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)

 

White Burgundy Producers Making Great Red Wines ~ Tasting Jean-Claude Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge…

Domaine Ramonet is one of the quality reference points of the Côte de Beaune in Burgundy. Even before the First World War, their wines were being enjoyed in high society and in some of the finest restaurants in France. Today, brothers Jean Claude and Noël Ramonet are at the head of the Domaine that delivers exceptional quality wines year in, year out, with international demand insatiable, not just for their famous white wines but also increasingly for their highly focused, precise, pure fruited red wines.


They currently own 17 hectares of mostly prime Chassagne-Montrachet vineyards plus a small amount of three grands crus in Puligny-Montrachet. The reds have traditionally played second fiddle to their masterful whites, but like many white focused domaines also making reds, like Bonneau du Martray or Roulot, their reds have definitely benefited from a touch of global warming (and improved vinification techniques), and have been quite impressive in recent vintages.


Jean-Claude Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge 2014, Burgundy, 13.5 Abv.

An alluring dark ruby red with wonderful clarity, this wine has very pretty aromatics that waft from the glass effortlessly. Beautiful perfumed notes of cherry blossom, sweet jasmine, rose petals and pink musk mix with notes of caramelised red cherries, roasted cashew nuts, sun dried cranberries, and fraises des bois wild strawberry. One of the best vintages for white Burgundy in many years, it wasn’t that bad for the reds either. More classically modelled, the palate is crystalline, pure and very precise with finely polished chalky mineral tannins, a medium bodied weight, plenty of red strawberry, cranberry and red cherry flesh, and an attractive sappy, spicy complexity on the finish. The acids are finely poised, the wine beautifully balanced, and shows an accessible, supple textured style that has all the hallmarks of a top quality producer. A pretty distinguished effort not just for a village Chassagne rouge, but also within the context of the whole Cotes de Beaune.

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

Restless River’s Craig Wessels Finally Comes Out the Closet and Produces a Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir…

Think of Hemel-en-Aarde and red wine and you automatically point to Pinot Noir. Think of Craig Wessels and Restless River and you definitely go straight to fine Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. But finally, Craig has shed his Bordeaux blazer and donned a Burgundian hemp vest, producing his first Pinot Noir from vines he planted at the winery.


The must for this wine under went spontaneous fermentation in open top fermenters using 20% whole bunches from vines only planted in 2013. It was then basket pressed into old oak barrels for 15 months ageing. The wine has a healthy total acidity of 6.1 TA and a total SO2 of 50, with 25 free. Bottled in April 2017, Craig is planning for a mid 2018 release date. 


Restless River Pinot Noir 2016, Upper Hemel en Aarde, 12.8 Abv.

A very tense, taught version of Pinot Noir that harks back to Burgundy instantly. Lovely dark Cotes de Nuits berry fruits, a la Morey St Denis. Not quite the earthy nuances of a Gevrey, this wine is highly charged, spicey, black fruited with tart sour cranberry acids, sappy bramble berries, red plum and pithy cherry skin spice. Lovely definition, wound spring tension and ample energy. Texturally very sophisticated, broody and powder soft dry tannins. A very grown up version from young vines that can only get better and better as the vines establish themselves. Drink now or age for 3 to 8+ years. This is a serious effort for dedicated Burgundy lovers. 

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 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

Seduced By Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Chênes…

Fontaine-Gagnard in Chassagne Montrachet is probably a domaine better know for its white wines than its reds. But the last few years have seen their reds go from strength to strength, in no small part due to the focus and attention to detail of Celine Fontaine, who seems to have taken over all winemaking duties.


I recently had the opportunity to taste several vintages of their glorious Volnay Clos des Chênes, one of the most impressive 1er Cru expressions in the appellation. With allocations of Domaine Michel Lafarge rarely making it past En-primeur now days, picking up a bottle of Clos des Chênes that’s almost ready to drink is becoming a rare luxury.


The reds grapes at Fontaine-Gagnard are normally destemmed with light crushing. The must is then transferred into vats for the alcoholic fermentation for up to a week with little to no temperature control. The reds undergo daily punch downs and pump overs and then usually undergo a light filtration.


Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Chênes 2011, 13 Abv.

A dark ruby colour, there is interestingly little to no graduation of colour in the glass. A very pretty nose awaits with a beautiful bouquet of crushed rose petals and cherry blossoms. There are wonderfully expressive notes of strawberry confit, caramelised red cherries, and red berry pastille fruits. Lovely lift, freshness and an attractive sappy, stalky, minerality develop in the glass with just the faintest hint of sweet wood spice. An elegant, medium-bodied palate is perfectly harmonious and sleek, thoroughly seductive with a focused concentration of cherry pith, sappy spice, bramble berries, tart red plums, and a mouth watering maraschino cherry finish. Plenty of stony, dusty tannins add a little extra frame to the wine. A really attractive expression of Volnay that should easily drink well for another 10 to 12 years.

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

The Rise of a New Burgundian Icon Producer ~ Tasting Domaine Duroché Gevrey Chambertin… 

The Burgundy En-primeur tasting season in the UK over the months of January and February is a very exciting time for buyers, if for no other reason than the probable likelihood of discovering a new family scion or black sheep Burgundian off-shoot that has started producing a new range of wines. Getting in early with an order could be critical in securing an ongoing allocation. 


Domaine Duroché is currently run by fourth generation Gilles Duroché along with his son Pierre, so they are by no means a new winery. But they have definitely resurfaced as one of the most sought after wineries in Burgundy over the past 4 or 5 years, along with producers like Domaine Denis Mortet, Domaine Georges Noellat and Heitz-Lochardet. I myself only really started to notice their wines on the En-primeur circuit around 3 years ago, probably too late to secure any meaningful allocations. But the wines are so good my endeavours continue.

Their Gevrey Chambertin holdings include three wines each at village level – Jeunes Rois, Etelois and Champ; Premier Cru level – Champeaux, Estournelles St Jacques and Lavaux St Jacques; and Grand Cru level – Charmes-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, Chambertin Clos de Bèze and latterly, a tiny parcel of Griotte Chambertin.

Domaine Duroché Gevrey Chambertin “Champ” 2013, 12.5 Abv.

A wonderfully seductive bouquet greets the drinker with lifted perfumed fragrance, violets, sweet jasmine and cherry blossom. But it’s the intense red maraschino cherry note that rings the loudest. So powerful and beguiling. The crystallised cherry purity resonates across a beautifully vibrant, crisp fresh palate bristling with tart cranberry, caramelised cherries and kirsch liquor complexity. So pure, so supple, so seamlessly elegant. The Lord alone knows how Duroché achieves this concentration of fruit together with this level of purity and textural balance at only 12.5 Abv. A really impressive creation. Such a pleasure to drink. 

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

Seduced by the Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir from Kelley Fox Wines, Oregon…

I first met the wonderful Kelley Fox around 3 years ago at the Real Wine Fair in London. After several years of buying and selling a plethora of great Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley, a spell of tasting disappointing Pinot Noirs from Oregon followed despite being such a committed convert after attending the Oregon Pinot Camp in 2009.


But my good friend Doug Wregg from wine importer Les Caves de Pyrenees showed me the way to the superb Kelley Fox Wines and once again, my faith in the finest potential of Oregon Pinot Noir was restored. 


The Momtazi Vineyard is a fully Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyard in the McMinnville Foothills A.V.A. (American Viticultural Area), in Northern Oregon, planted in 1998 with 114 and 115 Pinot Noir clones.


The 2013 vintage in the Willamette Valley was a year of consistent warm, dry weather until late September, that is. After a relatively dry winter and early spring, bud break in the Willamette Valley overall was the earliest since 1992. Summer was consistently warm, but with none of the heat spikes over 37 deg C like in 2009, for example. Veraison in relevant blocks occurred around the end of August/early September. Then the rains came. Not just any rains but typhoon-like rains at the end of September. But picking still only occurred on the 7th of October in the Momtazi vineyard with fruit considered some of the best quality in years.


Kelley Fox Wines Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, McMinnville, Oregon, 13 Abv.

This is one Pinot Noir worth investing some time in. With a nose this expressive and pretty, there is no point rushing. Contemplation is required. The bouquet is seriously seductive and beguiling, revealing subtle perfumed cherry blossom, cherry confit, blood oranges, polished rosewood and ruby grapefruit complexity. But this wine possesses an extra dimension, an inner core of Pinot beauty that marries red and black forest berry fruits, dusty chalky minerality, subtle sappy notes and dreamy resinous oak spice. The palate is no less impressive, with such a fine knit texture, creamy finessed talcum powder tannins and an inseparable, integrated acidity balance. Layers of black spicy cherry fruits roll into pomegranate, juniper, red liquorice stick, bramble berry and sweet creamy musk. There is such a feminine, harmonious gentleness to this wine that surely has to be one of the finest Pinot Noirs produced in the Willamette Valley. A real treat. Drink now to 2025+.

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