Dear Readers, you have surely noticed, doubtless with mounting alarm, the absence of this blog from the airwaves. This hiatus will continue for an indefinite period of time due to a broken arm that I stupidly acquired last weekend. That appendage being the right arm, I find myself in the position of neither being able to open a wine bottle nor lift a glass of wine nor take notes. Anyway, my medications all forbid the consumption of alcoholic beverages. I am by the way writing this bulletin with one finger of my left hand; you could watch an episode of Games of Thrones in a shorter span. I hope to have cast off and stitches out soon, but I don’t know when I will return to serious work. Bear with me. Cheers!

I taste — not drink — a great deal of chardonnay wines made in California. Much of them are well-made and serve as exemplars of the grape, but far too many reveal signs of being over-manipulated in the winery with barrel-fermentation, malolactic, lees stirring and long aging in barrel. The result is often chardonnays that I find undrinkable because of their cloying viscosity and dessert-like character, their aggressive spiciness, their flamboyant richness and over-ripeness and basic lack of balance. This is why, when LL and I sit down to a dinner that requires a white wine, I generally open a sauvignon blanc or riesling, a Rhone-inspired white, a pinot blanc or an albariño. Looking for respite from tasting California chardonnays, I purchased a bottle of the Domaine Perraud Vieilles Vignes Mâcon-Villages 2013 from a local retail store. This is made completely from chardonnay grapes from 45-year-old vines; it sees no oak, and it’s a shimmering graceful beauty. Mâconnais lies south of Burgundy proper, between Chalonnais and Beaujolais and considerably smaller than either. The soil tends to be limestone and chalk and is best on the south-facing hillsides about 800 or so feet elevation. This wine spends eight to 12 months in stainless steel tanks, resting on the fine lees of dead yeast cells and skin fragments. The color is very pale gold; beguiling aromas of roasted lemon and lemon balm, lime peel, jasmine and verbena are highlighted by bright notes of quince and ginger; a lovely, almost talc-like texture is riven by a blade of clean acidity and bolstered by layers of chiseled limestone minerality, all at the service of delicious citrus and stone fruit flavors tempered by a concluding fillip of bracing grapefruit vigor. Utterly fresh, beautifully poised between elegance and delicacy, on the one hand, and presence and gravity on the other. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. We had this last night with a dinner of broiled catfish with boiled potatoes and salsa verde, green beans on the side. What’s the lesson here? Chardonnay does not have to be bold, brassy, brash and buxom. Excellent. About $20, a Great Value.

Imported by North Berkeley Wine, Berkeley, Calif.

So, the weather is getting definitely warmer over much of the United States of America, and millions of consumers are searching for delicious and juicy, crisp and lively wines to match the season of porch, patio, pool and picnic. Guess what? I have a candidate for such a position. It’s the Giesen Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014, from New Zealand’s Marlborough region. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Oh, right, another one of those flamboyant grapefruit-gooseberry-celery seed-lime peel New Zealand sauvignon blancs that gets up in your nose and tickles and teases your delicate scent organs so you almost sneeze.” Well, allow me to say that while the Giesen Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014 certainly displays some of those elements, they are subdued in nature, balanced and integrated with a gingery-jasmine character, scintillating acidity and a prominent edge of limestone minerality. Quite dry, yes, but sunny, leafy, endowed with intriguing thyme-clove notes and a sprightly finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. You can drink it with almost anything or with nothing. Very Good+. About $15, making it Bargain Status.

Imported by Pacific Highway Wine & Spirits, Petaluma, Calif. A sample for review.

Come on, you know that your sainted mother deserves some Champagne or sparkling wine on Mother’s Day, especially after all the trouble, toil, stress and tears you put her through. Remember how she bailed you out of jail at 3 a.m. that time? (And then docked your allowance forever.) Remember how she wrote your term paper on Moby Dick after the dog ate your notecards? Remember how she stood up for you against the imprecations of the king your father and ensured your claim to the Throne of the Recalcitrant Kingdoms? You owe her, dude! (Or dudette!) Here, in honor of Mother’s Day, is a roster of seven sparkling wines and Champagnes to tempt every palate and soothe every spirit. Four are from California, three from France, including two real and actual Champagnes. Prices start at about $22, though you can find stores around the country that discount radically. Since this is the Weekend Wine Notes post, I eschew a plethora of technical, historical and geographical data in favor of brief and incisive reviews designed to pique the interest and whet the palate. I will mention that all of these products are made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. Unless pointed out specifically, these bottles were samples for review. Enjoy! (In health and moderation.)

Whistler’s “Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1″ hangs in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
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Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs nv, Carneros. 12.2% alc. 92% pinot noir, 8% chardonnay. Very pale copper-onion skin hue; pert and lively, with a pleasing froth of glinting bubbles and attractive aromas of red currants and raspberries, touches of cloves, orange peel and peach, and hints of hazelnuts and cinnamon toast; bracing acidity; very nice intensity and body, with a lively texture and finish. Very Good+. About $22, a local purchase.
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Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé nv, Crément d’Alsace. 12% alc. 100% pinot noir. Shimmering copper-salmon hue; a fountain of glittering tiny bubbles; raspberries and lime peel, blood orange and orange blossom; spiced tea and limestone; almost tart but full and round; delicate yet steely; slightly austere, saline mineral-laced finish. Real style and racy character. Very Good+. About $22.
Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.
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Mirabelle Brut Rosé nv, California (from Schramsberg). 12.8% alc. 53% chardonnay, 47% pinot noir. Medium salmon-peach hue; dependable stream of tiny bubbles; notes of strawberries, raspberries and orange zest; very crisp and and animated; very dry and a bit chiseled with elements of limestone and flint but with a lovely texture that deftly balance spareness with moderate lushness. Delightful. Very Good+. About $26.
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Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2011, North Coast. 12.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Platinum blond color, befitting a “white from whites” sparkling wine; a swirling torrent of tiny bubbles; roasted lemon and spiced pear, quince and ginger, cloves and a hint of mango; touches of toasted brioche, lemon balm and almond blossom; decisive limestone minerality and incisive acidity make it fresh and clean, vibrant and lively, all finely-tuned and lithely toned; the finish is fine, elegant, a little austere. Always a favorite in our house. Excellent. About $38.
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Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut nv, Napa and Sonoma counties. 48% chardonnay, 46% pinot noir, 6% pinot meunier. Pale gold color; a fountain of tiny shimmering bubbles; apples and lemons, spiced pear, hint of brioche and a touch of toffee; savory and saline; quite dry but expansive and generous; lots of chalk and limestone minerality; a large-scale sparkling wine that balances tasty roasted lemon and toasted hazelnut flavors with lip-smacking acidity; all devolving to an elegant finish packed with flint, cloves and grapefruit. A great performance, refined, generous and integrated. Excellent. About $40.
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Champagne Canard-Duchêne Authentic Brut nv. 12.5% alc. 45% pinot noir, 35% pinot meunier, 20% chardonnay. Pale gold color; steady stream of tiny bubbles; grapefruit and roasted lemon, lightly toasted brioche and lemongrass, notes of spiced pear, quince and ginger; very dry, heaps of smoke, chalk and limestone but expansively fitted with citrus flavors and hints of peach; crisp, almost tart, certainly lively and engaging. Our new favorite Champagne at home. Excellent. About $40, a local purchase.
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Nicolas Feuillette “D’Luscious” Demi-Sec Rosé nv. 12.5% alc. 60% pinot noir, 30% pinot meunier, 10% chardonnay. Lovely dusty topaz hue; not so much sweet — demi-sec means “half-dry” — as slightly voluptuous in texture and bursting with ripe fruit in the strawberry and raspberry range; the off-set is provided by notes of yeast and fresh biscuits, almond skin, limestone minerality and brisk acidity; a touch of orange zest is a bit candied. More balanced than I would have thought; quite lovely and enjoyable. Excellent. About $59.
Imported by Ste Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Washington.
Image from somminthecity.com.
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I have been reviewing the pinot noir wines of Black Kite Cellars since the vintage of 2007 was released, but recently had the opportunity to try the winery’s chardonnays for the first time, as well as its flagship “Angel Hawk” pinot noir. Winemaker Jeff Gaffner makes the Black Kite wines from separate blocks of the estate vineyards in Mendocino County as well as from vineyards in Sonoma Coast and Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands. Gaffner is also proprietor and winemaker for Saxon Brown, whose wines I have been tasting recently and will report about soon.

These bottles were samples for review.
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Black Kite Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Soberanes Vineyard, nestled in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Range, is owned by Gary Franscioni and Gary Pisoni, both from farming families long rooted in Monterey County. From this vineyard, and others they own in the Highlands, they supply notable wineries with chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah grapes. This aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. It’s a bold, ripe and spicy chardonnay, displaying a medium gold hue and forthright aromas of roasted pineapple, caramelized grapefruit, lightly buttered cinnamon toast, cloves and a hint of toasted coconut, all accumulating in what long-time readers of this blog will recognize as not my favorite manner of chardonnay. It’s quite dry but juicy with citrus flavors, pear and lemon oil; dense, viscous, almost talc-like in texture but saved by a fundamental quality of brisk acidity and limestone minerality. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 195 cases. Perhaps this requires a year or two in bottle to calm down a bit and resolve itself. Until then, Very Good+. About $45.
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Black Kite Cellars Gap’s Crown Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast. The 138-acre Gap’s Crown Vineyard lies in the cool and windy Petaluma Gap area in southwest Sonoma County; elevation varies from 300 to 800 feet above sea level. First planted in 2002, it supplies primarily pinot noir grapes (and some chardonnay) to a roster of California’s best pinot producers, Bill Price purchased the vineyard in January 2013. Price owns one of California’s best-known vineyards, Durell Vineyard, which he purchased in 1998. He co-founded the private equity firm Texas Pacific Group in 1992 and sold his share back to the company in 2007, and that, friends, is a lesson in how you get into the vineyard and winery business. Price is chairman of Kosta Brown Winery and Gary Farrell Winery — you know those names — and has interest in Kistler, another name you know. This chardonnay marks the first wine from the vineyard for Black Kite. It aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 40 percent new and presents a more classic restrained version of chardonnay than the example from the Soberanes Vineyard mentioned above. Still, this is quite pronounced in its expression of pineapple and grapefruit scents and aromas, highlighted by notes of ginger, quince and spiced pear. The texture is pleasingly dense, not viscous or oily and it offers more acidity and limestone minerality by several degrees. In fact, this is a chardonnay of crystalline clarity and eloquence that culminates in a long, compelling finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 236 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $45.
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Black Kite Cellars “Angel Hawk” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. This wines derives from vines that owners Rebecca and Tom Birdsall and winemaker Jeff Gaffner consider the best of their estate vineyards. And while my heart sinks to read that a pinot noir wine aged 19 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels — I think that’s typically too much new oak for too many months for pinot noir — this model handily absorbed that influence and turned into a deep, supple, lithe and super satiny wine. The color is deep ruby with a transparent rim; rich aromas of spiced and macerated black cherries, currants and plums are permeated by notes of pomegranate, rhubarb and loam; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of cloves, white pepper, leaf smoke and tobacco. This layered panoply of sensation segues smoothly to the palate, where the wine flows purposefully to a graphite-packed, slightly tannic finish. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 190 cases. This is obviously no evanescent, ephemeral, elegant pinot noir; rather, it draws on the grape’s potential for power and substance, helped a bit in the cellar, of course, though it still beautifully captures its essential character. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $85.
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This delightful and classic rosé wine originates from Domaine Saint Mitre, in the wine region of Coteaux Varois en Provence, in the far southeastern strip of France where the vineyards hug the shores and the inland hills above the Mediterranean, curving from Marseilles halfway to Nice. The estate, about 30 hectares (some 75 acres) dates back to 1817. The blend of the Saint Mitre Clos Madon 2014 is 75 percent grenache grapes and 25 percent cinsault. The color is very pale, slightly pinkish onion skin; aromas of fresh strawberries, just-sliced watermelon and lilac are permeated by notes of apple skin, heather and dried thyme. The wine is lively, crisp but not tart, and sports a lovely lip-smacking texture that’s just a bit more spare than lush. It’s savory, a touch saline, and offers wisps of cloves and pink grapefruit on the finish dominated by limestone minerality and flush with red berry flavors. Really tasty and gratifying, and at 13 percent alcohol, it goes down easily. If this one doesn’t conjure the warm, carefree pleasures of Provence — or how you imagine them to be — nothing will. Excellent. About $20, a local purchase.

Imported by Matinicus Wines, Beverly Hills, Fla.

Ripped with white hot heat from the pages of my notebooks are these reviews of 10 pinot noir wines, primarily originating in California but including examples from Western Australia and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I avoid technical, historical or geographical data in these reviews for the sake of brevity and immediacy, hoping to pique your interest and whet your palate. With one exception, duly mentioned, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Ad Lib Cruel Mistress Pinot Noir 2014, Pemberton, Western Australia. 14% alc. Medium ruby color shading to transparent magenta; pomegranate and cranberry, touch of sour cherry; sassafras and cloves; an intense core of lavender and violets; warm, spicy, satiny. Incredibly charming yet with pleasing heft and substance. Very Good+. About $17, marking Real Value.
Imported by Middleton Family Wines, Shandon, Calif.
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Argyle Spirithouse Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. 850 cases. Lovely medium ruby-cerise color; enticing aromas of red cherries and currants, rose petals and lavender, cloves and sassafras, a hint of loam; more serious on the palate, very supple and satiny texture, deftly threads a fine line of acidity and flinty minerality, but you feel some austerity from mid-palate back through the finish, in which the oak makes itself known. Try from 2016 through 2019 or 2020. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $75.
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J Vineyards and Winery Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.3% alc. This well-known producer, famous for its sparkling wines, was recently acquired by E&J Gallo. Translucent medium ruby hue; red and black cherries, cranberries; notes of cloves and sandalwood, mocha, tar and loam; nothing plush or opulent here, rather spare and reticent but with lively acidity and a lovely satiny drape on the palate and slightly exotic red and black fruit flavors. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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VML Wines Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.7% alc. VML is Virginia Marie Lambrix, owner and winemaker. Dark ruby-magenta hue; cranberry and pomegranate, hints of blueberry tart, cloves and cinnamon, notes of violets and rose petals; a little fleshy and meaty; quite lively and dynamic; sweet red cherries, rhubarb; loam and slightly dusty tannins; a finish of spice, sour cherry and graphite. Pinot noir as force of nature, exotic but true. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $32.
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Paul Dolan Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Potter Valley, Mendocino County. 13.5% alc. Radiant and intense medium ruby color; black and red cherries and currants, touch of plum; cloves and sassafras, violets and potpourri, loam, briers and a top-note of tart cranberry; ripe and a little fleshy; quite dry, and it develops a surprising amount of tannin, becomes rather austere on the finish, with oak taking a dominant role. Now through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $30.
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Les Cousins Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13% alc. The second label of Beaux Freres Vineyard. Transparent medium ruby-garnet; macerated red currants and cherries permeated by notes of tobacco and cloves, apple peel, with undertones of cinnamon and sandalwood; supple and very satiny in the mouth, balancing the dry/juicy dichotomy with ripe and slightly roasted red fruit and clean acidity; a dry spicy finish and fillips of moss and loam. A pinot of lovely dimension and detail. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30, a local purchase.
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Reata Three County Pinot Noir 2013, Monterey 53 percent, Sonoma 31 percent, San Benito 16 percent. 14.3% alc. Bright cherry-magenta hue; black and red cherries, pert cranberry and spicy pomegranate, cloves and sassafras; briery and brambly earthiness; a woodsy pinot noir, with notes of allspice and sandalwood, moss and dried porcini; some graphite and mildly dusty tannins; lithe and slightly sinewy texture, quite dry. Now through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $35.
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McIntyre Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 14.5% alc. 368 cases. Absolutely entrancing mulberry-magenta color, limpid and transparent; every element that I adore about pinot noir but both generous and intense; ripe black cherries, currants and plums, violets and lavender, notes of cloves and sassafras; a touch of graphite and hints of leather and woodsy aromas; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of tobacco and leaf smoke; a layer of briers and brambles underlies spicy and succulent black and red fruit flavors ensconced in a lithe and supple texture through which bright acidity cuts a swath; a sleek and elegant pinot but with a feral edge. Now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $42.
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Dolin Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Sta Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. 14.3% alc. 485 cases. Transparent medium ruby color; smoke, cinnamon toast, rhubarb and sassafras, red currants and cranberries; underbrush and loam, vital and vibrant acidity, juicy with red and black fruit flavors yet spare, a bit chiseled; gradually unfolds notes of cloves and sandalwood, leather and slightly creamy oak, and you feel the oak influence etched along the circumference; lovely and dynamic presence and heft yet with a beguiling ephemeral quality, a bit elusive and tantalizing. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $ .
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Kukeri Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. 61 cases produced. Limpid medium ruby color; sandalwood, violets and cloves, macerated red currants and cherries with a hint of strawberries and some dried fruit in the background, notes of mint and tobacco leaf; sleek, subtle and satiny, quite dry; a few moments in the glass bring up touches of pomegranate and rhubarb, loam and old leather; an autumnal, woodsy feeling as the oak comes up through the finish. Not quite Excellent, because the oak in some measure mutes the wine’s sensual aspects; otherwise it’s quite beguiling, so, Very Good+, with final judgment withheld. About $42.
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Valençay is a small Loire Valley appellation at the southeast end of the Touraine region. It’s northern boundary is defined by the river Cher, a tributary of the Loire. Most of the grape varieties that thrive in the extensive Loire Valley are cultivated in Valençay, but sauvignon blanc does particularly well, and it’s to that grape we turn for today’s Wine of the Week. The village of Valençay — motto: How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)? — suffered a decline in population from a high of 3,627 in 1851 to 2,617 in 2009. The area is known for its flat-topped, blue-gray, pyramidal-shaped goats’ milk cheese covered with a dusting of charcoal. Anyway, the Jean-François Roy Valençay 2013 is a blend of 90 percent sauvignon blanc and 10 percent chardonnay. This may be the most charming wine I have tasted so far in 2015, and believe me, charm — that is, the virtue of being delicate, tactful, appealing and ingratiating — counts for a good deal in my book. The color is very pale gold; aromas of roasted lemons, lemongrass and lime peel are wreathed with notes of jasmine and camellia, celery seed and lightly spiced peach. The wine is lively yet supple, and its tasty flavors of peach, pear and yellow plum, highlighted with a sunny, leafy quality, are underwritten by pointed elements of flint and chalk minerality. 12 percent alcohol. Drink now, with delight and good heart, through 2016 as aperitif or with light fish and seafood dishes. Very Good+. About $16, a local purchase.

Imported by Matinicus Wines, Beverly Hills, Fla., a Steven Berardi Selection.

While other wineries attempt to be all things to all consumers — “Maybe we better make a moscato, they’re hot now!” — Jordan Vineyard and Winery goes right on doing what it has always done since starting in 1976, producing chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon wines from its estate vineyards, Alexander Valley for cabernet, Russian River Valley for chardonnay. These are not opulent, flamboyant, super-ripe or over-oaked wines. Alcohol levels are kept low — see the wines reviewed below — and new oak is employed thoughtfully. Jordan’s wines drink exceptionally well with food, and while in some quarters such an assertion is greeted with disdain, that factor seems to me to be the highest purpose and achievement of wine. Jordan also fields a website almost unparalleled in California for its usefulness, range and flow of information and accessibility. Pay heed, all you wineries that cannot manage to get your latest releases on your websites.

These wines were samples for review.
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Two-thirds of the Jordan Chardonnay 2013, Russian River Valley, was barrel-fermented, one-third fermented in stainless steel. The wine aged six months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels; only 18 percent of the wine went through “malo” — the so-called malolactic fermentation that transforms sharp malic (“apple-like”) acid to creamier lactic (“milk-like”) acid — thus retaining most of the wine’s crisp, vibrant character. The color is bright but pale gold; classic aromas of pineapple and grapefruit are highlighted by notes of cloves, quince and ginger, with tinges of mango and jasmine lingering in the background. This is quite fresh, lively and appealing, poised among spicy citrus and slightly roasted stone-fruit flavors, a scintillating limestone element and a texture just lush enough to add some sensuality to its spare elegance. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or 2020 with seared salmon or swordfish, trout with brown butter and capers, seafood risottos. Excellent. About $30.
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The Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Alexander Valley, is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent merlot, 3 percent petit verdot and 1 percent malbec. Interesting that 85 percent of the grapes derived from Alexander Valley; 14 percent came from Mendocino County and a scant 1 percent from Dry Creek Valley; this is called choosing your sources carefully. The wine aged 12 months in 73 percent French oak barrels and 27 percent American oak, a total of 37 percent being new barrels; it spent 22 months resting in bottle before being released. The color is a transparent medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim; the wine is unusually intense and concentrated on structure, with aromas of briers and brambles and loam permeating notes of black currants, cherries and plums, accented by hints of cloves and allspice, with the latter’s element of exotic woodsy astringency. On the palate you taste the spicy black fruit flavors wrapped around a firm core of iodine and iron etched with lavender and violets and a touch of bitter chocolate; the texture is lithe and supple, while the whole package, animated by bright acidity, is dense and chewy with dusty, graphite-tinged tannins. While this cabernet may display a tad less elegance than Jordan cabernets typically do, it feels imbued with more dignity and character; consider it a triumph from a difficult year. 13.8 percent alcohol. Try with steak or grilled veal or pork chops from 2016 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $53.
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By “all over the map,” I don’t mean that every sub-AVA of the Napa Valley is represented in this post, seventh in a series. True, Mount Veeder is here and Howell Mountain and Rutherford, but what I actually refer to is the technical and stylistic map upon which these examples of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon play their part. Seven of these wines are from 2012, one each from 2011 and 2010. The alcohol levels range from a mild 14.2 percent to a soaring and unmanageable 15.7. The use of oak barrels for aging varies enormously. The intention of the wines feels vastly different, with some wineries going whole-hog for the opulent and super-ripe, others tracking more toward the structured and elegant. In this panoply of approaches, do we discern a Napa Valley style? It’s difficult to say. To my mind — and my palate — the Sequoia Grove, Robert Mondavi and S.R. Tonella 2012s and the Napa Vintage 2011 adhere to a kind of general Napa-ness in their balance of fruit, tannin, acidity and mineral qualities and their pleasing herbal qualities, texture and depth. The other five feel more anomalous, marred by high alcohol or strenuous deployment of oak barrels. Of course no one would want Napa Valley to be homogenous nor its many wineries to operate on identical practices. We celebrate the place and the individuality together. These wines were samples for review.

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Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. There really are towering sequoias — I guess that’s redundant — at Sequoia Grove Winery; one feels rather dwarfish in their company. The winery, founded in 1979, occupies salubrious geography in the Rutherford appellation, in the heart of Napa Valley. President and director of winemaking Mike Trujillo has been at Sequoia Grove since the early 1980s, was appointed assistant winemaker in 1998 and in 2001 took the position he has now. Winemaker is Molly Hill. The winery is owned by its national distributor, Kobrand Corp. Sequoia Grove, while making a variety of wines, focuses on chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, and it’s to the latter that we turn today.

The blend for the Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is 77 percent cabernet sauvignon, 11 percent cabernet franc, 10 percent merlot and 1 percent each petit verdot and malbec, meaning that it employs, even if only in dollops, all five of the classic Bordeaux grape varieties. The wine aged 20 months in barrels, 60 percent French oak, 40 percent American oak. The color is opaque ruby with a tinge of magenta at the rim; the aroma profile begins with dusty leather and graphite and unfolds notes of ripe black currants and plums with a hint of blueberry, all permeated by cloves and allspice and a background of walnut shell and wheatmeal; top-notes are wild and slightly exotic. This is a dense, chewy and dry cabernet that coats the palate with dusty, velvety tannins; it’s loamy and rooty, a bit granitic, and yet bright acidity keeps it lively and boldly ripe and slightly fleshy and roasted black and blue fruit flavors make it delicious. Still, it could use a year or two to meld. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’24. Beautifully crafted and balanced. Excellent. About $38.
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Flora Springs Winery and Vineyard Trilogy 2012, Napa Valley. Trilogy is the flagship wine for Flora Springs. The winery was founded in 1978 on the site of an abandoned 19th Century “ghost winery” by Jerry and Flora Komes, though the real work of establishing the facility and vineyards went to their children John Komes and his wife Carrie and Julie Garvey and her husband Pat Garvey; now the third generation is poised to take command. Winemaker is Paul Steinauer. I generally enjoy the wine of Flora Springs and last year made the Chardonnay 2012 and the Soliloquy Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Wines of the Week. I have a quibble, however, with the Trilogy 2012.

The blend is 82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent each merlot, malbec and petite verdot. The wine aged 22 months in French oak barrels, 60 percent new, 40 percent one-year-old. The color is dark but vivid ruby-magenta with an opaque center. The bouquet — indeed the entire package — is centered to an obtrusive degree on the graphite, smoke and charcoal-tinged character of oak. You know how I feel about these matters; if a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, there’s too much oak! Bright glimmers of ripe and spicy black currants, cherries and raspberries emerge, with notes of lavender and licorice and undertones of loam and aged fruitcake, and the wine certainly offers an almost rapturously supple and lithe texture, verging on plush but balanced by clean acidity, dusty tannins and a slightly chiseled granitic structure, but the oak kills it for me. 14.2 percent alcohol. Perhaps a few years in bottle will tame it; try from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’24. Very Good+. About $75.
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Napa Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. Sean Piper grew up in Napa Valley, and after a career in the Coast Guard, he returned to, first, start Wine Consumer Magazine and, now, establish his own wine label, Napa Vintage. The initial outing is sourced from Howell Mountain and is an example of a successful cabernet sauvignon produced in a chilly rainy year. The wine is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon, aged 20 months in all new French oak barrels. The color is inky ruby-purple, and the whole package reflects the intensity and concentration available from mountain-grown fruit, with its attendant notes of walnut shell and dried porcini, classic touches of cedar and rosemary (with the herb’s hint of resiny earthiness) and burgeoning elements of black currants and plums highlighted by a hint of pomegranate; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of cloves and allspice, with the latter’s touch of exotic astringency. This is, no surprise, quite dry, replete with densely buttressed tannins, and thoroughly oaked, yet well-balanced and integrated. All these elements are wrapped around a fervent core of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 414 cases. The Napa Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 seems to me to be a model of an upper-altitude Napa cabernet, displaying its rooted firmness and supple flexibility in fine style. Drink now with a medium rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $42.
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S.R. Tonella Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Rutherford, Napa Valley. There’s little doubt that Napa Valley’s Rutherford Bench is one of the most advantageous pieces of earth on which to grow cabernet sauvignon grapes. Lying at the heart of the Napa Valley, west of Highway 29 and bordered (approximately) on the north by Zinfandel Lane, just above the town of Rutherford, and on the south by Oakville Grade, just below the town of Oakville, this area backs up to the foothills of the Mayacamas range in the west. The soil on this alluvial fan is well-drained gravelly loam. André Tchelistcheff, famed winemaker for Beaulieu Vineyards and guiding spirit of its George de Latour Private Reserve, called wines from the bench “dusty,” a term now accepted, perhaps too easily, as “Rutherford dust.” The cabernet wines that originate from the area undeniably often display a dry, dusty granitic aspect but not so uniformly as to make that characteristic applicable in every instance.

Steve Tonella’s heritage goes back a century in Rutherford. His great-uncle, Joseph Ponti, came from Italy to San Francisco after the earthquake in 1906, traveled up to Napa Valley, and became superintendent and winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyards, founded in 1900. Ponti’s nephew, Louis Tonella, joined Ponti at BV when he was 17. From his uncle, Louis Tonella inherited vineyards in the Rutherford area to which his son, Raymond Tonella, added purchased acreage. The Neibaum-Tonella Vineyard in Rutherford is the winery’s estate vineyard; Morisoli-Borges, owned by Mike Morisoli, a fourth-generation grower, lies at the heart of the Rutherford Bench. From these sources, Steve Tonella makes his cabernet-based wine.

There’s five percent merlot in the S.R. Tonella Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012; the wine aged 28 months in French oak, 75 percent new barrels. The color is opaque ruby-magenta; the wine is deep in its dimensions, intense and concentrated, full-bodied and flush with dense, dusty, lithic tannins. Aromas of walnut-shell, dried porcini, loam and graphite yield little space to hints of ripe black currants and black cherries that carry classic notes of cedar, tobacco and mocha. It’s a cool yet savory and spicy cabernet wrapped around a tight core of bitter chocolate and lavender buoyed by vibrant acidity; the finish, not surprisingly, is focused, dynamic and granitic. 14.4 percent alcohol. Despite it’s size and substance, the S.R. Tonella Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 feels well-balanced, filled with energy and personality. Fewer than 500 cases were made. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent potential. About $74.
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Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. Robert Mondavi wasn’t the first person to think that the Napa Valley was capable of producing world-class cabernet sauvignon wines, but after he founded his winery in 1966, he brought the full force of his conviction, enthusiasm and larger-than-life personality to the task. Barrels of ink and puncheons of pixels have been spilled in outlining and commenting on the history of Robert Mondavi — the man, the family and the winery — so I will forgo that endeavor for this post. The winery continues to turn out excellent products under the ownership of Constellation (since late in 2004) and the tutelage of winemaker Genevieve Janssens, though I’ll say that this admittedly well-made cabernet felt almost too typical of its place and intention; it could have used a bit more individuality. On the other hand, it’s not a single vineyard or sub-appellation cabernet, so perhaps we should all just enjoy it.

The wine employs all five of the “classic” Bordeaux red wine varieties: 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent cabernet franc, 4 percent merlot and 1 percent each petit verdot and malbec. Thirty percent of the grapes came from the famous To Kalon vineyard in the Oakville AVA, with 14 percent derived from Mondavi’s Wappo Hill vineyard in the Stags Leap District, with the rest, I assume, grown in other estate or nearby vineyards; the intention obviously was to create a “Napa Valley” style cabernet sauvignon without reference to a particular sub-AVA. The wine aged a very sensible 16 months in French oak, only 15 percent new barrels. The color is a rich dark ruby with a magenta tinge; aromas of cassis and black cherry are permeated by notes of cedar, tobacco and dried thyme, with deeper hints of lead pencil, briers and brambles and loamy graphite. Tannins are dry, a bit earthy and leathery, firm yet unobtrusive; fleet acidity keeps the wine energetic and thirst-quenching; a subtle oak influence shows up in the wine’s supple, lithe texture and in a wafting of exotic spice.The sense of balance and integration is well-nigh perfect. Alcohol content is the now New World average of 14.5 percent. What’s not to like? Drink now through 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $29.
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Petar Kirilov made 50 cases of his Kukeri Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, aging it 36 months — yes, My Readers, three years — in French oak. Come now, sir, this is not Brunello di Montalcino, but Kirilov believes in oak, so oak it is, and the inky dark wine wears its oak on its sleeve. Aromas of cedar, tobacco and dried rosemary are drenched with notes of walnut shell, dried porcini, leather and loam, with all the attendant resinous, foresty, underbrushy elements we would expect. Fruit? Yes, there are glimmers. Acidity? Oh, sleek and dynamic. I still wouldn’t touch this wine, though, for five more years. The 2011 is the current release, made in 79 cases. 14.5 percent alcohol. Rating? Anybody’s guess, but time will be the ultimate judge, as it is in all matters concerning these sublunary precincts. About $79.
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Jamieson Ranch Double Lariat Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. Jamieson Ranch Vineyards is the southernmost winery in the Napa Valley. Formerly known as Kirkland Ranch Winery and Reata Vineyard, the company changed its name to Jamieson Ranch in 2013. The history of the property is tangled, involving dubious business decisions going back to the late 1990s and bankruptcy filings, but it is owned now by Madison Vineyard Holdings of Greenwood Village, Colorado, a company involved in myriad enterprises including high-end art storage in New York. Jamieson Ranch produces about 35,000 cases annually under its eponymous label, retaining the Reata name for some pinot noirs and chardonnays, and uses the Light Horse brand for inexpensive products. Winemaker is the Chilean Juan Jose Verdina.

About 2/3s of the grapes for this wine went through “flash détente,” a process much used in Europe, South America and Australia but fairly new to California. Before fermentation, grapes are heated to about 180 degrees and then sent to a vacuum chamber where they are cooled and the grape skins burst from the inside. The result — don’t ask me how — is better extraction of skin tannins and anthocyanins, the phenolic compounds responsible for the color of red grapes. That’s the simplified version, believe me, and doesn’t begin to approach the complications inherent in the process or the opportunities for manipulation they present.

The blend for the Jamieson Ranch Double Lariat Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is 86.5 percent cabernet sauvignon, 9 percent merlot, 4.5 percent — surprise! — petite sirah. The wine aged 18 months in French oak barrels, amount of new oak not specified. A dark ruby-purple color is fresh and vibrant; aromas of ripe and spicy black currants, raspberries and plums are wreathed with notes of leather and lavender and a touch of graphite. Slightly dusty and granite-tinged tannins are well-integrated in a lithe texture that’s animated by bright acidity, while black fruit flavors are deep and rich; the finish brings in the oak influence. 14.8 percent alcohol. A well-made and enjoyable but not compelling cabernet sauvignon. Drink now through 2019 to ’22. Very Good+. About $40.
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Priest Ranch Somerston Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley.

Perhaps it’s the 14.9 percent alcohol, but I found this cabernet to be inchoate and unbalanced. It’s 100 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, aged 22 months in French oak, 35 percent new, 65 percent neutral, a regimen with which I fully agree. It displays a dark ruby-mulberry hue and all the austere elements of wheatmeal, walnut shell and dried porcini mushrooms over loam, dusty tannins and a startlingly high yet hollowed-out level of acidity. On the other hand, the black and blue fruit flavors are not only very ripe but sweet and jammy, making, altogether, for a package that does not cohere. Perhaps a few years in bottle will calm the wine down, but I’m not hopeful. Not recommended. About $48.
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Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. The story begins in 1977, with Ray Signorello’s purchase of 100 acres on the Silverado Trail in eastern Napa Valley. Originally intending to grow grapes to sell to other wineries, the emphasis shifted to making wine in 1985. Ray Senior died in 1998, and Ray Signorello Jr. operates the estate now. He is listed as proprietor/winemaker and Pierre Bierbent as winemaker/vineyard manager. This is a luxury wine estate, with packaging and prices to match its aspirations.

A touch of cabernet franc — 6.5 percent — completes what is otherwise all cabernet sauvignon in this large-framed and fairly lumbering wine. Fermented with native yeast, yes, that’s nice; aged 21 months in French oak. all new barrels, okey-dokey, but 15.7 percent alcohol? Please! The color is motor-oil-opaque with a purple-violet rim; it’s a vivaciously ripe wine, with sweet scents and succulent notes of cassis, black raspberry jam, brandied cherries, fruitcake and a hint of zinfandel-like blueberry tart. By contrast, potent tannins and truckloads of dusty graphite define a structure that becomes formidably dry and austere, leading to a feeling that the wine is at war with itself; imbalance and lack of integration personified. Give it a few years if you so desire, but don’t invite me when you eventually open a bottle. Not recommended. About $90.

What’s disheartening about this wine is that I rated the Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (the last I tasted) as Excellent and named it as one of my “50 Great Wines of 2012.” It came in at 14.7 percent alcohol. The cabernet under review today feels as if it had been given different marching orders.
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