November 2012


A friend who works for a local wholesale house called me and said, “Listen, somebody sent us some wines to try, and we just can’t work with them because the production is so small. I’ll bring ‘em to you and you can do with ‘em what you will. If you can use them on the blog, that’s fine.” So, my friend brought the wines by the house, and they turned out to be two vintages — the only two vintages so far — of pinot noir from Labor Wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I saw instantly what he meant by the small production; Labor Wines made 280 cases of the inaugural Pinot Noir 2009 and 336 cases of the rendition for 2010. Not a lot of juice to go around, and not exactly tons of information about the small winery out there, either, not even on its website. What I can tell you is that Labor Wines is a collaboration between entrepreneur Richard Oppenheimer and Corey T. Nyman, of the well-known Nyman Group restaurant consultants, managers and headhunters for the restaurant and hospitality industries. In addition to this pair of sequential pinot noirs, Labor Wines made a Pinot Blanc 2011. The wines can be found in some stores and restaurants in Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, New York, Oregon and Texas.

I’ll tell you right now that if your standard for fine pinot noir is something extracted and opulent, fruity, super-ripe and forward, then the Labor Wines pinot aren’t for you. If, on the other hand, you believe that the ideal pinot noir should be lithe and spare, that the acidity should cut a bright swath on the palate and that it is altogether a congeries of infinite delicacy, nuance and understatement, well, these are definitely Worth a Search.

Addendum for local readers: These wine ARE available in Memphis.
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The Labor Wines Pinot Noir 2009, Willamette Valley, drew grapes primarily from the Yamhill-Carlton District with the addition of grapes from the Chehalem Mountains appellation. The wine aged in French oak, a combination of new and second-year barrels, but neither the percentage nor the length of time is specified, and about the latter issue I would say not too damned much time, because the oak influence here is subliminal. The color is medium ruby-cerise; aromas of red cherries and red currants are melded with hints of cloves and sassafras, dried currants, mulberries and a touch of smoke; a few minutes in the glass bring in a note of dried cranberry and (very slightly) pomegranate. In the mouth, the wine is a finely shaped amalgam of lightly sanded woody spices, dusty graphite, elusive tannins and clean, vibrant acidity, all working in concord with delicately spiced and macerated black and red fruit flavors. The finish is well-knit, sinewy, spicy. 14.4 percent alcohol. 280 cases, Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $28.
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The differences between the Labor Wines Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley, and its predecessor from 2009, are subtle, indeed, but certainly present. The color is a similar red ruby-cerise but with a shading of magenta at the rim. In the nose, we perceive the same fresh, spare red cherry and currant scents but with more bottom in the form of new leather, briers and brambles and a wild touch of rhubarb. The ’10 is a bit spicier than the ’09, but it maintains, at all costs, a spirit of spareness and elegance that makes it easy to drink for its winsome fruity qualities yet demanding for its dry, rigorous character. The wine aged eight months in French oak, with only 15 percent of the barrels being new, so, again, the presence of oak is felt in the wine’s subtly shaped architecture, its framing and foundation, just as the dry, slightly powdery tannins feel organic and essential without being emphatic. There’s a touch more minerality here, too, in the form of cool flint and graphite, while the finish feels faceted, spicy, a little earthy in the way of dried moss and underbrush. 12.5 percent alcohol. 336 cases. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $28.
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I think I first wrote about the wines of Renaissance Vineyards and Winery in 2001, when I mentioned in what was then my weekly newspaper column (distributed nationally by the Scripps Howard News Service until 2004) the Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1993 and, under the winery’s second label, the Da Vinci Late Harvest Riesling 1987. In the succeeding 11 years, I have reviewed numerous wines from the small producer in the remote North Yuba appellation of the Sierra Foothills north of Sacramento. Renaissance became noted, under the tutelage of Gideon Beinstock, winemaker there since 1994, for its hands-off approach that produced wines of admirable spareness and elegance, low alcohol, an almost fanatic resistance to new oak and an unheard of delay in releasing wines, as in sometimes 10 or 12 years after harvest. The winery and vineyard occupy a large estate on land purchased by the Fellowship of Friends in 1971; the group is controversial in its beliefs or at least its former leadership, and as a business entity (separate from but owned by the Fellowship) Renaissance has had to shake off the perception that the Fellowship is a cult.

The inspiration for creating a vineyard came from German-born Karl Werner, the founding winemaker at Callaway Vineyards, way south in Temecula. Under his guidance, members of the Fellowship chiseled terraces from the steep slopes at altitudes of 1700 to 2300 feet and drilled 150,000 holes to plant vines. The first harvest, in 1979, took 20 minutes and produced one barrel of cabernet sauvignon. Werner died in 1988, and his wife, Diana, took over winemaking duties. When Beinstock became winemaker early in ’94, he turned the winery away from its former goals of deep extraction and heavy, densely tannic wines to minimal manipulation, gentle extraction, no yeast inoculation and, gradually, to organic methods in the vineyards. Due to Beinstock’s efforts, Renaissance has produced a series of remarkable, authentic and largely age-worthy wines (in minute quantities) that are like nothing else in a California besotted by super-ripeness, toasty new oak and sweet alcohol.

Beinstock, for the past few years, has worked on a side project, that is, his own winery Clos Saron. He is no longer winemaker at Renaissance, and I would say, Alas that such is the case, except that I don’t know the circumstances of his departure. I do wonder what the direction will be for Renaissance without him.

What I offer today are notes on three of Beinstock’s red wines, the Claret Prestige Red Wine 2001 and 1997, the Renaissance Premier Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, and, a piece of history, the Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon 1984, one of the last wines made by Karl Werner. Yes, a small amount of the latter wine is still available, and I urge those who are fascinated by the history of the California wine industry or who are looking for a unique and quite wonderful wine to track it down.

These wines were samples for review. Image of Gideon Beinstock from mobile.indievinos.com.
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The Renaissance Claret Prestige Red Wine 2001, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba, is a combination of 29 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent merlot, 19 percent malbec and nine percent each syrah, cabernet franc and petit verdot, a sort of classic Bordeaux blend except for the presence of the syrah. The wine aged 25 months in what is described as “old oak 225L barrels (American and French),” exemplifying Beinstock’s typical avoidance of new oak. The color is radiant medium ruby shading to lighter ruby at the rim. At eleven years old — and the wine was released just two years ago — this Claret Prestige is ripe and spicy and buoyant, with notes of macerated red and black currants and cherries profoundly framed by gripping acidity and graphite-etched tannins in a package so complete, so well-balanced that it feels timeless. A whisper of black olive and dill adds detail to the expansive depth and breath of the wine’s structure and replete yet spare flavors, though the whole feeling of the wine is deftness and lightness. A true marriage of elegance and power. 12.6 percent alcohol. Production was 128 cases. Now through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $65.
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The Renaissance Premier Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba, at 15 years old, is, in four words: Not. Ready. To. Drink. A blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15 percent merlot and six percent cabernet franc, the wine aged 27 months in American, French and German oak barrels. It was bottled in March 2000 and released in September 2010. This Renaissance Premier Cuvee 1997 features towering (but not astringent) tannins; stunning (but not sharp) acidity; forceful (but not overwhelming) granitic and graphite-like mineral elements; and glimmers of ripe, fleshy, spicy and slightly roasted flavors of red and black currants and mulberries. For all this and despite its forthright rigorous character, the wine feels fresh and invigorating, but I wouldn’t touch it until 2015 or ’16, and it’s a cinch to go the long haul, say 2027 to ’30. Alcohol content is 13 percent. 370 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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For 1997, the Renaissance Claret Prestige, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba, is a blend of 43 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent merlot, 12 percent cabernet franc, 6 percent each syrah and sangiovese and 3 percent malbec; the wine aged 27 months is “old oak 225L barrels (French, American and German).” Benefiting from fine weather, the vintage was excellent overall in California, with potentially long-lived cabernet-based wines of exceptional quality; certainly this Claret Prestige and the preceding Premier Cuvee exhibit the deep and profound structure of true vins de garde. The color is dark ruby at the center with a slightly lighter rim; it takes some coaxing, but after a few minutes a ripe, fleshy bouquet emerges, shot with notes of macerated and smoky black cherries and raspberries with touches of black currants, dried fruit, potpourri and sandalwood. Gripping acidity animates the package, while pretty darned hard, unyielding tannins — dusty and granitic — lend deep support through an engaged through fairly austere finish. 12.6 percent alcohol. Production was 430 cases. As with the previous wine, try from 2015 or ’17 through 2027 to ’30. Excellent. About $55.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Now for the treat. Only 54 cases remain of the approximately 1,200 cases that Karl Werner made of the Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon 1984, North Yuba; Werner was the estate’s founding winemaker. This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon that aged — are you ready? — 34 months in new German oak barrels; that’s right, German oak. At 28 years old, there’s not a thing either fragile or sharp or diminished about this wine, which feels like a finely sifted amalgam of every essential element a cabernet sauvignon should possess but in a barely perceptible autumnal mode. It fills the mouth with a packed yet supple sensation of dried red and black fruit, potpourri and pomander, woody spices like cloves and sandalwood, soft powdery tannins, still lively acidity and bass notes of underbrush and graphite. Truly lovely. 13.5 percent alcohol. I wouldn’t be surprised if this wine drinks well for another decade. Excellent. About $65.
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One of the criteria for the Wine of the Week, besides being a good example of a wine in its style, quality and price, is availability. Obviously it would not do to recommend a bottle to my readers as the Wine of the Week and conclude by writing, “Oh, by the way, only 137 cases were produced, so good luck, suckers!” As much, then, as I would like to have made the Morgan Double L Vineyard Riesling 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, a Wine of the Week, I could not in good conscience do that, considering the minuscule amount of the wine there is. If, however, you run across the Morgan Double L Vineyard Riesling 2011, do not hesitate to buy as much as possible. This is the second vintage for the winery’s venture into the riesling grape. The color is pale straw-gold; enticing aromas of ripe pears and peaches offer hints of lychee and apricot nectar and, after a few minutes in the glass, orange zest and orange blossom, lightly traced with cloves. The wine is clean, fresh and lively — no oak is involved — silky and supple, delicately sweet initially but succumbing to a cool bracing breeze of damp limestone and savory salt-marsh elements. Then, to complete the progress of its tasty yet spare citrus and roasted pear flavors, comes a finish imbued with flint and the slight bitterness of grapefruit pith and apple skin. 10.5 percent alcohol. The vineyard is certified organic. Winemaker is Gianni Abate. We drank part of the bottle one night with turkey and dressing and gravy leftovers and another night with pasta in a carrot greens-and-almond pesto with diced yellow peppers. Production was 210 cases; see, I told ya. Excellent. Abut $22, and Worth a Search.

A sample for review.

We drank the Rosemount GSM 2010, from Australia’s McLaren Vale region, with a variety of pizzas I made Saturday — grand-kids were visiting – though it would be great with braised short ribs or grilled leg of lamb or even a burger. G-S-M stands for grenache-syrah-mourvèdre, occurring here in a combination of 59 percent, 32 percent and 9 percent respectively. I love the oak regimen that this wine undergoes for 10 months’ aging; 34 percent in stainless steel, 34 percent in French oak barrels (17 percent new) and 32 percent in American oak (16 percent new), the result being lovely inborn balance with no blatant taint of toasty new oak about it. Winemaker was Matt Koch. You could sell this wine on the basis of its color alone, a rich, radiant dark ruby that shades to violet-magenta at the rim. Or on the basis of its seductive aromas of ripe and fleshy black raspberry and cherry with touches of plum and mulberry and intriguing hints of lavender, licorice and bittersweet chocolate; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of graphite, leather, briers and brambles. The wine is notably smooth and supple, with bright flavors of black and red fruit cossetted by firm, moderately plush tannins and lightly spiced wood, all wrapped by vibrant acidity and a stealth influx of dusty granitic minerality through the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. A shapely and tasty wine with some seriousness in the undertow. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $25.

Imported by Treasury Wine Estates, Napa, Ca. A sample for review.

So, Thanksgiving is over, but the memory lingers on, at least in the form of this post about a wonderful riesling that we drank with that day’s ritual dinner. The occasion is a highly traditional, even ceremonial, but we try to cook a pretty much completely different meal every Thanksgiving, both of the sake of variety and for the challenge. On the menu this year: Clementine-salt glazed turkey with red-eye gravy; sweet potato-bacon-thyme dressing; mixed winter greens with shiitake mushrooms; bacon-crusted cornbread; and for dessert a bourbon pecan tart and a pear crisp. Now we’ve all read the recommendations from many wine critics, reviewers and writers this time of year about what wine to drink with the multifarious, many-faceted sweet-sour-savory Thanksgiving feast, and basically it distills to this advice: Drink what you like except for cabernet sauvignon and heavily oaked chardonnay, and zinfandel is great but not high-alcohol versions. Many writers advocate drinking all American wines for this American celebration, while other say (implicitly), “Who gives a crap what country’s wines we drink, just pick wines you enjoy,” and the truth is, Thanksgiving dinner is not a wine tasting, nor should it be an event where wine dominates the discussion. It’s all for pleasure and enjoyment.

I’ll confess that I followed the all-American wine trope for years, even serving the same labels: a riesling from Trefethen, the Ridge Three Valleys zinfandel blend and the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir, generally current vintages except for the Trefethen, which I like best about three years after harvest. This year, I decided to forgo the strictly patriotic route; after all, America is a country of immigrants, so why can’t we drank wine from Italy or France or Germany or anywhere on Thanksgiving. I stayed within the same grape categories, California of course for zinfandel, but Germany for riesling and France, specifically Burgundy, for the pinot noir. The roster: Weingut Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel; Ravenswood Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel 2009, Russian River Valley; Aloxe-Corton Les Vercots Premier Cru 2008, Domaine Tollot-Beaut. We were a small group, so we skipped from the riesling to the Burgundy, a wine to which I will return in a subsequent post. The point of this entry is to celebrate the quiet though complete achievement of the Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, a sample provided by the trade group Wines of Germany.

The village of Veldenz lies south of the Mosel river and the town of Mülheim in the Middle Mosel region of southwest Germany. In a south-running valley there, the vineyard of Elisenberg — hence Veldenzer Elisenberg, first the name of the village, then the vineyard — was presented to Franz Ludwig Niessen in 1813 in gratitude for his personal payment of 3,000 thalers to Napoleon to prevent the destruction of Mülheim and Veldenz. Elisenberg remains in the Richter family today; Niessen was a fifth-generation ancestor.

The year, 2010, was a short vintage, short, that is, in duration and in the quantity of grapes. Despite some difficult stretches, the year produced many excellent wines, filled with nerve and vivacity.

The Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010 is a pale but radiant straw-gold color; aromas of ripe apples, peaches and pears (with an intriguing back-tone of red fruit, say cherry or currant) are woven with notes of jasmine, flint and limestone and a hint of honey, all melded with utmost delicacy and finesse; a few moments in the glass bring up wafting touches of quince and crystallized ginger. This innate delicacy does not mean that the wine is fragile or ineffable, though, because there’s a great deal of tensile strength here, manifested in the prominent stones and bones of crisp acidity and limestone minerality that deepen, vitally and vibrantly, as the wine passes through the mouth. Lovely, tasty peach, pear and lychee flavors open to something almost exotic, like guava or star-fruit, mildly spicy and just slightly sweet initially, though from mid-palate back through the finish the wine is quite dry. That finish is slightly bitter with lime peel and grapefruit and is rounded by a final plunge into the limestone pool. 9.5 percent alcohol. Despite its exquisite character, this wine, well-stored, should drink beautifully through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About — unbelievable! — $19.

Imported by Langdon Shiverich, Los Angeles.

Stop. Drop everything. Run out and buy a case of Piccini Chianti 2011, from, of course, Tuscany. You’ll pay less than $100 for those 12 bottles, with the standard 10 percent case discount. The estate was founded in 1882 by Angiolo Piccini and is now operated by the family’s fourth generation. Antonella Conti has been winemaker since 2006. The Piccini Chianti 2011, which the company calls “Chianti Orange” — let’s hope this device stirs no memories in the USA of the notorious Agent Orange — because of the label, is a blend of 95 percent sangiovese grapes and 5 percent ciliegiolo. Conti ( pictured here) employs the traditional but now little used governo technique of inducing a second fermentation by adding to the wine pressed dried grapes from the same harvest. The result is a slight tempering of the acidity of the sangiovese grape and a slight increase in carbon dioxide, making for an agreeable and quaffable wine. The Piccini Chianti 2011, however, is better than agreeable and quaffable. The color is deep ruby; aromas of fresh and dried black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of woody spices like cloves and sandalwood with a background of violets, leather and black tea. The wine offers tasty, spicy and macerated black and red fruit flavors — there’s an undertow of pomegranate — nestled in a firm supple structure of finely meshed but not self-important tannins. There’s satisfying balance between richness, the natural spareness of the sangiovese grape and a touch of graphite-like minerality. 12.5 percent alcohol. This was a great pizza wine for us and would serve well with hearty pasta dishes, burgers and braised short ribs. Drink through 2013. Very Good+, and a Raving Bargain at about $9.

Imported by Aveníu Brands, Baltimore. A sample for review.

Sorry that I did not produce a Weekend Wine Sips this week. You know how it is, the world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending we lay waste our powers blah blah blah.

Perhaps the title of this post should read “Bonny Doon’s Syrahs & Rhone-Style Blends,” but few wineries in California are more informed by and associated with a single powerful personality than Bonny Doon is by owner and winemaker Randall Grahm, a tireless shape-shifter, guru, mage and humble servant of the vineyard and the grape. In the mid 2000s, Grahm divested himself of several brands, such as Ca’ del Solo and the Big House wines — and boy did Big House plummet after that! — to focus on where it seems his heart had been all along, with Rhone Valley grapes and models (he still makes a nebbiolo and albariño). What we review today are 100 percent syrah wines from designated vineyards in Santa Maria Valley and San Luis Obispo and blended wines from the Central Coast under Bonny Doon’s well-known Le Cigare Volant label, all from 2007 and 2008. I’ll point out that while several of these wines are quite tannic, even fiercely so, they primarily do not ravage the mouth astringently and stay light on their feet and elegant; Grahm seems to be after structure that’s indubitably there but a function of agility and nerve.

Most of these wines were tasted at home, as samples for review, in September 2011 and November 2012, with a few recapitulated or anticipated in August 2012 with Grahm (and a small but restless and eager crowd) in a hotel room at the Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Portland, Oregon.
(I don’t know who took the splendid image of Randall Grahm, and I wish I could acknowledge the photographer, but I borrowed it from eventbrite.com.)

First, the 2007s.
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Bonny Doon Alamo Creek Vineyard Syrah 2007, San Luis Obispo. The color is dark inky-purple; the bouquet is fleshy, meaty, packed with scents of dried fruit and dried flowers with notes of fresh blackberries and black raspberries and hints of pomegranate, leather and graphite; in the mouth, finely meshed and grainy tannins take control and along with polished, slightly rustic oak and robust acidity impose a sense of formidable structure on the wine, which concludes with dusty, almost ecclesiastical severity and austerity. 13.3 percent alcohol. Production was 662. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County.. The difference between the “Bien Nacido” Syrah 07 and the “Alamo” Syrah 07 lies in this wine’s overwhelming freshness and its modicum of accommodation; it drinks a bit more like a wine intended to be consumed this year rather than a lifetime down the pike. Present is the full complement of fresh and dried black and red fruit scents and flavors, potpourri and lavender, hints of black tea and leather, thinking of leather’s earthy, sweaty component and its firm suppleness; present also are dusty, almost powdery tannins that burgeon from mid-palate back through the finish, piling up the granitic minerality and underbrush-like austerity. 13.5 percent alcohol. 657 cases. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant “en demi-muid” 2007, Central Coast, and Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant “en foudre” 2007, Central Coast. A demi-muid is a 500-liter wood puncheon; a foudre is a 10,000-liter upright wood tank; the wine in the smaller vessel (which is slightly more than twice the size of the standard barrique at 225 liters) will get more wood exposure than the wine in the much larger container. Other than the oak regimen, the wines were treated the same and are each a fairly classic Rhone Valley-style blend of 50 percent grenache grapes, 32 percent syrah, 4 percent mourvèdre and 4 percent cinsault.

The “en demi-muid,” a medium ruby-megenta color, is ripe, fleshy and meaty, with a bit of charcoal edge to the notes of red and black currants and generous portions of leather, black pepper, briers and brambles; the whole package is quite lively and vibrant, and a few moments in the glass bring in hints of cloves and sandalwood and allspice as well as an impressive presence of dusty, austere tannins and woodiness that never, fortunately, reach the point of astringency. Tasted 24 hours later, the wine was dense and robust, deeply spicy but still inarguably oak-and-tannin-girt. Fashioned as a vin de garde, a wine intended for laying down, this will be more integrated from 2014 through 2020 to ’22. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 559 cases. Excellent. About $45.

The “en foudre” rendition — and the aging period for both was 20 months — begins all warm and spicy, with a softer bouquet than its cousin’s and appealing touches of red and black currants and plums infused with cloves and leather, espresso and moss, but I was surprised at how tannic and oaky the wine felt, and 24 hours later that tannin and oak were still working away diligently. Vin de garde, indeed, and I would estimate 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22 to curb the margins of its austere character. 14.4 percent alcohol. 559 cases. Very Good+. About $45.
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And the 2008s.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2008, Central Coast. For ’08, Bonny Doon’s “regular” Cigare Volant is a blend of 45 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah, 13 percent mourvèdre, 7 percent cinsault and 5 percent carignane. This is just lovely, a smooth, supple, well-balanced and integrated wine freighted with lavender and violets, potpourri, spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries with a blackberry backnote; it takes 45 minutes to an hour for the finely-milled tannins and subtly spicy oak to assert themselves and remind us that the wine possesses a firm, innate structure that along with vibrant acidity gives it some class and some sass. 14.3 percent alcohol. 2,751 cases. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $38.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve “en bonbonne” 2008, Central Coast.The blend of grapes is the same as for the previous Le Cigare Volant, but the aging is unique. After a short time in barrel and after assembling the blend, the wine was placed in five-gallon glass carboys, also called demijohns or bonbonnes, of the sort typically employed in home brewing and winemaking, where it remained for 23 months. (This process must be incredibly labor-intensive.) The result is both supernal mellowness and a resonant, burstingly packed-in sense of depth and breath of fresh and dried black and red fruit (especially black cherries, mulberries and red currants), dried baking spices, potpourri and pomander with an intriguing hint of pomegranate, all supported by supple, graphite-tinged tannins. Terrific personality and presence. 14.2 percent alcohol. 436 cases. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $65.
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Bonny Doon Alamo Vineyard Syrah 2008, San Luis Obispo. Dark ruby-purple color shading to magenta; a whole snootful of woody spices — the lilt of cloves, the headiness of sandalwood, the dark side of allspice, saturnine black pepper — and then fresh, ripe red and black currants with dried raspberries and dusty plum skin; the wine is large-framed, generous and expansive but laden with the weight of fine-grained tannins, graphite and damp earth, lavender and leather; it’s quite dry yet juicy under a swelling tide of tannins and granitic minerality; real grip and persistence here, filling the mouth with darkness. 13.5 percent alcohol. 572 cases. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2008, Santa Maria Valley. Dark ruby with a violet edge; intense and concentrated in every sense yet somehow enjoyable in its potency. Aromas of sage and thyme, cherry-berry and dried lavender are woven with black fruit and more black fruit and a little blue, the complete effect fleshy, meaty, spicy and slightly macerated; while the Alamo Vineyard rendition is a fairly warm wine, at least initially, this Bien Nacido X Block is all cool, swathe-plowing acidity, cool graphite and obsidian-faceted minerals, tar, bitter chocolate, licorice and black tea. Boy, and more tannic, too, deep, dry, dusty and velvety, leading to some austerity in the finish. 13.9 percent alcohol. 573 cases. Now through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $42.
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Mount Eden Vineyards traces its origin to the early 1940s, when Martin Ray left his job at Paul Masson in Santa Clara and launched a winery under his own name in the Santa Cruz Mountains, south of San Francisco Bay. Ray was destined to become one of California’s most out-spoken and controversial winemakers, and his often superb though equally as often erratic wines reflected his individuality and irascibility. In 1972, after a series of conflicts, Ray’s investors ousted him from control, and his family was left with a small, lower vineyard while up in the hills the former Martin Ray winery was renamed Mount Eden. Jeffrey Patterson was hired as assistant winemaker at Mount Eden in 1981 and within 18 months he was named head winemaker and general manager. In 1986, Patterson and his wife Ellie, a horticulturalist and textile artist, acquired significant shares in Mount Eden, and finally, in 2008, Jeffrey and Ellie Patterson and their children Sophie and Reid, took on the majority ownership. What a long time they worked and waited!

This succinct history of one of California’s archetypal vineyards and wineries serves as prelude to today’s Wine of the Week, the Domaine Eden Pinot Noir 2010, Santa Cruz Mountains. The “Domaine” wines, distinct from the “Mount Eden” wines, derive from a 1700-foot elevation 55-acre site that the Pattersons purchased in 2007, the former home of Cinnabar Winery in the Saratoga foothills. The Domaine Eden wines sell for about $20 less than the Mount Eden wines.

Domaine Eden Pinot Noir 2010, Santa Cruz Mountains, aged for 12 months in French oak barrels, 50 percent new. Nothing opulent or obvious here; this pinot noir continues in the venerable Mount Eden tradition of Burgundian-style pinots that emphasize structure over ripeness but sacrifice nothing in the way of freshness, purity or intensity. The wine at first feels muscular, lithe and sinewy, but gradually the texture of cool satin unfolds, and flavors of brambly black currants, plums and mulberries (with hints of rhubarb and pomegranate) broaden across the spectrum; in the nose, the black and red fruit scents become generously laden with cloves and sassafras, violets and potpourri. Tannins are fine-grained and slightly dusty, borne by supple oak and vibrant acidity, and they frame the wine firmly and indelibly but without blatant proclamation. In the end, the wine is a potent marriage of elegance and power. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $35 is the suggested retail price; it’s $33 in my neck o’ the woods and can be found around the country as low as $28.

Tasted at a distributor’s trade event.


With a nod to Thursday’s International Tempranillo Day, here are five inexpensive examples of the grape, only four of which I recommend, and those are the breaks here on Weekend Wine Sips. These are all Spanish, four are 100 percent tempranillo, one a bit of a blend. The best, I’ll come right out and say, are the Valdubon 2010, Ribera del Duero ($15) and the Torres Sangre de Toro 2010, Catalunya ($11). If you’re planning on grilling steaks or chops or braising short ribs or veal shanks this weekend, these two would be real crowd-pleasers. As usual, I eliminate technical data, historical info, personnel news and other items that might be geekily interesting for the sake of telegraphic notices designed to whet the palate and stimulate the imagination, unless, of course, I don’t recommend the wines, which is the case with one entry today. These were samples for review.
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Tapeña Tempranillo 2011, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla. 14% alc. 100% tempranillo. Deep ruby magenta color; a fresh, young and initially grapy tempranillo for immediate drinking; pure blackberry and black currant with a background of bitter chocolate and lavender; very dry with soft furry tannins and a hint of a graphite edge. Now through 2013. Very Good. About $10.
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Valdubon 2010, Ribera del Duero. 14% alc. 100% tempranillo. Medium ruby color; black raspberry, cherry and blueberry with hints of black olives and dried thyme, tar and fruitcake and black tea; manages to be both sleek and rustic, a surprisingly pleasing and vibrant combination; dense, barely roughened tannins, slightly woody spice; finish packed with black fruit and graphite. Lots of character for the price. Very Good+. About $15.
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Vaza Crianza 2009, Rioja. 14% alc. 100% tempranillo. I generally don’t give technical information in the “Wine Sips,” but I’ll say that this wine received, according to its label, 18 months in French and American oak barrels, which, to my palate, just killed it. Very dusty, very tannin, very woody. A mistake. Not recommended. About $15.
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Torres Sangre de Toro 2010, Catalunya. 13.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. Dark to medium ruby color; warm, spicy and macerated, a little fleshy, a bit exotic; ripe but spare notes of fresh black currants with dried cherries and raspberries; black and blue fruit flavors, grainy tannins and bright acidity wrapped around a core of mint and meat; a savory and sanguine wine that yearns for a full-flavored steak or grilled sausages. Through 2014. Very Good+. About $11, a Raving Great Value.
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Familia Torres Coronas Tempranillo 2008, Catalunya. 13.5% alc. 86% tempranillo, 14% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby color with a touch of garnet; solid, well-built, sleek, like a roadster of the Old School; smoke, ash, tar, ripe and dried blackberries, blueberries and mulberries with an undertone of black plum and potpourri; lip-smacking tannins and bright acid, increasing dry, finish takes on rooty and brambly austerity. Through 2014. Very Good+. About $15.
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Typically, I ignore such marketing devices as Grenache Day or Riesling Month or Tempranillo Day, which happens to be today. I mean, these “days” are dreamed up by trade groups and marketing firms and usually have no official standing. I gave in to Tempranillo Day, however, because it’s a red grape that has a long history in Spain and deserves to be better known. In tomorrow or Saturday’s edition of “Weekend Wine Sips” I’ll mention some inexpensive and accessible wines made from the tempranillo grape, not seen much outside the Iberian peninsula, not that it hasn’t been tried (especially in Argentina and Australia), but today I focus on two producers of tempranillo wines in the region of Rioja, one a venerable estate, Bodegas Faustino, that makes fairly old-fashioned Rioja, and a much younger producer of a more modern style of tempranillo — new French oak barrels! — Bodegas Muriel. Tempranillo is the primary grape of Rioja and Ribera del Duero (southwest of Rioja) but it’s grown in many other parts of Spain, too, though under widely varying names; in Portugal’s Douro Valley, it contributes to Port under the name tinto roriz.
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This bodega was founded in 1986 by Julian Murua Entrena, in the location of old cellars owned by his parents. The wines, all 100 percent tempranillo, are imported by Quintessential, Napa, Ca. These were samples for review.

The Muriel Seleccion 2009, Rioja, aged four months in new American oak barrels. The color is dark ruby; the bouquet is warm, spicy and quite attractive in its notes of macerated and slightly fleshy black cherries, currants and plums. It’s savory and flavorful, dense, chewy and almost velvety in the mouth — nothing of the grape’s spareness here — though lipsmacking tannin and acidity keep it honest. The wine is dry, robust and lively and should drink nicely through 2015 or ’16, especially with beef, lamb or veal. 13.5 percent alcohol. 2,000 cases imported. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.

Muriel JME 2007, Rioja, named for the owner of the winery, aged five months in new French and American Oak barrels, the standard 225-liter (59-gallon) barrique. The wine is intense in every way, from its dark ruby color to its heady aromas of smoke and figs and caramelized fennel and spiced and macerated currants, blueberries and plums to its graphite infused red and blue fruit flavors; yet JME 2007 is more spare, balanced and elegant than one would think initially, almost belying its claim to modernism. The wine is very dry, enlivened by furrowing acidity and devolving to a finish packed with cloves, sandalwood and dried violets and lavender. 14 percent alcohol. 664 cases imported. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $25.

In the Spanish regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, a crianza is a wine that has aged a least one year in oak casks. Muriel Crianza 2005, Rioja spent exactly that long in American oak. For whatever reason — that’s not a huge amount of wood exposure for wine — this Crianza ’05 feels like the woodiest of this quartet. While the wine is at first quite bright, spicy and appealing, it would probably be more palatable (and I’m speaking of my palate, of course) if its notes of dried spices, dried fruit and flowers had not received such an edge of smoky, charcoal-permeated oak and if the fine-grained tannins did not feel so strictly dry. Still, with roasted duck or grilled leg of lamb, this might be fine. 13 percent alcohol. 1,700 cases imported. Through 2015 or ’17. Very Good+. About $17.

In terms of overall price/quality ratio, the Muriel Reserva 2004, Rioja, is the bargain of this stable. The color is a beautiful limpid dark ruby that shades to medium ruby-garnet at the rim; aromas of fig, balsam, bay leaf and vanilla-tinged red and black currants and cherries are laden with cloves, sandalwood and potpourri. The wine is smooth, mellow and savory but surprisingly girt with dense but finely milled tannins and spicy oak, from two years in French and American barrels. 13 percent alcohol. A candidate for game birds or dry flavorful cheeses. 600 cases imported. Now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $20.
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The producer traces its origins to 1861, though the Faustino label was not created until the late 1950s; the estate is still owned by the same family. Their cellars hold 9 million bottles of Reserva and Gran Reserva wines from multiple vintages. The wines of Faustino are imported by Palm Bay Imports, Boca Raton, which made these older vintages available. The Gran Reserva wines are very limited; in ’99, for example, only 700 bottles were made. Tasted at Wine Bloggers’ Conference 2012 in Portland, Oregon.

Faustino I Gran Reserva 1999, Rioja. This wine is a blend of 90 percent tempranillo and 10 percent mixed mazuelo and graciano grapes; it aged between two and three years in oak casks, followed by four years in the bottle before release. The color is a beguiling and radiant medium ruby; first note: “god that’s lovely.” I meant lovely as in a seductive bouquet of black cherries and currants with notes of dried cranberries and blueberries over hints of fruitcake, lavender and graphite. The wine reveals spice in the form of cloves and sandalwood, and juicy black and red fruit flavors gently supported by fine-grained tannins and vibrant acidity; the finish is dry, slightly woody and austere. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through — who knows? — 2030 or ’40. Excellent. About $35 to $45, an Astonishing Bargain.

Going back 17 years, the Faustino I Gran Reserva 1982, Rioja, offers a color that’s more garnet-brick red than ruby and a blossoming bouquet that’s earthy and a little funky — I mean in the sense of mushrooms and damp moss — with back-notes of briers and brambles that segue through to the delicately spiced and macerated flavors of currants and plums; the wine is delicious, soft and mellow, yet for a wine that’s 30 years old, it reveals a surprisingly rigorous structure of graphite-infused tannins and keen acidity. A blend of 85 percent tempranillo and 15 percent graciano, the wine aged 30 months in American oak. 12.5 percent alcohol. It could go another 10 years. Very Good+. Average price nationally is about $78, a Great Value for a fascinating experience.

Finally, the Faustino I Gran Reserva 1964, Rioja, provides all the elements we expect from a 48-year-old wine in terms of development and drinkability (understand that I’m not talking about fine aged Bordeaux): Savory and sweetly, mildly ripe fruit; a delicate expression of maturity, just slightly earthy; tranquil and dignified in its fine-boned structure, with slightly dusty tannins and muted but still viable acidity. Tasting this wine made me long for a roasted game bird, a pheasant or woodcock; that would have been perfect. A blend of 80 percent tempranillo, 10 percent each graciano and mazuelo, aged 30 months in American oak. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $174, though found around the country much cheaper and much more expensive and definitely Worth a Search
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