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“We’re making honest wines,” says David Ramey as we start to taste through the current and future releases of Ramey Wine Cellars and, newly under the winery’s umbrella, Sidebar Cellars. It’s a statement best left open to interpretation and the imagination. But, by the time we near the end of the tasting it’s very clear to us what he means.

The Editors of The Corkscrewer Report with the legend himself, David Ramey (far R). Location for this tasting was in a conference room at a Ramey Wine Cellars production facility in Healdsburg, Sonoma.


What’s the secret? Aside from sheer skill and talent, it’s a word that came up several times during our meeting: relationships. David accredits a good portion of his winery’s success to the relationships he’s built with growers over the course of 20 years that he’s been making wines under his own label. He’s reached the stature where he and his viticulturist can direct the farming technique at the particular block of the grower’s vineyards that is sectioned off for the winery, which helps. Here’s an example:

DAVID RAMEY: We farm a little differently than other people. You can walk into Hyde Vineyards and see a Kistler block that’s completely stripped of leaves—so the fruit’s all exposed because they like to make golden wine from golden fruit. And then, you see our block: leaves still intact along the fruit zone but we have them clip laterals between wire for air flow because I want dappled sunlight on the fruit. I’d rather have greener fruit than golden fruit. You see the difference in color with our younger wines.

Great grapes, of course, give you the greatest potential to make a great wine, but that’s only half of the equation. The other half is winemaking, which David equates to conducting Beethoven’s 7th Symphony (“It’s not so bombastic like the 9th,” he clarifies). A great maestro, be it Leonard Bernstein or Michael Tilson Thomas, can make all the difference given the raw materials of the score of a symphonic work or if it’s grapes. Tasting through the Ramey wine portfolio is to experience the music of a master winemaker. It is, in sum, one of the most quintessentially American collection of wines one could ever experience. And that’s the honest truth.

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Owners: David and Carla Ramey
Winemaker: David Ramey
Location: Healdsburg, Sonoma, California


Winemaker: Lydia Cummins




2014 Sauvignon Blanc, High Valley  (Lake County, $22)

A departure from the exaggerated Sauvignon Blancs that California is known for (meaning, overly bombastic or overly sweet). Ramey: “This is Sauvignon Blanc you can live with.” Indeed, this is very cleanly dry and natural, with minerality that’s almost spritzy. It’s also bright, cheery, citrusy, flavorful and stylish, and meant for a good time with friends (at a hotel pool party on the Vegas Strip, perhaps?). Sidebar’s signature white wine.  91 pts     search

2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Ritchie Vineyard  (Russian River, $34)

Fermented in concrete eggs and unfiltered, this wine achieves a richness in tone plus a mineral quality that’s a real trip. If the High Valley, above, is made in a California style, this is pure French Loire Valley (e.g. Sancerre) style. Ramey: “This reminds me of a Pouilly-Fumé.” Supremely dry with power and kick.  91 pts     search

2014 Kerner, Mokelumne River  (Lodi, $25)

Unfamiliar with the Kerner grape variety? Don’t feel bad, you’re not the only one. Sourced from the only Kerner planting in the U.S., in Lodi, California, this unique crossing of German grapes was only introduced to this country about four years ago. What does it remind us of? Well, if a Riesling (the nose) could procreate with a Gewurztraminer (the body), this might be their offspring. A delightfully crisp and clean dry white wine with graceful minerality and solid backbone. Notes of white peach and mandarin orange. Scintillatingly fresh. Only 98 cases produced.  92 pts     search

2014 Rosé  (Russian River, $25)

Rosé of exceptional character, comprised entirely of Syrah from the Russian River Valley. Exciting nose exhibiting aromas of young cherry, pomegranate and pink roses. Bone-dry but a pleasant fullness on the palate. No residual sugar at all with elegant fruit essence. David Ramey says this wine was made to pair with food. You’ll be inspired, dreaming of the possibilities.  91 pts     search

2014 Red Field Blend  (Russian River, $34)

An unfiltered wine from old vines, comprised of 78% Zinfandel, 10% Alicante Bouschet, 10% Petit Syrah, and minuscule amounts of Sangiovese, Carignane and other varieties we never knew existed and/or would probably mispronounce (e.g., Plavic Mali, Monbadon). “Field blend” means all the grape varieties are planted together and harvested at the same time. Rustic and earthy yet somewhat ethereal. Plush mouthfeel and smooth finish. We detect cinnamon on the nose; light tannins hit up front and give way to spice, pepper and oak. A Zin-based red blend for the non-Apothic Red crowd to really enjoy.  91 pts    search

2014 Rhoneish  (Mendocino, $34)

Fruit sourced from the cool-climate Redwood Valley of Mendocino County make up this delightful red. Subtle sweetness with plum and violets that cascade over the palate, soft and plush—drawing allusions to voluptuous Chateauneuf or Gigondas. California wine with a French accent.  90 pts     search




2013 Chardonnay, Hyde Vineyard  (Napa-Carneros, $65)

(Release Date: July 2016)  Ramey: “Well done, Chardonnays are the most complex and, sensually and intellectually, the most satisfying white wine on the planet.” The Hyde is the Chardonnay that makes this statement utterly convincing. A lovely and deep, Burgundian-styled wine—it gives you no choice but to dive in and swim in its rich emotion. This is not white wine you appreciate from a distance: you are immersed in it. Seamless, structured and lengthy, its purity and transparency wows the palate, finishing with bright acidity like the soaring final note of a soprano’s lyrical aria. Profound wine.  97 pts     search

2013 Chardonnay, Woolsey Road Vineyard  (Russian River, $65)

(Release Date: January 2016)  The 2013 represents only the second bottling of Chardonnay sourced from the Woolsey Road vineyard, planted and owned by the Martinelli family, and, damn, is this great stuff! Orchard fruit, lemon and honey are most notable, along with a pleasant minerality. Distinct artistry at work, making for a uniquely complex, elegantly sophisticated and vivacious wine. We would imagine this is the one that gets somms most excited, and a dream pairing for a meal at a three Michelin-starred seafood restaurant like New York City’s Le Bernardin. A great addition to the Ramey portfolio, and it will undoubtedly continue to further define and distinguish itself with future vintages.  95-96 pts    search

2013 Chardonnay, Ritchie Vineyard  (Russian River, $65)

(Release Date: July 2016)  With the first Ritchie vines planted in 1972, this Chardonnay possesses the richest texture and most incredible balance, as well as being the sweetest tasting of the collection (though no Ramey Chardonnays have any residual sugar) and the most quintessentially Californian. With notes of peach, tropical fruit and orange zest, nuts, and a hint of marmalade, the viscosity of the wine is thrilling on the palate. The wine has an almost decadent power, like a Roman Emperor Caligula gone wild. Racy and sexy stuff.  95 pts     search

2013 Chardonnay, Platt Vineyard  (Sonoma Coast, $65)

(Release Date: January 2016)  The Platt Vineyard, a 32-acre vineyard planted by the late Lew Platt (a former tech industry CEO), is a cooler-climate site located approximately five miles from the Pacific Ocean. With emphasis on terroir and minerality, versus the fruit, this is a highly structured, masculine Chardonnay. Among the collection, this has the most naturally low pH (meaning, highest acidity) and also the highest tannins (because the berries are so small). So much to enjoy young, yet with tremendous aging potential. Intellectually stimulating, the kind of wine you want to sip and think about.  94 pts    search

2013 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast  ($40)

(Release Date: October 2015)  Lean mouthfeel, bright acidity, flintiness, tight grip, and striking power from a strong backbone. Wonderful focus and balance. The fruit comes on the finish: Granny Smith apple, pear, mandarin orange. The chilly winds and thick fog of the high-elevation Sonoma Coast region bring great character to the fruit of the wine. Who says California doesn’t have great terroir? A village Chardonnay for the aficionado enthusiast.  91 pts     search

2013 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley  ($40)

(Release Date: October 2015)  The fruit for this appellation Chardonnay is sourced from a virtual smorgasbord of prestigious and iconic vineyards, including from four different Dutton blocks and four Rochioli blocks. The sum of all the parts is a very popular, high production (13,999 cases produced, up from the previous vintage) rendition of Chardonnay that fulfills everyone’s perception of what a Russian River Chardonnay should be. Rounder, weightier and richer with flavors of pear, lemon custard and vanilla, with a warm, comforting mouthfeel enveloped in new French and Hungarian oak. Fine length, and finishes with a mineral bite for some contrapuntal complexity.  90 pts     search

2005 Chardonnay, Hyde Vineyard  (Napa-Carneros, $60)

David surprised us with a library wine, to demonstrate the aging potential of his Chardonnays. Like Burgundy whites, David says his Chardonnays can age 10-20 years, with 10 years’ wait time his personal preference. With age: visually, a gorgeous gold color; texturally, creaminess and a syrupy quality; aromatically, biscuits and almond and hazelnut. Citrus flavors, butterscotch and mild oak flow caressingly over the palate. Like Charlize Theron or John Stamos, this is wine that ages incredibly well.  96 pts     search




2012 Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon  (Oakville, $200)

(Release Date: September 2015)  Perfection is never the goal. Is the Mona Lisa perfect? Is Citizen Kane? Is James Joyce’s Ulysses? Awarding a wine 100 points only when it’s perfect, to our publication, seems like a futile exercise. And besides, who’s the arbiter of what’s perfect, anyway? The Pedregal Cab is a monumental expression of California winemaking. It’s one gorgeous, epic masterpiece. Epic doesn’t mean grandiose. Ansel Adams’ famous black & white photographs of Yosemite’s rugged peaks aren’t grandiose but they are epic and stately and glorious and monumental. The Pedregal is all of these things, but what is even more remarkable about this wine is its finesse. A delicate and silky-smooth yet robust texture on the palate that coaxes out the wine’s multifaceted complexities is how one comes to define great finesse. There’s one First Growth Bordeaux wine in particular known for its astounding finesse: Chateau Margaux. This is David Ramey’s Chateau Margaux—sensual and cerebral at the same time from brilliant start to intoxicatingly beautiful finish. David is adamant that his Pedregal holds up in comparison to stratospherically-priced California cult Cabs like Screaming Eagle. We have no reason whatsoever to doubt it, and so, we think this wine is a perfect way to spend $200.  100 pts     search

2012 Annum Cabernet Sauvignon  (Napa Valley, $100)

(Release Date: September 2015)  David doesn’t apologize for the tannins in this Cab. The classicism in his winemaking philosophy is fully evident here, as you absolutely must wait, and wait a relatively long time (about 8-10 years from the vintage), for the Annum to fully evolve. In a world where on-demand and instant gratification is a way of life, this Cab could be called a throwback. Styled as a Pauillac (e.g. Pichon Baron, Lynch-Bages, Pontet Canet), there is great structure to this wine, and the hallmark flavor notes of Pauillac—blackberry, cassis, coffee, licorice, among others—are all here. There is rich density to the texture but also a soft touch. This isn’t a mere imitation of a great Bordeaux, but a unique California interpretation of one from a visionary winemaker.  95 pts     search

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon  (Napa Valley, $60)

A true amalgam of Napa Valley fruit, many important hillside and valley floor appellations are represented in this Cab: Mt. Veeder, Diamond Mountain, St. Helena, Oakville, Rutherford. Black currant, chocolate, savory spice and oak are prominent in the flavor profile. Its richness, roundness, soft tannins and approachability are all fundamental California North Coast. At 8,600 cases produced and widely distributed around the world, this is a signature Cab. Or, more importantly, an ambassador Cab, as it fully represents to the rest of the world just how uniquely pleasurable, while still sophisticated, an American Cabernet Sauvignon can be.  93 pts     search




2012 Syrah, Rodgers Creek Vineyard  (Sonoma Coast, $65)

From a vineyard in the Petaluma Gap, where some of the most interesting wines are being made in Sonoma County today due to terroir unlike the rest of Sonoma. Strong, cool winds and mineral-laden soils bring about very striking and fascinating character traits in this Northern Rhone-styled Syrah: a combination of dust, rustic tannins and overt flavors of black and blue fruit that are delivered with laser sharp focus and transparency. Paradoxically, the wine is both delicate and powerful. That’s what it is to be interesting—to be two contradictory things at once. Walter White, in Breaking Bad, is both brilliant scientist and megalomaniac. Tony Soprano is both family man and dispassionate killer of families. With all of its paradoxes, the Rodgers Creek Syrah is endlessly compelling.  94 pts     search

2012 Syrah, Cole Creek Vineyard  (Russian River, $65)

Oak, roasted meat and tobacco on the nose. A dash of white pepper and savory spices here and there. Fleshy texture and assertive wild berry fruit reminiscent of a Brunello. Definitely on the young and masculine side. Sharply focused and intense. Probably gotten in a street brawl or two. Like a racecar driver, this is controlled fury. Leave the driving to the winemaker and enjoy the ride.  92 pts     search

Read our profile of David Ramey and Ramey Wine Cellars

November 2, 2015