A couple of weeks before my scheduled trip to Sonoma, I was asked if I wanted to have a tasting at Ramey Wine Cellars and I jumped at the chance. After all, David Ramey is a bit of a rock star winemaker, having spent time at Château Pétrus in Bordeaux, and Matanzas Creek, Chalk Hill, and Dominus Estate (among others) in California.
Unfortunately, Mr. Ramey was not available the day I was there for the tasting, but I am not sure I mind, for what followed was probably the most fun I have ever had at any single tasting since I started this blog four and a half years ago.
The plan was to arrive at 10, taste through a few wines, and then head off to lunch, all with Ramey’s Communications Director, Alexandra O’Gorman. Easy.
As many of you may have already surmised, I am a bit of a talker. Actually, I like to prefer to say that I am more of an instigator or a catalyst as there is nothing that I enjoy more than getting other people to talk.
Well, it turns out that Alexandra seems to be of the same ilk.
We talked, gabbed, joked, cajoled, and even sniggered a few times. Just about every possible topic that two people who had never met was discussed: kids, spouses, religion, politics, sports, in-laws, moving to Texas (she was a bit incredulous), and of course wine.
We probably chatted for a good hour or so before we tasted the first of nine wines that had been tantalizingly poured before I showed up.
We started with a couple of wines from Sidebar, David Ramey’s second label, which constitutes 5,000 total cases. 2014 was the first vintage of the label, and the wines are “meant to be a by the glass, somm geek-out wines” according to Alexandra. They are also made to be consumed early, with a focus on freshness. One of the Sidebar wines is a Kerner from Mokulmne Glen in Lodi (a real wine-geek type of wine), but unfortunately it was not available for my tasting (thanks for that little tease there Alexandra).
2014 Sidebar Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc Ritchie Vineyard: Retail $34. Bright and fun with good fruit and bright acidity. Pineapple and lemon. Very nice. Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2015 Sidebar Rosé of Syrah Russian River Valley: Retail $21. Dedicated or “intentional” rosé. Strawberry, cherry, and a tiny bit of earth on the back. Really, really nice. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
We then moved on to the Ramey wines, a label that David Ramey started in 1996 with a mere 260 cases of Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay. The label has grown considerably in the two decades since both in size (with over 15 different wines) and prestige (it would be silly to try to attempt to list all the Ramey wines that have been highly rated by the various print magazines).
Starting in 2012, Ramey switched to 100% Diam agglomerated cork closures for all the Chardonnays. The decision to switch followed an intensive process, starting with trials on the 2009 Ritchie Chardonnay. Eventually, the decision was made to switch even though Diam stoppers are more expensive than traditional cork. [Before hearing Alexandra’s spiel about the agglomerated corks, I was a bit skeptical. While I remain a bit dubious, I am beginning to think that if they are good enough for David Ramey, well….]
All of the Ramey Chardonnays are from the Wente clone and all are whole cluster pressed (a hallmark of Ramey’s approach to Chardonnays he was the first whole cluster Chardonnay producer in US).
Our conversation continued throughout the tasting, often taking several minutes between wines. Several times, I forced myself to take some notes on my phone at the risk of derailing the conversation, but that is why I was there after all, right?
2013 Ramey Wine Cellars Russian River Valley Chardonnay: Retail $40. From all over the appellation including some of the more famous wine growers in Sonoma (Dutton, Rochioli). 10-15% new oak, with the rest 1 or 2 year old or neutral oak. Fined as necessary, 100% Malolactic fermentation. Honey and Stone fruit predominant. Very nice. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2013 Ramey Wine Cellars Russian River Valley Chardonnay Woolsey Road: Retail $65. All single vineyard wines are 20-25% new oak for 20 months. The Woolsey Road fruit comes from relatively younger vines. A bit “sweeter” or “plumper” perhaps than the Russian River Valley Chardonnay, but also richer. Only 388 cases produced. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2013 Ramey Wine Cellars Russian River Valley Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard: Retail $65. Same oak regimen as Woolsey, but more than three times the production (1200 cases). I found this a bit more austere than the more opulent Woolsey, and with a touch of smoke. On the palate the acidity drives the bus, with the fruit taking the back seat a bit. Needs a bit more time. Still, Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2014 Ramey Wine Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: Retail $50. 47% Westside Farms (new property for Ramey), 39% Bucher Vineyard, and 14% Keller Estate. This is the first RRV Pinot for Ramey, and a solid effort it is: Bright cherry, a touch of spice, and a bit of dust with an impressive weight and a great mouthfeel. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Ramey Wine Cellars Russian River Valley Syrah Cole Creek Vineyard: Retail $75. The vineyard was planted to Ramey’s specifications (which includes some Viognier) in 2006. The Syrah (94%) and Viognier (6%) were co-harvested and co-fermented, 25% whole cluster in tank. Transferred to 100% new French oak were it stayed for 27 months sur lie. Dark and brooding. I was expecting this to to get to a jammy state, but it never did. While this needs time, it is really, really good. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2012 Ramey Wine Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Retail $60. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 6% Malbec, and 3% Petit Verdot, from all over Napa Valley, a combination of hillside and valley floor vineyards that spent 18 months in 50% new French oak. Creamy with wonderful red berry fruit and a touch of smoke. Well balanced, a bargain at $60. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2012 Ramey Wine Cellars Annum Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Retail $100. 76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Cabernet Franc. From the best blocks that Ramey sources in Napa. Great nose of blackberry, mocha, and even toffee, that I could smell for a while. Great balance and weight, a full-bodied wine that stops well short of being over-powering. “Elegant” is an over used word in wine, but it is apt here. I would be in no hurry to drink this wine as it will improve over the next 10-20 years. Easily. Whoa. Outstanding. 94-96 Points.
We never did make it to lunch–I was there for just over four hours although the time really did fly by (however, I am sure that Alexandra might have a different opinion). As I headed off to my next appointment at Rodney Strong, Alexandra alerted me that I would be meeting her husband there. “Watch out,” she said, “he’s a bit of a talker.”