Cakebread Cellars was the first winery I visited on my first trip to Napa Valley, in 1987, covering the Napa Valley Wine Auction. The winery celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, having been founded in 1973 by Jack Cakebread, photographer and owner of Cakebread’s Garage, an auto repair shop in San Francisco started by Leo Cakebread in 1927. I say that Jack Cakebread founded the winery, but his wife Dolores and sons Steve, Bruce and Dennis cannot be left out of even a brief account of the Cakebread history. The company is still family-owned and has grown from its original 22 acres to hundreds of acres with vineyards throughout Napa Valley and a pinot noir outpost in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Jack Cakebread is CEO, Bruce is president and COO, and Dennis is senior vice president for sales and marketing. Winemaker since 2002 has been Julianne Laks, previously the winery’s assistant winemaker.

The three cabernet sauvignon-based wines from 2012, ’11 and ’10 reviewed in this post are powerful expressions of the grapes and the Napa soil and sub-strata from which they grew. If your ideal notion of cabernet wines is finesse and finely-tuned nuance, the wedding of dynamism and elegance, these are not your models. Winemaker Julianne Laks fully exploits all elements for their deepest dimensions of tannin, oak and mineral-like qualities, building unimpeachable structure, in addition to drawing from wells of sometimes exotic spice and ripe, macerated fruit, the latter requiring a decade to develop completely. While the wines can be daunting initially, there are rewards for those with patience. Cakebread is not a winery that kowtows to fashion. The label is basically unchanged from how it was designed 40 years ago; the style does not lean toward high alcohol, super-ripeness or layers of toasty new oak. Such solidity and sense of tradition may seem staid and stodgy to some consumers, but to my mind they form a gratifying display of dedication and common sense.

These wines were samples for review. The image immediately above shows Bruce, Jack and Dennis Cakebread back in the day, that is, sometime in the 1980s.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, is a blend of 84 percent cabernet sauvignon, six percent each merlot and cabernet franc and four percent petit verdot. This is a valley-wide wine, its components deriving from vineyards throughout the appellation. It aged 18 months in French oak, 54 percent new barrels. The color is deep ruby-red with a magenta rim; a full-blown woodsy bouquet of moss, loam, underbrush and walnut-shell opens to notes of cassis with spiced and macerated blueberries and plums underlain by whiffs of coffee, cedar, tobacco and graphite; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of bell pepper and black olive. The wine fills the mouth with dusty, grainy tannins and polished oak; it’s lithic and granitic, yet possesses inner richness and ripeness; still the mineral, oak and tannic elements preside for the time being. The finish is large, dry, highly structured and rather austere. Twelve hours overnight merely deepened and broadened the wine’s essential framework. 14.3 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’25 or ’26. Excellent potential. About $61.50.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Cakebread Cellars Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, is 100 percent cabernet grapes, taken from two vineyards in the slopes in the west of the Rutherford AVA; the wine aged 19 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby, though not quite opaque, with a slightly lighter rim; the bouquet is characterized by notes of cedar and rosemary — with a touch of the resinous quality implied — walnut-shell and graham meal, iodine and graphite; some moments of airing reveal hints of tapenade and loam. This is a very dense, chewy wine, with bales of oak and tannin that coat the palate with dusty, front-loaded minerality; it requires considerable swirling of the glass to free the spicy and balsamic-inflected blackberry-blueberry-and-black-cherry scents and flavors. The texture embodies the classic Napa Valley “iron-fist-in-velvet-glove” plushness married to granite and deep earthy tones. Even the next morning, the wine exhibited tannins that should read you your Miranda rights before you imbibe. 13.6 percent alcohol. A bit inchoate now, this will need three to five years to attain balance and integration and then develop through 2025 to ’29 or ’30. Very Good+. Not yet released; prices for previous vintages were about $90 to $110.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, contains six percent cabernet franc and 1 percent merlot in the blend; the vineyards go up to 1,800-foot elevation. The wine aged 19 months in French oak, 39 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby-magenta; if a wine could be described as both monumental and winsomely exotic, this is it. The whole enterprise is intense and concentrated in every detail and dimension, and while the first impression is of utter clarity and freshness, the second impression is laden with deep graphite minerality, iron-like but finely-milled tannins and polished ecclesiastical oak — I mean, think of ancient burnished altars, dusty velvet drapery and incense, the latter notion leading to the wine’s exotic nature in notes of lavender, sandalwood, cloves and black licorice. Still, fruit is a buried stream here; you sense rather than feel the latent intensity of ripeness, though the rich, savory quality is undeniable. Twelve hours later, the tannins formed a bastion that will demand three to five years to soften and admit entrance, drinking then through 2028 to ’30. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent potential. Unreleased, but previous vintages priced about $100 to $125.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The brand-spanking-new FEL Wines is a project of Cliff Lede — pronounced “lay-dee” — owner of the Cliff Lede winery in Napa Valley. This Anderson Valley facility, named for the proprietor’s mother, Florence Elsie Lede, is devoted to chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir. Under review today, in this series dedicated to wineries that produce chardonnay and pinot noir, are the FEL Chardonnay 2013 and Pinot Noir 2012; winemaker Ryan Hodgins also produces each variety in a single vineyard version. Both of these wines are clean, ripe and forward — classic California, you might say — but well-balanced and endowed with multiple nuances of earth and minerality appropriate to the grape. Nothing shy here, though the final analysis tends toward elegance (especially for the pinot) as well as dynamism.

These wines were samples for review.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The FEL Wines Chardonnay 2013, Anderson Valley, spent nine months in neutral French oak barrels and underwent what is described as “very limited” malolactic fermentation, both of which sound perfect to me; keep the oak and malo to a minimum, I say. The color is radiant medium gold; a very pure and intense bouquet of pungent pineapple and grapefruit is infused with cloves and lime peel, hints of jasmine and limestone and a back-tone of slightly woody spice. The wine is ripe, bright and lush, quite dry with its burgeoning elements of chalk, flint and limestone and scintillating acidity; notes of smoke and toffee add intrigue to the citrus and stone-fruit flavors that lean toward tangerine and peach, while a structure that’s dense, chewy and almost tannic segues into a spice-and-mineral-packed finish. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,201 cases. Quite a performance. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $28.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The FEL Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, aged 14 months in French oak, 44 percent new barrels, offers a lovely, limpid ruby-magenta hue and beguiling aromas of cranberries and red and black cherries and currants that open to notes of menthol and violets, leather, briers and brambles with hints of graphite and loam; after a few minutes in the glass, the wine emits touches of pomegranate, sassafras and cloves. Reader, you could eat it with a spoon. The supple texture is satin lifted to the supernal mode, though this pinot noir also delivers a slight mineral rasp and after an hour or so builds incrementally layers of soft-grained oak and finely-milled tannins. Bright acidity provides liveliness and propulsive energy through a wine that, however gorgeous its spiced and macerated black and red fruit flavors, feels like an entity of earth, moss, terrain, geology. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 2,923 cases. A true marriage of power and elegance. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $38.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Casting about for a bright, fresh, fruity wine to accompany a pizza the primary elements of which were Brussels sprouts leaves, leeks and bacon, I settled on the Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy Grenache 2013, Monterey County, and got exactly what I wanted. The wine is a blend of 75 percent grenache grapes, 17 percent syrah and 8 percent mourvèdre. The color is dark ruby with a glint of magenta at the rim. Bright, fresh and fruity, indeed, with blackcurrant, raspberry and strawberry aromas permeated by notes of pomegranate and cloves and hints of pepper and graphite. Sleek on the palate, this is an easy-drinking wine, or deceptively so, because you become aware, as the moments pass, of firm, fine-grained tannins and slick-as-a-whistle acidity for balance and verve. And its black and red fruit flavors are delicious. 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Delightful and, in my experience, versatile. Very Good+. About $20.

A sample for review.

The pinot noirs of Kosta Browne Winery regularly earn the highest ratings from reviewers for the big publications, an occurrence that brings a great deal of attention to these highly allocated wines. In fact, the winery’s waiting list comes with a two- to three-year wait for the “Appellation” wines and — I’m not kidding — a five- to six-year wait for the Single Vineyard wines, of which there may be up to 10 separate bottlings depending on the vintage. The idea for the winery was born in 1997 when Dan Kosta and Michael Browne, then working at a restaurant in Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, decided to venture into winemaking. They began with a half-ton of pinot noir grapes, a used barrel and a surplus stemmer-crusher. In 2001, Kosta and Browne brought in Chris Costello, from a family involved in commercial real estate and development, as the business end of the enterprise; through the Costello family, the partnership gained contacts, contracts and management acumen. Browne is executive winemaker, with assistant winemakers Jeremiah Timm and Nico Cueva. Kosta Browne draws on vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast AVAs in Sonoma County and Santa Lucia Highlands AVA in Monterey County. There is no tasting room, and the winery in Sebastopol is closed to the public.

Under consideration today are two of Kosta Browne’s Appellation wines, the One Sixteen Chardonnay 2012 and the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012, in this series dedicated to the examination of chardonnay and pinot noir wines from the same producer. These wines were samples for review.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Kosta Browne One Sixteen Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, is a blend of grapes derived from seven vineyards that total 12 different chardonnay clones, the notion being a sort of ideal balance of all the attributes those clones contribute to the wine. It’s named for the Gravenstein Hwy. 116 that cuts through the town of Sebastopol in the Russian River Valley sub-appellation of Green Valley. This AVA is the coolest and foggiest vineyard area of Russian River Valley, situated in the southwest corner where the Pacific Ocean influence is readily apparent. When I tell My Readers that this chardonnay went through barrel-fermentation and aged 15 months in oak, they will respond, “Uh-oh, FK is not going to like this chardonnay.” I’ll admit, though, that I was surprised at how much I liked this wine, and while I don’t normally find words of praise for what I think of as the Bold California Style of Chardonnay, this example was little short of thrilling.

Kosta Browne One Sixteen Chardonnay 2012 was indeed barrel fermented, 93 percent, the other 7 percent being in concrete. The wine did age 15 months, but only in 41 percent new oak. The color is medium gold, and the aromas define this chardonnay as bold, bright and rich, with ripe, slightly caramelized pineapple, grapefruit and mango highlighted by notes of cloves, vanilla, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and — faintly — lime peel and flint. The wine is supple and boisterously fruity and spicy on the palate, with hints of creme brulee, roasted lemon and baked pear. This sensuous panoply is both abetted and balanced by clean, vibrant acidity and a scintillating limestone element. My favorite style of chardonnay? No, but certainly a model of the type that I found surprisingly poised, energetic and delicious. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $58.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Kosta Browne Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, derives from three vineyards in the south of the Sonoma Coast AVA, lying straight in the path of the Petaluma Wind Gap that allows a distinct maritime influence, and one vineyard in the northwestern coastal area of the AVA. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 46 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby with an almost transparent rim; the amazingly complex and layered nose offers a seamless amalgam of cloves and menthol, violets and rose hips, with hints of loam, briers and iodine bolstering macerated black and red cherries and currants with a touch of cranberry. On the palate? Imagine supernal satin infused with velvet through which vivid acidity cuts a swath and earthy graphite minerality stakes a supporting claim; the influence of oak and tannin, both feeling slightly sanded and dusty, gradually seeps in, providing firm foundation for spicy black and red fruit flavors that seem ripe and juicy yet spare, elegant, a bit exotic. I re-corked the wine and tried it eight hours later, at which time it had closed down a bit, becoming more reticent, quite dry, with emphasis on structure. Even the next day, now open for more than 24 hours, this pinot noir kept its integrity and balance. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $64.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


My introduction to Ray Signorello’s Fuse, Edge and Trim line of cabernet-based wines was with the 2010 vintage in 2012. This is a side-project apart from his Signorello Estate. The motive was to produce inexpensive or moderately-priced red wines that performed above their price point. (Here is the post with my reviews of those initial releases.) Today’s Wine of the Week, the Trim Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, carrying a California designation, fulfills Signorello’s goal handily. The wine is a blend of 82 percent cabernet, 15 percent merlot and 3 percent malbec. The color is dark ruby with a hint of magenta at the rim. Aromas of black cherries and red and black currants are highlighted by notes of blueberries, cloves and lavender with undertones of dusty graphite. It’s sleek and supple in the mouth, propelled by vibrant acidity and oak-tinged tannins that do not detract from juicy and spicy black fruit flavors with a touch of dried fruit and flowers about them. The slightly chiseled finish is packed with spice and graphite-tinged minerality. 13.5 percent alcohol. Winemakers are Ray Signorello and Pierre Birebent. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. We had this quite successfully with a homemade pizza that featured roasted eggplant and duck breast. Very Good+. About — ready for this? — $11, a Bargain of the Century.

This wine was a sample for review.

The Grant and the Eddie of Grant Eddie Winery in North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, are Grant Ramey and Edward Shulten. Their label was called Ramey Shulten until a letter came from the well-known Ramey Wine Cellars in Sonoma County that said, in essence, “Oh no, boys, you’re treading on our trademark.” That’s when the brand became Grant Eddie. Ramey, a North Yuba native (on the right in this photo), was for many years the vineyard manager at Renaissance Vineyards and Winery. He began making wine at home from selected sites among the Renaissance hilltop vineyards in 1986. Shulten, originally from the Netherlands, was a well-traveled winemaker and sommelier; he is now winemaker for Renaissance, replacing Gideon Beinstock, who concentrates on his Clos Saron project. Ramey, who knows the acres of Renaissance better than anyone, leases some of the best sections for cabaernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, grenache and other red varieties.

Production is tiny at Grant Eddie, perhaps 700 cases annually, and the quality is very high, especially in the red wines. Alcohol levels are kept below 14 percent; the words “new oak” are not uttered unless in disparagement, though Ramey and Shulten are too polite to be disparaging. Vineyards are tended organically; grapes are fermented naturally and sulfites are kept to a minimum. When I was in California’s Sierra Foothills region back in June, I sat down with Grant Ramey and tasted through a wide range of Grant Eddie wines. I would encourage My Readers to look for the syrahs and the grenache wines particularly, though the zinfandels and cabernets thoroughly reward consideration; the cabernets tend to need five to seven years to shed their tannins. The whites — fewer than 200 cases altogether each year — are highly individual wines that lean toward eccentricity yet are interesting enough to merit a try.

Where are these wines? Distribution is very limited outside California. The wines are available through the website — grantedwinery.com — or if you happen to be in the area, you can find Grant Ramey at local farmer’s markets on weekends. Yes, in the Golden State wineries can offer tastings and sales of wines at these institutions.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
First, the white wines, all made half in French oak, half in stainless steel, the lees stirred once a week for five or six months. The white production at Grant Eddie is so small — about 200 cases altogether — that the wines seem almost superfluous, though because of their individual, even idiosyncratic character they’re worth exploring, especially the Semillon 2012 and the White Pearl from 2010 and ’11.

Semillon 2012. Medium gold color; roasted lemon, yellow plum, figs, leafy and savory; very dry, dusty, notes of loam and limestone; lovely texture, almost lush but cut by tremendous acidity; super attractive for drinking through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $22.
White Pearl 2010, a blend of 60 percent semillon and 40 percent sauvignon blanc that spent seven or eight months in two-to-four-year-old barrels. Medium gold color; very ripe, a little earthy; creamy fig, roasted lemon, a note of dried thyme; hint of creme brulee; quite dry, though, with a lovely moderately lush texture cut by fleet acidity; fairly austere on the finish. Excellent. About $22
White Pearl 2011. Moderate gold color, an idiosyncratic wine, highly individual and not quite fitting into any set of expectations; notes of roasted lemon, lime peel and and slightly over-ripe mango; very spicy, lively; very dry, with a taut acid-and-limestone structure, yet generous, yielding, a bit buxom. Very Good+. About $22.
Chardonnay 2013. Medium gold color; pineapple, grapefruit, mango; florid, bold, fairly tropical; quite dry, very spicy, doesn’t quite hang together. Very Good. About $22.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Now the reds, first grenache, about 100 cases annually. From Ramey Mountain Vineyard.

Grenache 2011. Dark ruby, opaque; very earthy, briery and loamy; ripe, very spicy, a little wet-dog-funkiness; sweetly
ripe and intense blackberry-blueberry-raspberry flavors; fairly dense and chewy tannins but light on its feet; svelte, supple. Best after 2015, then to 2019 or ’20. Excellent.
Grenache 2010. Deep ruby color; intoxicating evocative bouquet of dried flowers, dried spices, fresh and macerated black and red fruit; clean and incisive, briers and brambles, loamy earthiness and graphite minerality; pinpoint acidity; dusty tannins; a supple, shapely grenache. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent.
Grenache 2007. Medium ruby hue; ripe, warm, spicy, a little fleshy; macerated and slightly roasted red and black currants and plums; lovely texture, sapid, savory; lip-smacking acidity in perfect balance with fruit, oak and gently dusty, leather-clad tannins; great length and tone. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent.

Sangiovese, about 50 cases annually.

Sangiovese 2011. 13.3% alc. Ramey Mountain Vineyard. Dark ruby-purple; wholly tannic, needs three to four years to learn company manners. Very Good+. About $22.
Sangiovese 2007. 13.6% alc. Whitman’s Glen Vineyard. Medium ruby color; raspberries, red and black currants, cloves, orange rind, black tea, hint of olive; fresh, agile, elegant; lovely fluid texture; classic. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent.

Zinfandel, 50 to 60 cases annually.

Zinfandel 2012. 13.9% alc. Ramey Mountain Vineyard. Deep purple with a magenta rim; clean, fresh, lithe; very pure and intense; blackberries, blueberries, black currants with a vein of poignant graphite minerality; perfectly managed tannins for framing and foundation, a little austere on the finish. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $27.
Zinfandel 2007. 13.5% alc. Whitman’s Mountain Vineyard. dark ruby with a garnet rim; ripe, meaty, fleshy, warm, spicy; macerated black fruit; vibrant, resonant structure, lively and vital, drinking beautifully. Through 2017 or ’18. Excellent.

Merlot, from Ramey Mountain Vineyard

Merlot 2011. 13.6% alc. Deep ruby-purple; very minerally, earthy and briery, distinct graphite and iodine element; large-framed, dense, dusty, chewy, fairly muscular tannins and bright acidity; will this evolve into something like merlot or more like cabernet? Try 2016 through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $27.
Merlot 2008. 13.6% alc. Deep ruby-purple color but softer and riper than the ’11, almost luscious, but cut by iron-like tannins and arrow-bright acidity; black currants, blueberries and plums; clove and allspice build in the background over lavender and biter chocolate; needs more time, say 2015 or ’16 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent.

Syrah, this winery’s strength. “Syrah takes a while to even come to the beginning of something,” Ramey told me. You have to work with nature and the demands it makes on you.”

Syrah 2009. 13.7% alc. Ramey Mountain Vineyard. Deep ruby color; incredible concentration and intensity of variety, confidence and purpose, though almost pure graphite and granitic minerality now and draped with dense dusty tannins; youthfully inchoate, needs three or four years to find balance, but the depths of character are apparent. Try from 2015 or ’17 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $27.
Syrah 2007. 13.8% alc. Whitman’s Mountain Vineyard. Dark ruby with a slightly lighter garnet rim; a tad riper and more approachable than the ’09 but lots of dusty minerality, iron and iodine; the purity and intensity of black fruit are impressive and alluring; quite dry, the finish a bit austere. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent.
Ramey Schulten Syrah 2004. 13% alc. Meadow’s Knoll Vineyard. This is beautiful, such depth and layering, such a combination of character and personality, with pinpoint and vibrant fruit, acidity and graphite minerality; such a feeling of poise and expectation, though still huge, dense, chewy, with real edge, grit and glamor. A masterpiece, to drink through 2018 to ’20. Exceptional.

Cabernet sauvignon.

There are two Grant Eddie cabernet sauvignon wines for 2012, one that’s 100 percent cabernet, the second a blend that includes four percent merlot and three percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Not necessarily predictably but it turned out that the 100 percent version features an almost pure graphite-granitic-iron-and-iodine character with tannins that are hard, lithe and dusty but not punishing. Give this one until 2018 or ’20 and drink until 2028 or ’30. The alternate rendition is fairly burly and tannic but offers notes of cassis, black cherry, lavender and cloves as concession. Excellent potential for each, and each about $28. The 2009 and 2007, each from Ramey Mountain Vineyard and delivering 13.7 percent alcohol, and not nearly ready to drink, offering penetrating minerality and acidity. Give them three or four more years’ aging.
Let’s go back, however, to the Ramey Schulten Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, a blend of 50 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent syrah and 15 percent each cabernet franc and merlot, for a wine of gorgeous shape and proportion that displays sweetly ripe black and red fruit scents and flavors, evocative spice and mild herbal qualities and deep foundational tannins and resonant acidity for essential structure. This and the Syrah 2004 were the best wines of an extraordinary tasting.

Grant Eddie also produces 75 to 100 cases of port (or port-like) wine every year, made from the classic Douro Valley grapes, of which the inky-purple California Port 2012 is young, bright, vigorous and intensely minerally, with soft elegant tannins (about $33); the Ramey-Schulten 2001 is lightly spiced and macerated, a bit sweet and plummy; and the gently faded Ramey Schulten 1992 — a real treat — offers notes of fruitcake, toffee, figs, cloves and orange zest in supple and mildly tannic structure.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tres Ojos Garnacha is one of the world’s great wine bargains. Produced by the cooperative Bodega San Gregorio, founded in 1965 in the Calatayud wine region in Spain’s province of Aragon, this wine consistently offers lots of pleasure and surprising depth of character for the price. Tres Ojos — “three eyes” — Garnacha 2011 is a blend of 85 percent garnacha (grenache) grapes, seven percent each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo and one percent syrah; made all in stainless steel, it sees no oak, The color is deep ruby with a mulberry tinge; first your nose picks up notes of tar, black olives, smoked tea, followed by scents of spiced and macerated blackberries, blueberries and plums, the whole effect having a slight balsamic cast. Plenty of grip keeps dusty tannins on the palate in support of dense black and blue fruit flavors permeated by hints of bitter chocolate, lavender and graphite; vibrant acidity keep the wine alert and lively. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 with grilled leg of lamb, braised short ribs, hearty stews. Very Good+. About $10, so Buy by the Case.

Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va. Tasted as a wholesaler’s trade event.


All of today’s wines were imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, founded in 1994 by Fran Kysela and located in Winchester, Va. The company specializes in inexpensive or moderately priced wines from France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Chile and Argentina, and generally the price/quality ration can’t be bettered. None of these wines sees a smidgeon of oak, the emphasis being on freshness and immediacy, though those qualities don’t mean that they don’t offer some depth and complexity too. Buy them by the case for drinking over the next six to 12 months. I tasted these wines at a local wholesaler’s trade event. Enjoy!
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Royal Chenin Blanc 2013, Western Cape, Swartland, South Africa. 13% alc. 100% chenin blanc (“steen’). Pale gold color; hay and honeysuckle, green tea and lemongrass, hint of roasted lemon and spiced pear; lovely mild citrus flavors, brisk acidity, sleek texture, finish has a hint of grapefruit; very tasty and attractive all around. Very Good+. About $9, a Bargain of the Century.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Siegel Crucero Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Curico Valley, Chile. 13% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Very pale gold hue; a touch of resin, a hint of dry grass, lemon, pear and lime peel; a note of melon and fig on the palate; quite crisp and lively, with a snappy finish. Very Good+. About $13.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Palacios de Bornos Verdejo 2013, Rueda, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% verdejo grapes. Pale straw-gold hue; tremendously seductive bouquet of jasmine and lilac, tangerine and lime peel, lemon verbena, with backnotes of licorice and limestone; pulls up an herbal, slightly grassy character on the palate, with pert citrus flavors and notably crisp acidity and flint-like minerality, all ensconced in a moderately lush texture. Excellent. About $14, a Great Bargain.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Wolfberger Pinot Blanc 2013, Alsace, France. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot blanc. Very pale gold color; fresh, clean, breezy and bracing; lemon, lime and spiced pear, hints of cloves and mango; tremendous crisp, lively acidity and scintillating limestone element, with a touch of honeyed, baked peach for tenderness and nuances of dried herbs and flowers. Lovely heft and complexity. Excellent. About $14, another Great Bargain.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Wolfberger Edelzwicker 2013, Alsace, France. 11.5% alc. 40% pinot blanc, 30% riesling, 15% gewurztraminer, 15% muscat. Looking for a terrific wine to pour at a party or reception? Here’s just what you need. This blend of the chief grapes of Alsace is quite floral and pretty, fresh, clean and crisp; with notes of peach, pear and lime bolstered by lots of limestone minerality; fleet acidity keeps you going back for another sip. Very Good+. About $15 for a one-liter bottle, though in my neck o’ the woods it’s $17.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau de Ségries Tavel Rosé 2013, Tavel, France. 14% alc. 50% grenache, 30% cinsault, 15% clairette, 5% syrah. Pale salmon-copper hue; strawberries and raspberries with notes of dried currants and peach and a hint of the dry, dusty herbal-grassy character the French call garrigue; dry and stony but tasty with red fruit flavors; lovely rosé but displaying a serious mineral edge. Excellent. About $20.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Today’s post continues my investigation into the character and evolution of cabernet sauvignon wines produced in Napa Valley. The first post in this series provided an introduction and reviews of six examples. Now I look at the current-release cabernet-based wines of Newton Vineyard.

The winery was founded by Peter and Su Hua Newton on Spring Mountain in 1979, two years after Peter Newton sold his share in Sterling Vineyards to Coca-Cola. (That move on Coke’s part didn’t work out; the company sold Sterling to Seagram’s, and it’s now owned by Diageo.) Newton was British, a horticulturalist and garden designer. The Newtons bought 650 acres, basically a square mile, on the mountain, west of the town of St. Helena, and planted vines on about 60 acres of steeply terraced sites. The winery, a grandiose building surrounded by extensive formal gardens, focuses on several levels of cabernet or cabernet-based wines, as well as merlot and chardonnay. Vineyard area is 120 acres, ranging from 500 to 1,600 feet above sea level, divided into 112 blocks and cultivated for different soil characteristics. LVMH acquired a majority interest in Newton Vineyard in 2001; the winery is now part of the luxury goods company’s Estates and Wines Collection. Peter Newton died in 2008, at the age of 81.

The cabernet sauvignon wines produced by Newton are powerful and dynamic yet restrained when it comes to ripeness, alcohol content and oak regimen, almost managing to be elegant. The first two wines, the Claret 2011 and the Cabernet 2011, derive from a multitude of vineyards that range from the north to the south of Napa Valley; they display Napa County designations. The Unfiltered Cabernet 2011 and The Puzzle 2010 are made from estate blocks on Spring Mountain and in particular offer a deep earthy mineral-laced character. These are not cheap wines, and in fact I would quibble at the hyperbolic prices — the Claret should be about $20 instead of $28, but no one asked me — still, Newton’s The Puzzle, even at $100, is one of Napa Valley essential flagship wines. Winemaker at Newton is Chris Millard.

These wines were samples for review. Image from tripadvisor.com.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Newton Claret 2011, Napa County. The blend here is 54 percent cabernet sauvignon, 28 percent merlot, 10 petit verdot, 4 syrah, 3 cabernet franc and 1 percent malbec, a sort of Bordeaux red blend with a dollop of syrah; the wine aged 20 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry rim, and as far as being shaped in the Bordeaux model, the wine offers a rather St.-Julien-like bouquet of black currants and black cherries permeated by notes of black olives, rosemary and walnuts, tobacco leaf and cigarette paper. It’s smooth and lithe on the palate, a beautifully integrated package of dark, lightly spiced black fruit, vibrant acidity, slightly dusty tannins and supple oak. Exciting, racy, demanding? No, but very satisfying, delicious and well-structured. 14 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $28.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Newton Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa County. This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon, aged 12 months in French oak, percentage of new barrels not specified. The color is deep ruby with a tinge of magenta; the overall impression is of lovely weight, heft and balance, beginning with aromas of ripe black currants and raspberries mixed with dried fruit, potpourri and lavender and a whole snootful of exotic spices; this is, however, a cool, clean graphite-laden cabernet, freighted with lithic influence and etched with granite (and a note or two of violets and licorice). Flavors of black currants and cherries, with touches of blueberry and plum, are highlighted by resolute acidity and fairly prominent tannins that are dense without being ponderous. The slightly austere finish is packed with spice and minerals. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $30.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Newton Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. There’s a bit of a blend here, with three percent petit verdot grapes, all derived from Newton’s Spring Mountain estate vineyards; the wine aged 22 months in French oak barrels, 50 percent new. The color is dark ruby, with a hint of purple; the emphasis is on structure, so while the bouquet fairly seethes with ripe, spicy black currants and cassis, those elements are circumscribed by graphite, iron and iodine; fine-grained velvety tannins and dense, slightly creamy oak frame black fruit flavors enhanced by tense acidity. A great deal of power and energy don’t detract from the essential balance and integration of this wine, though it requires a bit of aging to achieve real poise. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Newton “The Puzzle” 2010, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. This proprietary wine is a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 18 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot and 4 percent malbec. Because it contains less than 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, it cannot state the majority grape on the label. The Puzzle 2010 aged 22 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels. The color is dark, dense ruby-purple; the wine embodies that lovely and gratifying paradox of being intense and concentrated yet generous and expansive, so while it feels ferrous, sanguinary and feral (though Olympian in its brooding character), it also displays an innate delicacy and elegance of balance and harmony, all effects marshaled under the tempering influence of plangent acidity and dusty, graphite-packed tannins. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Exceptional. About $100.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


It’s not easy to make an inexpensive pinot noir wine that feels authentic, but James Ewart, winemaker of Delicato’s Noble Vines label, did just that with the Noble Vines 667 Pinot Noir 2012, Monterey County. The majority of the grapes derive from the Indelicato family’s estate San Bernabe Vineyard, with additional dollops from Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands and Arroyo Seco AVAs. The color is a limpid medium ruby hue; enticing aromas of macerated black cherries and plums are highlighted by notes of cloves and sassafras and hints of cranberry and pomegranate; a few minutes in the glass bring up touches of leather and violets. The texture is satiny but with a nice rasp of oak and graphite, and the wine pulls up surprisingly substantial tannins for firmness and a bit of austerity. Bright acidity keeps the wine lively and engaging, as do the modestly ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Very good+. About $15.

A sample for review.

Next Page »