A select group of winemakers can be credited with revolutionizing modern day winemaking in California. They are the innovators who, some 20 years ago, brought Old World traditions to the New World. David Ramey is clearly a member of that group, and is widely acknowledged to be among the wine pioneers whose efforts helped raise the bar for all American winemakers and brought California to the forefront of the international wine world.
One of the most popular Ramey wines today is what Ramey calls his "Napa Claret." Claret is a classic "old world" concept. In fact, before France started its AOC (appellation) system, it was common during the 1800's to import Syrah from the Hermitage region in France to blend with the wines of Bordeaux. These hermitage wines often fetched higher prices in the English market than those which had not been "improved" (meaning that the Syrah softened the Bordeaux wines at the time, therefore improving the wine). Hence the very English sounding name Claret - because the British were the first customers for this wine!
Today Claret is the term used to describe a dry red wine produced in the Bordeaux region of France, as well as any similar wine made elsewhere. It should come as no surprise that Ramey should be making the French favorite here in California. That's because his winemaking roots are planted deeply in some of the most coveted soil in Bordeaux. After receiving a graduate degree from the UC Davis - where he wrote his 1979 thesis on volatile ester hydrolysis (how flavors evolve in wine) - Ramey enjoyed a stint working for the Moueix family at the renowned Chateau Pétrus, which produces some of the world's most sought-after wines. He brought his lessons home and applied them to the grapes he found growing in California's premier wine regions.
Since the early 1980s, Ramey has helped establish a number of wineries that have become household names. They include Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate (owned by Christian Moueix, of Pétrus) and most recently, Rudd Estate.
Producing Claret also makes business sense. Ramey's Claret is basically a blend of the leftovers from his two to three top Cabernet growths, which are used to produce much more expensive wines. The Ramey Napa Claret can, therefore, be considered an "entry level wine." In this economic environment where many wine buyers think twice about spending more than $40 on a bottle of wine, Ramey may have achieved the perfect product/market fit.
As Ramey says, "This soft, easy-drinking wine is a good introduction to the vintage, and while it will improve over the course of two to five years, it is not intended for long-term aging." Ramey encouraged one wine reviewer to consider the Claret, "... for roast chicken, not steak."
The ultimate endorsement came from Robert M. Parker Jr., in The Wine Advocate (December 2007, Issue 174). "Fashioned from lots culled out from all of David Ramey's Cabernet projects, the 2005 Claret is a stylish, delicious red that is meant to be consumed during its first 7-8 years of life. It offers up aromas of cherries, underbrush, black currants, and cedar. Evolved and medium-bodied with a silky finish, it will drink well for 5-7 years."
Ramey Cellars Napa Claret is not a typical Bordeaux blend. Although it contains 54 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot, 12 percent Cabernet Franc, 1 percent Petit Verdot, 1 percent Malbec, the addition of 7 percent Syrah makes it the sort of wine that the Bordelais would have produced in the 1800s.
OnPoint readers may also like to know that Ramey Wine Cellars produces world class Chardonnay and Syrah wines in addition to the Bordeaux-style red wines.
Ramey Wine Cellars - Napa Claret.
Current Vintage: 2005.
Wine Trivia Question: Pinotage is a red wine grape that is South Africa's signature variety. What two grapes are crossed to make this wine? (Submit your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 30, 2009 and become eligible to win a 750ml bottle of 2005 Ramey Cellars Napa Claret. The winner will be announced in the next edition of Liquid Assets). Official Rules.
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