April 2013


Perhaps we really are in Spring now, or even tending toward Summer, and while it may be banal to say it — or merely a trope of the winewriting and reviewing gig — I think people are looking for lighter wines that provide delight as well as flavor. In fact, if you’re grilling shrimp or making chicken or tuna salad, an appropriate wine to uncork would be the Heller Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, from Carmel Valley in Monterey County, a blend of 87 percent organically grown chenin blanc and 13 percent riesling, made all in stainless steel. The color is pale gold with a faint green shimmer; the bouquet, well, you could swim in the bouquet or dab it behind your ears, this winsome and pert amalgam of prickly and briery ripe peach and pear with intensely pungent elements of camellia and lilac with a back note of lavender and a burgeoning hint of limestone. True to its principal grape, in the mouth there’s a touch of hay and yellow plum along with those spiced pear and peach flavors, while the limestone and flint minerality expands from mid-palate back and crisp acidity keeps the wine lively and appealing. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2013. I always look forward to this wine. Excellent. About $23.

A sample for review, as I am required to inform you by ruling of the Federal Trade Commission, an injunction that does not apply to print media.

Sean Thackrey is the monk of the California wine industry. Actually, that’s a misnomer, because Thackrey checked out of that “industry” decades ago and working in isolation and according to the lights of ancient, medieval and Renaissance texts on winemaking produces some of the most distinctive, highly individual and frankly magnificent wines in the Golden State. This is not a man who thinks of grapes as “blank slates” upon which winemakers work their wills and bend to their own necessities and egos; both grape and vineyard site are sacred to his sensibilities. Thackrey issues an interesting roster of red wines from his modest facility in Bolinas, in Marin County. The entry level is the non-vintage Pleiades, a blend of five or six or seven grapes the nature and percentages of which Thackrey does not make known. In fact, unlike about 99 percent of producers in California, who broadcast the minutiae of their vineyard practices and technical methodology on press materials and on their websites, Thackrey releases NO such information, believing, I assume, that the wines speak for themselves and the rest of the folderol is none of our damned business. While I’m geeky enough to enjoy such detailed farming and winemaking intelligence and to pass it along to My Readers, I also have to admire the stubbornness and integrity of Thackrey’s position. Be sure sometime to take a gander at Thackrey’s website, on which he utters not a syllable about his own wines, not even to list them, but instead offers texts from the history of winemaking (derived from his extensive collection of books and manuscripts) and his commentary about them. You won’t learn a darned thing about what kind of oak barrels he uses or how long he ages his wines; you might, however, be exposed to valuable lessons about the long cultural context of winemaking and its relationship to human attitudes and our endless thirst.

The preceding paragraph serves as prelude to my review of Sean Thackrey’s Andromeda Devil’s Gulch Ranch Pinot Noir 2006, Marin County, a wine I purchased on sale (and with, thank god, reduced shipping) through Gilt.com, along with Thackrey’s Cassiopeia Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley; the Sirius Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County; and three bottles of Pleiades Old Vines XXII, one bottle of which we quite happily consumed.

At a bit more than six years old, the Andromeda Devil’s Gulch Ranch Pinot Noir 2006, Marin County, feels remarkably young, fresh and vigorous. The color is intense, jewel-like ruby with a magenta tinge at the rim; aromas of red and black currants and mulberries with a touch of dried cranberries are infused with notes of cloves and sassafras, violets and potpourri and a hint of graphite-like minerality. Flavors tend more to black and red cherries, a little spiced and macerated, ensconced in a texture that’s fairly dense and chewy, revealing the sinews, the litheness, the briers-and-brambles qualities yet maintaining — and here is the gratifying miracle of all great wine — its subtle dynamic virtues with lovely deftness and delicacy, a sense of felicity that shades into decorum; the wine is, in other words, a perfect example of the marriage of power and elegance. Tannins and oak are so deeply absorbed and integrated that their influence seems subliminal though ever-present, abiding and, in a way, chastening, especially on the finish, which, while ultimately smooth, sleek and satiny, brings in more measures of earthiness and minerality. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 to ’18. We took this wine to the restaurant Acre in Memphis last week, dining with friends, and it was superb, in my case, with medium rare grilled duck breast. Exceptional. Still available at retail in some pockets of the country, typically about $40.

I stayed one night at Holman Ranch last September, and the serenity and beauty of the place — the stillness, the magnitude of stars in the night sky — cannot be emphasized too much. Deep in the hills of Carmel Valley, inland and south of Monterey Bay, Holman Ranch occupies land bestowed upon the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo — hence, later, Carmel Valley — during the reign of Spain in these lands. After the mission properties were secularized, the area passed through many owners until in 1928, a Spanish-style hacienda was built and the ranch became an outpost or retreat for Hollywood stars and producers. Clarence Holman, of the Holman Department Store family in Pacific Grove, acquired the ranch in the 1940s and with business-like acumen transformed it from a private hideaway to a resort, which was still popular with Hollywood’s elite. Present owners Thomas and Jarman Lowder, who purchased Holman Ranch from Dorothy McEwen in 2006, restored the facility, the original hacienda, the quaint cabins and the grounds to full operation and comfort.

If you Google “Holman Ranch” you’ll see that the property’s raison d’etre focuses on events and meetings but particularly weddings. Indeed, it would be difficult to think of a more spectacular setting for tying the matrimonial knot. For my purposes, however, it’s more important that Holman Ranch produces small quantities of well-made wines (and olive oil), samples of which were recently sent to me. I found the white wines and the rosé to be engaging and highly drinkable, while the two pinot noirs bordered on exquisite. Search though I did in the brochures that accompanied the wines and on the Holman Ranch website, I found no mention of a winemaker; surely credit must be given when it is earned. All these wines are designated “Estate Grown.”
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Holman Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. This sleek sauvignon blanc offers a pale gold color and beguiling aromas of lime peel and grapefruit, roasted lemon, hints of thyme and tarragon and a lift of lemongrass. An element of limestone minerality produces a whiff of gunflint and also, in the mouth, bolsters citrus flavors lightly touched with fig and fresh-mown grass, all tied together with brisk acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. 224 cases. Quite charming, but drink up. Very Good+. About $20.
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Holman Ranch Pinot Gris 2011, Carmel Valley. The color is very pale straw; pure apples and pears pour from the glass, imbued with notes of cloves and lime peel, camellia and jasmine. The wine is quite dry, crisp and zesty, eminently refreshing; citrus and pear flavors are bolstered by a burgeoning limestone and flint element, leading to some austerity through the spicy and slightly steely finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. 323 cases. Very Good+. About $20.
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Holman Ranch Chardonnay 2010, Carmel Valley. This is an elegant and stylish chardonnay, from its pale straw-gold color, to its spare citrus and stone fruit scents and flavors, to its hints of jasmine and honeysuckle and dried herbs; there’s a bright undercurrent of crisp acidity and a distinct influence of limestone minerality. The wine is tasty, well-balanced and integrated but a little delicate (especially for a barrel-fermented chardonnay), so its match will be more delicate hors-d’oeuvre and seafood entrees. 12.5 percent alcohol. 205 cases. Very Good+. About $28.
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Holman Ranch rosé of Pinot Noir 2011, Carmel Valley. Here’s a superior rosé whose brilliant hue of raspberry-tourmaline at least esthetically enhances its aromas of strawberry, watermelon and rose petals; its raspberry-watermelon flavors permeated by hints of pomegranate, cloves and (barely) cinnamon; its appealing touch of dried thyme and limestone minerality; its pert, thirst-quenching acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. 144 cases. Drink through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $22.
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Holman Ranch Pinot Noir 2010, Carmel Valley. The enchanting hue is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of black cherries, mulberries and red plums are infused with notes of sassafras, pomegranate, cloves and a hint of rhubarb. This pinot noir evinces a lovely lightness of being at the same time as it embodies intensity of black and red fruit flavors and an exquisite satiny texture. A few minutes in the glass bring in touches of smoke and graphite; the finish is medium-length, supple and subtle. 12.5 percent alcohol. 500 cases. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $33.
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Holman Ranch Heather’s Hill Pinot Noir 2011, Carmel Valley. The color is radiant medium ruby; the whole aura is warm, ripe and spicy, the display is impeccably balanced. Notes of spiced and macerated red currants, black raspberries and cranberries open to hints of cloves and cola. The wine is earthy, with elements of briers and brambles under flavors of red and black currants and cherries, yet it’s elegant, silky, integrated. After 30 or 40 minutes, you feel increasing dryness as the oak and mild tannins assert themselves, but overall this is beautifully made pinot noir. 14 percent alcohol. 444 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $37.
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I didn’t produce a Weekend Wine Sips — “the world is too much with us late and soon getting and spending we lay waste our powers” blah blah — so I offer today a twofer Wine of the Week, a single-varietal white and a blended red. Because that’s the kind of guy I am. Both of these wines represent Excellent Value. These were samples for review.

For white, try the Plantagenet Riesling 2011, from the Mount Barker appellation of Western Australia. The 320-acre estate, founded in 1968 by Tony Smith, was the first winery established in the Great Southern region of Western Australia and is regarded as having senior status in the area, not just for longevity but, let’s face it, for high quality. Winemaker is Cath Oates. This riesling, made entirely in stainless steel, is about as pure and intense as they come. The color is pale pale straw-gold; the penetrating bouquet delivers scintillating lime peel, grapefruit pith and limestone elements over notes of yellow plum and roasted lemon that open to hints of lemon balm, jasmine and lychee. It’s one taut, lean and lovely riesling that deftly balances its litheness, flinty character and crystalline acidity with subtly spicy stone-fruit and citrus flavors and an appealing soft, dusty texture, creating an intriguing sense of tension and abundant liveliness on the palate. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16 with fresh oysters and mussels, simply prepared grilled or seared fish or, perhaps counterintuitively, charcuterie . Excellent. About $21.
Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Ca.

For red, we turn to the Paul Mas Estate G.S.M. 2011, Coteaux du Languedoc. The estate goes back to 1892 and now encompasses 100 hectares (247 acres) of vines that lie between Pézenas and Montpellier, close to the Mediterranean, down where the coast curves to the southwest, headed toward Spain. The property gained momentum in its contemporary guise when Jean-Claude Mas of the fourth generation took over operations in 1999 and created Domaine Paul Mas, named for his father. The blend here is 35 percent each grenache and syrah, 30 percent mourvèdre; 20 percent of the wine aged in oak barrels for six months. The color is deep dark ruby; aromas and flavors of blackberries, black currants and blueberries are bolstered by hints of briers and brambles, tar and leather. A few minutes in the glass bring in touches of slightly stewed plums and elements of smoked meat, fruitcake and graphite. The texture is appropriately robust yet supple, and tannins are present yet moderately dense and chewy; the wine’s mineral nature stays firmly (in both sense) in the background. 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 with lamb chops or grilled leg of lamb festooned with garlic and rosemary, grilled sausages, braised short ribs, pasta with rabbit or wild boar. Very Good+. About $16.
Imported by Esprit du Vin, Port Washington, N.Y.

A week from today at this time I’ll be on a plane to Houston, whence I fly to San Francisco and then take a short flight to San Luis Obispo, all amounting to a long day of travel so that I can attend, on April 26 and 27, some tasting events and seminars arranged by the Paso Robles CAB Collective, a group of wineries in that appellation that specialize in or at least significantly produce wines made from the cabernet sauvignon grape. DAOU Vineyards and Winery is a member of the group, and as a sort of lead-in to the events at the end of next week, I was able to obtain four sample wines for review produced by DAOU in its Paso Robles Collection of wines; they also make Reserve and Estate Collections. The winery is owned by brothers Georges and Daniel Daou, with the latter serving as winemaker.
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The DAOU Grenache Blanc 2011, Paso Robles, wisely ages only seven months in French oak, and those are one-year-old barrels, so the wood influence is restrained and supple, a sort of subdued haze of blond spice. The color is pale but radiant straw-gold; the wine is frankly gorgeous but without being ostentatious and in fact maintaining a sense of lovely spare elegance. Aromas of pear, apple and peach are bolstered by highlights of ginger and quince and a top-note of jasmine, while the touch of bee’s-wax we expect from grenache blanc is here. Flavors of lightly buttered pear tart are enhanced by hints of roasted lemon and honey, but this is a totally dry wine, lent vivacity by authoritative acidity and limestone-like minerality that only asserts itself, and rather gently, from mid-palate back through the spice-packed finish. 14.1% alc. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. We had it, very successfully, with seared swordfish. Excellent. About $36.
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The color of the DAOU Chardonnay 2011, Paso Robles, is light but bright straw-gold; aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince and cloves feel almost savory, while notes of ginger and white pepper provides liveliness and appeal. This is a chardonnay that takes its substance seriously, offering a texture that’s dense and chewy without being overwhelming; it’s quite dry but juicy with ripe apple and pineapple flavors that take on some austerity from a grapefruit pith-limestone-flint character and a slight drying quality from oak aging — 10 months in French barrels, 50 percent new; a few minutes in the glass bring out Burgundian hints of bacon fat and Parmesan rind. As I said, this is a deep, rich and savory chardonnay that does not cross the line into cloying ripeness and spiciness or a superimposed vanilla/buttery/tropical nature. 14.2 percent alcohol. Well-stored, this should develop nicely through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $42.
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DAOU Celestus 2010, Paso Robles, is a blend of the kind one sees more and more, especially from California and Australia and even Italy; this is 59 percent syrah, 32 percent cabernet sauvignon and 9 percent petit verdot. It’s delicious. The color is an intense dark ruby-purple; pungent scents of crushed red and black currants and cherries (with a hint of plums) are permeated by dust and graphite, cloves and sandalwood and touches of leather and lavender. In the mouth, you intuit the syrah in an undertow of blueberries and briers, while red and black fruit flavors are borne on a tide of vibrant, almost vigilant acidity; velvety tannins; dry, spicy oak; and a fine-grained granitic mineral quality, all of which support the wine with a beautifully-tuned sense of balance and integration. The wine aged 18 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, 50 percent once-used. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’20. Rather improbably, we drank this wine one night with a hearty pizza, and it was great. Excellent. About $46.
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The color of the DAOU Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles, is vibrant opaque ruby-purple from stem to stern; this is a robust, vigorous, dense mouthful of wine, characterized by deep, dry foresty tannins and forceful oak influence from 10 months — not all that long a passage — in French barrels, 60 percent new. On the other hand, exhilarating elements of cedar and tobacco, briery black currants and raspberries, black olive and bacon fat, red licorice and lavender keep the wine attractive, even seductive; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of tar and pomegranate, blueberry tart and a hint of rhubarb, all ensconced in a dense, firm yet pliant structure. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’19. Excellent. About $28.
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I was tasting a range of red wines yesterday, and pulled the cork on a bottle of the Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Sonoma County, a 100-percent varietal wine that can typically be relied upon to be solid, well-made and flavorful, not exciting, perhaps, but better than decent, like the Dad in a television show. Swirling the wine in the glass and sniffing over several minutes, I noticed some aromas that I don’t often observe in cabernet sauvignon wines, especially made in California; just hints, mind you, but intriguing touches of dill and black olive, mint and bell pepper and then, more typical of cabernet and merlot, cedar and dried thyme. “Herbaceous!” comes the response, “heaven forfend!”

For some reason, winemakers in California not only avoid any notions of herbal qualities in their cabernets and merlots — especially dill and bell pepper — they seem to absolutely loathe those elements. When I first became interested in wine and for whatever reason tasted more red wines from Bordeaux than I do now — hear that, importers? — those hints of dill, green pepper, black olive and occasionally caraway seed seemed to be an integral part of the aroma profile, especially in wines from the communes of St. Julien and St. Estephe. Perhaps the bias against an herbaceous character in cabernet sauvignon and merlot by so many winemakers in California is a reaction against the excessive levels of green pepper that dominated red wines from Monterey County in the 1980s and ’90s, the dreaded “Monterey veggies” that I well remember.

Herbaceous qualities in red wine, and particularly the green pepper component, can be traced to methoxypyrazines, particularly the compound 2-methoxy-3-isobutyl pyrazine, popularly known as IBMP. This compound is so potent that it can be detected at the level of one part per trillion. It is present in certain grapes, especially cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc and semillon, but undergoes rapid loss as the grapes ripen, ergo, that green pepper character — or asparagus and green pea in sauvignon blanc and semillon — can be attributed, at least in some instances, to grapes harvested before being fully ripe, so the date of harvest is important. Another factor is cool climate conditions, which tend to produce comparatively higher levels of methoxypyrazines along the vintage’s course of ripening. Anyone for a glass of leafy, green pea New Zealand sauvignon blanc? Vineyard practices, too, are important, and perhaps some of My Readers will remember when before the light bulb of canopy management went off in the heads of winemakers in California how so many sauvignon blanc wines smelled like canned asparagus and the damp grass cuttings scraped from a lawn mower?

Anyway, the real subject is cabernet sauvignon, and the theme is that a hint of green pepper and perhaps a touch of dill and black olive enhance a wine’s bouquet and lend interesting highlights, adding to the layering of aromas. The year in Sonoma — 2010 — was cool in Spring and Summer, but with a warm September that aided ripening. Rodney Strong harvested the last of the grapes for this cabernet, from four vineyards ranging from Jimtown in the south to Cloverdale in the north, on October 28. Allow me to lift a quotation from the press material that accompanied this wine to my door: “Late rain generated a healthy canopy, but one that required careful management to avoid green flavors.” And in the description of the wine occurs the phrase “herby black currant,” which I interpret as meaning black currant aromas and flavors infused with notes of cedar, thyme, perhaps something briery in there and possibly including a hint of the dreaded bell pepper.

In other words, it seems to me that Rodney Strong’s longtime head winemaker Rick Sayre, winemaker Justin Seidenfeld and director of winegrowing — a strange word — Doug McIlroy are aware of and concerned about the problems that methoxypyrazines can cause but are willing to allow at least a modicum of the herbaceous element into the wine for its intriguing contribution to the network of aroma and flavor complexity. It’s all about balance, of course. Too much herbaceous quality can ruin a wine, sure, but so can too much oak ruin a wine or too much alcohol, excessive acidity or overripe fruit. That why the saying the wines are made in the vineyard rings so true.

The wine in question, the Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Sonoma County, powered by 18 months in French and American oak barrels, also exhibits notes of black cherries and roasted coffee, deep powdery tannins and supple oak, an iron-and-iodine-tinged mineral character and a cloves-sandalwood-and-mint packed finish. 13.5% alcohol. Now through 2015 to ’16. It practically gets down on its knees and begs you to drink it with a medium-rare herb-crusted rack of lamb. Very Good+. About $20.

A sample for review.

The Valle d’Itria spreads across the provinces of Bari, Brindisi and Taranto in the region of Apulia in southeastern Italy. Known mainly for olive oil and the curious conical structures called trulli, Valle d’Itria is also home to vineyards that primarily grow indigenous grapes. One of those is the verdeca grape, which makes up 90 percent of Masseria Li Veli Askos Verdeca 2011, Valle d’Itria; the other 10 percent is fiano minutolo. Li Veli, which produces a range of red wines made from primitivo and negroamaro grapes, is owned by the Falvo family; winemaker is Stefano Chioccioli. Masseria Li Veli Askos Verdeca 2011 sees only stainless steel tanks for fermentation and aging, and the wine does not go through malolactic fermentation. The result is wonderful freshness and buoyancy and appealing intensity. The color is pale gold; the seductive bouquet weaves aromas of yellow plums and roasted lemons, lavender and lilac with a hint of pear and dried thyme. For a white wine this crisp and nervy, it offers a surprisingly full body and moderately luscious texture, tempered by pert elements of green tea, lemongrass and grapefruit, with touches of cloves, sea-salt and that slightly resinous character of rosemary. It smells and tastes like the Mediterranean! 13 percent alcohol. Really charming, especially with grilled vegetables, fresh seafood and grilled fish. Now through 2014. Very Good+, and Good Value at about $18.

Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Ca. A sample for review. Image by Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times.

Red wines today, from Rioja and La Mancha in Spain and then several from Portugal. Robust, full-bodied, exotic, different, and perfectly fitted to accompany food prepared on the outdoor grill once you get that thing fired up: Steaks and burgers, leg of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary, sausages, pork chops, ribs. A minimum of technical information, as is usual in these Weekend Wine Sips, which are designed to whet you palate and stir your appetite. And most of these wines, all samples for review, are pretty easy on the pocket-book. Enjoy!
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Agnus de Valdelana Rioja Crianza 2009, Rioja, Spain. 14% alc. 95% tempranillo, 5% mazuelo. I keep technical info to a minimum in these brief Weekend Wine Sips reviews, but I have to mention that this wine ages 12 months half in French oak barrels and half in Russian; in all my years writing about wine, I have never seen a reference to Russian oak. Medium ruby-magenta color with a slight garnet rim; rich, ripe and fleshy, deep, dark spicy black fruit scents and flavors tinged with blue; stalwart tannins, dense, chewy, a little gritty; austere, fairly astringent finish packed with briers, underbrush and graphite; still, something appealing about its sophomoric truculence. Now through 2016 to ’19 with a medium rare steak or grilled leg of lamb. Very Good+. About $18.
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Alente Premier 2009, Alentejo, Portugal. 14% alc. 60% trincadeira grapes, 40% aragonez. Boy, that’s fruity, spicy, savory and tasty! Black and red currants and cherries, smoke, oolong tea, fruitcake; nicely shaped tannins and graphite-like mineral elements supported by a modicum of oak and vibrant acidity; moderately chewy texture, slightly dense and spicy finish. Now through 2014. Very Good+, and a Great Bargain at about $14.
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Bodegas de la Marques Valserrano Finca Monteviejo 2007, Rioja. 14.5% alc. 95% tempranillo, 5% graciano & garnacha. A rich, warm “robe” of medium ruby-cherry color; a real mouthful of woody spice, oak and tannin; dried fruit and flowers, dried spice; violets and lavender; cloves, allspice and sandalwood; black currants, plums and blueberries; graphite, bitter chocolate, black licorice and leather; a well-made old-fashioned Rioja, built to last through 2025 to 2030, though you could drink it tonight with roasted wild beast. Excellent.
About $40.
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Estela de Arrayan 2008, Mentrida, La Mancha. 14% alc. Grape blend not available, but the estate grows only syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot. Dark ruby-mulberry color; warm, spicy, ripe and fleshy, dark edge of smoke, leather, briers and brambles; black raspberry and cherry scents and flavors infused with graphite and tar, lavender and bitter chocolate; powerful dry tannins but overall sleek and velvety. Quite a performance; drink through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. Price NA.
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Herdade da Comporta 2007, Peninsula de Setubal, Portugal. 13.5% alc. 40% aragonez, 40% alicante bouschet, 10% touriga franca, 10% trincadeira. Dark ruby-mulberry color; a sturdy, robust wine, packed with dried baking spice, iodine and iron; ripe, warm and fleshy; black black fruit, deep and intense; violets and lilac , quite dry, stoutly tannic. Don’t take a sip without a bite of steak. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value.
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Manuel Manzaneque Nuestra Seleccion 2005, Finca Elez, La Mancha. 13% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 40%, merlot 20%, tempranillo 40%. Dark ruby color with a mulberry cranberry edge; black currants and cherries, plums and more plums and plum dust, fruitcake and leather, touch of dill, thyme and black olives; fleshy and smoky, hint of bacon fat; smack-up tannins and lip-smacking acidity; very concentrated core of exotic spice, bitter chocolate, lavender and graphite; finish a bit woody and austere but altogether a highly individual wine that demands roasted lamb or grilled pork tenderloin. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent, and a Don’t Miss It Value at about $16.50.
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Ruiz de Vinaspre 2007, Rioja. 14.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. (Back label offers the “contains sulfites” warning in 15 languages. You know, just in case.) Dark ruby-purple; spicy, roasted and fleshy, ripe and warm; intense blackberry, raspberry and plum aromas and flavors, touched with lavender, violets and sandalwood; penetrating graphite-like minerality; bright, vibrant acidity and resolute but velvety tannins; loads of personality. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+, and a Bargain at about $15.
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Torre de Gazate 2011, La Mancha, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. This you have to buy by the case. Clean, brave medium ruby color; fresh, bright, spicy, a little earthy and funky; tempranillo as Beaujolais-Villages; but with smoke and dust, leather, slightly roasted and macerated black cherries, raspberries and plums; very dry with notable tannins after a few minutes but easily drinkable. Now through 2015. Very Good. About $9.
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Veedha 2009, Douro, Portugal. 13.5% alc. Tinta roriz, touriga franca, touriga nacional. Dark ruby-mulberry color; very spicy, very juicy, spanking acidity; black currants and blueberries, plummy and slightly jammy; roses, ashes of roses, graphite, smoke, leather, frisky tannins. Lots of strange appeal and not like anything made in the New World. Very Good. About $14.
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One of the best-known vineyards in Sonoma County, if not California, is the Durell Vineyard, perched at the cusp of three appellations, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Valley and Carneros, just a toe-hold in the latter, but entitled to a Sonoma Coast designation. Dedicated primarily to chardonnay and pinot noir, this vineyard supplies grapes to such labels as (perhaps most famously) Kistler, Chateau St. Jean, Patz & Hall and Robert Craig, as well as Saxon Brown, Loring, Three Sticks, Armida, Auteur and others. Ed Durell, a food broker in San Francisco, acquired the land in 1977, intending to raise cattle but planted vines instead, and, as it turns out, this area, just at the foot of the Sonoma Mountains, was prime soil and climate for those grapes. In 1998, Durell sold the 200-acre vineyard, by now a prestigious site, to Bill and Ellie Price. Bill Price, a cofounder of TPG Capital, which bought Beringer Wine Estates and sold it to Fosters and if that’s not a great introduction to the wine business I don’t know what is, and Ellie Price divorced in 2001 but each retains ownership of Durell Vineyard.

Ellie Price replanted 8.5 acres around the old farmhouse in 2005, renaming the area Ranch House Block; those grapes are now devoted to the Dunstan label, named for St. Dunstan (909-998), Abbot of Glastonbury, Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury, canonized in 1029 and patron saint of goldsmiths and silversmiths; because he had worked as a blacksmith and, according to legend, shod the devil, the horseshoe is often his symbol. Dunstan is operated by Ellie Price and her partner Chris Towt (image at right); winemaker is Kenneth Juhasz.

I found these wines (samples for review), a chardonnay and pinot noir from 2010, to be extraordinary examples of the purity and intensity of which each of these grapes is capable. Juhasz doesn’t play around with oak; the regimen is rigorous but not soul-destroying, and after at first being skeptical of the program I was won by the remarkable detail and dimension of each wine, by their confidence and aplomb as well as their ultimately beautiful expressions of a grape variety and a significant place.
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The Dunstan Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast, is Old Wente clone selection, meaning that it was made from vines that derive from cuttings brought from the University of Montpellier in 1912 by Carl Wente, who founded the family estate in Livermore in 1883. This well-known clone spread throughout California and helped fuel the state’s burgeoning production of chardonnay wines in the 1940s and ’50s at such pioneering properties as Stony Hill, Louis M. Martini and Hanzell. The wine is a bright green-gold color with a mild brassy tint; the bouquet is a bountiful and extremely flattering amalgam of papaya and mango, slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, with cloves and nutmeg and hints of lightly buttered brioche, delicately spicy oak — 14 months French oak, 50 percent new barrels — and, at the edges, a discreet tide of limestone. When you take a sip, you realize what a powerhouse this chardonnay is, though one that marries finesse and elegance to dimension and dynamism. Flavors of pears, peaches and pineapples are fully supported by a dense and chewy texture that manages to be supple and expressive, while bright acidity and a plangent limestone element lend a lively character that borders on scintillating. 14.2 percent alcohol. 391 cases. Obviously delectable (and a little formidable) now but built to last, say 2016 to ’18. I’ll go Exceptional. About $40.
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The color of the Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, is radiant medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim. Aromas of sassafras, pomegranate, cloves and cranberry nestle in a broader range of spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants, deepened by intriguing notes of charred violets and ashes of roses. If you can tear yourself away from that rhapsodic panoply, you find a pinot noir that’s quite satiny and graceful yet very dry; like its stablemate, it aged 14 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, and for the first hour or so, I thought that regimen produced a shade too much wood influence in the wine. In the wonderful way that can happen, however, when you give a wine enough time and air, the oak receded by several degrees (remaining firmly in the background structure) and allowed the spareness, elegance and ineffability that I consider essential to great pinot noir to insinuate themselves (and brought in hints of cinnamon and fruitcake). Still, this is surprisingly tannic for a pinot, and a serious wine in its foundational elements of earth, briers, flint and graphite; there’s a lot of subtle power and energy here, but, as I said, that power does not detract from the wine’s ultimate suavity and style. 14.1 percent alcohol. 291 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Again, I have to go with an Exceptional rating. About $50.
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I made the Toad Hollow “Eye of the Toad” Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012 my Wine of the Week on March 19. Now it’s the turn of the Toad Hollow Erik’s the Red Proprietary Red Wine 2011, which carries a general “California” designation. Pour quoi? Because the zinfandel and petite sirah grapes for this robust blend came from Lodi, the syrah and malbec from Central Coast, and the dolcetto from Mendocino County. I have a great deal of fondness for this winery that delivers well-made wines at prices sometimes far below what could be asked if quality were the criterion; in other words, Toad Hollow turns out authentic and drinkable wines at great prices. The last Erik’s I reviewed was the 2009; the blend for that wine was primarily merlot, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel with dabs of souza, tannat, syrah and petite sirah. A different roster of grapes, however, has not changed this wine’s defining characteristic, a combination of attractive rusticity and bumptiousness with full-throttle dark and spicy black and blue fruit flavors and fine detailing of acid, tannin and mineral elements. The color is dark ruby-mulberry; the bouquet teems with notes of black currants, plums and blueberries with hints of mocha, black tea, black olives and pepper. The wine is lively and vibrant, moderately dense and chewy and bursting with ripe, slightly roasted and macerated black cherries, raspberries and currants; a wash of earthy briery-brambly-graphite completes the finish. 13.9 percent alcohol. Great for barbecue ribs, grilled pork chops and steaks or hearty pasta dishes, through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $15.

A sample for review.

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