March 2011



Back in October, I wrote about the chardonnay wines of Catena Zapata, an estate, in Mendoza, Argentina, far better known for its red wines made primarily from malbec and cabernet sauvignon grapes. Today, finally, it’s the turn of those red wines. Every detail of production is overseen by Nicolás Catena and his daughter Laura Catena, while the chief winemaker is Alejandro Vigil.

These products of Catena Zapata are imported by Winebow Inc., New York. I tasted them at the Mayan-style winery — why Mayan in Argentina? — on Oct. 11, 2010.
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The Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mendoza, offers an intense ruby red-cranberry color and vivid aromas of red and black cherries, red and black currants, lavender and licorice and a high note of wild berry. The wine aged 16 months in 85 percent French oak barrels (30 percent new) and 15 percent American oak, and you feel the tug of that oak in some austerity through the finish, but what mainly impresses is this cabernet’s sleek, polished character, its spicy juicy black fruit flavors and its dense, chewy texture that nicely balances plushness with some structural rigor. Grapes for the wine come from vineyards at elevations of 3100 feet, 3700 feet and 3870 feet. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. Very Good+. About $16.
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The Catena Malbec 2008, Mendoza, delivers a smashingly authentic expression of the grape. The color is dark ruby; black currant and plum aromas are permeated by notes of cedar and tobacco, black olive and tomato skin, a dry, earthy brier-and-bramble-like effect. To the black currant and plum flavors is added a touch of blueberry tart, while the spicy oak is almost creamy. (The regimen is slightly different from the process with the Cabernet Sauvignon 2008; here it’s 16 months in 70 percent French barrels, 20 percent new, and 30 percent American oak.) Don’t let that quiver of creaminess and tart throw you off, however; the wine is taut and vibrant, highlighted by keen acidity, and overall beautifully balanced. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. Excellent. About $20-$22.
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The “Alta” wines represent a more rigorous grape selection from particular vineyard lots, longer maceration of the grapes and more exposure to oak, for the red wines 18 to 24 months in French barrels, 70 percent of which are new. The Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Mendoza, derives half from La Piramide, at 3100 feet, and half from Domingo, at 3700 feet. This wine just smolders in the glass; my first note is “Wow!” Imagine freshly ground Tellicherry and Szechuan pepper combined with cloves and allspice, dried ancho chiles and bitter chocolate, spiced and macerated black cherries and currants and a strain of licorice and lavender and you get some idea of the immense seductive power this wine embodies, both in nose and mouth. Yes, there’s succulence here, but the wine manages to be as graceful as it is lush, as elegant as it is dynamic, and the many dimensions of polished oak and dense chewy tannins that characterize its structure are finely-knit and well-balanced. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $50.
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I found the Catena Alta Malbec 2007, Mendoza, a little unresolved; perhaps two or three years aging will bring it more into equilibrium. I was surprised that this malbec was both more plush and voluptuous than its cabernet sauvignon cousin from 2007 but more austere, more leathery and minerally in the granite and graphite-like sense. Try from 2013 or ’14 to 2017 to ’20. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Very Good+. About $50.
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The single-vineyard Catena Zapata label and the Nicolas Catena Zapata are the estate’s flagship wines. They age 24 months in 100 percent new French oak. The grapes for the Catena Zapata Malbec Nicasia 2007 derive from the Nicasia vineyard (named for Nicolas Catena’s grandmother) which lies at 3870 feet above sea level. The bouquet is a deliriously attractive amalgam of elderberry, mulberry and blueberry that segues to black currants and plums infused with cedar and tobacco, spice-box and spice-cake, hints of roses and lilacs, smoke, ash and leather. Unabashedly gorgeous, yes, and the black and blue fruit flavors are lip-smackin’ ripe and delicious, but fortunately the high sensual quotient is leavened by not just dense, not just chewy but almost thick, grainy tannins and a profound mineral quality that dictate years of aging, as in trying from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22. Unless, of course, you wanted to open such a wine tonight with a medium-rare ribeye steak or rosemary-and-garlic studded leg of lamb hot and crusty from the grill. Production was 350 cases. 14 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $120.
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Even better, to this palate, is the Catena Zapata Malbec Adrianna 2007, Mendoza, a wine that subsumes any showiness or bravado to its important work of revealing the inherent structure that vineyard, grapes and oak aging impose. Adrianna is the highest of the Catena vineyards in elevation, reaching up to 5000 feet above sea-level; yep, that’s close to a mile. That high, rock-ribbed austere nature is preeminently manifest in this wine of towering ambition, confidence and power; the combination of almost giddy verve and brooding dignity satisfies in the same way that sitting in the seat of a fabulous automobile and closing the door with a self-sufficient, whispered “thunk” brings balm to the troubled spirit. And yet how deftly, even gracefully, the wine offers its myriad dimensions and details, its subtleties and nuances. I’ll venture out to the end of a limb here and say that the Catena Zapata Malbec Adrianna is the best expression of the malbec grape made in the world. 350 cases. 14 percent alcohol. Drink from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’24. Exceptional. About $120.
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Yet I could not cotton to the uncharacteristically over-the-top Nicolas Catena Zapata 2007, Mendoza, with 65 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes and 35 percent malbec the only blended wine in the Catena Zapata roster. The color is very dark purple, almost black, and the bouquet is a seething cauldron of licorice and lavender, mulberry and blackberry jam, lilac, and, I swear, a touch of super-ripe zinfandel-like boysenberry. This is an incredibly rich and succulent wine, which, thank goodness, possesses the heaps of graphite and lead pencil and shale, scintillating acidity and dense, dusty, chewy tannins to keep it from being shameless. This is the most “Californian” of these red wines. 3,000 cases. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to ’20. Very Good+. About $120.

On this occasion we also tasted a barrel sample of the Nicolas Catena Zapata 2009, which will be released in the Fall of 2012. A blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon and 40 percent malbec, this deep, dark, truculent wine was very intense and concentrated, quite austere and even astringent in its rip-roaring tannins and spicy, woody oak element. Long life ahead here, and I suspect that once the wine is released that it will be more to my liking than its cousin from 2007.
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Here’s what I wrote in September 2008:

The Bunnell Family Cellar Boushey-McPherson Syrah 2004, Wahluke Slope, Yakima Valley, is wonderfully rich and pure, intense and vibrant. Under ravishing flavors of ripe and smoky black and blue fruit, the wine is deeply grounded in the earth with layers of bark, moss and mushrooms over strata of minerals. It’s too easy for wine-writers to say, so glibly, “Oh, yes, this wine makes you feel as if you’re drinking the vineyard;” what does that even mean (though I think I have been guilty of such a pronouncement)? Yet I have to say that, if ever that statement were true, it could be made about this wine, which feels like a dark celebration of everything that goes into producing a wine of such profundity. This sees only Hungarian oak. Drink now — venison comes to mind — through 2014 or ’15. Production was 274 cases. Exceptional. About $44.

The wine made my list of “50 Great Wines of 2008.”

I tasted the Bunnell Family Cellar Boushey-McPherson Syrah 2004 last week and found that 30 months later the wine is evolving beautifully. The bouquet now features hints of menthol and mint, iodine and graphite and a sort of brisk sea-salt effect that freshens notes of spiced and macerated blackberries, blueberries and plums. In the mouth, that black-and-blue fruit feels a little bruised, a little stewed and beefy, yet the wine remains clean as a whistle, vital and vibrant; it’s quite dry from mid-palate back, unfurling layers of burnished wood and well-honed tannins folded with smoke and ash and a late attitude of iron-clad minerals softened by deep elements of bitter chocolate and potpourri. Drink through 2014 to ’16, properly stored. Still Exceptional. About $42 to $45.

Oh, why the hell not? And it turned out that the Red Car Syrah 2008, Sonoma Coast, worked really well with the hearty, meaty flavors of the Bolognese sauce (or my variation) that I made a couple of nights ago.

I started with a handful of diced hog jowl, in lieu of guanciale, that I fried in a bit of olive (in a fairly large pan) and then added 1/2 pound each of ground chuck and ground pork — no veal in our house; LL does not allow such — browning the meat thoroughly. Took the meat from the pan and dropped in some finely chopped onion, carrot, celery and bell pepper, let that cook and soften, added a couple cloves of finely chopped garlic, let that saute for a minute and then poured in about 3/4s of a cup of red wine, turned up the heat and let that cook down until all the liquid had evaporated. Then back into the pan with the browned meat, dump in two cans of diced tomatoes and their juice, sprinkle on some chopped thyme and oregano, and pour in another cup of the red wine. Let it barely simmer for an hour. Purists may rage that I didn’t do this or didn’t do that or I wasn’t supposed to do whatever, but this is just how I do a Bolognese-”style” meat sauce, and I ain’t a-gonna change, because it’s damned great!

Red Car was founded in 2000 by Hollywood producer, now winemaker, Carroll Kemp and screenwriter-turned wine store salesman Mark Estrin (who was 57 when he died in 2005) to focus on Sonoma Coast pinot noir and syrah. Box Car wines are less expensive that the Red Car “Trolley” series.

These wines were samples for review, as bloggers, but not print journalists, are required to disclose by the FCC.
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Let’s start, though, with the Box Car Syrah 2008, Sonoma Coast, a pretty darned juicy, smooth and seamless, well-balanced syrah that offers blackberry, blueberry and black currant scents and flavors permeated by smoke and graphite, lavender and potpourri and a strain of clean mossy earthiness. The wine ages 10 months on French oak, 20 percent new barrels. 1,243 cases produced. 14.5 percent alcohol. Authentic and enjoyable. Very Good+ About $20.

Now, the Red Car “Trolley” Syrah 2008, Sonoma Coast that we tried with our pasta Bolognese. Ah, here are the requisite size and heft, the smoky, smoldering, meaty scents and flavors of spiced and macerated blackberries, black currants and plums, while seething below the surface are notes of lavender, licorice and potpourri, with more smoke, more spice and charcoal-and-graphite-tinged minerality galore. Oak and a plethora of fairly dense and chewy tannins still feel smooth as silk, polished and fine-grained. Real syrah character here, deep and dark and savory. 14.6 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $45.
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And just for fun, let’s do two of the winery’s pinot noirs.

The Box Car Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast, is unabashedly lovely. Aromas of black cherries, rhubarb and cola are touched with moderately spicy qualities and a wee bit of slightly smoky, earthy, mossy funkiness. A texture of pure satin — but delicate, almost weightless — enrobes ripe and clean earthy plum and black cherry flavors highlighted by winsome touches of violets and sandalwood and pinpoint acidity that keeps the package vital and vibrant. Production was 1,228 cases. 13.9 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $28.

For the additional bucks, what you get from the Red Car “Trolley” Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast, is more spice and more earthiness; this pinot is a little funkier — in a wild yet essential manner — a little denser, but also more spare and sinewy, with more of a foresty briers-and-brambles nature. Boy, though, the sweet, ripe blue and black fruit flavors really envelop your tongue and palate, though the wine retains its important leanness and keen acidity. This aged 11 months in French oak, 55 percent new barrels. Production was 572 cases. 14.1 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $45.
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You might think that by naming Chile and Germany in the same breath, as it were, with the riesling grape that I’m ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime, but such is not the case. The Meli Riesling 2010, from Chile’s Central Valley, was actually quite charming, while Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstrube am Doctorberg Riesling Spatlese 2008 — who said that German wine labels are complicated? — from the Mosel region, was, not just charming but pretty freakin’ sublime, but in a quiet, understated manner.

I was finishing, for lunch, the leftover Cumin-Spiced Shrimp and Chorizo Gumbo that I mentioned on March 4 as being an unexpected great but risky match with the Nickel & Nickel Truchard Chardonnay 2008, Carneros. A more reasonable or typical pairing would have been riesling, so I took these two bottles from the wine fridge to see how they stood up. Both were samples for review.
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In 2005, winemaker Adriana Cerda and her three sons bought a vineyard in Chile’s Maule Valley region of the country’s vast Central Valley. The vineyard was unusual for being so old — 60 years — and for being planted to grapes rare to Chile, carignane and riesling. We see some excellent riesling coming from the Leyda region, farther north and on the Pacific coast, but not from the Central Valley, so I was surprised and gratified by the quality of the Meli Riesling 2010 that Cerda made. The wine is a pale straw color; delicate, almost crystalline aromas of peach, pear and melon with a touch of cloves and hints of thyme and tarragon are well-knit and completely attractive. The texture is silken and blithely enlivened by vibrant acidity that lends verve to roasted lemon and ripe peach and pear flavors. The spicy element burgeons from mid-palate back, as does a rising tide of limestone minerality. Totally charming and tasty and appropriate for spring and summer sipping. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Very Good+. About $12, representing Great Value.
Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, Cal. Label image from thetravelingskier.blogspot.com
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Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler is a small estate — about 9,000 cases a year — centered at Bernkastel. Across from that ancient town, along a bend in the river Mosel, lies the highly regarded Badstrube vineyard, and a 4.6-acre portion of it owned by Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler is called “alte Badstrube am Doctorberg,” which is to say that it lies just above the “Doctor” vineyard, one of the greatest in Mosel, if not Germany. The year 2008 is regarded as a classic and well-balanced but not exceptional vintage.

That said, the Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstrube am Doctorberg Riesling Spatlese 2008 is utterly entrancing. The color is pale straw-gold; at first, one thinks “apple, apple, apple,” somehow both glowing green and burnished red, but this apple-aspect dims a shade to be replaced by the utmost ineffable, even evanescent delicacy of peach and pear with hints of lychee, almond and almond blossom, though allow the bouquet to blossom a few more moments as hints of ripe apricot shyly trail in. Matters are a bit more assertive in the mouth; there’s a touch of ripe, slightly honeyed sweetness on the entry, but swingeing acidity and scintillating minerality in the form of limestone and damp, dusty slate combine to ease a transition to a dry, refined finish in which spice and stone-fruit flavors are elegantly enshrined. All of these aspects are managed with essential decorum, though there is something, also, rather wild and piercing about the wine’s appeal. Alcohol content is 7 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 (and if you open a bottle in one of those years, let me know so I can try it too, please). Excellent. About $25 to $30.
Imported by Winesellers Ltd, Niles, Ill.
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How did these disparate rieslings pair with the Cumin-Spiced Shrimp and Chorizo Gumbo?
The first, the Meli Riesling 2010, from Chile, stood in relationship to the gumbo as two polite doctors might who shake hands and one says to the other “Do no harm,” and the second replies, “O.K., you do no harm too.” I mean, the gumbo is terrific and the Meli Riesling 2010 is very charming and basically no harm was done.
On the other hand, and quite unexpectedly, the Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstrube am Doctorberg Riesling Spatlese 2008 made for another of those totally off-the-wall risky and spectacular food-and-wine-matches that make your toes curl and your taste-buds smoke. I wish I had a case of this stuff so I could always drink it with spicy food.
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Pinot noir wines produced in California and Oregon can be fine indeed, though many, because of winemaking philosophy and perhaps climate issues, fall into the lush and opulent or sturdy and hardy categories, seeming to take their cues from some ideal of zinfandel or syrah. Often these pinot noirs convey a sense of sweetness founded on ripeness, extended oak aging and high alcohol. Nothing wrong with those stances, of course, it’s a question of choice and fashion, but I urge devotees of those styles of pinot noir, and their makers, to try a wine that takes the opposite tack, a modest wine, perhaps, but one that possesses the power to offer a lesson, if not enlightenment. This is the Domaine A. et P. de Villaine “La Fortune” Bourgogne 2007, from the Côte Chalonnaise, south of Burgundy proper. Aubert de Villaine is one of the most respected and widely-known proprietors in the world, being co-owner and co-director and the public face of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, an entity from which issues Grand Cru Burgundy wines of awe-inspiring achievement and price. A. et P. Villaine, on the other hand, is a smaller, more personal project, based in Bouzeron in Côte Chalonnaise and owned by Aubert de Villaine and his wife Pamela. The estate is impeccably run and has been certified organic since 1986 by Qualicé-France.

What is special about the single-vineyard “La Fortune” Bourgogne 2007 — 2008 and ’09 are also available — is its very simplicity and directness; nothing interferes with the consumer’s primary experience of the pinot noir grape. The wine is a medium ruby color, not dark or dangerous-looking or deeply extracted. Aromas and flavors of ineffably smoky black cherry, red raspberry and plum are completely aligned from beginning to end with elements of clean, fresh earth, slightly nervy briery and brambly qualities and a burgeoning aspect of spice and potpourri. The wine’s texture and structure are similarly inextricable, being one in their spare, dry elegance and sinewy character with vibrant acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. There it is, a portrait in purity and intensity that more expensive pinot noirs, sometimes more heavily manipulated, too often miss. The alcohol content is a sensible 12.5 percent. Excellent. About $25. I bought this one.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, California

LL and I drank half a bottle of the Domaine A. et P. de Villaine “La Fortune” Bourgogne 2007 last night with dinner, a lovely tomato soup with fennel-orange zest gremolata, potato “croutons” and Fontini cheese, along with slices of a dense olive and rosemary bread. The recipe is in the March 2011 issue of Food & Wine magazine.

Here are two very attractive selections from the roster of Windsor Sonoma. Winemaker is Marco DiGiulio. Samples for review.
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The Windsor Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Russian River Valley, is a solid middle-of-the-road style sauvignon blanc, and that’s a good thing. It doesn’t slap you in the face with excessive grapefruit/pea shoot qualities, though it possesses a modicum of each, nor is it so stony, minerally and austere that it sucks your breath out, though it offers, indeed, just the right amount of stoniness and limestone-like minerality. Aromas of tangerine, roasted lemon and a bit of melon cosy up to a bit of the grapefruit-pea shoot-lime peel element, all of which draw you in, quite prettily, to flavors of lime and nectarine bolstered by touches of dried thyme and tarragon, scintillating acidity — the wine was made in stainless steel — and a finish nicely balanced between spice and stones. Thoroughly enjoyable. 13.9 percent alcohol. Production was 750 cases. Drink through 2011 with delicate fish and seafood dishes or as an aperitif. Very Good+. About $15.
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We drank the Windsor Sonoma Zinfandel 2008, Dry Creek Valley, with pizza last night. The wine contains four percent petite sirah grapes and ages 15 months in French oak barrels, 25 percent of which were new. The color is a bright medium ruby red; the bouquet wafts scents of ripe black currants and raspberries and a bit of slightly roasted plums at your grateful olfactory nerves, gradually bringing in hints of orange Pekoe tea and fruit cake, with the range of dried fruit and spices implied by those elements, though there’s nothing raisiny here. Black and blue fruit flavors are deeply imbued with baking spice — cloves and allspice — and smooth, lightly oaked tannins that provide a firm but not aggressive structure; graphite-like minerality, along with touches of lavender and licorice, stir in the depths. A model of a non-blockbuster zinfandel, though the alcohol content may be 14.9 percent, according to the bottle, or 15.4 percent, according to the winery website. In any case, the wine is not hot or over-ripe. 807 cases were produced. Drink through 2012 with braised meat dishes, hearty pastas and pizzas or burgers and steaks. Excellent. About $22.
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I needed to taste the Nickel and Nickel Truchard Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Carneros, and it happened that I was about to serve dinner, the cumin-spiced shrimp and chorizo gumbo, and while it didn’t occur to me beforehand that the wine and the gumbo would make a great (or even appropriate) match, together they actually formed one of those slightly edgy BINGO! moments. The zingy cumin- and chili powder-inflected gumbo, for which I concocted a moderately-dark roux, did not make a dent in the wine’s immense elan. This chardonnay is barrel-fermented and ages nine months in French oak, 48 percent new, but does not go through malolactic “fermentation,” the transformative shift that turns crisp malic (apple-like) acidity into creamy lactic (milk-like) acidity. The wine is a radiant medium gold color; it’s rich, spicy and generous, with notes of lemon drop and quince, mango and guava backed by a sprightly piquancy of ginger and clove. Boy, this is vibrant and resonant, a real mouthful of chardonnay, a Girl of the Golden West; it is, however, quite dry, amidst the delicious pineapple and grapefruit flavors (tinged with fig and pear), and your palate feels the tug of oak and woody spice pulling you into the long, dense yet filigreed finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,484 cases. Excellent. About $45.
Winemaker is Darice Spinelli
A sample for review.
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I squeezed a little lime juice and dribbled a bit of soy sauce on two swordfish steaks and then patted into the surface a handful of an Asian-style rub. For the cooking process, LL heated olive oil in a cast-iron skillet until it was smoking and dropped the fish in and seared the steaks for a couple of minutes on each side. That was it. They were rare and juicy and filled with flavor. I opened a bottle of Highflyer Grenache Blanc 2008, Napa valley, a wine made 95 percent in stainless steel with five percent aged six months in new French oak. The grapes derive from a 2.7-acre block of the Somerston Vineyard, in the hills east of Rutherford at 1,100-feet elevation. The wine offers lovely balance and integration, beautifully combining spare elegance of structure with rich flavors of lemon drop, Bit o’ Honey (remember those?), pear and quince with a hint of ripe peach. While the wine is dry, crisp and lively, that five percent French oak provides a hint of spice in the background and some suppleness to the silken texture. This was delicious with the swordfish, with a great flavor-to-flavor profile and some keen acidity to cut the richness of the fish. Production was 720 cases. Alcohol content is 13.9 percent. Excellent. About $17, a Raving Bargain.
Craig Becker is owner and winemaker. Back in December, I reviewed the Highflyer Centerline 2007, a red wine blend.
A sample for review.
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I was nibbling, for lunch, an excellent dry, nutty “clothbound” Cheddar cheese, with a few fig and hazelnut flatbreads, and I opened a bottle of the Renaissance Mediterranean Red 2006, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba. (The winery is about 70 miles north of Sacramento in Oregon House.) ’06 is the current vintage for this wine, which is a blend of 47 percent mourvedre grapes, 27 percent syrah and 25 percent grenache. It ages 36 months — yep, that’s three years — in a combination of one- to six-year-old oak barrels and large puncheons The color is dense ruby-red with a hint of magenta at the rim. This is a deeply spicy and savory wine, with scents and flavors of red and black currants and slightly macerated and stewed plums thoroughly imbued with briery-brambly forest-like elements, smoke and ash, dried flowers and spices and a burgeoning ripe, fleshy, meaty character. The Southern Rhone or “Mediterranean” nature of the wine is evident in its expressiveness and intensity married to a sense of delicacy and decorum. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Production was 244 cases. 14.1 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.
Winemaker at Renaissance is Gideon Beinstock. A sample for review.
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We went to dine at Bari, the restaurant that features the cuisine of southeastern Italy. As usual, to start we ordered two glasses of the always delightful Vietti Rorero Arneis 2009, from Piedmont — the wine list is all Italian and so is the extensive menu of cheeses — and after a while I asked our waiter to open the bottle I brought to the restaurant. This was the Colognole Riserva del Don 2004, Chianti Rufina, produced at an estate in the historically highly-regarded Rufina region northeast of Florence; in fact, Rufina shares no border with the other Chianti areas and has a very different terrain. The property is owned by Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Coda Nunziante, a fact that almost dares the wine not to be great. At a little more than six years old, Colognole Riserva del Don 2004 is wonderfully smooth and mellow and seamless, with its characteristic sangiovese traits of red currants and red plums, moss and black tea, orange zest and potpourri thoroughly amalgamated with a modicum of woody spice and gently assertive, finely-milled tannins. A real treat and particularly good with our cheese course. Excellent. I paid $35 for this wine, though the national average is more like $30.
Imported by VinDiVino, Chicago.
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We didn’t finish the cheeses, so we brought them home, and the next day I made the Grandfather of All Cheese Toast, which included a truffled gorgonzola, Piave Vecchio, a pecorino, something unknown, grated Parmesan, Urfa pepper, mapuche spice and a dribble of good olive oil. Perhaps paradoxically, I opened a bottle of pinot noir, this being the Angela Pinot Noir 2008, Oregon, though the grapes are from the Clawson Creek Vineyard on Savannah Ridge in the Yamhill-Carlton District of the Willamette Valley. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 57 percent new, and you feel that reticence (materially and philosophically) in the wine’s ineffable blending of suppleness and sinuosity, in its elegant spareness matched with a seductive satiny texture. The color is medium ruby shading somewhat darker at the center; aromas of red currants with a touch of cranberry and cola are fleshed out with a bit of smoke, briery and mossy earthiness, rose petals and just a hint of cedar and sandalwood. In the mouth, this pinot noir offers some sweet ripeness of black and red fruit, but it’s not opulent or pushy or showy; again, all is breeding and grace, poise and harmony. Just a freakin’ lovely pinot noir that emits authenticity and integrity. When LL got home from work, I gave her a glass and said, “Try this Oregon pinot.” She sniffed and sipped, thought for a moment, and said, “This tastes like a pinot made by Ken Wright.” And by golly, she was correct. Production was 821 cases. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.
A sample for review.
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Take a look at this label. Look at the name, Adolfo Hurtado. That’s the winemaker for Cono Sur, actually given credit for his work on the front label of a wine he made. We expect books to carry their authors’ names prominently; we assume that movies will list their writers and directors. Would you download a song that didn’t indicate who wrote the piece and performed it? Would you attend a concert of classical music advertised as “Music Played by Some Guys in Tuxedos” without the names of the composers and musicians?

Yet it’s surprising how often winemakers are not named on the labels of the wines they devoted their lives to, often in an accumulation of knowledge and experience that goes beyond the ordinary. Labels often carry the names of the winery’s founders, owners or proprietors or even the name of the artist who designed the label; far more seldom is the winemaker named, yet he or she was responsible for the wine that’s in the bottle.

I’m speaking primarily of “New World” wines: the United States, Chile, Argentina, Australia and so forth. Matters are regarded differently in Europe. No one expects a winemaker’s name to be displayed on a label from Bordeaux because all elements are subsumed under the rubric of the chateau and its estate; winemakers come and go, is the implication, but Chateau Lafite Rothschild remains. In Burgundy what matters is the vineyard, the village and the producer, and the same is true in Germany.

California, however, gave birth to the chatty back-label, to descriptions, paeans, poems, diatribes, marketing, self-aggrandizement, and many, if not most, New World producers follow suit. Rarely, though, in the verbiage, is the winemaker given credit. How rarely? I made an informal survey of 65 bottles in my reviewing rack and refrigerator, looking mainly at California wines but also some from Oregon, Washington, Argentina, Chile and Australia. The division was 48 with no winemaker indicated and 17 that named the winemaker; that’s 74 percent of the labels without the winemaker’s name.

I think that’s a shame, and I promise that from now on, whenever possible, I will include — for good or ill — the name of a winemaker with my reviews.


The Shaw Vineyard was planted in 1882, so the Kunde Reserve Century Vines Shaw Vineyard Zinfandel 2005, Sonoma Valley, is made from vines that are actually 29 years more than a century old. The wine, at a bit more than five years old, is wonderfully smooth and mellow, as well as being surprisingly clean and fresh and more than a little exotic with notes of cloves and sandalwood, violets and potpourri seeping through the scents and flavors of spiced and macerated red and black currants and plums. It aged 17 months in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak, with 20 percent of the barrels being new; the result is a structure of appealing suppleness and firmness layered with moderately dense and chewy tannins in the sleek, fine-grained mode. Lovely balance and integration all around and an irresistible drink for those who weary of over-blown, over-ripe, high-alcohol zinfandels. Production was 1,900 cases. Winemaker was Tim Bell. Excellent. About $30 to $35 and definitely Worth a Search.

Tasted at a trade event.

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