August 2012



Sorry that I produced no “Friday Wine Sips” last week, but here we are again and on a Friday as it should be. Eclecticism reigns, with three versions of pinot gris/grigio, a sauvignon blanc from Washington and an albariño from California’s Central Coast. For reds, there a blend dominated by syrah from Paso Robles, an “international” blend from Tuscany and a pure and intense pinot noir from Anderson Valley. No geeky technical information here, just blitzkrieg reviews designed to take no prisoners on the way to your hearts and minds and palates. There’s a quibble here and there but mainly these are all attractive wines. These were samples for review.
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Bivio Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2001, Italy. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; almond, sea-salt, roasted lemon and thyme; clean, vibrant acidity, heaps of limestone-like minerality; spiced pear, citrus, touch of jasmine; very dry, fairly stony finish, which falls a tad short. Still, quite enjoyable. Very Good. About $14.
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Barrymore Pinot Grigio delle Venezia 2011, Italy. 12% alc. Barrymore as in Drew. Very crisp and lively, powerful limestone and flint elements, very stony and austere; pushes the elegance and spareness at the expense of fruit, spice and floral aspects that would soften acidity and minerality. Very Good. About $17.
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Domaine Paul Blanck Pinot Gris 2010, Alsace, France. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; very attractive tone and presence, smells good, feels good, tastes good; spiced pears, cloves and clover, quince and a hint of crystallized ginger; a golden wine, almost honeyed but quite dry, loaded with limestone and flint, but nothing bleak or austere. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $22.
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Cadaretta SBS 2011, Columbia Valley, Washington State. 13.1% alc. Sauvignon blanc 76%, semillon 24%. Graceful, balanced, restrained; both scintillating and elegant, almost spare; spiced lemon and pear, thyme and tarragon, hint of leafy fig, notes of jasmine and honeysuckle; very attractive texture, lushness modulated by crisp acidity and an urgent limestone element; long, drawn-out, spicy finish, wrapped up by a touch of bracing grapefruit bitterness. Now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $23, and Worth a Search.
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Bonny Doon Vineyard Albariño 2011, Central Coast, California. 13.2% alc. Gosh, what a treat. Pale straw color, faint green highlights; so deftly polished, balanced and harmonious; roasted lemon and lemon balm, hints of verbena, jasmine, yellow plums and an invigorating breeze-borne sea-salt element; practically shimmers with resonant acidity and a clean limestone-shale element. Now through 2013 or ’14. 527 cases and one wishes there were more. Excellent. About $18, a Definite Bargain.
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Clayhouse Syrah 2010, Paso Robles, California. 13.5% alc. 77% syrah, 23% petite sirah. Medium to dark ruby color with a tinge of blue; black and red currants and plums, pepper, black olives, lavender and a hint of black licorice; heaps of earthy briers and brambles, dry, dusty and slightly leathery tannins but tasty red and black fruit flavors wrapped around tar and potpourri; medium-length finish. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, representing Real Value.
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Tenuta di Biserno Insoglio del cinghiale 2010, Toscana, Italy. 14% alc. Cabernet franc 33%, syrah 32%, merlot 30%, petit verdot 5%. Smooth, burnished and polished, suave and elegant but plenty of earthy, loamy structure; plums, black currants and cherries, graphite, lavender, potpourri; touch of what the French call garrigue, implying the scent of warm, dusty, slightly resinous wild herbs; a bit velvety but buttressed by vibrant acidity and agreeable tannins. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $32.
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Champ de Rêves Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, California. 14.5% alc. Entrancing medium ruby-violet color; cranberry, black cherry, hints of rhubarb and pomegranate, cloves and sassafras; lovely satiny texture, almost lush but with the essential acidity to lend cut to the palate; smoky black cherry and red currant flavors; supple, spicy oak in the background. Very seductive. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $40.
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You’re absolutely correct. I did not post a Wine of the Week on Sunday or Monday, so despite the fact that this is Thursday I’m going to write the Wine of the Week because this is a week and Thursday is a day in it. Frankly, friends, sometimes I have to lend myself to writing that pays actual money instead of free wine, which is great but pays no bills. Also, I was in Napa Valley from Sunday night through Tuesday, and then when I returned had to throw myself into more freelance work. To compensate, though, for the relativity of my tardiness, I offer two red wines of different quality and price that both happen to be appropriate for pizzas and pasta dishes, burgers, steaks hot and crusty from the grill and such hearty fare.

First is the Calcu Cabernet Franc 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile, the sort of inexpensive cabernet franc from Chile that if you tasted it blind would compel you to say, “Son of a gun, this tastes exactly like an inexpensive cabernet franc from Chile!” By which I mean that it does precisely the job it’s supposed to do, neither bursting the bounds of expectation nor sagging before the finish line, to include a faint Olympic metaphor. (And would I be a complete jerk if I said that I just don’t get water polo?) The color is dark ruby with a purple-violet tinge; beguiling aromas of ripe black currants, blueberries and plums feel saturated with notes of cloves, thyme and bay leaf and hints of black olive and bacon fat. The wine is dense without being weighty and tannic enough for a fairly hefty structure but without being grainy or gritty; it’s robust, cut with an acid edge and very tasty with black and blue fruit flavors. Drink through 2013. Very Good+. About $14, representing True Value.

The Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel 2009, Napa Valley, derives from the winery’s gravelly, loamy vineyard in Calistoga, up at the northern end of Napa Valley, where the vintage provided warm, sunny days and cool nights. All of Grgich Hills vineyards are farmed following biodynamic principles. There’s two percent petite sirah in the wine, which spent 15 months in large French oak casks; the wood influence stays resolutely in the background, contributing to the wine’s firmness and suppleness. (Winemaker is Ivo Jeramaz.) The color is brilliant medium ruby; aromas of blackberry, mulberry and plum are sown with seeds of cloves and sandalwood and fruitcake, the effect being ripe, spicy and slightly exotic, especially as hints of lavender and black licorice, white pepper and potpourri unfold after a few minutes in the glass. I already mentioned the wine’s supple nature, to which we may add dense, chewy tannins that are nonetheless smooth and lithe and a burgeoning earthy, mossy character that takes on notes of graphite and slate. The wine is quite dry, despite the juiciness of its smoky black currant, blackberry and sage flavors, and the alcohol, distinctly unshy, turns up the afterburners through the long spice-and-mineral packed finish, which comes off a tad hot. That alcohol measures 15.3 percent, higher than I would like but not so obtrusive with the right sort of food, and the fact is that we enjoyed the wine immensely with a rich, savory pizza that featured cured and smoked hog jowl and oven-dried tomatoes and banana peppers with Thai basil. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.

These wines were samples for review.

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