February 2012



Five bargain priced wines from Spain, imported by Kysela Pere et Fils in Winchester, Va. Though I am devoted to the very interesting — at least to me — data about history, geography, personalities, climate and winemaking techniques in other posts, for the “Friday Wine Sips” I eschew such matters for the sake of brevity and immediacy.

These wines were tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event this week.

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Palacio de Bornos Verdejo 2010, Rueda. 13% alc. What can I say? Fresh, zippy, clean, snappy, crisp? You get the idea. Bight lemony scents and flavors with hints of roasted lemon and lime zest, a tinge of something more tropical — pineapple, mango — all enshrined in vivacious acidity and a scintillating limestone element. Quite dry, a touch of savory spice and then austerity in the finish. Ideal aperitif, with tapas or grilled seafood. Drink through the end of this summer. Very Good+. About $14, a Raving Great Value.
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Tres Ojos Rosado 2010, Calatayud. 14% alc. 50% garnacha/50% tempranillo. Lovely rosy-pink copper color; delicate yet fleshy, strawberries and raspberries with a touch of peach skin and a slight shadow of mulberry and limestone earthiness. Clean, dry, surprisingly seductive for the price. Drink up. Very Good. About $10.
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Monte Aman Rosado 2010, Ribera del Arlanza. 13% alc. 100% tempranillo grapes. Medium peachy-red cherry color; wonderful bouquet of rose petals and tangerine, orange zest and melon; a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of raspberries and strawberries, and that’s the realm of the flavors too, with a dense, almost viscous texture, but clean, dry and crisp, with vibrant acidity and flinty minerality in the background. Delightful. Drink through the end of 2012. Very Good+. About $12, Terrific Value.
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Tres Ojos Old Vine Garnacha 2009, Calatayud. 14.5% alc. Always an enjoyable little wine and good value; bright, clean, vivid with red and black currant and blackberry scents and flavors, a whiff of black pepper, savory and a little briery and brambly. Simple, direct, tasty; an appealing quaff for burgers and pizza. Very Good. About $10.
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Montebuena 2009, Rioja. 12.5% alc. 100% tempranillo grapes. Bright, fresh and fruity; ripe, fleshy and spicy; tobacco leaf and lead pencil, red and black cherries steeped in brandy with cloves and sandalwood; lovely balance, integration and concentration of all elements, lovely clean intensity; a hint of briers and tar in the depths, a bit of rooty earthiness. Wines at this price aren’t supposed to have this much character. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Very Good+. About $12, and you had better go buy a case right now.
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Rush right out and buy a few bottles of this wonderfully appealing yet suitably serious example of Rioja, from Spain’s most renowned wine region. Burgo Viejo Reserva 2006, Rioja, was produced by a cooperative established by six families in 1987, since grown to 16 families. Altogether, they draw on 494 acres of vineyards, the majority by far devoted to red grapes. While the average age of the vines is 30 years, some of the garnacha (grenache) goes back 90 years. Oak is 90 percent American, 10 percent French. Winemaker, since 2003, is Gorka Etxebarria.

Burgo Viejo Reserva 2006, Rioja, is a blend of 85 percent tempranillo grapes, 10 percent garnacha and 5 percent carignan. The color is an entrancing deep ruby with a dark violet rim and a purple center that almost pulses with intensity. Scents of tobacco leaf, sandalwood, bacon fat and tar are woven with vivid notes of black and red currants and cherries and undertones of rose petal and fruitcake; give the wine a few moments in the glass and it accumulates hints of leather, cloves, sandalwood and green peppercorns. As if that panoply of delights were not enough to entice you, in the mouth, the wine is beautifully balanced and integrated, though dense, slightly grainy tannins and a subtle and supple oak influence lend a firm foundation and framework, abetted by a burgeoning element of graphite-like minerality. All of these qualities, including spiced and macerated black and blue fruit flavors, are bound by vibrant acidity that arrows straight to a sleek, spice-laden finish concluding with a final fillip of lavender and licorice. Alcohol content is a very comfortable 13.5 percent. Drink now through 2015 or ’16 with roasted chicken, game birds or hearty stews. Excellent. About $19 or $20, representing Great Value. Restaurants take note: how often can you get a mature wine from 2006 on your wine lists at a price diners will appreciate?

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

With Yuletide and the New Year fading into the past and Valentine’s safely tucked away, you might be thinking, “FK, this is no time to offer a sparkling wine as your Wine of the Week,” but to you doubters and skeptics I say “Fie,” because there’s no time like today or any day to indulge this craving and delight. I suggest that you succumb to the ministrations of the J Brut Rose, a non-vintage — that is, multiple-vintage — sparkling wine from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. A classic blend of 64 percent pinot noir, 34 percent chardonnay and 2 percent pinot meunier, this lovely concoction, made in the traditional Champagne method, offers an entrancing pale pale topaz color with a sheen of ethereal copper, enlivened by a constant upward surge of tiny pink-silver bubbles; all the modalities of dried orange rind and orange marmalade are here, not the sweetness but the slightly bitter edge and the succulence and astringency, along with back-notes of fresh biscuits and apple tart, roasted pears and dried strawberries. This is very dry and crisp and high-toned, with spare dried red fruit and floral elegance tuned to a tautness of stones and bones and a tremendous limestone element. Both refreshing and impressive. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $32.

A sample for review.

My answer to the question posed in the title of this post would be “No,” but who am I to contradict the research, development and marketing arms of such companies as W.J. Deutsch & Sons and Treasury Wine Estates? (Treasury Wine Estates is the former wine division of the Fosters Group, which underwent a “demerger” of wine from the brewing business in 2011.)

One of Treasury’s numerous brands, labels and wineries is the venerable Beringer, which is launching a brand called Be. — the period is part of the name — aiming at “sophisticated women who seek a more chic, stylish yet casual approach to wine,” according to Stephen Brauer, managing director of Beringer, quoted in Shanken News Daily. Be., which rolls out in April, will feature a Chardonnay and Riesling and, inevitably, a Pink Moscato and Pinot Grigio; the price will be about $13. Does Be. capture the essence of “woman” and all for which she stands? Perhaps someone at Beringer or Treasury has been reading Robert Graves, one of whose later poetry collections was titled Man Does, Woman Is. Another Treasury brand, by the way, is Emma Pearl — how many hours and meetings went into that name? — whose target audience is women 30 and over. The price of the Emma Pearl Chardonnay and Merlot is $16, indicating that women who buy Emma Pearl are better off financially that the target audience for Be., i.e, they’re older and have jobs.

Coincidentally, W. J. Deutsch, the importer based in Harrison, N.Y., is introducing a label called Flirt, aimed at “female consumers” — age and demographic not specified — that will cost about $11. First to be released is a blend of syrah, zinfandel and tempranillo from 2010.

We have seen this phenomenon before, in products such as Brown-Forman’s Little Black Dress label and the Folonari Pink Pinot Grigio, imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons. I don’t know what the sales figures are on these wines; perhaps women flock to them like passenger pigeons darkening the skies of 19th Century America. One imagines the meeting rooms of adult beverage conglomerates filled with junior-grade executives pondering Freud’s infamous question: “What does a woman want?”

The women I know who love wine would gag rather than drink something patronizingly called Flirt or Little Black Dress, because what they want from a bottle of wine is a well-made, authentic product whose price reflects its quality. And isn’t that what we all want from a bottle of wine? I realize that we live in a contemporary cosmos of niche marketing; even so-called Millennials are, for marketing purposes, now divided into two groups, those ages 18 to 25 and those 25 to 32. We also live in an age governed by the Tyranny of Choice, so we can go into a grocery store and stand bewildered before a dozen varieties of Cheez-It Baked Snack Crackers (a trademark of Kellog) or Pringles (a trademark of Procter & Gamble). Indeed, the range of wines foreign and domestic in large stores is daunting, and consumers need help in choosing the right bottle for their purposes.

Still, do women really want wines that are “cute” or “fun” or “stylish” or “chic”? Are those truly the criteria women would use in selecting a bottle of wine? Or do they not mind being condescended to by the cynical machinations of corporate marketing divisions and their PR agencies and advertising minions? Where will this trend stop? Surely coming soon will be wines labeled “Dumb Blond,” “Barefoot and Pregnant” and “Can’t Live with ‘Em, Can’t Live without ‘Em.”

Images from babelwine.com; dexknows.com; wedind.com.

Stone Edge Farm, set in the verdant foothills of Sonoma Mountain, is a collaboration between Mac McQuown, who helped finance Chalone Winery in what seems like a whole different era, and perennial winemaker Jeff Baker. The two were partners in the old Carmenet Winery, launched in 1980. (The Chalone Wine Group sold the Carmenet brand in 2002 to what was then Beringer Blass Wine Estates; it’s now a cheap label for Fred Franzia’s Bronco Wine Co. What a fall was there.) Stone Edge produces two limited edition cabernet sauvignon-based wines — Stone Edge and Surround — from the five-acre Stone Edge vineyard, planted in 1996, and the higher-elevation two-acre Mt. Pisgah vineyard planted in 1998, seen in the accompanying image. Both vineyards are certified organic by the nonprofit CCOF and are managed by well-known organic viticulturist (and winemaker) Phil Coturri. These are, frankly, splendid cabernets that while receiving considerable aging in new French oak barrels manage to achieve enviable harmony and balance between the forces of power and elegance. They’re definitely Worth a Search.

These were samples for review. Image of Mt. Pisgah Vineyard from stoneedgefarm.com.
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The Stone Edge Farm Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma Valley, blends 81 percent cabernet sauvignon with 19 percent merlot. The wine aged 26 months in all-new French oak barrels. Boy, this is a wild, smoldering, unfettered wine that seethes with notes of ripe, spicy black currants, plums and mulberries drenched in cedar and black olives, lavender and graphite. The wine is dense with dusty fine-grained tannins and firmly bolstered by oak that feels sanded and burnished to a gleam, ever-present, assuredly, yet suave and understated; black and blue fruit flavors are permeated by these elements, as well vibrant acidity and a relentless yet somehow effortless cast of graphite and iron-like minerality. The finish is long, packed with woody spice and scintillating minerals and intriguing notes of caraway, dried thyme and dill seed. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 600 cases. Drink now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $60.
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The combination of grapes in the Surround Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma Valley, is 86 percent cabernet sauvignon and 14 percent merlot; aged, like its cousin, for 26 months, it take 70 percent new French oak barrels rather than all-new. And rather than the grapes being all from Stone Edge and Mt. Pisgah, there are contributions from two other vineyards managed by Phil Coturri, one high in the Mayacamas range. Surround ’07 is a remarkably ripe, fleshy, spicy, earthy and minerally wine; its aromas and flavors of black currants and black cherries unfold to notes of mint and blueberries, a hint of red currants, elements of leather and moss and a fascinating smoky-eucalyptus-caraway edge. Dusty tannins, polished oak and resonant acidity provide enveloping structure, while the texture is more spare than opulent. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 780 cases. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Were I supervising a restaurant wine list, I would try to snag a couple of cases if this wine to offer at a fairly reasonable price with steaks and chops. Excellent. About $30.
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Highway 29 around St. Helena so long ago turned into a carnival of showcase wineries, tasting-rooms and traffic jams that it’s difficult to imagine what the Napa Valley was like in 1934 when Italian immigrant Louis M. Martini moved from the Central Valley and founded his eponymous winery. What else was there? Beringer, Beaulieu, Inglenook, Charles Krug, Greystone, Larkmead, Lombarda (now Freemark Abbey). Wheat fields, walnut and plum orchards, cattle. During Prohibition, wineries either made sacramental wine or sent grapes by railroad to home winemakers in the Eastern United States, but Repeal brought renewed interest and activity and more acreage planted to grapes — mainly zinfandel, alicante bouschet and petite sirah — and while most wine was shipped in bulk, Louis Martini, along with producers such as Beaulieu and Inglenook, became dedicated to better quality and varietal bottling. One of Martini’s wisest moves was acquiring a 240-acre vineyard in the hills above Sonoma Valley in 1936; renamed Monte Rosso, this replanted vineyard, after 1946, became the backbone for many of the producer’s finest cabernet sauvignon wines.

Louis M. Martini was a master blender, and his preference was to blend fruit from several vineyards, using Monte Rosso as the core. He had no use for the small French oak barrels (barriques) that were coming into wider use in California. In fact, Martini didn’t even like American oak; he chose, instead, to ferment and age his red wines in 1,500-gallon redwood vats, a practice the winery continued until 1989, when the tanks were dismantled. This old-fashioned sensibility produced some of the best cabernet sauvignon in California in the 1940s and ’50s; the hallmarks of these surprisingly long-lived wines were elegance, balance, integrity and concentrated flavors. Louis M.’s son Louis P. became winemaker in 1954 and took charge of production in 1968, continuing to make wines in his father’s tradition. Fashion changed however. Temperature-controlled stainless steel fermentation and new French oak barrels were introduced, primarily by Louis P.’s son Michael, who became winemaker in 1977. For whatever complicated reasons, though, after the superb 1970, Martini ceased to be an important player in the increasingly competitive arena of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, actually failing to produce excellent wines in the exceptional years of 1974 and 1978.

The 1980s and ’90s saw the winery slide into the middle ranks of California’s old-line producers at the same time as it was outclassed by many newcomers. The winery and its vineyards, including Monte Rosso, were acquired by E&J Gallo in 2002; Mike Martini stayed on as winemaker. The last time I reviewed a range of cabernet-based wines from Louis M. Martini was in December 2009 (here); those wines were from 2006 and 2007 and mainly rated Excellent. That’s not the case for the four wines under consideration in this post, one from 2009, three from 2008; I found these present cabernets to be burdened, even smothered, with toasty, spicy, vanilla-laced new oak. No disrespect intended, but I wonder what Louis M. and Louis P. Martini would make of these modern, hyper-stylish, technologically-correct cabernets. The Gallo company and the Martinis obviously intend for the winery’s ambitious cabernet sauvignons to be competitive with the best that Napa and Sonoma offer, but as far as this quartet is concerned, it’s not happening. The winery may be venerable, but the wines are not “old-school.”

These were samples for review. The image is from my first label notebook, dated Feb. 8 & 9, 1983. I am indebted to Charles L. Sullivan’s A Companion to California Wine (University of California Press, 1998) and to James Laube’s California’s Great Cabernets (Wine Spectator Press, 1989), the latter the most complete and knowledgeable survey of the history of wine and winemaking at Louis M. Martini.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma County. This is Martini’s basic cabernet sauvignon; the fruit derives from various sites in several of the county’s sub-appellations. No information is offered about the barrel-aging regimen, but you can definitely feel the oak. The color is rich, dark ruby; classic aromas of cassis and black cherry are bolstered by whiffs of dried thyme and cedar, black olive and lead pencil, with plummy, spicy undercurrents that expand to smoke and toast. The wine is even smokier and toastier in the mouth, burgeoning with scintillating graphite-like mineral elements that part the waves for an armada of smoky, toasty wood that submerges whatever fruit might linger in the background; it’s hard for the flavors to seep through. 13.8 percent alcohol. The company produced 266,200 cases of this wine, so in its wide availability and its focus, it represents Martini’s intent and philosophy. Good+. About $18.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. Here’s a blend of 87 percent cabernet sauvignon, 4 percent cabernet franc, 3 percent petite sirah and 4 percent “other,” the most intriguing word in winedom. I’ll quote the winemaker’s notes: “The wine was oak aged in a mix of French, American and Hungarian oak barrels with a medium to heavy toast levels to add flavor and complexity.” I’m sorry to say that instead of supplementing the wine’s flavors and complexity, this aging routine dampened and dumbed down any flavors the wine could have displayed. The color, again, is radiant dark ruby; there’s a great deal of smoke and toast in the bouquet, wrapped around tight and focused cassis, black cherry and plum aromas. Both in nose and mouth the wine features intense, even penetrating graphite and shale-like minerality and a sharp smoky, ash-edged field of tobacco, walnut shell and creamy, spicy oak; the whole package is like oak candy sans fruit. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production here was 16,203 cases, so we’re moving up the scale of consideration. Try from 2012 or ’14 to 2018 or ’20. Good+. About $25.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Despite the powerful oak presence in this wine — a blend of 94 percent cabernet sauvignon with 6 percent petit verdot — I found it the most accessible of this quartet. Let me quote again from the material I was sent: “The wine was aged for 18 months in new and used French, American and Hungarian oak barrels with a mixture of heavy, medium and medium plus toasting levels to add flavor and complexity.” Yeah, well, it’s the heavy toast that kills the wine, and this one did not escape totally unscathed — there’s a lot of oak influence here! — but it also manages to deliver bright and vivid notes of cassis and black cherry, licorice and lavender and, in the mouth, plenty of unrestrained spicy, plummy macerated and almost jammy black fruit flavors, with overtones of iodine and mint. The wine is dense and chewy, creamy with oak, grainy with dusty tannins, and the finish works out its length through mineral-laced austerity. 14.8 percent alcohol. You have to like the style, otherwise, you’ll find this wine fairly exaggerated. Drink now, with steak or braised short ribs, through 2018 or ’20. Production was 1,919 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
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Louis M. Martini Lot No. 1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. The Big Gun of this group — there’s 3 percent petit sirah in the blend — aged 22 months in all new French oak barrels. That factor and the alcohol content push the spicy/ripe/sweetish qualities pretty high, though there are elements here that are not just attractive but compelling, as in the brilliant and vivid bouquet, a heady weaving of jammy black currants, black cherries and plums imbued with mocha and cloves, sandalwood, lavender and graphite. Lot No. 1 is monumental in structure, deeply dimensioned, tightly focused, intense and concentrated; the oak is, indeed, “toasty sweet,” and tannins are mountainside dusty and granite-flecked, enormous in scope; the result is a wine that delivers tremendous muscle power but misses the heart of elegance that would make it complete and balanced rather than ultimately blunt and obvious. This simply lacks the character to compete with other Napa Valley cabernets at its rather hefty price; still, try from 2014 pr ’15 through 2018 to ’20 to see how it develops. 15 percent alcohol. Production was 716 six-pack cases. Very Good+. About $120.
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Today’s “Friday Wine Sips” offers four whites and four reds and that adds up to eight wines if what my high school math teacher Miss Bridger said still holds true. The geographical range includes California, Washington state, New Zealand, Sicily and Austria; the price range is $14 to $20, with a couple of products representing real value. No technical or historical data or philosophical ruminations; just snappy comments taken directly from my notes to give you the essence. These were all samples for review.
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Murphy-Goode Sauvignon Blanc “The Fume” 2010, North Coast, California. 13.5% alc. Clean, fresh, buoyant; roasted lemon, tangerine, lime peel; bright and leafy; dried thyme and tarragon; a crisp arrow of grapefruit through the limestone bullseye. Quite tasty. Very Good. About $14, a Bargain.
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Airfield Riesling 2010, Yakima Valley, Washington. 13.6% alc. Apple blossom and grapefruit skin; burgeoning and penetrating limestone and flint-like minerality; pungent, resonant, scintillating with crystalline acidity and high-toned touches of quince and ginger, ripe stone-fruit permeated by smoke and cloves; deftly balances a soft, almost talc-like effect with crisp bone and sinew and river rocks. Lovely and delicious. Excellent. About $16, Great Value.
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Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Martinborough, New Zealand. 13.5% alc. Suave and savory, with an air of blitheness and frank appeal; lemon, lime peel and gooseberry with notes of cloves and ginger, fresh-mown hay and lemongrass; crisp, very dry, a long, sprightly limestone-flint-and-grapefruit laden finish. Excellent. About $20.
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Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Sonoma County. 14.1% alc. (Owned by Jackson Family Wines) Pale straw color; very fresh, clean, exhilarating; grapefruit, lime peel, lemongrass, touches of caraway, tarragon and thyme, hint of honeysuckle; the old hay-foot, straw-foot motif in its deft earthiness; sleek and polished; pear, melon and citrus flavors, slightly herbal, crisp acidity and a touch of flint in the background. Excellent. About $20.
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Zantho St. Laurent 2008, Burgenland, Austria. 13% alc. Inky ruby-purple color; smoke, cigar box and tobacco leaf; the slightly resinous quality of cedar and rosemary; spiced, macerated and roasted black and red currants and plums with touches of black olive and tar; but for all this “darkness,” a clean, fresh and lively red, suited to barbecue ribs and braised short ribs. Highly individual wine from an unusual grape. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.
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Buena Vista Zinfandel 2010, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. A fresh, tasty, agreeable zinfandel, quite spicy, bursting with bright black and red cherry flavors infused with hints of blueberry and boysenberry; mannerly elements of tannin and oak, clean brisk acidity. Sports the new “old-timey” Buena Vista Viticultural Society label. For burgers and pizzas. Very Good. About $15.
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Tasca d’Almerita Lamùri Nero d’Avola 2009, Sicily. 14% alc. Refreshing and vibrant, this wine avoids the rusticity displayed by many nero d’Avolas; delicious red and black currant flavors, very spicy, a little briery and brambly; grows darker, more intense as the moments pass, conjuring notes of bittersweet chocolate and lavender, tar and graphite. Direct and satisfying. Very Good+. About $20.
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Craggy Range Te Kahu Gimblett Gravels Vineyard 2010, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. 13.5% alc. 80% merlot, 8% each cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec. Very harmonious initially but with an edge of briers and brambles, forest floor and graphite and an undercurrent of bittersweet chocolate; black cherry and red and black currants with a touch of blueberry; gets quite dry, packs some tannic, minerally austerity into the finish. Try with a steak or barbecue brisket. Very Good+. About $20.
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An Italian pinot grigio and a Chianti Classico, and you’re thinking, “Ho-hum, hum-drum,” but you couldn’t be more wrong. Each is a superior and eloquent expression of grape variety and geography, and they should not be missed.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa Cal. These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform my readers by the FCC, though print journalists are not so required.
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Pinot grigio here, pinot grigio there, blah blah blah, and then I run across a pinot grigio wine that gives the distinct impression that it performs exactly as the grape was meant to perform in its Platonic ideal. This one is the Ascevi Luwa Pinot Grigio 2010 from Italy’s Collio D.O.C. in the northeastern Friuli Venezia Giulia region, right up near the border with Slovenia. Made completely in stainless steel, this pinot grigio exudes a floral-fruity-mineral-laced presence that feels not only irresistible but totally authentic and inevitable. The color is pale yellow-gold; the nose is a remarkable weaving of roasted lemons and lemon balm, verbena and mint, dried thyme, almond and almond blossom, a touch of hay or straw, and then, after a few moments in the glass, comes a waft of a bracing iodine-tinged salt-marsh briskness. No, friends, this is not your ordinary pinot grigio. In the mouth, the wine is smooth and sleek, tasty indeed with lemon, lime and lime peel flavors highlighted by cloves and a hint of licorice, all bolstered by crisp, clean acidity and a burgeoning limestone element, wrapped, finally, by a persistent lime-grapefruit finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. This is almost too good to serve merely as an aperitif, or if you ask it to perform such function make certain to accompany it with snacks like grilled baby octopus or white bean-and-sage bruschetta or a selection of mild charcuterie. Drink now through the end of 2012. Excellent. About $19.
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Italy, again, this time Tuscany, for the Vignole 2008, Chianti Classico, a wine made along modern lines — “modern” since the 1980s — that manages to be completely and happily old-fashioned in effect. The decree of 1984 called for a minimum of 75 percent sangiovese grapes and permitted small amounts of the traditional blending grapes for Chianti Classico, up to 10 percent red canaiolo grapes and five percent white trebbiano and malvasia, and up to 15 percent of what were called “authorized” grapes, that is nontraditional “outsider,” i.e., international, grapes such as merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon. The Vignole 2008 forgoes the traditional grapes by adding 15 percent merlot to 85 percent sangiovese. Aging in small French barriques is close to ubiquitous in Tuscany now, though Chianti Classico usually is not put through new oak and is better off so. This estate, located in Panzano, noted as a superior site for Chianti Classico since the mid-19th Century, ages the merlot in medium-size casks and the sangiovese in barriques, each for 12 months, followed by two years aging in bottles.

I was completely beguiled by the bouquet of the Vignole 2008, Chianti Classico, a nuanced amalgam of slightly spiced and macerated blueberries and cranberries, with touches of mulberries and plums and undertones of briers and brambles and some wild, woody, foresty aspect; eight or 10 minutes in the glass bring out hints of rose petals and pomegranate. Those earthier elements, the warmth and spice, the red and blue fruit gather in the mouth to be cushioned by dense but soft, supple tannins and subtly-expressed oak, all unfolding around a core of black tea, dried orange zest, sandalwood and potpourri, and enlivened by bright acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. What a pleasure to drink a Chianti Classico — this was with our Saturday Movie Night pizza — that’s not over-extracted or a slave to new French oak or New World dictates. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 to ’15 with rabbit or veal or small game birds. Excellent. About $37.
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Specialization can be a great thing; I wish more wineries practiced the habit rather than trying to be all things to all people. Kelly Fleming Wines, established in 1998, makes only limited bottlings of a sauvignon blanc wine and a cabernet sauvignon, each 100 percent varietal. Fleming (pictured below) bought 300 acres in the northward Calistoga appellation of Napa Valley, but devotes only 12 acres to organically framed vines, allowing much of the rest of the estate to remain as the wilderness it was. The first vintage, a cabernet from 2002, was released in 2005. The 5,000-square-foot winery, designed by Taylor Lombardo architects of San Francisco, opened in 2010; the underground barrel “room” is a cavern blasted by dynamite 200 feet into a limestone hillside.

The winery enterprise is dominated by the talents of women. While Fleming’s son Robert works in sales and her vineyard manager is Jeff Roberts, the winemaker is Celia Welch, who has made wine for Staglin Family, DR Stephens and Hartwell, and assistant winemaker is Becky George; the winery’s assistant manager is Fleming’s daughter Colleen. As I mentioned in a post last week, one of the most gratifying aspects of writing about wine is being introduced to estates whose wines I have not only not experienced before but haven’t heard of. I’m happy to have tried these expertly turned out and attractive wines and look forward to their successors.

These were samples for review. Images from kellyflemingwines.com.
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The Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville, Napa Valley, is not made from estate grapes, but from Oakville grapes, including some from the legendary To Kalon vineyard, supplemented with fruit from Pope Valley, the latter a hotter and drier, more isolated Napa appellation mainly known for being home to St. Supery’s Dollarhide Ranch. The wine is made 80 percent in stainless steel and 20 percent in new French oak, aging for six months. Produced from the aromatic sauvignon musque clone, the Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010 lives up to that source with its scents of lemongrass and jasmine, honeydew melon and fig along with notes of grapefruit, lime peel and papaya, celery seed and tarragon; though complex and layered, the bouquet is blessedly free of exaggeration. In the mouth, this sauvignon blanc is gracefully influenced by a sheen of soft spicy oak, while retaining an aura of lively, almost alert acidity that buoys flavors of roasted lemon, greengage (that is, yellow) plum and a strain of sunny, leafy fig; the finish is imbued with scintillating limestone and a bright arrow of bracing grapefruit bitterness. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013. Truly one of the best sauvignon blanc wines made in Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30, and Worth a Search.
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The Kelly Fleming Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley, is made completely from estate grapes grown on the winery’s 12 acres. The wine ages in 85 percent new French oak barrels for 20 months. The color is a glamorous robe of dark ruby with a vestment of blue-purple at the rim. What a bouquet! Black currants and blueberries, fruitcake and black cherry tart, cumin and cardamom and ancho chile, with a bite of black pepper and smoky graphite. The whole package is framed by dense, dusty finely-milled tannins and oak that feels burnished to an ebon glow; that oak comes up more forcefully from mid-palate back through the long earthy, mineral-defined finish, though none of this structure, profound as it is, prevents the taster from perceiving how deep and rich and ripe the black and blue fruit flavors are nor how thoroughly permeated by traces of lavender and licorice, potpourri and slightly bitter mocha; a touch of austerity contributes to the wine’s dignity and integrity. 14.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Production was 700 cases. Excellent. About $90.
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Yes, I know that it’s Saturday, but I was severely under the weather yesterday — but aren’t we always under some kind of weather? — suffering from the insult of a sinus infection added to the injury of bronchitis; my chest is wheezing like a broken concertina. Duty calls, however, so, for this entry of Friday Wine Sips, eight varied red wines from various places (because it’s cold today), arranged in order of ascending price (as good as any other order) and eschewing the details of history, geography, personality and winemaking techniques for the sake of brevity and immediacy. These were all samples for review.
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Santa Carolina Reserva Pinot Noir 2010, Maule Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. Weedy, briery, sinewy, tannic. Upon what evidence does this astringent wine claim to be pinot noir or anything drinkable? Not recommended. About $10.
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Roth Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. 83% cabernet sauvignon, 16% cabernet franc, 1% merlot. Dense, intense, concentrated; grainy tannins and sleek oak; cedar, sandalwood, bay leaf and vanilla, black currants and cherries; briery, foresty finish; nothing offensive, but feels as if it were designed by a committee from a check-list. Very Good. About $28.
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Pombal do Vesuvio 2008, Douro, Portugal. 13% alc. A table wine made from the Port grapes. Dust, graphite, stewed blueberries and plums, cloves; roasted and fleshy but with a distinct mineral edge; bright, clean acidity; real backbone and structure; earthy, robust, a little wild and rustic. Quite a mouthful for hearty braised meat dishes. Very Good+. About $28.
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V. Sattui Henry Ranch Pinot Noir 2009, Los Carneros, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Lovely pinot but with grip and grit; black cherry, woody spice, rose petal and lavender, cloves and sassafras; mulberry, graphite; acidity that cuts a swath on the palate through black and blue fruit; beetroot, moss, briers, deep satiny texture. Lavish yet elegant. Excellent. About $39.
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V, Sattui Black Sears Vineyard Zinfandel 2009, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Deep and rich but fleet and light on its feet initially; black currants, mulberries, plums; macerated and slightly stewed black and blue fruit hedged by burgeoning tannins; earth, leather, brambles, Platonic dark cherries; dense and succulent but not plush or opulent; plenty of stuffing and grit. Excellent. About $42.
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V. Sattui Quaglia Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2009, Napa Valley. 15% alc. Deep, spicy, very rich; plummy and jammy blackberry and black currant; radiantly floral; but very dry, very austere, ultimately unbalanced, tons of tannin; too dense, too thick, too cloying. Not recommended. About $39.
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Tenuta Sant’Antonio “Selezione Antonio Castagnedi” Amarone della Valpolicella 2007, Veneto, Italy. 15.5% alc. 70% corvina, 20% rondinella, 5% each croatina and oseleta. Generous, expansive, rich, warm and spicy; deeply imbued with roasted and slightly macerated black currant, blackberry and plum aromas and flavors permeated by cloves and sandalwood; deep-down earthy and tinged with graphite-like minerality; brooding yet manageable tannins; exotic, savory. A modern Amarone perfect for venison and game birds, for the trappings of black truffles and blood sausages. Excellent. About $42-$45.
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Antiyal 2009, Maipo Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. 41% carmenère, 35% cabernet sauvignon, 24% syrah. Ambitious, a bit showy; smoky, syrah-carmenère wildness and funkiness; black olive, cedar, thyme, black currants and blueberries; lip-smacking acidity, dry gritty tannins; lots of power and sheen. Bring on the dry-aged ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Very Good+. About $65.
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