February 2013


Most writers describe the Yamhill-Carlton District, an American Viticultural Area in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, as horseshoe-shaped, but as you can see from the accompanying map, it doesn’t look anything like a horseshoe; more like a deconstructed triumphal arch. The region, which occupies parts of Yamhill and Carlton counties, was approved in 2004, but only for elevations between 200 and 1,000 feet. Vineyard plantings in the district measure about 1,200 acres. The five wines under consideration today are all single-vineyards bottlings from Yamhill-Carlton, tasted at an afternoon event — a hot afternoon — at Elk Cove Winery in conjunction with the 2012 Wine Bloggers’ Conference held in Portland last August. The question, of course, is whether the five pinot noirs, all from 2010, display identifiable regional characteristics. If the experience had been based only on the first three wines, I would have said that the soil, elevation and microclimate of Yamhill-Carlton encourage bright fruit of brilliant purity and intensity, lean yet supple structures and fairly profound yet balanced earthy qualities. That assessment was thrown off, however, by the last two wines, which were tannic and austere. I make no conclusions, therefore, but encourage a search for the Belle Pente, Penner-Ash and Elk Cove pinot noirs in particular.
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Belle Pente Winery Belle Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010. Jill and Brian O’Donnell established Belle Pente in 1994 and produced their first wines in 1996. Estate vineyards amount to 16 acres, farmed on organic and biodynamic principles. Production in 2010 was 3,600 cases. The Belle Pente “Belle Pente” Pinot Noir 2010 offers a medium ruby-cranberry color; it’s a wine of tremendous purity and intensity, with spiced and macerated black and red currants and plums that feel slightly stewed and undertones of briers and brambles, roots and branches for a distinctly earthy, loamy, foresty character; nonetheless, what dominates, as it were, are the utter transparency of beautiful fruit and clean acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. 785 cases. Information about oak aging and alcohol content is not available. Drink through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $35.
Image, much cropped, from vindulgeblog.com.
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Penner-Ash Wine Cellars Dussin Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010. The winery was launched in 1998 by Lynn and Ron Penner-Ash; winemaker is Lynn Penner-Ash. Fifteen acres are planted to vines, now Oregon Certified Sustainable. Production in 2010 was 8,000 cases. This wine aged 10 months in a carefully calibrated regimen of French oak: 38 percent new barrels; 29 percent one-year-old; 29 percent two-year-old; four percent neutral. The color is a rich garnet-mulberry; the bouquet draws you in with seductive aromas of smoke, cedar and tobacco, sage and bay leaf, spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants with a hint of plum. It’s a pinot noir that balances substantial presence in body and tone with an elevating and almost ethereal cast of red and black fruit flavors, enmeshed in a hint of lightly spiced oak. A seamless marriage of power and elegance. 575 cases. Alcohol level is 13.5 percent. Drink through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. about $60.
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Elk Cove Vineyards Mt Richmond Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010. Elk Cove, founded in 1974 by Joe and Pat Campbell, was a pioneer in Yamhill-Carlton long before the notion of that AVA was a gleam in anyone’s eye. Producing acres on the estate amount to 232. Winemaker is Adam Godlee-Campbell. Production in 2010 was 35,000 cases. The Elk Cove Mt Richmond Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 displays a slightly darker ruby-cherry color than the previous two pinot noirs; again, lovely purity and intensity, impeccable balance and integrity; ripe, sweet red and black cherry scents and flavors tinged with smoke and a hint of oak and dried spice in the cloves and sassafras range; undercurrents of briers and brambles lend an earthy foundation, along with tongue-swabbing acidity for liveliness and allure. The oak expands from mid-palate back through the finish, along with a touch of dusty tannins for a bit of austerity. 696 cases. Alcohol content N/A. Drink through 2016 to ’17. Excellent. About $48.
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Soléna Estate Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir 2010. The estate is named for the daughter of Danielle Andrus Montalieu and Laurent Montalieu who acquired their first 80 acres in 2000, forming the basis of a certified biodynamic vineyard, Domaine Danielle Laurent. Case production in 2011 was 9,000. Laurent Montelieu is winemaker. This wine aged 13 months in French oak, 37 percent new barrels. The color tends toward ruby-garnet, while the totality of the wine tends toward an expression of oak-mineral-and-tannin structure with acidity playing an essential supporting role; you can almost smell the structure in the wine’s slightly woody-minerally aspects, and you certainly feel the structure on the palate. Perhaps the austere nature of the Soléna Estate Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir 2010 indicates its motivation as an age-worthy pinot noir; perhaps it will allow its fruit to unfurl in a year or two. Try from 2014 through 2018 to 2020. 13.6 percent alcohol. 480 cases. Very Good+ with a nod toward Excellent potential. About $50.
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WillaKenzie Estate Pierre Léon Pinot Noir 2010. Bernard and Ronni Lacroute founded WillaKenzie Estate in 1992, with the first wines made from the 1995 vintage. Winemaker is Thibaud Mandet. Production in 2011 was 21,000 cases. The winery holds Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine status. I have tasted pinot noirs from WillaKenzie before, but the WillaKenzie Estate Pierre Léon Pinot Noir 2010, which aged 14 months in 50 percent new French oak, is the most tannic and austere example that I have encountered; it’s quite dry and austere and exhibits a full complement of the dusty-brushy-foresty graphite components that indicate a wine intended for the long haul. Is this the best method of treating the pinot noir grape? Not in my book, but they didn’t ask me, did they? I would give this wine from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 or ’22 to flesh out and allow other elements their legitimate expression. 13.5 percent alcohol. Number of cases N/A. Very Good+ with a Big If. About $42.
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Here’s a frankly beautiful rosé from Oregon to get you through until the rosés from 2012 start appearing, though rosés from the Southern Hemisphere have been showing up at my door for a couple of months. The Soter North Valley Rosé 2011, Willamette Valley, is a blend of 80 percent pinot noir, 16 percent chardonnay and 4 percent gewurztraminer, sourced from Yamhill-Carlton, Eola-Amity Hills and Dundee. Tony Soter founded the well-known Etude Wines in Napa Valley in 1982 and also consulted for a number of high-profile wineries, including a stint as winemaker for Spottswoode. Soter sold Etude to Beringer Blass in 2001; it’s now owned by Treasury Wine Estates. He and his wife Michelle are from Oregon, and Soter is something of a pinot noir specialist, so the return to Willamette seemed natural. The Soter North Valley Rosé 2011 offers a limpid pale pink hue and lovely notes of watermelon, red currants and mint, with hints of lavender and jasmine and an undertone of limestone minerality. It’s fresh, clean and thirst-quenching in its weaving of delicate currant, melon and peach flavors highlighted by nuances of cloves, dried rosemary and flint. 13.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,450 cases. Winemaker is James Cahill. Drink through April or May 2013. Excellent. About $22.

Tasted at a trade event.

I encountered this splendid group of Willamette Valley pinot noir wines at a trade tasting in Memphis last week, these examples I tried merely a fraction of the tremendous line-up available. Just within this group, you will notice that the focus primarily is not on deeply extracted colors, flavors or tannins but on classic delicacy, nuance and subtlety, all, of course, displayed with varying degrees of interest and emphasis. I was particularly happy to taste three pinots from Rex Hill, whose wines I have not tried in many years. Notice, also, how many of these wines exhibit refreshing alcohol levels under 14 percent. As usual with the Weekend Wine Sips, I don’t provide extensive information about history, geography, geology, personality or winemaking techniques; just quick reviews designed to pique your attention and whet your palates. Enjoy!.
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Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; utterly beguiling bouquet of red currants and blueberries, hints of cola, cloves and rhubarb, background of graphite, briers and brambles; satiny flow and drape on the palate, builds a sense of layering fruit, acidity and tannins with elegance, balance and integration; wholly seamless spice-and-mineral packed finish. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $40.
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Argyle Spirithouse Pinot Noir 2009, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley. 14% alc. Slightly darker medium ruby color, with a mulberry cast; fleshed out dimension and detail, red currants, black cherries and a touch of plum, cloves, sassafras, earthy and loamy; more power here, more resonance from velvety tannins, brisk acidity and polished oak that contributes seductive notes of sandalwood and allspice but also a touch of austerity to the finish. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $75.
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Cloudline Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley. 13.5% alc. The second label of Domaine Drouhin. Light ruby-mulberry color; earthy, slightly mushroomy bouquet, ripe, spicy macerated red currants and cherries, touch of cranberry; lots of graphite and loam, brier and brambles, pert acidity that cuts a swath on the palate; quite dry; has the fleet tone and litheness of a Savigny-les-Beaune. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $20, representing Good Value.
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Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 14.1% alc. That lovely ineffable pale ruby-magenta color that pinot noirs ought to have; very pure, very intense; black and red cherries, touches of red currants and cranberries; paradoxically lean and muscular with a seductive satiny texture; deep elements of loam, briers and forest-floor; spicy character is very subtle, black and red fruit flavors feel just a bit spiced and macerated; long finish freighted with minerals and earthy elements. Great winemaking. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2009, Willamette Valley. 14.3% alc. Winsome moderate ruby-mulberry color; knock-out nose of cloves and sassafras, rose petals and violets, slightly roasted and fleshy black and red cherries and currants, back-note of earth and graphite; gratifying balance of power and elegance but with a healthy bit of rusticity that lends texture and contrast; spicy, dark and delicious. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $45.
Image, much cropped, from sipswirlsavor.com.
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Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2008, Willamette Valley. 14.1% alc. One of the most striking and beautiful pinot noirs I have tasted; “serene” indeed in every aspect yet with a seething depth of exotic dried spice, dried flowers and potpourri, essential acidity for liveliness and allure, and the resonance of exquisitely poised tannins and graphite/loamy mineral elements; you could swim in the entrancing and stunningly perfumed aromas; super-satiny texture but lapped with both delicacy and assurance; a pinot noir of immense presence, tone and confidence yet fundamentally a creature of fastidious refinement. Now through 2016 to 2020. Exceptional. About $65.
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Francis Tannahill Hermit Pinot Noir 2009, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley. 13.9% alc. Slightly more extracted than some of these other models, the color here is moderate ruby-magenta with a darker and quite radiant center; just gorgeous, a real flower-spice-and-fruit-filled sensuous lob across home-plate, but you feel the oak from mid-palate back with a hint of austerity and a subtle bolstering of the structure; give it a year or two to meld a little better and then drink through 2017 to ’19. Production was 236 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Le Cadeau Red Label Pinot Noir 2010, Oregon. 14.5% alc. The winery’s entry level pinot is clean fresh and bright, a winsome amalgam of red currants and cranberries, with a hint of cherry and rhubarb, touches of cloves, leather, briers and brambles, a seductive satiny texture, and then a dry finish that reveals the sanded and burnished influence of oak, all played for sweet balance and integration. 150 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $38.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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Le Cadeau Diversité Pinot Noir 2009, Willamette Valley. 14.1% alc. Medium ruby color; a sizable pinot noir, not plush or opulent but multi-dimensioned and richly detailed; it’s quite dense, quite dusty, and bears a minerally graphite and earthy core straight through the middle, all wrapped in dried baking spices, violets and potpourri and ripe and slightly macerated red currants and cherries touched by notes of blueberry and cranberry; briery and brambly, a bit of forest floor with the innate dried leaf and moss elements, and finally the oak comes through, building momentum. Try from 2014 through 2018 to 2020. Production was 320 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Le Cadeau Equinoxe 2008, Willamette Valley. 14.1% alc. Medium ruby color shading to mulberry at the rim; at four years old and a bit more brilliantly fresh, spicy and appealing, with a surface of clean, ripe black and red cherry scents and flavors tinged with a fleshy character and depths of cloves and sandalwood, rose petals and graphite; grows more dense, opens to dusty mineral-flecked tannins and polished oak that drives the finish to a dry and powerful surge. Now through 2018 to 2020. Production was 196 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Rex Hill Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13% alc. Made from sustainably-grown grapes from every AVA in Willamette Valley. Moderate ruby color with a flush of magenta and purple; ravishing bouquet of smoke, wheatmeal, tobacco, spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants, hints of cloves and sandalwood; lovely ripe black and red fruit flavors, balletic on the one hand, earthy on the other hand, quite dry though, a little austere, high-toned, long in the reach and grasp of the finish. Great winemaking. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
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Rex Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color with a permeating tinge of mulberry-purple; beautiful, bright, generous and expansive initially but shifting to magisterial, fairly dramatic and demanding; beguiling red currant and cherry flavors (just a hint of cranberry and rhubarb), deep, drenched with spice but still you feel the oak and tannin in a spreading tide; quite dry, briers and underbrush, a touch of dusty graphite, all packed into the long finish. 2014 through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $48.
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Rex Hill Jacob-Hunt Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13.5% alc. Again that ineffable transparent medium ruby-mulberry color that belies the power and substantial character of this single-vineyard pinot noir; deep, rich, fleshy and meaty, almost abjures any spicy qualities for remarkable purity and intensity of pinot noir expression sustained by acidity that cuts a swath on the palate and a burgeoning sense of oak and tannin; in fact, of this group of Willamette Valley pinot noir, this Rex Hill Jacob-Hunt ’10 is the most focused on structure. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $58.
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Planet Oregon Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley. A label for sustainable, reasonably priced pinot noir from the Soter winery. Beguiling light to medium ruby color; a delicate and subtle pinot noir, finely knit from red and black currant and cherry scents and flavors gently sifted with cola, cloves and rhubarb and slightly roughened, as if sanded by nuances of mild foresty and earthy elements. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $20, representing Good Value.
The label image is two vintages behind.
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Soter North Valley Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13.6% alc. Hate to flog the word “lovely,” but most of these wines qualify on several counts or all counts, so here we go: Just freakin’ lovely pinot noir; woven from many strands of delicate shading into an entity of tensile strength; red fruit through and through — currants, cherries and plums — exquisitely molded with hints of cranberry, cloves and sandalwood; seamless tone and structure, balance and poise, finespun, insinuating yet firm; you could drink this forever, if such an opportunity arose, but to be realistic, through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30, Great Value for the Price and Quality.
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Soter Mineral Springs Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. 13.8% alc. Medium ruby color; very finely melded and knit in all elements but displaying power and resonance in sustaining structure and moderately dusty, earthy tannins; brightly etched red and blue fruit, that is, red currants and cherries with a hint of blueberries and plums; also brightly etched is the keen acidity that makes this pinot noir attractive and mouthwatering; still, you feel the slightly woody spice and touch of graphite from mid-palate back through the dry, slightly austere finish. Say, 2014 through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $50.
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No, Readers, the splendid Italianate castle you see in the picture here is not located in Tuscany or Lombardy but in Napa Valley, near the town of Calistoga. Castello di Amorosa, completed in 2007, is the pet project, nay, the total obsession, of Dario Sattui, who owns the well-known V. Sattui winery, retail store and picnic-ground farther south in St. Helena. The story of the planning and building of Castello di Amorosa is related in lavish detail on the winery’s website; yes, the setting may be elaborate and medieval, but Castello di Amorosa is a working winery; Brooks Painter is director of winemaking, a position he also holds a V. Sattui. And as is the case at V. Sattui, the wines are available only at the winery or by what’s still quaintly called “mail-order.” Not surprisingly, Amorosa focuses on Italian grape varieties but also on — our focus in this post — gewürztraminer, and if you’re thinking that gewürztraminer has about the same standing in Napa Valley that Lady Gaga holds at the National Academy of Kabuki-Acting Thoracic Surgeons, you would be correct. There are about 11 acres of gewürztraminer vines in Napa (total vineyard acreage about 43,000), which is why Amorosa has Gewürztraminer planted in cool-climate Mendocino County. These wines were samples for review. We move from dry to sweet.
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The aromas of the Castello di Amorosa Gewürztraminer 2011, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, are frankly gorgeous; jasmine and honeysuckle, lychee and pear, quince and ginger, guava and passion fruit, with undertones of lime peel, limestone and grapefruit; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of “Evening in Paris” and lilac-scented face powder. Could the rest of the experience live up to this heady allure? Yes, actually, the wine — made in stainless steel as the others here are — displays admirable crispness and exuberant acidity, a suave, sleek texture, but lively and spicy, a burgeoning element of shale-and-flint-like minerality and, amid its apple and nectarine flavors, an overall crystalline existential glow. And it’s totally dry. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 or ’18, well-stored. 1,100 cases. Excellent. About $23.
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The Castello di Amorosa “Dolcino” Gewürztraminer 2011, Mendocino County, is, as its name indicates, a little sweet. The color is very pale straw-gold; notes of jasmine and honeysuckle are woven with ripe lychees and pears and hints of apples and apricots. No doubt about the sweetness on the entry, where flavors of softly roasted peaches mingle with touches of sage and baked apple, though the wine firms up nicely, under the influence of keen acidity that contributes freshness and moderate crispness to the texture. The wine, then, is lively and spicy, and the finish brings in a bit of grapefruit austerity. 12 percent alcohol. Good as an aperitif for those who like a touch of sweetness or with mildly spicy Indian or Southeast Asian cuisine. 1,849 cases. Very Good+. About $24.
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The Castello di Amorosa Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2011, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, is a full-fledged dessert wine that displays all the super-ripeness and golden honeyed slightly roasted stone fruit scents and flavors you could ask for. The color is pale gold; hints of baked apples and peaches, lychees, cloves and ginger snaps entice the nose before segueing into the mouth, where they’re enveloped by a texture that’s dense and almost viscous; the wine is even spicier on the palate, more honeyed, slightly buttery — think of lightly buttered cinnamon toast. Castello di Amorosa Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2011 is rich, tasty and appealing, but it lacks just by a degree the essential tension and tautness that keep dessert wines on the straight and narrow path of clean, thirst-quenching acidity and scintillating intensity. 11.2 percent alcohol. 2,964 cases. Now through 2018 to 2022. Very Good+. About $35 for a 375 ml half-bottle.
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I always read every word of every review written by Alastair Macaulay, chief dance critic for The New York Times. Macaulay, seen in the accompanying image, came to the Times from London in 2007. He writes primarily about ballet and from a standpoint that’s not just knowledgeable and experienced but deeply passionate and revealing. Often, Macaulay’s writing and his observations remind me of how I think about and write about wine, particularly in the sense that the physicality of ballet and its relationship to music and the physical and sensuous nature of wine and its relationship to the vineyard whence it originated involve paradoxes of the most minute and complementary sorts.

An ardent admirer of choreographer George Balanchine (1904-1983), Macaulay recently reviewed a series of performances by the New York City Ballet of dances that Balanchine had set to symphonic music. He writes, at one point, that ballet dancers need to display elements of “rigor and allure.” Instantly, I thought about how great wine ought to reflect the same paradoxical qualities.

By great wine, I mean any wine, no matter its origins, intent or expense, that might embody such a character. The little Côtes du Rhône or Maconnais, the Rosso di Montalcino, the zinfandel blend, the bargain malbec, the simple everyday wines that are so important and so necessary to the world of drinking wine with lunch and dinner because we just love to have wine with our meals — these can achieve greatness in their way. Then there are the wines with aspirations to excellence and exceptionality, authenticity and integrity that reflect faithfulness to grape varieties and specific locations. Such wines, with their potential for greatness, ordinary mortals (like journalists and wine bloggers) do not drink all the time.

By “rigor,” I mean the structure of the wine, based on acidity, alcohol and (in red wine) tannins, an innate mineral quality and an exterior (as it were) oak influence, all of which contribute to the stones and bones, that is, the frame and foundation, that keep a wine lively, thirst-quenching, vigorous, upright and potentially long-lived. At the same time, the heady “allure” of the wine works its way through fruit and all the attendant aromatic and flavorful fruity, spicy, floral aspects as well as through the texture (not quite the same as structure) that helps the wine lie so obligingly velvety or silkily or satiny on the tongue. Too much rigor and the wine is harsh, merely big, austere, sometimes even astringent and definitely unpalatable. Too much allure and the wine is soft, delicious, voluptuous, cushiony, perhaps really attractive but also merely pretty. What one desires in a great wine is to be fully aware of its rigor at every point and promise and equally fully aware of its allure, each bound inextricably to the other.

Later in the same review, Macaulay writes of principal dancer Sterling Hyltin and describes his performance in “Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements” as “alert, lustrous, refined and compellingly enigmatic.”

Oh, wouldn’t we like all the wines we encounter to display such virtues! This is the epitome, the wine that feels lively, attentive, present and there; the wine that offers a sheen and glow, a sense of sophistication and completion; a wine of elegance, poise and equilibrium; and finally, a wine that does not give everything away too readily, that keeps something in check, that allows a sense of inexplicable yet wholly satisfying wildness and mystery, a wine that slowly ravels its ambiguities and lays them out for our revelation and delight.

The differences between dance and wine are many. Dance presents the human body in movement, immediate, demanding, sensuous yet intellectual and above all, evanescent; each gesture and movement disappears as it is accomplished. Wine is about patience, silence and time, about an expression of earth and weather, yet it is above all a beverage meant to be consumed for pleasure, and once the wine has been consumed, it is as ungraspable as a forgotten pas de deux.

The past Yuletide season, that cornucopia of Champagne and sparkling wine, is but a dim memory now; might as well not have happened. Valentine’s? So last week. Yet is there ever a day in the history of the cosmos that would not be made better by the imbibing of some sort of sparkling wine? Think how much improved our poor benighted, beset and conflicted world would be if everyone just chilled and had a glass of (chilled) Champagne or sparkling wine at 11 a.m. Of course we can’t all drink Champagne all the time; it’s too expensive. So today, in order to launch you on your path toward daily sparkling wine enlightenment, serenity and world peace, I introduce the Albert Mann Brut 2010, Crémant d’Alsace, originating, naturally, in Alsace, the region of France that seems to hold more ancient estates per square meter than any other hallowed piece of vineyardry. Operated (on biodynamic terms) by brothers Jacky and Maurice Barthelmé and their wives Marie-Claire and Marie-Thérèse, the Albert Mann estate resulted from the combining of two family estates that were established in the early and mid 17th Century; that’s the 1600s, for the chronologically-challenged. The 21-hectare property — about 54 acres — includes five Grand Cru vineyards.

The Albert Mann Brut 2010, Crémant d’Alsace, made in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, offers a shimmering pale gold color and a swirling tempest of tiny bubbles. The wine is a blend of pinot blanc, auxerrois, pinot gris and riesling grapes. Aromas of green apples and limes, steel and limestone, ginger and cloves and a hint of jasmine and roasted lemon segue seamlessly into flavors that while tasty take a back seat to a remarkably savory and saline sensation that builds upon clean, bright acidity and a burgeoning limestone element. This is a sparkling wine that travels in the course of a sniff, a sip and a swallow from spicy, fruity appeal to spare elegance. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $22.

Imported by Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, Pa. A trade group sample for review.


Sometimes you feel like a theme, sometimes you don’t! (And who remembers the television commercial to which I allude?) The point being no theme today, just eight miscellaneous wines, some better than others, some quite exemplary, and touching many bases. Not a great deal of technical, geographical, climatic, historical or philosophical info here; these Weekend Wine Sips are intended as quick reviews, often transcribed directly from my notes, designed to pique your interest, whet your palate and claim your attention one way or the other. These were all samples for review. Enjoy!
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Apaltagua Carménère Rosé 2012, Central Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 100% carmenere grapes. Very pale pink-watermelon color; a pretty rose, quite delicate and fine-boned; notes of rose petal, watermelon, raspberry with a light strawberry backnote; pert acidity for liveliness, lies winsomely on the palate with spareness and trifling allure. I happily drank this with lunch over two days. Now through the end of Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $12, Great Value.
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Apaltagua Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale straw color; clean, fresh, spicy, typical pineapple-grapefruit with lots of steel and limestone and a hint of pear; good balance; sea-salt-bracing, tantalizing hints of jasmine, roasted fennel and thyme; lovely supple texture but crisp with acidity. One doesn’t often refer to chardonnay as delightful, but here it is. Very Good+. About $12, Great Value.
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Artesa Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; black cherry and cola, briers and brambles, traces of rhubarb and violets; lovely balance among clean acidity, a lithe structure, black and red fruit flavors that come close to opulence and an essential earthy, loamy quality, all adding up to elegance that admits a slightly subversive wild berry nature. Exquisite. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $40.
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Artesa Artisan Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 4% merlot and 3% petit verdot. Dark ruby color; black currants, black cherries and a hint of plums; touches of black olives, cedar and thyme; velvety tannins with a graphite-lavender-licorice core; quite dry yet juicy and succulent and lively with vibrant acidity; solid, well-made, very drinkable. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $46.
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Berlucchi “Cuvée 61″ Brut Rosé, Lombardy, Italy. 11.4% alc. 50% pinot noir, 50% chardonnay. Pale onion skin color; dense array of tiny bubbles; fruit compote with pure strawberry, red currants, softly macerated peach; noticeably sweet but bright acidity dries it out from mid-palate back, clearing the way for some crisp limestone minerality. Very Good. About $24.
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Carpenè Malvolti Brut Rosé (nv), Veneto. 12% alc. 85% pinot nero (pinot noir) 15% rabaso. Pale onion skin with a light copper cast; constant stream of fine bubbles; strawberry and raspberry, hints of orange zest and pomegranate; moderate level of slate-like minerality; pleasant, tasty, not a lot there. Good. About $20.
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Piccini Memor? (nv) Vino Rosso d’Italia. 14% alc. 40% primitivo, 30% montepulciano, 20% nero d’avola, 10% merlot del Veneto. Just as in this country a wine that drew grapes from several states would carry an “American wine” designation, this dark and sassy little number is denominated “Vino d’Italia” because the grapes hale from four region: Sicily, Puglia, Veneto and Abruzzo. Deep ruby-purple color; blackberries, blueberries and plums, with high notes of cherries, fruitcake and bitter chocolate and a laving of spicy, vanilla-laced oak; very pleasing heft, supple texture papered with slightly shaggy tannins; another hint of warm oak on the finish; you could call it rustic, and why not? A terrific pizza or braised short ribs wine. Very Good. About $10, a Raving Bargain.
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Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. Current release is the 2010, but this was in my white wine fridge, and it’s absolutely Worth a Search. Moderate straw-gold color; clean, fresh, sleek, deeply spicy and savory, rich without being cloying; pineapple and grapefruit, yellow plums, quince and ginger, touch of candied lime peel; bristling crystalline acidity and a tremendously resonant limestone presence, with supple oak in the background. Drink through 2014 or ’15, well-stored. An exciting chardonnay. Excellent. About $35.
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The point of bottling wines made from similar grapes from separate vineyards or regions is that those entities, because of differences, sometimes minute, sometimes pronounced, among geography, geology, soil and microclimate — terroir, friends, terroir’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout — will produce wines that reflect those differences in their individual characteristics. Such a premise is the whole basis, as much moral and philosophical as practical, of the wine industry in Burgundy, for example, with its myriad tiny vineyards each classified and codified in a (basically) three-tier scheme of theoretical quality. Such, too, is the premise of the five wines from Pine Ridge Vineyards that we look at today. Four of these wines are from the Napa Valley sub-appellations of Rutherford, Oakville, Howell Mountain and Stags Leap, bearing, inherently, the promise of distinguishing regional qualities.

Pine Ridge was founded in 1978 by Gary Andrus and a group of investors on the Silverado Trail in what would become the Stags Leap District. The winery made its name with various bottlings of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, though its biggest seller is an inexpensive and perennially popular chenin blanc-viognier blanc blend; every winery should have a product that pays the rent, so to speak. Pine Ridge and its sister winery in Oregon, Archery Summit, are owned by the Crimson Wine Group, also owners of Chamisal Vineyards, Seghesio Vineyards and Double Canyon, in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills.

Pine Ridge’s general manager and winemaker Michael Beaulac came on board in 2009, moving from St. Supery, where he made a string of superb sauvignon blancs and cabernets; assistant winemaker is Jason Ledbetter.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 is a blend of 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent malbec, 7 percent petit verdot, 4 percent merlot and 1 lonely percent cabernet franc; it aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 60 percent new. The grapes derived from Pine Ridge’s three estate vineyards in the Rutherford appellation, totaling 61 acres. The color is deep ruby-purple; the bouquet is a heady amalgam of graphite and lavender, bittersweet chocolate, ripe nut intense and concentrated black currants and black cherries, all wound with smoky allure. Tannins feel like an inescapable mesh of infinitesimal fineness and finesse, though composed of dusty velvet and iron. The wine coats the mouth with elements of granite and shale-like minerality, earth and loam and succulent black and blue fruit flavors, succulent but nothing like opulent or sumptuous; all the qualities conspire here to keep the wine substantial but elegant. Dust, earth and loam? Perhaps this is evidence of the famous yet elusive “Rutherford dust” for which the district is noted. The finish is long and packed with spice, minerals and, ultimately, layers of brambly-foresty qualities, becoming a little demanding but not austere. 14.3 percent alcohol. Best from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $80.
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Oakville is only two miles south of Rutherford on Hwy. 29 –the drive is under five minutes; geographically, the shape of Oakville is slightly flatter and a bit broader, as it reaches from the slope of the Vacas range in the east to Mayacamas range in the west. The Pine Ridge Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, 96 percent cabernet and 4 percent petit verdot, offers more fruit and slate and slightly woody spices — sandalwood, cloves, allspice — than its stablemate from Rutherford, though it displays similar dusty, granite-flecked and mouth-coating tannins; the black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors for “Oakville” are also a little more macerated, fleshy and meaty. This is definitely the most herbal of this quintet of cabernets, a characteristic I miss in most examples produced in California; here we have hints of cedar and thyme and and a high-note of bay leaf. The wine is undoubtedly dense and chewy, and the mineral elements of graphite and granite surge forward from mid-palate back through the surprisingly smooth (and smoky) finish. This cabernet aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 55 percent new. 14.1 percent alcohol. Best from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $80.
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Pioneered by Randy Dunn, who released his first cabernet from the 1979 vintage, and established by the federal government in 1983, Howell Mountain was the first sub-appellation in the Napa Valley. Most vineyards in this AVA north of St. Helena and east of Calistoga are planted at altitudes of 1,400- to 2,200-feet above sea-level. The Pine Ridge Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 reflects its mountain origin in its power structure and its brambly-briery, loamy and flinty character; the wine is 100 percent cabernet and aged 18 months in 50 percent new French oak barrels. Squinching tannins are drenched in dusty graphite-and-shale-like minerality that dominates the wine from front to back and top to bottom, and that dimension of minerality and the leathery-foresty nature of the tannins build austerity into the finish. The whole effect is of ink and obsidian, opaque and impenetrable. Fruit? Yes, but tightly furled now; enormous potential but try 2015 or ’16 through 2024 to ’29. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $90.
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Stags Leap District — no apostrophe — was approved as an AVA in 1989. Grapegrowing commenced in this hilly area east of Yountville athwart the Silverado Trail in the 1870s. Pine Ridge owns four vineyards in the district: the 47-acre Pine Ridge Estate Vineyard, the steepest; Locked Horns Vineyard (6 acres) and Cornerstone Vineyard (7 acres); and the particularly rocky 9-acre Circle Hill Vineyard; all contribute grapes to the Pine Ridge Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, a 100 percent varietal wine that defines what we think of as largeness in a wine; it’s broad and deep, with roots that seem to extend down into the soil and strata of the vineyards and with an emphasis on an impeccable and pretty damned unassailable (yet beautifully balance) structure of acidity, tannin, oak and a prominent mineral element; the wine aged 18 months in 65 percent new French barrels. The color is deep purple, nigh unto black; the bouquet delivers whiffs of classic cedar and lead pencil and cigar box wrapped around very intense and concentrated black fruit scents and a stab of flint that’s like a sharp exhalation. In the mouth, the Pine Ridge Stags Leap 09 is dense and chewy, gritty and grainy and yet — there’s always an “and yet” when one talks about complicated wines — the wine’s poise and integration, however “big” is it, are lovely. 14.1 percent alcohol. best from 2014 or ’16 through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $85.
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The idea behind Fortis, whose composition changes every year, seems to be a sort of ideal of Napa Valleyness rather than the expression of a more narrow AVA or vineyards within an AVA, as is the case with the other Pine Ridge wines mentioned in this post. And there’s not a thing wrong with that scheme; many wines that come from this valley that’s legendary for cabernet sauvgnon operate on the same principle. The question is: What is the platonic ideal for a Napa Valley wine? For the Pine Ridge Fortis 2009, it’s this: A 100 percent cabernet wine — a varietal tradition that goes back to the origins of the Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de La Tour Private Reserve in the 1930s — that balances power, dynamism and multi-faceted dimension with integration, elegance and finesse. For 09, Fortis is a blend of 52 percent Rutherford grapes with 48 percent Stags Leap, in other words, the western valley floor but backing up to the Mayacamas slopes combined with the rocky hillsides on the eastern side of the valley. The wine is sturdy, robust, cleanly focused, smooth and velvety yet dusty, deeply imbued with flint-and-graphite minerality; and it’s rich with black currant and black cherry flavors steeped in spicy oak — 60 percent new French barrels, 18 months — and grainy tannins, yet, paradoxically, while the finish retains a rather Olympian distance, there’s nothing austere to violate the wine’s essential poise. 14.1 percent alcohol. best from 2014 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $150.
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All right, O.K., O.K., all right, I perceive a backlash against writing about Brut Rosé sparkling wines and Champagnes for Valentine’s, and I know who you curmudgeons are. Come on, tomorrow is all about romance, rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines are romantic, or, granted have the reputation for being romantic — marketers are working overtime — and they tend to be beautiful and impressive. I, for one, love Brut Rosé Champagne, and I damn well would not pass up a rosé sparkling wine from Alsace or the Loire Valley or one of the many fine examples produced in California. My preference in these wines is for elegance and spareness, great bones and stones, sleekness and subtlety, though I don’t disdain fruit and floridness either. And of course, there must be bubbles, billions on tiny glinting bubbles. numberless as the numberless stars in the numberless galaxies! Ahem. For your consideration today, with an eye toward intimate tete-a-tetes with your sweetheart of whatever genre, nationality or political persuasion, I offer one Italian sparkling wine and six French: three Champagnes of various characters and prices and more inexpensive sparkling wines from Alsace and the Loire. With one exception, these products were samples for review; the David Léclapart L’Alchimiste was tasted at a trade event.

Here are links to other Brut Rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines reviewed on BTYH in the past year; all rate Excellent: Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé Etoile and Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Brut Rosé here; J Brut Rosé here; Borgo Maragliano Giovanni Galliano Brut Rosé here.

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Santa Margherita Brut Rosé. This sparkling wine, made from 50 percent chardonnay, 45 percent glera, as the prosecco grapes is termed nowadays, and 5 percent malbec, is produced in Trentino-Alto Adige, though the label doesn’t say so. The color is pale onion skin with a persimmon glint; tiny bubbles rise in stately flow up the glass. Perhaps the dollop of malbec makes the difference, because this intriguing brut rose has something dusky, dusty and brambly about it; scents of red berries and stone fruit segue seamlessly to similar flavors that are cossetted by a moderately lush texture cut with efficient acidity. The wine is quite dry and crisp and slightly earthy, delivering a joyously sensual profile that flashes a serious earthy, limestone edge. 11.4 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.

Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Il.
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Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace. The color is radiant copper-salmon; the bubbles persist in a fine upward spiral. Scents of red currants and wild strawberries waft from the glass, with notes of spiced tea, orange zest and limestone. The texture of this 100 percent pinot noir sparkling wine is lovely, a winsome yet steely combination of crisp lively acidity and cloud-like softness of macerated red berries, though the finish gets all grown-up with flinty austerity and a hint of sea-salt. 12 percent alcohol. Founded in 1425, Lucien Albrecht is one of the oldest continuously family-owned estates in Europe. Excellent. About $20.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.
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Dirler-Cadé Brut Rosé 2009, Crémant d’Alsace. The Dirler firm was founded in 1871, but it was the marriage of Jean Dirler and Ludivine Hell-Cadé — and what a moniker that is to live up to! –in 2000 that formed the present Dirler-Cadé estate, which is operated on bio-dynamic principles. The Brut Rosé 2009, composed completely from pinot noir grapes, offers a shimmering pale onion skin hue shading to light copper and a torrent of tiny glinting bubbles. An arresting bouquet of red currants, dried strawberries and blood oranges with a high note of pomegranate opens to hints of peach, limestone and clove-infused tea. The word “shimmering” seems to apply to every aspect of this super-attractive sparking wine, from its brisk acidity to its slightly macerated red fruit flavors to its lacy limestone sense of transparency. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $22.

Imported by T. Edward Wines, New York.
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Langlois-Chateau Brut Rosé Crémant de Loire. The delicacy of this sparkling wine’s blush of peach-copper color and the elegance of its constant fountain of silver bubbles are a bit deceptive, because its composition — 100 percent cabernet franc grapes — lends a touch of complexity that many examples don’t convey. Yet it remains completely refreshing, even seductive, with its panoply of ripe and slightly smoky red fruit scents and flavors; in fact, in its winsome floral-lime peel-orange zest qualities and its ineffably flint-and-limestone infused texture it comes close to being ethereal. What can I say; it feels romantic. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $29.

Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Il.
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Moët et Chandon Rosé Impérial. Here, friends, is a Brut Rosé for grown-ups. The blend, depending on the vintages involved, tends to be 40 to 50 percent pinot noir, 30 to 40 percent pinot meunier and 10 to 20 percent chardonnay. The color is a ruddy peach-copper hue; tiny bubbles form a seething torrential up-surge. The beguiling bouquet and the round flavors are characterized by blood oranges, red currants and strawberries both ripe and dried, all sifted with elements of chalk and limestone; the result is a Champagne that’s very dry and austere but svelte and supple, almost dense through the mid-palate. A few minutes in the glass bring in traces of softly ripened peaches and mint and hints of rose petals and white pepper. Whatever delicate overtones it manifests, this is a substantial, savory sparkling wine. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50, though one sees prices as high as $65.

Imported by Moët Hennessy USA, New York.
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Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut Rosé. This first foray into Champagne by the three branches of the Rothschild wine families is a blend of 85 percent chardonnay and 15 percent pinot noir. The color is a classic limpid onion skin with a tinge of copper; the bubbles too are classic: infinitely tiny silver flecks spiraling upward in a froth. The effect is pure strawberry, blood orange and peach, with hints of hazelnuts and cloves, exquisite effervescence and a burgeoning presence of chiming acidity and limestone minerality. The finish is deep and smoky and lithe, though at mid-palate the texture is dense and almost viscous. A great marriage of power and elegance; I’m not crazy about the down-market labeling, though. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $100 to $125.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Alchimiste Premier Cru Estate Extra-Brut Rosé. “Premier Cru” means that grapes for this Brut Rose, which takes the notion of elegance to a higher, more precise and faceted — call it glacial — level, derived from vineyards in villages classified as such. Premier Cru vineyards rate 90 to 99 percent in Champagne’s Echelle des Crus system; only Grand Cru vineyards achieve 100 percentile. Leclapart’s production is small — fewer than 1,000 cases for five types of Champagne — but they are definitely Worth a Search for devotees of elemental purity and intensity of purpose and result, as who is not, n’est-ce pas? The estate has operated on bio-dynamic principles since 1998. Other techniques are quite traditional. For this wine, the grapes are trod by foot three or four times a day in large wooden casks, with fermentation occurring in old barriques. Still, L’Alchimiste feels as if it had been conjured by some sort of alchemy. Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, it offers a radiant pale copper color, suffused with energetic flecks of tiny bubbles, and an utterly entrancing bouquet of watermelon, strawberries, dried red currants and roasted lemons; hints of some astringent mountain flower with notes of lime peel and lemongrass emerge from the background. This is an exceptionally dry, aristocratic Extra-Brut Rosé, with the finest of bone structures, underpinnings of crystalline limestone and clean acidity the flashes like a bright blade. Not for the timorous, perhaps, but delivers multiple rewards for the initiate. 13 percent alcohol. Exceptional. About $175. Sorry; perfection does not come cheap.

Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.
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Let’s launch Valentine’s Week with a recommendation for a sweetheart of a dry brut rosé sparkling wine, the non-vintage Paul Cheneau Cava Brut Rosé, composed of 85 percent trepat grapes, one of the more interesting grapes you’ve never heard of, and 15 percent pinot noir. This sparking wine, indeed the roster that comes from Paul Cheneau, is made in the “traditional method,” that is the méthode champenoise, of second fermentation in the bottle. The winery is owned by the Giró Ribot family and is located in the heartland of cava production. the Penedès region west of Barcelona in Cataluña, where the Spanish coast dips southwest from the French border.

The Paul Cheneau Cava Brut Rosé offers a pretty dying ember hue of lightly tarnished copper-salmon; bubbles are small, elegant, persistent. Pure strawberry erupts from the glass, followed by raspberry, with a touch of raspberry’s raspiness, and a scent of rose hips; after a few minutes in the glass, the bouquet develops high notes of pomegranate and spiced tea. The ripe red fruit segues seamlessly into the mouth, with hints of orange zest and cloves; the texture is crisp with acidity yet soft and appealing, while the finish brings in a note of limestone. 11.5 percent alcohol. No, My Readers, this is not a top-quality brut rosé from Champagne that could set you back $150 to $200 a bottle; it’s a simple but well-made, tasty and pleasing little Spanish cava that should impinge nicely on you and your sweetheart’s Valentine celebration. Very Good+. About $16.

Pasternak Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.

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