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Ramey Wine Cellars Raises the Bar

by Monty & Sara Preiser

Preisers' Reserve: It isn't often we choose a wine of great expense as our highlighted wine of the week, but it isn't often we taste a wine so utterly stunning as the 2004 Ramey Wine Cellars Pedregal ($140). Not yet released (you gotta wait until February, 2007- but don't wait long, as only 260 cases will be produced), this 75% Cab/25% Petite Verdot is loaded with layers oflush dark fruits that give the front palate an initial fruit blast, followed by earth and cedar accented with exotic spices and herbal tones.The tannins here are approachable and smooth, yet substantial and powerful. Pedregal is simply a pleaser from front to back, and one wine you want to collect.

www.rameywine.com 707-433-0870

Ramey Wine Cellars Raises the Bar

If at all possible, we visit David Ramey at Ramey Wine Cellars each year to taste the new vintages made by this extraordinary wine maker. While we often say that not every winery can produce a winner with every bottle made, such is never the case here. Each wine is distinctive in its own way, and reflects not only the character of the varietal and vineyard where the fruit is grown, but also David's own whims and desires.

Vineyard Designated Chardonnays

In the special sites chosen by David for his vineyard designated (i.e. single vineyard) Chardonnays, he writes that the climate is cool, and the yields and "soil vigor" are both low. Wanting to understand this concept in greater detail we asked David to tell us the import of low vigor, and he related that all great wines, red or white, are made from low vigor sites with excellent drainage. This limits the amount of vegetative growth and crop level, which improve wine quality. One cannot make great wine on a site which should otherwise be growing corn by simply crop thinning, as the vine will respond with excessive vegetative growth, which will take away from ripening the fruit, as well as shade the fruit and produce light, herbal wines. This applies to white grapes as well as red. David loves to see gravel in the sites he chooses to work with as it means less organic material in the soil, as well as excellent drainage.

While many wineries are pushing the so called new style of California Chardonnays which have less (or even no) oak, in reality when the fruit is dense and structured, the wine can absorb more oak without being overwhelmed. Such is the case with the Ramey vineyard designates – they see 70% new oak barrels for up to 21 months. We can assure you they are well balanced.

-2004 Ritchie Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($60): For our money, David's best Chard, but in tastings at the winery it is clear that one's individual tastes govern who likes what best. Hugely concentrated due to the tiny quantity of grapes per vine, the beautiful balance of minerality and oak combine to frame layers of apples and pears.

-2004 Hyde Vineyard, Napa Valley -- Carneros ($58) and 2004 Hudson Vineyard, Napa Valley -- Carneros ($58): These two wines always spark a debate about which people like better. For us, it depends on the year. Usually Hudson exhibits a bit more power, while Hyde is a touch more demure. Nevertheless, both are remarkable examples of wines that cover the palate in richness, and then give way to a many second finish.

Appellation Chardonnays

Each of these wines is made from fruit in the same appellation (growing region), but not the same vineyard. They are vinified identically, so the differences one tastes are a result of the region's particular terroir. During the winemaking process, the Ramey appellation Chardonnays are made in the same manner as the Vineyard Designates, though because the fruit is somewhat less dense, they see lesser new oak and spend less time in barrel. This in no way implies these wines are less delicious than the Vineyard Designates -- they are just different. They also boast am amazing price point relative to quality, which is a tribute to David's desire that everyone possible enjoy his wines.

-2004 Sonoma Coast ($36), 2004 Russian River Valley ($36), and 2004 Carneros District ($36): All of these wines are chock full of tropical overtones which gradually give way to elegance and some apple in the finish.

Red Wines

-2004 Claret ($38): David calls this silky wine that exhibits some mint, licorice, and chocolate, his "entry-level Cabernet blend." Don't let that fool you. It is still a serious wine for a very good price, and will lay down for up to 5 years.

-2003 Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley ($75): This will be Ramey's last harvest from this site. We like a blend with this much Cabernet Franc (9%) and Petite Verdot (6%), as these varietals add so much flavor and structure. This rocky appellation has little fog and extended sun, helping to produce wines with tannins that are quite pronounced.

-2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Larkmead Vineyard, Napa Valley ($75): This release replaces the Diamond Mountain District, and, if anything, is even better. Everyone that samples this wine found something different to love -- floral nose, licorice, blueberry, cherry, black currants, etc. Let us just say that it is complex and lovely.

Interestingly, when you study the appellations above, you willlearn one of the reasons nowinery ismaking better wines thanRamey Cellars.David has no limitations as to where he sources his fruit - Napa, Sonoma, or anywhere else - as long as the fruit is superior enough to passhis own standards. Too many vintners are rutted in a one Valley mode. David Ramey has long since made the jump past county rivalry to simply producing the best he can. And that's plenty good for not only us, but critics and consumers alike.

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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