is vibrant, slightly crunchy and fresh revealing sour plums, stewed cranberries and salty black berries with fine, spicy, savoury mineral tannins on the finish. Has all the hallmark elegance of fine Marlborough Pinot Noir with ample minerality and sappy choc spice oak complexity on the finish. A wine starting to show real promise at 4 years old. Drink or keep for another 5 to 8 years.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti La Tache 2014 ~ Stealing the Show at the New Release Tasting…

The 2014 La Tache has a beautifully sweet fruited, even opulent nose with a fine interplay between fruit, forest and fragrance. Red cherry, raisined cranberries, leafy sap and sweet confit notes abound, sprinkled with pink blossom perfume. Also the most pretty candied red fruits, chalky minerality and sappy stalk spice, so expertly and effortlessly melded so as to be inseparable. 

The palate is every bit as spellbinding as the nose suggests showing layered minerality and impressive tension. One starts to see why Aubert de Villane describes 2014 as a year of terroir and minerality. There’s an impressive core of red and black fruits and a tensile graphite finish. Such great depth and power, softly stated but clearly displayed like a badge of higher pedigree. This is a very serious, seductive La Tache that captures and combines the very finest elements of the vintage to produce the most impressive wine out of the 2014 Domaine de la Romanee Conti offerings. Plenty of hedonistic drinking enjoyment lie ahead for the lucky few who manage to put a few of these bottles in their cellar. 

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Lismore Pinot Noir 2016 ~ A Cheeky Preview in London…

On Tuesday this week I met up with the lovely Samantha O’Keefe to taste through her impressive new Lismore releases. What a pleasant surprise to get a sneak peek at her newly bottled Lismore Pinot Noir 2016!

Made from a blend of 50% Stanford Pinot Noir and 50% Kaaimangat Pinot Noir fruit, all 115 clone, coming in at 13 Abv. Grapes were fermented in a 5000L tank with 10% whole bunch. The wine was then aged in a mix of older 225L barriques and new 500L barrels.

Tasting Note: This wine, despite being newly bottled, is fabulously vibrant and fresh with the most attractive sour cherry, sweet spice, cherry blossom nose. The fruits are so pure and crunchy and display wonderful mid palate tension and superb textural elegance. I love the pristine purity of the fruits, very much in the red berry spectrum with plenty of Cotes de Beaune nuances. The finish is focused, soft and linear with attractive strawberry fruit and foresty bramble berry notes, pointing to the Stanford influence. A wonderful vein of acidity is evident throughout, balanced by the weightier, fleshy Kaaimansgat fruit density. A truly impressive wine that definitely has Burgundy in its DNA. 

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

The 2015 Chambertin Grand Cru Shoot Out ~ Armand Rousseau v Olivier Bernstein…

It’s not often you get to compare and contrast two Burgundy wines of this stature, tasted on the same day consecutively. Appellation Chambertin Grand Cru, along with Musigny Grand Cru, are among the greatest and most revered Pinot Noir sites in the whole of Burgundy. It is only perhaps the famed Domaine de la Romanee Conti Monopole vineyard of Romanee Conti that commands greater awe and respect. 

So I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to pitch these wines head-to-head and examine what makes them great and what differentiates them. 

Armand Rousseau Chambertin Grand Cru 2015 (Barrel Sample Jan 2017)

Always one of the most anticipated wines of the year to taste, the 2015 Chambertin has a pristine, perfumed bouquet of white citrus blossoms, ginger biscuits, orange peel, red cherry, black forest berries and subtle hints of graphite. A little more exotic ripeness than your average Chambertin vintage, this wine shows plenty of power and depth, but also intensity and classic Rousseau precision, focus and balance. The palate is sleek, sweetly fruited, suave, and slightly precocious. The tight knit layers of blackberry and strawberry fruit slowly open in the glass and gently wrap their arms around you in a firm longing embrace. There is such beautiful intensity and concentration throughout, a peppery, mineral-infused sappy spice and a defined, linear vein of acidity that runs through the wine from start to finish. This is another block buster from the Domaine that will no doubt become a vintage as equally collectable as the greats of 2009 and 2010. (Wine Safari Score: 96-98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Olivier Bernstein Chambertin Grand Cru 2015 (Barrel Sample Jan 2017)

An incredibly bright, inviting ruby red colour. The nose immediately suggests luxury with richness, intensity and purity and takes you on a sensory journey. Sweet black berry, cassis leaf, dusty grey slate, sweet stalky sap and limestone nuances. The palate is rich, seamlessly complete, showing a glossy texture, plenty of power and ample finesse in its unfinished form. But already, the oak and fruit is beautifully integrated, framed by vibrantly fresh acids and a pronounced saline black cassis core. A real revelation tasting this producer’s Chambertin for the first time. There is such polished, caressed shape and focused mineral power that’s dovetailed neatly into a lush, dark fruited, saline finish. Wow, what a gem standing ahead of his other Grand Cru’s. (Wine Safari Score: 97-98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

My conclusions? On the infrequent occasions I get to taste or drink these wines, they always leave you feeling like you have just visited a holy site or touched hallowed ground. At even a modest quality level, these appellations represent a profound expression of Pinot Noir. In the hands of great producers like Rousseau and Bernstein, they have the potential to boggle the mind and palate with their complexity and allure.

While there is nothing to really separate these wines in the potential scores, my money would probably go with the Rousseau track record over the impressively sleek, but subtle gloss of the Bernstein. But I would be splitting hairs! Congratulations to both producers.

Domaine Armand Rousseau ~ The Producer Every Burgundy Lover Wants in Their Cellar…

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 wines of Domaine Armand Rousseau.

While connoisseurs can’t drink Rousseau Chambertin Grand Cru too regularly, regardless of whether they can afford it or not, primarily due to scarcity, some of Rousseau’s other Grand Cru’s like their Clos de Beze, Clos de la Roche and Charmes-Chambertin are both slightly more affordable and more easily available in the broader market.

Specifically, the appellation Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru is made from grapes in Charmes-Chambertin and also Mazoyères-Chambertin. The word “Charmes” in Burgundy refers to the ancient cultivated fields in wasteland. In Burgundy, “Charmes” has the same meaning as “Chaumes “.

The word Mazoyères originates from the small shacks where the winegrowers stored their tools in the vineyards. Mazoyères rests on Comblanchien limestone with a shallow gravel layer that comes from the alluvial cone of the Combe Grisard. The higher level of the Charmes-Chambertin plot rests on entroqual limestone and the lower level on Comblanchien limestone, allowing for a more supple, giving wine with lots of finesse and elegance to be produced. 

The East facing 1.47 Ha of Armand Rousseau’s Charmes Chambertin vineyard

Armand Rousseau Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2015 (Barrel Sample Tasted January 2017)

The nose of this majestic wine is laden with red and black berry fruits, salty cassis, cherry, cranberry, rose petal fragrance and complex spicy raspberry herbal tea nuances. On the palate, there is beautifully soft, fleshy, vivacious opulence with all the hallmark Rousseau purity, sappy spice, limestone minerality and seamless textural precision. Charmes-Chambertin is often regarded as a slightly under performing Grand Cru vineyard, but in some years like 2015, the the celestial stars align, allowing this appellation to deliver sublime Pinot Noir grandeur. The 2015 really is an especially impressive effort with the sweetest of tannins, tantalising acids, and the purest of fruit. Getting your hands on some 2015 Armand Rousseau wines is undoubtedly going to be a challenge, but great rewards await if you are successful. (Wine Safari Score: 94-96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)