Vacqueyras became part of the Côtes du Rhône appellation in 1937 and only in 1990 was it allowed into the ranks of regions whose wines could be bottled with their own place name. It lies south of Gigondas — also a former Côtes du Rhône Villages commune, elevated to its own status in 1971 — on the river Ouvèze, a tributary of the Rhône. Production here is about 97 percent red, with grenache serving as principal grape. The Lavau Vacqueyras 2011 is a blend of 50 percent grenache, 40 percent syrah and 10 percent mourvèdre; the wine aged 20 percent in oak barrels, 80 percent in stainless steel tanks, and indeed it’s notable for freshness and a character that derives little from the influence of wood. The color is radiant ruby-purple, violet-tinged; the wine is intensely floral and spicy, with aromas of marinated black currants, blackberries and plums permeated by lavender and potpourri, cloves and sandalwood, with undertones of briers and brambles, smoke and tobacco leaf. It’s a dry, robust wine, certainly not elegant but not rustic, either; fine-grained tannins and vigorous acidity support delicious black fruit flavors deeply imbued with graphite minerality and earthy, loamy elements. 13.5 percent alcohol. We drank this bottle with beef shanks braised with carrots, potatoes and turnips bathed in a rich winy sauce, and the match was perfect. Now through 2017 to 2020, with similar braised meat dishes. Excellent. About $24.

Imported by Kinson Wines, New York. This wine was a sample for review. The label image is two years behind the example reviewed here, but it was a very clear picture, so I used it.

The cash-cow of Beaujolais Nouveau jumped over the moon Thursday, the third Thursday of November being the regulated release day for the first wine after harvest of the gamay grapes in the bucolic French region of Beaujolais. Much ink had been expended in maligning the supposedly fresh fruity quaff, especially in its role of submerging or obliterating recognition of the fine wines produced in the 10 cru villages of Beaujolais, and I have spilled my share of that ink in such service. What was once a local ritual to celebrate the harvest turned, through canny marketing and overproduction, into a world-wide phenomenon that approached frenzy. The wine, let’s say frankly, is not worth that promotional upheaval. On the other hand, there’s not a thing wrong with enjoying a glass or two of Beaujolais Nouveau under rational — that is, non-hysterical — circumstances. Since the wine is released shortly before the American feast called Thanksgiving, there’s a tendency to link the two, and while Beaujolais Nouveau is not my choice for the late November groaning board — I go with pinot noir and riesling and zinfandel not in the blockbuster vein, preferably wines with zippy acidity — a well-made and classy Beaujolais Nouveau would not be amiss. I mean, let’s face it; you’re going to drink what you want to anyway, n’est-ce pas? Here are reviews, then, of two of the most broadly available Beaujolais Nouveau wines for 2014.

These wines were samples for review. Image from petitnuagemyblog.blogspot.com.
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Open a bottle of the Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2014, and you smell the bubble gum and bananas from a foot away. The color is a glowing yet fairly dark purple-magenta; fortunately, aromas of mulberries, raspberries and red currants are also present, and they persist into the mouth, where the wine is dark and spicy on the palate. This is quite dry, in fact almost austere on the finish, and lacks what I think should be the essential qualities of Beaujolais Nouveau — freshness and charm. 12 percent alcohol. Good only. About $11.
Imported by Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, White Plains, N.Y.
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The color of the Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Nouveau 2014 is radiant medium purple-violet; the bouquet weaves mulberries, red currants and red cherries with echoes of black currants and cherries in a spicy, up-lifting package; this rendition of Beaujolais Nouveau feels classic, grapey, yes, but a little earthy and with a touch of graphite minerality for structure. It’s not delicate, but it is charming, almost elegant. Clearly my favorite of this pair under review. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12.
Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby, New York.
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I rated the first release of the Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2005, “Exceptional” and included it in my roster of “50 Great Wines of 2008″ as “the best debut wine from Napa Valley that I’ve tasted in the 21st Century.” The 2006 and ’07 I also rated “Exceptional.” Then the wine slipped off my radar, and I thank the winery for sending me samples of the current release 2011, as well as 2010, ’09 and ’08. All of these wines derive from the all-organic Temple Family Vineyard in Napa County’s Pope Valley, north of Howell Mountain in the region’s extreme northeast area. Production is small, ranging from the 233 cases of 2008 to the relatively huge 875 cases of 2011. Winemaker is Ted Osborne. The Phifer Pavitt winery itself, owned by Shane Pavitt and Suzanne Phifer Pavitt, is on Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail near Calistoga. Each of the wines under review today rates Excelllent. You’re thinking, “What happened to those Exceptional ratings for the 2005. ’06 and ’07?” I’ll be honest. These four wines are very well-made, complex, capable of opening and unfolding and offering multitudes of detail and dimension, and I absolutely recommend them to lovers of potentially long-lived Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. What they seem to lack is an ultimate charisma, the ineffable, magical incisiveness and penetrating power that lift a wine above the order of excellence into the realm of the extraordinary. Did anything change in the vineyard or winemaking process? Not that I am aware of. On the other hand, I liked each one of these cabernets and would happily taste and drink them again. Each represents a model of the purity and intensity of the cabernet grape in a manner that’s unique to this winery.
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The Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, is the winery’s current release. It contains 2 percent petit verdot and aged 18 months in small French oak barrels, 75 percent of which were new. The color is dark ruby shading to medium ruby at the rim; aromas of ripe black currants and raspberries are woven with notes of sandalwood, lavender and leather, with hints of cedar, bell pepper, black olive and mocha. Nothing too extracted, though a few moments in the glass bring up touches of briers and brambles, with a little of the raspiness of raspberry leaves and stems, a bit of caramelized fennel. On the palate, however, the wine is large-framed and dimensional, quite dry but succulent with ripe and spicy black fruit flavors founded on sleek, grainy tannins, graphite minerality, polished oak and vivid acidity, all balanced and integrated but all readily apparent. The finish is long, packed with spice and fairly austere. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 875 cases. Drink from 2016 or ’17 through 2026 to ’30. Excellent. About $80, according to the winery website, $85 on the sticker affixed to the sample bottle.
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For 2010, the Phifer Pavit Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon comes awfully close to being 100 percent varietal, except for a scant one percent petit verdot. The wine aged 19 months in French oak barriques, 80 percent new barrels. The color here is an intense dark ruby fading to transparency at the rim; at first the bouquet is all about structure, with elements of walnut shell, leather and wheat meal, but gradually there’s an unfolding of spiced and macerated black currants, raspberries and plums, as well as autumnal notes of burning leaves, moss and dried flowers. In the mouth, this cabernet is saline and savory, offering touches of iodine and iron and intense and concentrated clove-and-incense-infused black fruit flavors; tannins, however, are hard-driven, oak is a bit intractable and the granitic mineral character feels unassailable, though every quality is tied together with resonant acidity; the finish is dry, mineral-inflected and austere. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 561 cases. Drink from 2016 or ’18 through 2028 to ’32. Excellent potential. About $80.
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The Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, contains two percent petit verdot and aged 19 months in French oak barriques, 70 percent new barrels. The color is dark to medium ruby; the bouquet amalgamates notes of iodine and iron, in a sanguinary/ferrous communion, with cloves, cinnamon and ancho chili, spiced and macerated black currants, cherries and plums with back-notes of walnut shell and leather; the 09 is the driest, most tannic and austere of this quartet of Date Night cabernets, coating the palate with deep and dusty elements of granitic minerality, spice-laden oak and lip-smacking acidity, as well as earthy and loamy qualities that evince a moss-mushroom-underbrush character. Still loads of personality in evidence and great potential from 2016 or ’18 through 2028 to ’30. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Production was 513 cases. Excellent. About $80.
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After a day of tasting these four Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernets from 2011, ’10, ’09 and ’08, this 2008 was the one we drank the rest of with dinner of leftover boeuf bourguignon. It contains four percent petit verdot; it aged 19 months in French oak barriques, 65 percent new barrels. Notes of leather, lavender and iodine, wheatmeal, black olive and rosemary teem in the glass, along with pungent aromas of dried baking spices and graphite minerality; scents and flavors of black currants, cherries and plums are a little roasted, a bit stewed, an element that adds depth and resonance to the fruit. This wine slowly builds layers in the glass, adding power and character as the minutes elapse; those shadings include the essential vibrant acidity, a deep-seated lithic element and finely-sifted and polished tannins. The finish is long, packed with spice and minerals and only becomes slightly austere after an hour or so. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was a minuscule 233 cases. Drink now through 2022 to 2026. Excellent. About $80.
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The Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Napa Valley, illustrates the manner in which a wine can be carefully calibrated without feeling manipulated or over-cossetted. It’s a blend of 90 percent sauvignon blanc and 10 percent semillon; 89 percent of the grapes came from two vineyards in Napa Valley, 11 percent from Mendocino County. O.K., here’s where it gets complicated: 60 percent of the juice was barrel-fermented, eight percent of that in new oak; the other 40 percent fermented in stainless steel; the wine aged five months in French oak barrels on the lees, that is, the residue of yeast. So, you’re thinking, Why go to all this trouble? Can’t they just make the wine and let me drink it? The point is to create a wine that thoughtfully balances richness and substance with fresh brightness and crispness, a task this one does handily. The color is very pale gold; aromas of jasmine and lemongrass, lime peel and guava are wreathed with spiced pear and tangerine, touches of hay and dried thyme, and back-notes of limestone and flint. On the palate, this sauvignon blanc offers a lovely, soft talc-like texture animated by scintillating acidity and limestone minerality, buoying the spice-inflected citrus and stone-fruit flavors that open to hints of melon, quince and (barely) fig. It’s a leafy, sunny sauvignon blanc that displays marked presence and character. Director of winemaking at Robert Mondavi is Geneviève Janssens. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2015 as aperitif or with seafood risottos and stews or grilled shrimp or mussels. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.

This wine was a sample for review.


The history of Respite Wines goes back to 1948, when Corinne Reichel’s grandfather purchased 400 acres high in what would become the Alexander Valley AVA of Sonoma County, high as in 2,400 to 2,600 feet elevation. Corinne and Charles Reichel began growing grapes on 20 acres of that land in 1985 but decided a decade ago to shift from just growing grapes to producing wine. Winemakers for this small enterprise are Denis and May-Britt Malbec (pictured in this image). Denis was born on the property of Chateau Latour, the world-famous Bordeaux estate in Pauillac, and was the third generation, going back to 1920, of his family to work there, being cellar master from 1994 to 2000, after his father’s retirement. May-Britt Malbec is an award-winning sommelier from Sweden. She and Denis formed an international winemaking consultant business in 2000 and joined Respite in 2004.

Not surprisingly, these three cabernet sauvignon-based wines combine power and elegance in packages energized by relatively moderate alcohol levels and mountain-vineyard acidity and minerality. Production is tiny, even for the least expensive “entry” wine, and distribution is limited, so try the winery’s website for information about purchasing.

These wines were samples for review. Image of Denis and May-Britt Malbec from wine-blog.org.
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The Respite Antics Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Alexander Valley, is a blend of 84 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent cabernet franc and 4 percent malbec; it sees 50 percent new French oak. The color is consistent dark ruby from center to rim; aromas of cassis, black cherries and plums are wreathed with elements of dusty graphite, bitter chocolate and lavender. This is a solid, dense and chewy wine, not rustic by any means, but a little blocky and rough-hewn; intense and concentrated black fruit flavors are permeated by notes of tar, loam, cedar and tobacco-leaf. The whole effect is of something sprung wildly from the mountain soil. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 112 cases. Very Good+. About $26.
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The Respite Reichel Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Alexander Valley, is a blend that includes 4 percent cabernet franc and 2 percent malbec; 60 percent new French oak was used in aging. A dark ruby hue is opaque at the center; the bouquet seethes with notes of black raspberry and black currant, touches of cedar, caraway and sandalwood, with a pungent strain of graphite, rosemary, black olives and caramelized fennel. This is an earth-bound, rock-carved cabernet sauvignon, settled on a deep foundation of loamy granitic minerality, resonant acidity and dense, finely-milled and sifted tannins; there’s no neglect of thoroughly spiced and macerated black currants, cherries and plums, though they take a back seat to the wine’s burgeoning oaken and tannic character. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 325 cases. Drink now (with hearty braised meat dishes) through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $48.
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The Respite winery’s flagship Reichel Vineyard product is Indulgence, for 2010 a proprietary blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent malbec and 13 percent cabernet franc, aged in 60 percent new French oak and feeling like a pure expression of a high-elevation vineyard in its intensity and concentration of iron and iodine, graphite and walnut shell, underbrush and graham meal. The color is vibrant dark ruby with a magenta rim; the bouquet teems with notes of cassis, black raspberry, blueberry and kirsch permeated by sandalwood, lavender, bitter chocolate and tobacco. This wine is dense and chewy, and it not only slides through the mouth with tremendous tannic, mineral and acid presence but it inhabits the tongue and palate, staking claims on your attention and sensibility. It’s the epitome of Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 77 cases. Best from 2016 or ’17 through 2025 to ’30. Exceptional. About $75.
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In the heart of eastern Umbria, lying in a vast bowl-shaped valley of the Apennine range, are the vineyards that harbor the indigenous red sagrantino grape. These vineyards surround the hill-town of Montefalco, one of the smallest and most charming of all of Italy’s quaint and charming hill-towns, population 5,702 (in 2007). Sagrantino has been grown here for a thousand years, used by monks for making sacramental wine — hence sagrantino. The grape possesses the thickest skin of any grape devoted to table wine and was out of favor for a great deal of the 20th century because of its reputation — well-earned — for producing hard, tannic, austere wines that would not be ready to drink for decades. The 1970s brought a revival, however, with more knowledgeable and slightly gently vinification making slightly more amenable wines, but no mistake, Sagrantino di Montefalco, now more often called Montefalco Sagrantino, is no babe-in-arms. Italian wine law dictates that the wine, consisting of 100 percent sagrantino grapes, must age 30 months before release, in some combination or sequence of oak barrels (one year required), concrete vats and bottle. The size and composition of barrels is the choice of the producer; many still lean toward the traditional large Slovenian oak casks, but as in much else of Italy, the small French barrique has made inroads.

I first encountered Sagrantino di Montefalco on a vacation to Umbria in 1996. The friends we were sojourning with near Todi suggested a day-trip to this medieval hill village in the commune of Perugia, where we would find interesting wines and a good restaurant. The town was exceptionally sweet and historic, the restaurant was indeed good, and the wines were more than interesting. They were, actually, brooding, feral, ferrous and sanguinary, meaty, deeply fruity with a tinge of black cherry and balsalm and, yes, quite dense and tannic. We bought several bottles and took them home on the airplane; remember those days?

It’s difficult to make a living from wines that consumers can’t drink for 10 or 15 years — see Brunello di Montalcino — so the powers that be in Montefalco concocted a Rosso version of the wine, but instead of simply being a cadet rendition — see Brunello di Montalcino — the Montefalco Rosso uses the region’s principle grape in a minority status. The rules for Montefalco Rosso are 60 to 70 percent sangiovese, borrowing from neighboring Tuscany, with 10 to 15 percent sagrantino and the rest red grapes of the producer’s choice, usually merlot and/or cabernet sauvignon. The wine must age 18 months in barrel, vat or bottle, meaning typically a year in oak and four to six months in bottle. More accessible, perhaps, but still a potentially formidable wine.

Today I offer brief reviews of four examples of Montefalco Sagrantino and four of Montefalco Rosso. These were sampled in what’s called a virtual tasting, me (and others) at home with the wines, connected on the Internet with the producers who were on camera in Italy. We tasters submitted questions and comments via Twitter. I have included what technical information is available.

Image of the Montefalco piazza from trekearth.com.
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Montefalco Rosso:
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Antonelli Montefalco Rosso 2010. 14% alc. 70% sangiovese, 15% sagrantino, 15% merlot. Nine months in 25-hectoliter (660-gallon) casks; three months in cement vats. Medium ruby color with a garnet rim; cloves and nutmeg, macerated red and black fruit; leather, smoke, oolong tea; dried fruit and flowers; slightly exotic, quite earthy; swingeing acidity and an austere finish. Very Good+. About $18.
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Arnaldo-Caprai Montefalco Rosso 2010. 14.5% alc. 70% sangiovese, 15% sangrantino, 15% merlot. A year in wood (70% Slavonian oak, 30% French barriques), plus four months in bottle. Deep, dense ruby hue; very sangiovese-like, with pure penetrating elements of graphite, tar, spiced tea and orange rind, currants and plums; spanking tannins and acidity; very dry; dusty loamy minerality. Cries out for braised short ribs or veal shanks. Excellent. About $22.
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Lunelli Ziggurat Montefalco Rosso 2010. 14.5% alc. 70% sangiovese, 15% sagrantino, 15% cabernet sauvignon and merlot. A year in a combination of barriques and tonneaux, that is, 225 liters and 500 liters, plus six months in bottle. Dark to medium ruby color; fleshy, meaty, spiced and macerated black and red fruit scents and flavors; a lithe, muscular and tannic wine, a little brusque now; give it a year or two. Very Good+. About $18 to $20.
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Le Cimate Montefalco Rosso 2010. 14.5% alc. 60% sangiovese, 15% sagrantino, 15% merlot, 10% cabernet sauvignon. Precise information on aging unavailable. Intense dark ruby color; very dark, spicy, tarry, dusty, iodine and iron; glimmers of deeply macerated black cherries and plums, with hints of prunes and black olives; quite tannic, dense, tense with acidity, fairly austere finish; needs a year or two. Very Good+. About $20.
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Montefalco Sagrantino:
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Scacciadiavoli 2008, Montefalco Sagrantino. 15% alc. No information on aging. Dark ruby color; deep, dark, spicy, tarry, brooding; dust, leather; fiercely tannic, ferocious acidity; earthy and loamy, iodine and iron; yes, a tinge of black and red fruit, but needs three or four more years or serious decanting before you drink. Very Good+. About $40 to $45.
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Tenuta Bellafonte 2009, Montefalco Sagrantino. 14.5% alc. This wine spent 36 months in large Slavonian oak barrels and 10 months in the bottle. Dark ruby; ripe, meaty and fleshy; prunes, black olives, balsamic character; quite dense, chewy and tannic; opens slowly, showing hints of black and red cherries, currants and plums, but overall dry, austere, demanding. Try from 2016 or ’18 through 2026 to ’30. Very Good+. About $50 to $55.
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Romanelli 2010, Montefalco Sagrantino. 15.5% alc. Dark to medium ruby; prunes and plums, spice box, tobacco leaf. rosemary and its resinous quality; spiced and macerated black and red currants, touch of blueberry; smoke and leather; brutal tannins, soaring acidity; you smell and taste the wood from 18 months in barriques and large casks; still, displays innate balance and integration. Needs four to six years before drinking or decant at least an hour before a hearty meal. Tremendous power and character. Excellent. About $40 to $45.
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Perticaia 2009, Montefalco Sagrantino. 14.5% alc. One year in French oak barriques; one year in steel vats; one year in bottle. Quite deep ruby fading to garnet at the rim; dusty graphite, iodine and iron; resinous and balsamic; tar, black olives, smoke, fermented tea; deeply macerated black currants and cherries; dense but sifted tannins, resonant acidity; dry austere finish. Excellent potential after 2016 or ’17 and developing through 2025 to ’30. About $49.
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The Wine of the Week has been red for so many weeks that today I give you a twofer of inexpensive dry white wines, a reisling from the Pfalz region in Germany, the other a semillon-based wine from Bordeaux’s Graves region. Both represent Good Value.
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The Pfeffingen Dry Riesling 2012, Pfalz, Germany, comes from an estate that harks back to a royal land grant issued in 1622 to the ancestors of the present-day proprietors. This is the property’s basic wine, and it’s a sweetheart. Made from 100 percent riesling grapes, all in stainless steel, the wine offers a pale gold color and beguiling classic aromas of peach, lychee, jasmine and petrol — yeah, a little kick of diesel fuel — while a few moments in the glass add notes of spiced pear and grapefruit. Crisp, vibrant and surprisingly layered for the price, this riesling delivers a truckload of spicy stone fruit flavors nestled in a trove of flint-and-limestone minerality and crystalline acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2015 or ’16 as an aperitif or with seared or roasted fish and seafood. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Rudi Wiest Selections, San Marcos, Calif. Tasted at a wholesale trade event.
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Hervé Dubourdieu owns several white wine properties in Bordeaux, including Roûmieu-Lacoste, a dessert wine estate that goes back to 1890 on his mother’s side of the family. What we consider today is his Chateau Graville-Lacoste 2013, Graves, a dry white wine, made in stainless steel, that’s a blend of 75 percent semillon grapes, 20 percent sauvignon blanc and five percent muscadelle. The color is very pale gold; the bouquet is mildly grassy and herbal — hay, lemongrass and dried thyme — with notes of lime peel and lemon balm, quince and ginger, and a touch of lilac and whiff of grapefruit to give it lift. These elements are consistent on the palate, too, with the addition of an earthy, almost loamy quality, crisp scintillating acidity and a limestone-and-chalk quality that burrows deep. 12 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to ’17 with seafood risottos, grilled trout, oysters and such. Excellent. About $20, my purchase, but prices around the country start around $15.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Calif. The label image is one vintage behind.
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No holds are barred in California, unlike in the Old World, where government agencies determine where grapes can be grown and what grapes go into certain wines. Many wines, of course, are famous for their combinations of grapes, like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which may contain any ratio of up to 13 grapes, red and white, or Bordeaux, where winemakers fashion cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc (primarily) into some of the world’s most elegant, powerful and best-known red wines. No such customs or regulations abide in the Golden State, and today we look at five wines that offer some unusual blends of grapes, some more successfully than others. The trick is to create a blend that delivers distinctive, if not original, qualities rather than something than comes out smelling and tasting like a generic “red wine.” These wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Bonny Doon Vineyards A Proper Claret 2013, California. 13.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 46%, merlot 17%, tannat 15%, petit verdot 13%, syrah 8%, petite sirah 1%, the point being that this is a very improper claret — Bordeaux red wine — indeed. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; solid, tannic, fills the mouth with briers, brambles and underbrush but builds layers of cloves and allspice, cedar, ancho chili, then undertones of dusty black currants, raspberries and plums; no molly-coddle here, intense and concentrated, lip-smacking acidity; dense, chewy; needs a medium rare strip steak or a great joint of venison. Now through 2018 to 2020. Loads of personality. Very Good+. About $16, a Real Bargain.
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Casey Flat Ranch Estate Red Wine 2012, Capay Valley, Yolo County. 14.8% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 56%, syrah 30%, cabernet franc 13% viognier 1%. Dense ruby-purple; cassis, black cherries and raspberries; hints of menthol, violets, hedge and heather, then graphite and underbrush, leather and mocha; bushy and brushy but succulent, balanced, integrated; a touch of the iodine-and-iron complex (sounds like a vitamin) under delicious black fruit flavors with a note of blue; wild berry notes, licorice and lavender lend some elevation to a wine of true class, distinction and character. Now through 2020 to ’22 with steaks and braised meats. Excellent. About $45.
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Gnarly Head Limited Release Authentic Black 2012, Lodi. (Delicato Family Vineyards) 14.5% alc. Petite sirah-based blend. A limited edition wine for Fall. The problem with the Gnarly Head wines is that they’re not gnarly enough. One of the purplest and most opaque wines I have ever seen; very ripe, spicy, grapy, gamy; plummy and jammy with sweetish blackberry, blueberry and currant scents and flavors, plush and velvety, “soft in the middle,” as Paul Simon says; quite juicy, smoky, a little loamy; comes across as unfocused and inauthentic. Good+. About $12.
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Juxtapoz Red Wine Blend 2012, North Coast. (Delicato Family Vineyards) 15% alc. Syrah 55%, zinfandel 23%, petite sirah 9%, malbec 6%, cabernet sauvignon 4%, “other reds” 3%. Dark ruby with an opaque center; first impression is of woody spices and walnut shell, then ripe black currants, cherries and plums, hints of plum skin, cedar and black olive; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of slightly caramelized fennel; scrunchy tannins and bright acidity make a fairly robust wine; you feel the alcoholic heat a bit on the finish; takes an hour or so for this to come together, and it finally convinced me that it worked. Cheesy label, though. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $25.
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Renwood Clarion Red Wine 2012, Amador County. 15% alc. 25% each zinfandel, petite sirah, syrah and marsanne; that’s right, one-quarter of this wine is from white grapes. Dark ruby purple color; a deep spicy wine, bursting with notes of blackberries, black currants and blueberries permeated by violets, lavender, potpourri and graphite; sleek, supple and integrated and manages not to be overwhelmed by the alcohol content; picks up hints of cloves, walnut shell, briers and brambles through a wildly fruity but earthy, mineral-packed finish. Tasty and intriguing. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $20.
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For today’s entry in this series devoted to chardonnay and pinot noir wines made by the same producer, we shift from California to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where Cornerstone Cellars established an outpost in 2010. The Napa Valley-based winery has come a long way since 1991 when two doctors from Memphis bought some surplus Howell Mountain cabernet sauvignon grapes from Randy Dunn and started their own label. Great reviews poured in for Cornerstone’s cabernets, and continue to do so, issued under Napa Valley and Howell Mountain designations. The producer has a second label, Stepping Stone, while a recent addition to the roster is an even less expensive line, the punningly labeled Rocks. Cornerstone has expanded in several directions under the leadership of managing partner Craig Camp, and one of the directions is a collaboration with Oregon star-winemaker Tony Rynders (10 years at Domaine Serene, consultant to a flock of small wineries) to produce Willamette Valley chardonnays and pinot noirs for the Cornerstone and Stepping Stone labels. Under review in this post are the Cornerstone Chardonnay 2012 and Pinot Noir 2011. These wines were samples for review.
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I will confess that when I read that the Cornerstone Cellars Chardonnay 2012, Willamette Valley, was 100 percent barrel-fermented and went through 100 percent malolactic and spent 15 months in French oak barrels (28 percent new), I felt considerable dismay. “This chardonnay,” I thought, “is going to be one creamy, stridently spicy oak-bomb.” I am also happy to admit, however, that I was wrong. It’s certainly a powerful expression of the grape, but one composed more of wreathed hints, nods and nuances than oratorical orisons and flamboyant gestures. The grapes for the wine derive from vineyards in two of Willamette Valley’s sub-appellations, Chehalem Mountain and Yamhill-Carlton. The color is pale gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are highlighted by notes of ginger and quince that feel crystalline in their clarity and verve; a few moments in the glass bring up hints of lemon balm and limestone. Oak provides shadings of spice and wood in flavors that delicately shift from citrus to stone-fruit, while brisk acidity lends liveliness to the limestone and flint elements that grow more profound with every sip. The finish is clean, dense, earthy and, somehow, exhilarating. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Production was 300 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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The Cornerstone Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, is a broad cross-appellation wine that draws on five of Willamette’s six sub AVAs: Yamhill-Carlton (29 percent), Eola Amity (29 percent), Dundee Hills (25 percent), Chehalem Mountain (11 percent) and Ribbon Ridge (six percent), omitting only the McMinnville AVA. The wine spent 14 months in French oak barrels, percentage of new oak not specified. The color is medium ruby with a transparent rim; fairly pert aromas of cranberry, red cherry and rhubarb offer hints of cloves and cinnamon, lavender and menthol and that slightly iodine-and-beet-root-tinged loamy earthiness that I associate with Willamette Valley; a little time in the glass brings in notes of dusty plums and new leather. In the mouth, this pinot noir is super-satiny and sensual but riven by an edge of acidity that cuts a swath on the palate and packed with burgeoning qualities of moss, forest floor and graphite. Though the wine is now three years old, I would wait six months to a year before drinking and then consume through 2018 to 2021. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,500 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Here’s a syrah wine that gets to the nitty-gritty of the grape. The Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2012, derived from four cool climate vineyards in the Central Coast appellation, offers reams of spicy black fruit and whole tomes of briery-brambly-underbrush structure. True to the grape’s youngster mode, the emphasis is on spiced and macerated blackberry-blueberry-plum scents and flavors powerfully inflected with dense, chewy, lithic tannins and evocative notes of mossy earthy, loamy minerality. Call it robust without being rustic and deeply dark (and a little shaggy) without being inchoate, and allow it a few or considerable minutes to open to its more floral, spicy, attractively ripe aspects, and you have a red wine whose chiseled, faceted (yet inherently sensual) character lends itself as accompaniment to braised short ribs or veal shanks, beef stew or medium-rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. The Poser may be a trickster, but there’s no chicanery here. 13.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’20. Winemaker is, of course, Randall Grahm. Excellent. About $26.

A sample for review, tasted with a variety of salamis and hard cheeses.

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