Discovery Tasting: Alternatives to Burgundy

Stefan Neumann MS hosted a fascinating Discovery Tasting looking at wines from around the world that provide interesting alternatives for Burgundy, especially when some of the best might not be readily available.

To launch a series of virtual and live tastings, with Sommelier Collective Merchant Partner Fells, Stefan Neumann MS selected a range of 10 wines – chardonnays and pinot noirs – that offer valid and engaging alternatives to good burgundies. Picked from top Spanish, Italian, New Zealand, Tasmanian, Californian, Orgeon vineyards, the tasting provided a fascinating chance for our members to take a close look at quality wines from the Fells portfolio.

“Why are we doing this tasting?”, asked Neumann at the beginning fo the session, “we saw prices going up and volumes going down in Burgundy and you have two option: you can either complain or you can look for alternatives. Whilst I was on the floor I started to do this: to look for wines that would give the burgundians a run for their money. We have wines in the tasting that start at 11 pounds up to 30 – so really showing excellent value.”

Having a Master Sommelier on hand with such experience leading the tasting meant that members were able to share their impressions and anecdotes about alternative wines and how to build them into a wine list, whilst discussing customer experiences when suggesting and selling wines during service. Neuman gave some top tips on how to introduce alternatives to Burgundy by including the use of anecdotes and historical references to engage the person looking to enjoy the wine.

Stefan Neumann MS -. giving Burgundy a run for its money with the wines from the Alternatives to Burgundy Discovery Tasting

Whilst I was on the floor I started to look for wines that would give the burgundians a run for their money. This selection showcases wines that will do that, starting at 11 pounds up to 30 – so really showing excellent value.

Stefan Neumann MS

THE WINES

Jean Leon 2019 Chardonnay

“Founded in 1963 by an Italian imigrant but owned by the Torres family in 1984. They have a unique approach to making Chardonnay – a cool climate, Spanish Chardonnay. The fruit for this wine come from a vineyard in the early 60s. They use large vessels for fermentation and spend 6 months on the fine lees. No denying it is froma warmer region but the height of the vineyard give it great acidity which comes through. Historically Chardonnay was brought to this region by Cistercian monks in the 13th/14th century who came from the Burgundy region.” Stefan Neumann MS

“South of Siena, Ricasoli has been in the region in the 12th century and have been exporting this wine to the UK anf Holland for 500 years. Alot of Chardonnay is planted in the area but the site for this wine is very specific. They are very passionate about the terroir and broken down all of the soil types Planted on the R3 clone and aged for 9 months in tonneaux, the older vintages have more oak than the more recent wines are much more balanced they increased the barrel size. They have 15 years of making this wine so they know what they are doing.” Stefan Neumann MS

Harry Cooper “great blast of acidity and lovely oak balance.”

Torricella 2019 Ricasoli
Wente 2020 Chardonnay

“Important name in California, established in 1883, in the Livermoore Valley. This wine has a cool strike – even in summer it is cold because of the wind and the fog – giving it great citrus acidity. This is Wente clone, named in 1912, and this the most widely used clone in California right now. Five months sur lie with a little battonage going on and it has 2% of Gerwuztraminer in the blend to give weight and oiliness to the wine. Aged in larger formal, nuetral American oak.” Stefan Neumann MS

Angelo Margheriti “Lovely creamy texture.”

Harry Cooper “Like a vanilla bomb. Great with nutty cheeses.”

“When you pour this you will find a very positive note of reduction which I personally love. Clone-wise we are at 95 and 16, classic Burgundy clones and this example comes from the Renwick vineyard, close to Blenheim. Pressed directly into the barrel with some battonage. 2020 was a good solid vintage to buy, naturally the yeild was quite low. Reminds me a lot of Burgundy – turbot would match wonderfully with this wine.” Stefan Neumann MS

Konstantinos Katridis “Delicious – lovely taste of toasted almonds.”

George Doyle “Favourite wine so far.”

Valerya Toteyva “This wine would match perfectly with Pad Thai.”

Nautilus 2019 Chardonnay
Gran Moraine Chardonnay 2019

“Work more with whole clusters making this wine, you get a sense of it in the structure. 16.5 months in barrel, very specific, then they transfer to stainless steel to give grip and freshness from the cool climate there in Oregon. 8% new oak – so really more of a vessel that carries the wines than adds to it. If you look its on the same latitude as Burgundy which is why so many producers from there are investing in Oregon.” Stefan Neumann MS

“Hartford Court is owned by the Jackson Family, close to Santa Rosa and about 15 minutes from the Pacific Ocean. The Petaluma Gap really is a major factor in the production of great wines – very important for regulating the climate and making Pinot Noir work in the region. At Hartford, just on Pinot Noir they do 16 separate, different bottlings of their wines this example is from several differnet plots and the make up is not the same each year. 9.5 months in oak and 22% new oak, very precise and so open about what they do. Important to not ethat 92% of the fruit was picked before the wild fires so no worry about taint on the wines.” Stefan Neumann MS

Harry Cooper “Rich and juicy with great poise. Good with barbequed Lamb or pork.”

Hartford Court 2019 Pinot Noir
Dalrymple 2020 Pinot Noir

“Extreme wine producing region, established in 1987, looking straight over the Bass Straight. Tasmania has traditionally has been totally underated in terms of Pinot and Chardonnay production, where the wines were destined for sparkling wines, but now coming into its own. Dalrymple has been owned by Robert Hill Smithsince 2007. 11 months in oak and 24 months in oak. 2020 was a challenging vintage due to the rain. 28% less in terms of yeild because it was such a tough vintage. Great potential to age.” Stefan Neumann MS

“The winery was established in 1896, but the first vintage of this wine was 2018. 100% de-stemmed and handpicked, aged in a mixture of new and old oak for 11 months. Te Mata is famous for its top reds, especially wines like Bullnose. They are very specific about their sites and varietals. The inspiration for the name of this wne come from Dr. James Thompson at the Battle of Alma during the Crimean war. There are always very intriguing story behind the wines at Te Mata.” Stefan Neumann MS

Te Mata 2018 Alma
Torres, Marimar Estate 2013
Mas Cavallas

“Established by Marimar Torres, fourth generation of the family Spanish winemaking family, who was very brave to leave the family home in Cataluña to look for something different. A brave lady who have forged her own path in Sonoma, a cool climate area tyhat is strongly affected by fog and winds at the beginning of day. This estate is 2006 powered by solar panels, organically certified since 2006 and produce wines bio-dynamically and at the forefront of sustainability – from bees to bats to bobcats they are all about being close to nature. They believe the wines need to be aged and the wines are highly oaked in comparison to the other wines in this tasting.” Stefan Neumann MS

“Fresh, vibrant Pinot Noir made by Sam Neil one of the main protagonists in Jurassic Park, established in 1993 on the proceeds of the film – first vintage 1997. Two Paddocks own vineyards in the three major Otago Valley – Gisbton, Alexandra and Cromwell. This is the first wine where you will see the influence of 46% whole bunch press in the wine, perhaps in comparison to the other Pinots in this tasting.” Stefan Neumann MS

Two Paddocks 2018 Pinot Noir

This tasting was developed by The Sommelier Collective with Merchant Partner Fells.

Fells was established in 1858 and is one of the UK’s best-known suppliers to the quality on-trade. The company is best known as a fortified wine specialist since leading port producer, Symington Family Estates, acquired the importer in the 1970’s. However, the company has undergone many changes over the years with Torres, top Spanish producer, joining the portfolio in the early 90’s, followed by the Hill Smith family, owners of respected Australian wineries Yalumba, Pewsey Vale and Dalrymple, joining the company in 2018. These developments gave the company greater scale and an unrivalled position in the premium sector of the UK wine market.

Watch the video

Santa Rita, Sideways and Sea Breezes

The Santa Rita Hills is one of the best cool-climate areas in the world. Located in the southern part of California, 148 miles north of Los Angeles it stretches for about 10 miles inland between the towns of Lompoc to the west and Buellton to the east.

What make this region so unique for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay especially are the transverse hills. Most of the hills in California run north/south parallel to the Pacific. But here they run east to west. So instead of acting as a barrier to the cool sea air, they channel it inland. As a result the vineyards have a great oceanic influence.

There are two east-west valleys between Lompoc and Buellton. The most northerly one runs along Highway 246 between Purisima Hills to the North and the Sta. Rita Hills. It has a loamy, shale-rich soil (part of the Monterey Formation) and generally makes more generous wines.

The other valley runs along Santa Rosa Road, between the Santa Rita Hills and the Santa Rosa Hills to the south. Its terroir is mainly made of clay, shale, alluvial soil (by the riverbed) and diatomaceous earth. The latter is an agglomeration of fossilised algae that resembles limestone and is where the Sandford & Benedict vineyard was first planted. (You’ve all seen Sideways, right?)

Map courtesy of Santa Rita Hills AVA/Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance

Diatomaceous earth is composed of diatomite – sedimentary formation of fossilised diatoms (algae) – silica and clay and can be compared to limestone as it forms soft white rocks.

Limestone soils are famous worldwide for producing great wines for a number of reasons. Diatomaceous earth (such as limestone) has an alkaline pH due to their high calcium content; this helps the vines to absorb nutrients as well as promoting water retention.

It is particularly important in clay soils as it offers better soil structure and, in periods of dry weather, makes it easier for the roots to go deeper in search of the water and nutrients needed. Soils rich in calcium also lead to higher grape acidity late in the growing season (which is particularly crucial in the Santa Rita Hills as the latter is very long in the region) and lower wine pH.

Modern history

The region’s modern history started in 1970 when Richard Sandford searched the region to find somewhere to farm. He analysed weather records from the area and found that the further inland you go, the hotter it gets, with one mile roughly equal to one degree more of temperature.

With this information, he located a two to four miles wide micro-climate on which to establish his vineyard and in 1971 he planted the Sandford & Benedict vineyard, eight miles east of Lompoc, with his business partner Michael Benedict. It was a watershed moment for the history of winemaking in the Santa Rita Hills.

The 1980’s saw a growing interest in this vineyard with vintners such as Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat) buying grapes from there as well as the Santa Maria Valley.

However, the rise of the region took time and, by the 1990’s, the northern part of Santa Barbara County had become Chardonnay territory. The warmer Santa Ynez Valley had also become known for growing Rhône varietals.

It was only in 2001 that the western end of the Santa Ynez Valley became the Santa Rita Hills AVA.

The climate in the Santa Rita Hills is relatively warm and consistent all year long but rarely exceeds 27 degrees Celsius as it is cooled down during the growing season by the strong oceanic wind and fog from off the Pacific. The wind blows during the early afternoon sending the vine into a sort of “ripening dormancy” and allowing them to slowly mature and achieve the best phenolic ripeness without sugar spiking. Alcohol levels are, therefore, lower.

It never gets very cold. Even in January the average temperature in Lompoc is 19 degrees Celsius.

The climatic conditions (warm, not hot, cooling breezes and fogs) and soils make the region particularly suited for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But though they do, indeed, thrive here other varietals are also grown, such as Syrah and Grenache.  

Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non planted his Eleven Confessions Vineyard just a few miles east of the Pinot Noir holy grail of the Sandford & Benedict Vineyard, for instance. The vineyard is planted to Syrah and Grenache primarily with the addition of Roussanne, Viognier and Petite Syrah as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Muscat. The cool climate allows for harvest around the end of October and sometimes even in November. It is densely planted and produces on average less than 600 grams of fruit per vine.

During the early 2000’s, the trend was towards bigger and plusher expressions of Pinot Noir. This was partly due to the long growing season that the region enjoys allowing a longer hang time on the vines and pushing the maturity of the grapes.

But since the mid-2000s, the region has seen a resurgence in term of style that seem to go back to its 1970’s roots as regards ripeness levels. Lots of wines nowadays have a true sense of place and terroirs with bright minerality, tension and lean fruit with this hint of ripeness as a backbone.

6 Names to look out for

1. Sandhi

(Roberson Wine)

2. Domaine de la Côte

(Roberson Wine)

3. Melville Winery

(The Vineyard Cellars)

4. Ojai Vineyard

(Tiger Vines)

5. Sine Qua Non

(Berry Bros & Rudd)

6. Au Bon Climat

(Fields, Morris & Verdin)

You can read and learn more about California in the LEARN section.