My pasta
So, we continue what turns out to be the saga of what I ate and drank this week while LL is in Los Angeles.

Wednesday night, a simple pasta. There were some canned crushed tomatoes left from another dish, so I sauteed half a chopped onion and minced garlic, a few oil-cured black olives (I’ve grown fond of these spunky little things!), some diced saucisson sec and fresh rosemary, added the tomatoes and let the concoction simmer for a couple of minutes. I mean it’s so quick that you can start cooking almost when the pasta is al dente. That was it (with some shaved Parmesan), and it was delicious.

I wished for a Dolcetto or Barbera d’Asti, but I didn’t have any of those. Instead I opened a bottle of the Cycles Gladiator cyclessyrah.jpg Syrah 2007, Central Coast. This is a very reliable line of inexpensive products, part of Hahn Family Wines; you get a lot of personality for about 10 bucks.

The color is deep, dark purple; the nose is filled with rich, ripe and spicy blackberries and black currents with touches of smoke, plum and leather. No blockbuster here — the alcohol is a sensible 13.5 percent — but the wine is very tasty, with pleasing weight and heft, a little brightly zinfandelish for a syrah, perhaps, but with a good, authentic burn of ash, smoke and tar on the finish. The wine contains 13 percent petite sirah; it’s given some French oak, 60 percent new, 40 percent neutral. It went really nicely with the pasta. Very Good and a Bargain at about $10.

O.K., fine, but I thought, How about opening something else?

I reached for a bottle of the Ravenswood Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Sonoma County, part of the winery’s “County Series” collection, though that term is not on the label. I have tried three of these wines in the past two months, the Cabernet Sauvignon ’06, the Chardonnay ’06 and the Syrah ’05, and I’ll go ahead and say that they are really well-made, finely-tuned and detailed products. Winemaker is Joel Peterson, who has spent a career at Ravenswood (he’s the founder) turning out splendid zinfandels (the winery’s specialty) as well as cabernet sauvignon.

I don’t think I agree entirely that these wines “are all about regionality,” as the written material that came with the m asserts, or that “the whole is sometimes greater than the sum of its parts” (that concept depends on the subject, of course, I, myself, hoping fervently that I am greater than the sum of my parts). Can Sonoma County, with its diverse micro-climates, soils and topology be said to embody a regional character that is detectable in a glass of wine? As good as these wines are — particularly the Cabernet Sauvignon ’06 — my impulse was not to say, “Oh, hell, yeah, these certainly manifest the nature of Sonoma County.”
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In any case, the Cabernet ’06 — since that’s the immediate impetus here — offers aromas of cedar and tobacco, walnut shell and lead pencil, with a concentrated core of ripe black cherry and black current. The wine includes 3 percent cabernet franc and 2 percent merlot. (Wow, readers, as I’m writing this, it’s snowing in Memphis, pelting down in big velvety flakes!) This mouth-filling cabernet possesses grip and depth and personality beyond its price; tannins are dusty and chewy, and oak feels polished and honed to essential dark blond spiciness. The regimen is 22 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. A strain of earthiness and minerality runs through the wine, bringing the rigor of austerity from the middle back through the finish; the wood is particularly resonant, like the deepest cello tones in a string quartet. Drink now through 2012 or ’14. Excellent, and at about $15, a Freakin’ Bargain.

We drank the Ravenswood Chardonnay 2006, Sonoma County, at the end of December with our standard cod stew with chorizo, potatoes, leeks and tomatoes. Three percent of muscat grapes adds tones of white flowers and a hint of quince to an otherwise classic expression of California chardonnay that opens with scents of green apple and peach layered with the dominating aromas and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit. The wine is round and well-balanced and integrated, with vivid acidity and a tide of limestone minerality to leaven nuances of buttered toast and spicy oak (from 12 months in French barrels, 40 percent new). Very Good+. About $15.

The Ravenswood Syrah 2005, Sonoma County, which we drank one night with pizza, includes five percent each grenache and carignane and three percent white viognier; it’s customary in the Southern Rhone (or used to be) to blend a little white wine into the traditional reds. This opens nicely with bright, smoky, spicy black fruit scents and flavors with a touch of red berry. The spicy element encompasses black pepper as well as a hint of sandalwood and licorice. Tannins are robust and hearty, oak provides density and form, and clean acidity keeps the whole package lively. The finish is laden with earthy notes of briers, brambles and underbrush. Drink now through 2011 or ’12. Very Good+. About $15.