When only the best will do

  • Quintessentially California: David Ramey is one of the most influential names in California winemaking

    Quintessentially California: David Ramey is one of the most influential names in California winemaking

  • Michael Robinson considers David Ramey’s wines to be among the best. They are now available at Burrows Lightbourn

    Michael Robinson considers David Ramey’s wines to be among the best. They are now available at Burrows Lightbourn


We have recently entered into an agreement with Ramey Wine Cellars, located in the town of Healdsburg in Sonoma, to represent their fine wines here.

I consider them among the best and decided to Google “the best cabernet sauvignon producers in California”.

One site called California Winery Advisor had this to say: “We went looking for consistency. We wanted to know which wineries make the best cabernet sauvignon wines year after year. We came up with a list for you that represents our favourite cabernet sauvignon winemakers in the state. Of course, there may be fluctuations in who the hot winemaker is next year or the year after, but we know we can rely on these ten wineries whenever we are out looking for a bottle of the top cabernet sauvignon or a bordeaux blend.”

This list was topped by Ramey Wine Cellars along with these comments: “David Ramey is one of the most influential names in California winemaking. All his wines are stunning and quintessentially California. For my money, the consistency of the Ramey claret makes it one of my go-tos.”

This would be a good time to explain why the Brits call these dark cabernet sauvignon and merlot-based Bordeaux wines claret, rather than refer to the much lighter pinot noirs from Burgundy in this manner.

Bordeaux first caught on in England when Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152 and in those days the art of perfecting deep reds as we know today had not been accomplished and so the wines were more of a rose colour.

Over in Burgundy, up until 100 years ago, pinot noirs were considered much too light in colour and dark-pigmented grapes, such as syrah, were often added to the blend.

Of course this is not allowed now by the laws of appellation controlée. In a reversal of what we have today, burgundy was dark and bordeaux much lighter.

Let’s start with Ramey Cellars 2016 claret and if you are wondering what gives David Ramey the right to use a Bordeaux wine term, I will share with you that one of his early ventures was working for the Moueix family at Château Pétrus in Pomerol. The fact that I only remember drinking this wine on one occasion is closely tied to the fact that its average price exceeds $2,600 a bottle.

The Wine Enthusiast writes of this Ramey 2016 claret: “92/100. Blends a majority of cabernet sauvignon with 26 per cent merlot, 12 per cent Malbec, 8 per cent syrah and 2 per cent petit verdot. Together, they interweave into a cohesive whole of clove, black pepper and meaty intensity and integrated oak. Soft and round on the palate, it pleases at an unbelievable price.”

The winery feels this way: “Our claret follows the Bordelaise model of blending different Bordeaux varietals. It rested on its lees 12 months in French and American oak barrels, only 13 per cent new, with monthly bâtonnage to coat the tannins, producing a luscious, cushioned mouthfeel. This wine was lightly fined with egg whites and bottled without filtration in February 2018.”

Bâtonnage is the stirring of dead yeast cells and other solids known as the lees. During fining, the protein called albumen in egg whites reduces harsh tannins and clears small suspended particles out of the wine. I have just tasted this for the first time and fully agree with the “luscious, cushioned mouthfeel” described by the winery — a lovely wine indeed. $53.45.

Jancis Robinson can give us an opinion from England on our Ramey 2014 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon: “After an understated nose, there’s loads of lovely blackcurrant, smoke, charcoal and gamy aromas on the palate. Almost more like Rhône than Bordeaux in its meatiness. Long, malty chocolate finish. Very soft tannins and great length. Perhaps not the most typical Napa cabernet from its relatively restrained fruit, but delivers satisfying complexity and persistence.”

Reviewer Jeb Dunnock gave it 93/100 and said, “The 2014 cabernet sauvignon Napa Valley is classic Ramey cabernet all the way. Blackberries, currants, scorched earth and charcoal aromatics, medium to full body, great elegance and notable concentration all make for a top-notch 2014 that can be drunk today or cellared for ten to 15 years.

“The blend is 80 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 11 per cent merlot, 6 per cent Malbec and 3 per cent petit verdot and it’s made in decent enough quantities that it should be easy to find.” $72.50.

Although Ramey offers 14 wines at present, we have made the decision to start with only three and, as such, we also have Ramey Russian River 2015 chardonnay that sells for $51.50.

The Wine Enthusiast feels this way: “94/100. This is one heck of a deal for a wine of this quality and substance. Sourced from four ranches farmed by the Dutton family, as well as the producer’s estate and two Rochioli sites, it shows the beauty of blending from such incredible places — a study in exotic lemony quince and soft supple structure. The lasting finish is textured and complex.”

For those of you that may be interested in clonal selection, this chardonnay reads like a who’s who of vine clones with University of California at Davis, clone No 4 along with Wente and Dijon. Whole clusters of grapes are pressed for phenolic delicacy and only naturally occurring native yeasts are used during fermentation.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409). Visit wineonline.bm

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Published Apr 26, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Apr 26, 2019 at 8:49 am)

When only the best will do

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