September 2012


Morgan Winery was not on the agenda for the small group that I traveled around Monterey County with in the middle of September, but keeping with the spirit of that trip and with the day we spent in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation, I’ll make the Wine of the Week the Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir 2010, the grapes for which were drawn from the winery’s own Double L Vineyard — 56 percent — and from several other vineyards in Santa Lucia, including Tondre Grapefield and Gary’s. The winery was founded by Dan Morgan Lee and Donna Lee in 1982; winemaker since 2005 has been Gianni Abate. The wine is named for the 12 original pinot noir clones in the Double L Vineyard, though now there are 14.

The Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir 2010 offers a seductive color of medium ruby-cerise with a touch of magenta at the rim; the bouquet is a welter of cloves and sassafras, spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries with a back-note of plum and deeper hints of briers and brambles The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 36 percent new barrels, the rest one- and two-years-old, and you feel that wood slightly in the wine’s subtle and supple nature, because this is, above all, beautifully balanced and integrated, though clean acidity cuts a swath and keeps this pinot noir bright and lively, while a satiny texture wraps all elements. Black and red fruit flavors are buoyed by a hint of graphite minerality and potpourri; the finish is long and packed with spice and foresty touches and just a hint of oak’s austerity. 13.9 percent alcohol. The winery made 10,000 cases, so there’s plenty to go around. Now through 2014 or ’15, with roasted chicken or grilled salmon, or, what the hell, a grilled cheese sandwich. Excellent. About $32.

A sample for review.

The Wine Bloggers’ Conference that I attended last month in Portland was my first. Will I attend next year’s conference in Penticton, British Columbia? My feelings are ambivalent, but today I want to put forth the argument that I should be the keynote speaker for WBC13, in which case, of course, I would certainly participate.

(And a brief aside to the WBC organizers: There cannot be two keynote speakers at an event, as there were, so to speak, this year. The keynote speech is the grand introduction to or the grand climax of a conference or convention. All speeches that occur before or after the keynote speech are simply speeches and ought to be billed in some other fashion.)

Why should I be the keynote speaker for WBC13?

First, because I’m an active blogger who tries righteously to post four or five times a week, though I don’t always attain that goal. In 2011, I posted 196 times, which equals one post every 1.8 days. Keynote speakers for previous Wine Blogger Conferences included Eric Asimov and Jancis Robinson, both estimable writers and judges of wine, and, I’ll admit, far more famous than I am, but hardly active bloggers. This year’s relevant keynote speech was given by Randall Grahm, controversial and outspoken owner and winemaker of Bonny Doon Vineyards. (The irrelevant “other” keynote speaker was Rex Pickett — you remember Sideways — whose event I skipped and later was congratulated for doing so by many of my wine blogging colleagues.) Grahm’s talk was entertaining, funny, informative, personal and, finally, just profound enough for the audience to take something important away with them. In other words, exactly what a keynote speech should be, and I applauded along with the rest of the room. (Here’s a link to the speech.)

The problem is that Grahm posts to his blog, Been Doon So Long, so infrequently that last year he entered only six posts; I know, he’s busy running a winery and making wine, but my point is that as keynote speaker for WBC13, I would share with my audience the similar blogging experiences of finding time to deal with the wine samples, finding time to taste the wine, finding time to write and post, finding time to walk the dogs and exercise and run errands and make a living outside of blogging and haul all those bottles out to the street for the garbage truck and not feel guilty for not posting often enough.

Second, I bring to wine blogging a history that’s almost unique in our little kingdom. What I mean is that I started writing about wine in 1984, before some wine bloggers or other participants in WBC12 — as several sweetly reminded me — were born, as in “Wow, you started writing about wine before I was born!” I wrote a weekly print column for 20 years, one that was distributed to newspapers around by country by the Scripps-Howard newswire. When the column ended (not my choice), I launched in December 2004 a magazine-format website, KoeppelOnWine.com; my blog, BiggerThanYourHead.net, came in December 2006, and for a while I ran both the website and the blog, but that was a hell of a lot of work, so I dissolved the website in April 2008.

Based on my 28 years experience as a journalist, wine writer, freelance writer and blogger, what would I tell my audience at WBC13?

<>I would say, Revel in the spontaneous and improvisatory nature of blogging, but at the same time remember that professionalism counts. Good spelling, grammar, punctuation, word order, sentence structure mark the difference between the serious writer — or the writer who can be taken seriously — and the hit-and-miss amateur.

<>I would say, Don’t merely be a wine-blogger, but be a person who writes about wine on a blog. Not many degrees may separate those concepts, but they are significant indicators of intention and accomplishment.

<>I would say, O.K., however spontaneous or improvisatory you want to be, because after all this is the Internet and that, you may say, is the whole point, and all questions of grammar, spelling and so on aside, be accurate — in terms of history, geography, tradition, names, brands, grapes, personalities — get it right. Write, for example, that Chablis is made from sauvignon blanc grapes or that Santa Ynez is near Santa Cruz, and it will be difficult for you to be taken seriously as a wine writer, either by readers or wineries.

<>I would say, Be skeptical. Once your blog achieves some healthy measure of readership or reputation, you’ll be inundated by information and narratives designed to persuade you to like a product, to mention a product, to trade a link for your (free) content. Ignore them all except the ones that politely say something like, “We’d like you to try our wine. If you have any feedback, we’d appreciate it.” Remember that even the text on the back label of a bottle of wine is a form of marketing, so why would you quote such a thing in your review? Sure, it’s exciting to get the attention of wineries, importers and PR and marketing agencies, and while it’s necessary (and sometimes a pleasure) to work with them, remember that they’re all trying to sell you something.

<>I would say, Be critical, by which I don’t mean negative but discriminating, thoughtful, disinterested, judicial — all of these qualities based on knowledge, experience and extensive tasting — but when it’s necessary to be negative in tone and judgment, be that too. “Life Is Too Short to Drink Bad Wine” goes the placard we see in many retail stores, but my motto is “Life Is Too Short for My Readers to Drink Bad Wine,” so when I get a bad one, I tell them about it. It’s fine to be enthusiastic, but temper your enthusiasm with taste and tact.

<>Finally, I would conclude my keynote address for WBC13 with a recitation of Fredric’s Three Rules for Blogging and Life, and I would ask the assembled bloggers, writers, journalists and others in the trade to repeat after me, like a gospel call and response:

1. Be honest!
Be honest!!
2. Be fair!
Be fair!!
3. DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE!!!
(General hilarity, applause, cheers and acclaim.)

Here are reviews of 10 wines — one syrah, two sauvignon blancs, three chardonnays and four pinot noirs — that I tasted late in the afternoon of Monday, September 10, at the Holman Ranch in Monterey County’s Carmel Valley, a beautiful setting for trying mainly excellent wines. As usual in these Friday Wine Sips I forgo the technical data of history, geography, vineyard practices, winemaking and personalities in which I typically indulge for the sake of straightforward reviews of a more incisive nature. These producers — Dawn’s Dream, Cima Collina, Silvestri — are small in scale, each making between about 2,500 to 3,500 cases annually, but large in talent. Enjoy…
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Dawn’s Dream Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 13% alc. Very pale straw color but shimmering radiance; grapefruit, limestone and gunflint; jasmine and honeysuckle, pears and lemons, mildly herbal and grassy, subtle and supple but crisp and lively acidity with scintillating limestone minerality; finish is sleek, elegant, more spicy. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $24.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Dawn’s Dream Chardonnay 2011, Arroyo Seco. 14.1% alc. Very attractive chardonnay in the spare, lithe fashion; very dry, bursting with cloves, ginger and quince, hints of grapefruit and pineapple; a floral element grows, twining itself around ripe fruit; mainly structure through, lots of stones and bones; finish falls a tad short. Drink through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $24.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Dawn’s Dream Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. 14.1% alc. This will be the last Carneros pinot noir that Dawn Galante makes. Purple-magenta color; very spare, dry, almost sinewy, black and red currants and hints of cranberry and rhubarb permeated by cola and tobacco over layers of briers and brambles, underbrush, spicy oak and dry, brushy tannins; acid cuts a swath; nothing overdone, obvious or voluptuous but capturing the essential cool-climate character of the grape. Now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $24.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Dawn’s Dream Alyssa Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.1% alc. Entrancing light cherry-magenta color with a faint violet rim; rhubarb, pomegranate, sassafras, cloves; another dry, slightly foresty/slightly feral rendition, with a lean, keen graphite edge, plangent acidity and just a little too much oak on the finish, still quite enjoyable and a little challenging. Now through 2015 to ’17. Very Good+. About $24.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cima Collina Cedar Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Arroyo Seco, 14.7% alc. 320 cases. Pale straw-gold color; remarkably full-bodied, rich and spicy for an all stainless steel sauvignon blanc; scents and flavors of roasted lemons and spiced pears, hints of dried herbs and a slight tendency toward a grassy-meadowy character; quite dry yet juicy with macerated stone fruit flavors; brisk and bracing acidity, touch of sea-salt. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $16 and Worth a Search.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cima Collina Chula Vina Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Monterey County. 14.4% alc. 318 cases. Big, bright and bold; perfectly balanced and integrated; seething with limestone and flint minerality and vibrant acidity yet bears itself with calmness and dignity; a great example of a chardonnay wine seamlessly segueing from youth to maturity; flavors of spicy yellow plums, quince, ginger and pineapple arrow through a finish supple with grapefruit and a hint of oak. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $33.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14% alc. 325 cases. Enticing color of moderate ruby-mulberry with a tinge of violet-magenta at the rim; wow, what a perfect pinot noir, with exquisite balance, tone, harmony and elegance (and seductive spicy red and black currant and rhubarb flavors) yet supported by an almost rigorous structure of graphite-washed minerality; earthy, slightly mossy elements of underbrush, briers and brambles; and acidity the plows a row or two on the palate. Now through 2016 or ’17. Exceptional. About $48 and definitely Worth a Search for fans of SLH pinot noir from one of my favorite vineyards.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Silvestri Vineyard “Bella Sandra” Chardonnay 2009, Carmel Valley. 14.1% alc. 968 cases. Despite the spicy, slightly vanilla-tinged oak in the background, this manages pleasing restraint and decorum in a subtle, supple package; embellished with burgeoning floral elements and limestone-shale minerality; roasted lemon, spiced pear flavors with hints of bright pineapple and grapefruit that extend through a mineral packed finish; fresh and vibrant at three years old. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $20, a Remarkable Value.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Silvestri “Rising Tide” Pinot Noir 2009, Carmel Valley. 14.3% alc. 1420 cases. Dark ruby-magenta color; red and black currants and plums, mocha and sassafras, touch of cranberry; foresty briers and brambles, rooty and minerally, very dry, resonant almost resolute acidity; close to sleek above the touch of robust rusticity, and you feel the oak a bit in the finish. Try from 2013 or ’14 through 2017 to ’19. Very Good+. About $32.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Silvestri Syrah 2009, Carmel Valley. 14.5% alc. 200 cases. Dark ruby-purple with a motor-oil black center; very pure and intense, riveting graphite-like minerality that bursts through lavender, licorice and leather, blackberries, blueberries and plums; slightly fleshy and meaty with a touch of wet dog and black pepper, all wrapped around a core of dry, grainy tannins and bitter chocolate. If this is what people can do with syrah in Carmel, they ought to plant more. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $18, and they’re practically giving it away.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Driving up and up a twisting dirt track toward the Chalone winery, nothing in the steep, sere hillsides, lying arid and exposed to the glaring sun that reigns over this realm of dust and chaparral, could convince you that the landscape and climate are anything like Burgundy. Yet from this improbable parched landscape, some 1800 feet up the Gavilan range, high over the city of Soledad and just under the Pinnacles National Monument, emerges some of the best (and at times controversial) chardonnay and pinot noir wines in California, as well as pinot blanc and chenin blanc, the latter from a vineyard planted in 1919, the oldest in Monterey County. (This image looks down on Chalone from the hills above.)

That vineyard was planted by F.W. Silvear, who after the end of Prohibition sold grapes to Almaden and Wente and made a little wine of his own. He died in 1957, and the property went through various changes of name and ownership until Richard Graff, a Navy veteran with a degree in music from Harvard, bought the insolvent company, with investment from his mother, in 1965. After a great deal of trial and error, the first wines were produced in 1969. Graff was fascinated by Burgundian methods, and he introduced to California the concepts of barrel fermentation and malolactic fermentation for white wines. It wasn’t easy making wine at Chalone. The winery was a former chicken coop that held 40 barrels. The property had no electricity, water or telephone service until the early 1980s; water for irrigation had to be trucked in from Soledad, and at night oil lamps came into service. A “real” winery was constructed in 1982, but it’s more easily described as a facility than a winery; no fancy digs here, no beautiful building designed by a famous architecture, the Chalone winery consists of serviceable offices, metal sheds and tanks. That former chicken coop/winery (see accompanying image) now holds the library of Chalone’s past vintages, a collection that can make visitors downright giddy.

In 1972, Phil Woodward resigned from the accounting firm Touche Ross and joined Chalone Vineyard as vice president of finance, a position that allowed him to take over all marketing and financial matters and to bring in a group of investors and much-needed cash. Graff and Woodward shared a vision that included maintaining Chalone as a fairly small producer but expanding the company through partnerships or through the creation of new wineries in other regions of the state. Thus came about the establishment of Edna Valley Vineyard winery in San Luis Obispo County, the Carmenet winery — since 2009 a brand for cheap wines from Fred Franzia’s Bronco Wine Co. — and Canoe Ridge in Washington and the acquisition of Acacia and Jade Mountain and Staton Hills (in Washington), renamed Sagelands Vineyard. Chalone made an initial stock offering in 1984, the first California winery to go public. The Chalone Wine Group was purchased in 2005 by beverage giant Diageo, though as Robert Cook, Chalone winemaker since 2007, said, “They take care of the books. We take care of the wine.”

Dick Graff was killed in 1998, when his single-engine Cessna went down near the town of Salinas.

The Chalone American Vitacultural Area was approved in 1982, the first AVA in Monterey County, as Chalone was its first bonded winery. Though the region now contains seven vineyards, it has only one winery, Chalone itself. As long ago as the 1890s, when Frenchman Maurice Tamm planted vines in the declivities of these long, dry slopes, the area’s unique properties — its deep calcareous soils and its paucity of rainfall, about 14 inches a year — were recognized for the demands they would make on vines to work hard for nourishment and for the element of minerality the soil contributes to the wine.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Here are the wines we tasted, under a blue sky and bright sun, on Wednesday, September 12:
(more…)

When Doug Meador left the Navy in 1971, he thought that he would return to Washington state and his apple orchard, but friends persuaded him to go to Monterey County and help them plant a vineyard, and that was that. In 1972, he purchased land in what is now the Arroyo Seco AVA — approved in 1983 — and founded Ventana Vineyards in the western hills of the Salinas Valley and south of the town of Soledad. The name means “window” in Spanish. This California wine pioneer and experimenter sold Ventana to a group of local investors in 2006, though he retained his other brand, Meador Estate. I visited Ventana recently and was particularly impressed by the product that I’ll make the Wine of the Week.

The Ventana Estate Riesling 2010, Arroyo Seco, offers a pale straw-gold color and penetrating aromas of petrol and lychee, lime leaf and lime peel, all supported by back-notes of grapefruit and limestone. The wine is notably crisp and lively, the merest tad sweet at the entry but achingly dry from mid-palate back through a finish awash with flint-and-limestone-like minerality. There’s nothing too spare or arid here though; for one thing, the nose opens to a lovely floral influence in the jasmine and camellia range, while in the mouth the grapefruit, spiced pear and (slightly) roasted lemon flavors nicely balance tartness with moderate ripe lushness. A very comfortable 11.7 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013 or ’14 as an attractive aperitif (perhaps with Pigs in Blankets on the side) or with braised veal, shrimp risotto or mildly spicy Southeast Asian fare. Excellent. About $22.

Sometimes I taste a wine that’s so immediately pleasing and pretty, so tasty and satisfying, while not necessarily inspiring contemplation or awe, that I quickly want to let My Readers know about it. Such a wine is the Noble Vines 667 Pinot Noir 2010, Monterey County, a product of DFV Wines, operated by the third generation of the Indelicato family, whose patriarch, Italian immigrant Gasparé Indelicato, planted vines in Monterey County in 1924. After selling grapes for a decade, the family first made wine — about 1,500 cases — in 1935. Known primarily for the Delicato label, the family also produces a variety of wines under other labels, including Gnarly Head, Twisted, Irony, Brazin, Domino, Loredona, Fog Head and Noble Vines.

The Noble Vines 667 Pinot Noir 2010 bursts from the glass in a welter of fresh raspberries and cranberries, with notes of rhubarb and pomegranate, rose petals, cloves and cola; I mean, it wakes up your nose and then soothes it. In the mouth, the wine is dry, lithe, almost sinewy, sheerly cut with vibrant acidity that lays a path yet swathed in lightness and delicacy and a moderately satiny texture. From mid-palate back through the finish, gaining on the mildly spicy red and blue fruit flavors, elements of briers and brambles, graphite and potpourri pack the finish. 10,000 cases made, so there’s plenty around. Drink this uncomplicated but attractive pinot noir through 2014 with grilled salmon, roasted veal and light pasta dishes. Very Good+. About $15.

Tasted in the old wine cellar at Mission San Antonio de Padua, San Antonio Valley, Monterey County.

Hello, My Readers… How about an update on this week’s activities so far exploring some of the smaller American Viticultural Areas in Monterey County. It’s been pretty much a whirlwind of bus travel, greeting and tasting and then on to another winery or stopping point to meet with a group of winemakers. I’m writing this post at 7:20 a.m. in a Tower Room at the hacienda of William Randolph Hearst’s former cattle ranch, though as a hacienda goes, this one, designed by Julia Morgan, is palatial in scope. It also happens to be on an Army base — Hearst sold the ranch to the military in 1940 — so everyone has to show picture ID to get in. Monday, we were in Carmel Valley; yesterday we stopped in Arroyo Seco in the morning and the new San Antonio AVA in the afternoon. Today we go on to Chalone and up to The Pinnacles, where we’ll taste pinot noir and chardonnay from some of the upcoming producers in Santa Lucia Highlands, including Sabrine Rodem’s Wrath Wines and Peter Figge’s Figge Cellars, both of which have been getting attention recently. The picture included with this post is of a Barbary falcon improbably named Sugar; perhaps she has a really sweet demeanor under her fierce exterior. We saw a demonstration — the first on a wine trip for me — of how one falcon (and handler) can do the work in a day of seven beaters using mechanical means to scare away birds that feed on the grapes. It’s cheaper and more environmentally sound for the farmer or winery. Anyway, off to breakfast and another day under these incredible pure blue skies of traveling and tasting wine in Monterey County. At the conclusion of this brief travelogue, you may all return to class.


So, it’s a beautiful mild Saturday afternoon in Memphis, Tennessee, after a wild night of high winds and thunderstorms, so it must be time for the “Friday Wine Sips,” today focusing on groups of pinot noir wines from Laetitia Estate, MacPhail Family Wines, Donum Estate and Sanford. Locations range from the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County to Arroyo Grande Valley in San Luis Obispo to Anderson Valley in Mendocino. As usual, I eschew the typical reams of technical, historical and geographical info — interesting though I find that stuff — for the sake of brevity and insight. These wines were samples for review.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Grande Valley. 14.1% alc. Intense medium ruby color; classic nose: black and red cherries, cranberry and rhubarb, cola and loam; wonderful balance and integration; super satiny texture; woody spice and briers and brambles at the circumference while the interior glows with cherry and blueberry flavors with potpourri and bitter chocolate; draws elemental earthiness and oak from the fringe and gathers them for a more somber, slightly austere finish. Through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25, representing Great Value.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Laetitia Reserve du Domaine Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Grande Valley. 14.3% alc. Deeper, darker, a little more concentrated in every sense than its cousin mentioned above; the structure more evident but still suave, smooth and satiny, a lovely drape on the tongue; slightly fleshy (not quite meaty), lip-smacking acidity cuts a swath; wonderful weight, presence and tone; elegance with fundamental power. Through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $40.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacPhail Family Wines Sangiacomo Vineyards Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast. 14.3% alc. The Hess Collection acquired the MacPhail in 2011. Medium ruby-cranberry color; unusually ripe, fleshy and meaty for pinot noir; spiced and macerated black and red currants, cherries and plums; lush and satiny but bracing with vibrant acidity; prominent graphite/underbrush quality, dense and chewy, a little feral; you feel the polished oak and slightly muscular tannins through the finish. 325 cases. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $49.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacPhail Wildcat Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby color; very spicy, fleshy and meaty; spiced and macerated red and black currants, plums and cranberries, touch of rhubarb and pomegranate, smoke and tobacco, a hint of spiced apple; super-satiny, almost voluptuous, oak and tannin come through from mid-palate back asserting some control but this doesn’t have quite the balance or integration of the other two. 325 cases. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $49.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacPhail Frattery Shams Vineyard PInot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. More black and blue fruit and more blue/magenta to the color; not so flamboyantly ripe, fleshy and florid, more graphite and earthy minerality and more balanced structure; hints of sassafras and cloves, candied apple; lovely, lithe, bright and clean. Delightful with an undercurrent of seriousness. 200 cases. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $49.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Donum Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. Not feeling the pinot love or the complex layering that I should here; perhaps this needs a year or two to meld; the nose is gorgeous, offering the full spectrum of spice, flowers, fruit and minerals, but you feel the oak as rather ostentatious on the palate and the finish is a little hot. Try from 2013 to 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $65.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Donum Estate Grown West Slope Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. 14.4% alc. Dark ruby color; initially nicely balanced among barnyard earthiness, oak, bright acidity and mildly dense tannins; black and blue fruit flavors; the oak element grows more prominent after 20 or 30 minutes and especially in the finish to which it brings a touch of astringency, as the tannins add a dry, dusty, brambly quality; still, there’s that billowing satiny texture. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $85.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Donum Estate Grown Thomas Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. 14.4% alc. Best of this Donum Estate trio. Dark to moderate ruby color; sour cherry, cranberry and blueberry, hints of root beer, cloves and rhubarb; the most perfectly balanced of these three with a seductive satin drapery texture made a little rigorous by deep slatey minerality, scintillating acidity and smooth but slightly earthy tannins; altogether reticent, subdued, supple and subtle, with gratifying detail and dimension. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $100.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sanford Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. 14.5% alc. This is a blend of the Sanford & Benedict and La Rinconada vineyards. Vibrant and radiant medium to dark ruby color; cranberry, cola, red cherries and cloves, hint of brown sugar; full-bodied, a sinewy, muscular style with a measure of grace and elegance and a lovely satiny texture; takes a few minutes in the glass for all elements to cohere but structure comes through resolutely. Quite beautiful. Now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $40
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sanford Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Rita Hills. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby with a darker ruby/magenta core; black cherry, beetroot, rhubarb, briers and brambles; a lot of power and structure but true to the grape; succulent but just enough spareness and litheness not to be obvious or opulent. Another beauty. Now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $60.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sanford & Benedict La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Rita Hills. 14.6% alc. Dark ruby shading to a medium ruby/violet rim; robust, muscular, powerful, viscous; dense and chewy; dark spicy slightly stewed black and red fruit flavors; this is where pinot noir walks on the wild side; you feel the alcohol a bit in the slightly hot finish. I’d like to try this one in a year or two. Very Good+. About $54.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hope you’re not sick of reading about cabernet sauvignon, because I have lots more examples to write about, though I’ll keep it within reasonable proportions.

For this seventh edition of “Pairs of Great Wines,” we turn to Hawk & Horse Vineyard, established in Lake County — that’s the county above, that is, north of, Napa County — in 1999 by Mitch and Tracy Hawkins (pictured at right) on the El Roble Grande Ranch that Tracy Hawkins’ stepfather David Boies bought in 1982. The three are partners in the enterprise. The Hawkins planted vines in 2001. The vineyard is operated on biodynamic principles; a small herd of Scottish Highlander cattle is kept on the property to provide the all-important manure. The estate produces only two wines, a cabernet sauvignon and the Latigo cabernet dessert wine. Tracy Hawkins acts as executive winemaker, while consulting winemaker is Dr. Richard Peterson, one of those personages to whom the label “legendary” is inevitably attached.

Peterson grew up on a farm in Iowa, making his first wine at home in 1948. He began his career in California in 1958, going to work for E.& J. Gallo in new product development and research. He was picked by Andre Tchelistcheff to be winemaster at Beaulieu Vineyards, where he served from 1968 to 1973, going on to The Monterey Vineyards and then Atlas Peak. He headed a group of investors that acquired Folie à Deux in 1995, selling to Trinchero Family Estates in 2005. Peterson now is proprietor of Richard Grant Wines (his first and middle names) where he makes small amounts of sparkling wine from a unique pinot noir clone that he brought back from England. His daughters are the well-known winemaker and consultant Heidi Peterson Barrett and chef and entrepreneur Holly Peterson. Peterson’s quest for innovation led him along every high and low path in the vinous arsenal, from making the finest cabernet wines and pioneering sangiovese to concocting the formula for Hearty Burgundy and inventing the wine cooler for Monterey Vineyard. Each task he takes on is a problem to be solved; few imaginations can be, like his, both visionary and pragmatic.

These wines were samples for review.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Hawk & Horse Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Red Hills, Lake County, includes 2 percent merlot midst all that cabernet sauvignon; the wine aged 18 months in French oak, 50 percent new, 50 percent two-year-old barrels. The color is dark ruby-purple almost to the rim, where it shades to a violet-magenta hue. The bouquet rates a “Wow!” as my first note; this pungent and potent amalgam of mint and iodine, iron and graphite, spiced and macerated black and red currants, mulberries and blueberries embodies the decisive cabernet paradox of delivering a sense of warm spice and cool minerals simultaneously, all underlain by a dusty, slightly brambly and mossy earthy element. Though solid and firm of structure, this is no truculent powerhouse of a cabernet sauvignon; rather it’s smooth and supple, almost lithe and sinewy, with dense, chewy dusty tannins that lend texture and depth to the ripe black and blue fruit flavors and vibrant acidity that offers essential liveliness and verve. You sense the oak more prominently through the finish, which is packed with granitic minerality, woody spice and hints of fruitcake and bitter chocolate. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 1,150 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $65.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The previous vintage produced something different. The Hawk & Horse Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Red Hills, Lake County, is 100 percent cabernet and received the same oak treatment as the 2008, or I suppose I should say that the 2008 received the same oak treatment as the ’07; the alcohol content, 14.1 percent, is also the same, so the point is the consistency. (Of course producers are granted leeway by federal regulations in stating the degrees of alcohol in a wine.) By different, I mean that the ’07 displays more rigorous structure than its cousin from 2008, yet equal vitality. The bouquet is all smoke and cedar and thyme, cloves and allspice and walnut shell, elements that gradually unfold to reveal intense and concentrated yet seductively ripe notes of black currants, black cherries and plums, so the balance is between slightly austere, woody, spicy qualities and luscious fruit; adding dimension (to the texture as well as depth to the bouquet) is a reservoir of graphite and loam. Yeah, that’s quite a performance. The wine is full-bodied, mouth-filling, seamlessly layered, though emphasizing, still, the framing and foundation of slightly leathery, tarry tannins, polished oak, resonant acidity and a resolute granite and shale lithic quality. Production was 430 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $65.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Maintaining the theme of cabernet sauvignon, instigated by last Thursday’s World Cabernet Day, I offer as the Wine of the Week an inexpensive crowd-pleaser from Argentina.

The Graffigna Centenario Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 comes from a winery founded in 1870 in what is now Argentina’s state of San Juan by Italian immigrant Santiago Graffigna. San Juan is the country’s second largest producer of wine, after Mendoza, which lies just to the south. The vineyards of both regions thrive in the fairly arid altitudes of the Andean foothills. The family sold the estate in 1980 to Allied Domecq, which in turn was acquired by Pernod Ricard. Winemaker for Graffigna is Gerardo Danitz. At four years old, the Graffigna Centenario Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, which aged 12 months in 85 percent French oak barrels and 15 percent America, has shed the initial hard edge of its tannins and become something altogether softer, plusher and more approachable. The first impression is a wafting of fresh wild black raspberries couched with black currants and blueberries, cloves and sandalwood, with hints of cedar and thyme and spicy wood. The wine is smooth and polished in the mouth, luscious in its battery of ripe black and blue fruit flavors but held to rigorous deportment by vibrant acidity, mildly robust tannins and a tinge of graphite and bitter chocolate. 14 percent alcohol. Though the current release of this wine is 2010, the Internet reveals plenty of this eminently drinkable ’08 in the pipeline. Very Good+. If you pay more than $15, you wuz robbed; I’ve seen it as low as $10.

Imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY. A sample for review.