August 2013


I came upon Bundaberg Root Beer at Fresh Market, and while it’s expensive — $1.99 for a 12.7-ounce (375 milliliter) bottle — of course I could not resist trying a new brand. The company was founded in 1960 in Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia, and is still owned and operated by the Fleming family. The company is primarily known for ginger beer, which it sells a ton of in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries. Bundaberg’s motto is the alliterative “Brewed to Be Better,” and I’ll say that this is not just a better but a superior root beer, with a shiny dark color, a mild blond head (you know, the foam) and good body. It’s moderately rich and quite lively, offering a clean but sweet rooty essence and a hit of clove-anise-vanilla spiciness; a touch of light, bright fruitiness seems to come from sarsaparilla root, making this perhaps not a true root beer, but there are, after all, no hard and fast recipes for root beer; the multitude of choices makes it interesting. For some reason, this gets mixed reviews on root beer blogs — talk about fanatics! — but I liked it immensely. The company does a separate bottling of sarsaparilla.

Here’s the ingredients list: Carbonated water, cane sugar, root beer brew (water, sugar, molasses, ginger root, sarsaparilla root, licorice root, vanilla bean and yeast), caramel color, citric acid, preservatives (potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate), antioxidant (asorbic acid), root beer flavor.

While I wish that Bundaberg Root Beer did not contain preservatives, the entry on this list that throws me is “root beer flavors.” What the hell? Don’t the flavors come from the previous constituents? And if not, or at least if not entirely, could we get an explanation of what “root beer flavors” are? Transparency, please, not evasion!

Elyse Winery is best-known for its single-vineyard cabernet sauvignons and zinfandels, though what I review today are three excellent examples of its Rhone-style wines. Elyse was founded in 1987 by Ray and Nancy Coursen, after Ray had spent nine years at Whitehill Lane. The wines were made at various facilities until in 1997 the Coursens purchased a small winery on Hoffman Lane in Napa Valley, west of Hwy 29 between Oak Knoll and Rutherford. Winemaker is Mike Trotta. These were samples for review.
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Elyse L’Ingenue Naggiar Vineyard 2011, Sierra Foothills. This Rhone-style white is a blend of 52 percent roussanne grapes, 32 percent marsanne, 11 viognier and 5 grenache blanc. The wine aged 16 months in “experienced” French oak barrels, that is to say, previously used. This is a lovely wine, offering a pale straw-gold color and beguiling aromas of jasmine and quince, pears and yellows plums, a touch of a slightly resinous herb like rosemary and a deeper floral note that I finally sussed out as camellia. Attractive flavors of roasted lemons and pears (and a hint of slightly honeyed peach) are balanced by a spare texture and delicately astringent elements of grapefruit and limestone minerality, all bound by spanking acidity. Saline and savory, sensuous yet elegant. 14.6 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Production was 416 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Elyse C’est Si Bon Naggiar Vineyard 2009, Sierra Foothills. Here’s a blend much like a traditional Chateauneuf-du-Pape — 39 percent grenache, 33 percent mourvedre, 12 syrah, 8 cinsault, 5 counoise and 3 viognier. The aging occurs in French puncheons — usually 500 liters (some manufacturers measure a puncheon as 475 liters) — a bit more that twice the size of the ubiquitous barrique at 225 liters (59 gallons); 10 percent of these barrels are new. I dwell on these matters of wood to show how careful the regimen is at Elyse, how little new oak is used, how the size of barrels varies. The wine lives up to its name: It’s so good, not merely as an expression of quality, though it is damned good, but as an embodiment of elan and joie de vivre and all that French stuff. The color is dark ruby with a magenta edge; the bouquet weaves notes of black and red currants and plums, mulberries and blueberries into a well-knit fabric that includes graphite and lavender, a hint of fruitcake, a touch of smoke. It’s light and fresh in the mouth, spicy and berry-like, invigorating and appealing, silky supple in texture yet slightly roughened by the sanding of subtle tannins. Not to mean that the wine is delicate; no, it delivers a firm foundation of vibrant acidity and granitic mineral qualities as well as a depth of smoke and ash and mossy earthiness. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Production was 1,594 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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The raven, indeed. Elyse Le Corbeau Hudson Vineyard 2008, Los Carneros, a blend of 90 percent grenache and 10 percent syrah — more like a modern Chateauneuf-du-Pape — is as dark as a raven’s wing and offers something of that bird’s wild and irascible character; it aged 22 months in small French oak barrels, 20 percent new. The wine bristles with life and personality, but it finishes in a brooding manner that befits E.A. Poe’s famous bird, he of the limited vocabulary. Aromas of black currants, blackberries and plums seethe with notes of graphite, briers and brambles, smoky lavender and bitter chocolate. Luscious and deeply spicy black and blue fruit flavors are leavened by fine-grained and persistent tannins and vigorous acidity, all culminating in a close to profound earthy, rooty lithic character, though there is nothing ponderous or truculent here; the wine is too well-balanced for that. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Production was 300 cases. Excellent. About $37.
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Of the chardonnays from California that I tasted and reviewed recently — most in my Weekend Wine Notes yesterday — the Crossbarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast, is the one I recommend buying by the case. The color is pale gold; the bouquet is a delicate weaving of lemon and lemon balm, jasmine, quince and ginger, with hints of tangerine, chalk and talc. The Crossbarn Chardonnay ’12, Sonoma Coast, offers gratifying measures of resonance and vibrancy, with lip-smacking acidity whose crispness and liveliness support a lovely, moderately lush texture. The wine is quite lemony in flavor, highlighted by notes of cloves, pineapple and grapefruit and permeated by limestone and flint minerality. The wine was made 80 percent in stainless steel tanks, 20 percent in neutral French oak barrels, so the oak influence is subtle and supple. Lots of personality and presence for the price. Winemaker was Molly Bohlman. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Restaurants could sell the hell out of this wine. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

I keep reading that there has been a general toning down of oak in chardonnay wines produced in California, but you wouldn’t know it from the wines I taste, of which I offer today a selection of 16. I’ve uttered these sentences before, and I’ll probably utter them many more times before I close the computer a final time and drag my weary fingers to the catacombs, and I don’t care if you’re tired of reading them; to wit: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, it has too much oak. AND: Oak should be like the Holy Spirit, everywhere present but nowhere visible. Oak barrels are instruments, and they should not define a wine or establish its character; definition and character derive from the vineyard and the grape. It traduces every aspect of common sense that winemakers would want to send out into the world and into the grasp of innocent consumers chardonnays that taste as if they were made from liquid sawdust, yet many chardonnay wines feel exactly like that … and they’re not cheap. To those who say, “But, FK, plenty of people like their chardonnays to smell and taste like oak,” my reply is “Fine, start your own blog. Call it ILoveToastyOak.com.” This, however, is my blog, and on this blog we abhor wines that obliterate the purity and intensity of the grape and the authority of the vineyard through the heavy-handed agency of oak barrels.

Anyway, the scorecard today reads Excellent, 4; Very Good+, 5; Very Good, 1; Good, 1; Not Recommended 5. Among the Not Recommended chardonnay’s but also earning an Excellent rating are three from La Rochelle, a winery I admire for its individuality and willingness to take risks, though that’s a stance that to my palate doesn’t always work, as you can see. Still, I would rather a winery extend itself and skate sometimes over the edge than produce more bland innocuous “me-too” wines.

As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes (previously Weekend Wine Sips and before that Friday Wine Sips), I eschew reams of technical, geographical, geological, climatic and historical data for quick incisive reviews designed to pique your interest, if not, in some cases, whet your palate. Enjoy! (Or not.)

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Artesa Chardonnay 2011, Carneros. 13.8% alc. Pale gold color; clean and fresh, touches of apple and pear, hint of pineapple; quite spicy, smooth and supple, not creamy or viscous, “just right” as Goldilocks said; almost savory in its slightly roasted fruit qualities and modulated spicy aspects; bright acidity, and the limestone and flint elements and sense of oak expand through the finish. Nicely-made. Very Good+. About $20.
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Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay Reserve 2010, Carneros Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. A bold and powerful expression of the grape but balanced and integrated; bright medium gold color; pineapple and grapefruit, ginger and quince, hint of cloves; wet stones and flint mineral element that grows as the moments pass; no doubt about the oak but it contributes creaminess to the mid-palate, a supple texture and spice; long spice-and-mineral-packed finish; tremendous tone and presence. 14.9% alc. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $55.
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Cuvaison Estate Grown Chardonnay 2011, Carneros Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. The last Carneros Chardonnay I reviewed from Cuvaison was the 2007; I rated it “Excellent.” Not this example. Pale to medium gold color; bright, bold, ripe, spicy; you feel the oak from the moment you take a sip; grapefruit and pineapple, notes of lemon and lemon curd; plays a subtle floral card; plenty of acid and limestone minerality; supple texture at first but it feels as if the wine stiffens and becomes slightly unyielding with oak, which coats the palate and leave an astringent sensation in the mouth. Perhaps a year or two will help. Good only. About $25.
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Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. First note: “Man, that’s a lot of wood.” & it goes on from there. Medium gold color; insistently spicy and cloying; austere and astringent oak dries the palate unpleasantly; like drinking liquid sawdust. Not recommended and consistent with my reviews of Davis Bynum chardonnay (and pinot noir) from previous vintages. About $30.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Foggy Oaks Chardonnay 2010, Russian River valley. 13.5% alc. Medium gold color; apples, pears and grapefruit, undercurrent of pineapple, moderately spicy, firm foundation of gunflint and limestone; lovely balance and poise, shaped by vibrant acidity and a burgeoning oak element that provides a modulating quality to the wine’s richness. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $20, signifying Great Value.
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Ferrari-Carano Tre Terre Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. “Vineyard Select Limited Production.” Bright medium gold color; banana and mango, baked grapefruit and pineapple, cloves and smoke; big, deep, rich and savory; bacon fat, ginger, lemon balm, have mercy; feels like multiple layers of limestone and flint-like minerality; a bit daunting and needs a little nuance and elegance, but not over-oaked, not cloying. Perhaps it needs a year of age. Very Good+. About $32.
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Gallo Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. 87% Laguna Vineyard, 13% Del Rio Vineyard. I always thought the winemaker’s thumbprint — in this case Gina Gallo, whose name is on the front label twice — was too heavy on this wine; bright medium gold color; rich, warm, spicy, almost dense and chewy for a chardonnay; very ripe citrus and tropical scents and flavors; butterscotch, vanilla, cloves — what is this, a dessert cart? the oak and spice elements are overwhelming; so unbalanced. Not Recommended. About $30.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; fresh, clean, bright; pungent with cloves, slightly roasted peaches and yellow plums melded with pineapple and grapefruit with a whiff of white pepper; smoky oak, smoky caramel around the edges, quite dry yet feels innately balanced. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $35.
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The Bordeaux estate of Chateau de Sours goes back to the 14th Century — as things often do in France — but the present house was erected in 1792, no slouch when it comes to age. The property was bought by Martin and Nicolette Krajewski — he’s a noted British businessman — in 2004, and they have expended great efforts to improve the estate and the wines. The rosé made at Chateau de Sours in very popular in the British Isles, and its production is not an afterthought; about 99 acres of vines, nearly half the estate, is dedicated to the merlot and cabernet franc grapes that go into the rose. The winery is located in Saint-Quentin-de-Baron, just about smack in the middle of Entre-Deux-Mers, the vast area that lies between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers before they meet to form the mighty Gironde.

These wines are imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Calif. Samples for review.
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The Chateau de Sours 2012, Bordeaux Rosé, a blend of 70 percent merlot and 30 percent cabernet franc, offers a pale copper-peach color, the true onion-skin hue, and attractive aromas of plums, dried red currants and cloves with bottom notes of wet stones. The whole effect is dry, delicate and spare, built on a framework of crisp acidity, limestone minerality and ineffable hints of mildly spicy red berries and stone-fruit. 12.5 percent alcohol. Transparent and thirst-quenching. Drink up. Very Good+. About $18.
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If you’re looking for a well-made, solidly structured and tasty Bordeaux red wine to put on your table at a reasonable price, try the Chateau de Sours 2010, Bordeaux rouge, a blend of 85 percent merlot, 10 percent petit verdot and 5 percent cabernet franc. The color is dark ruby; scents of black currants and black cherries are highlighted by notes of cedar and tobacco, rosemary and graphite, with a foundation of iron and iodine. The wine is circumscribed by dense, chewy, slightly dusty tannins and granitic minerality and enlivened by bright acidity, all well-balanced and integrated and supporting flavors of ripe, spicy black fruit. 13.5 percent alcohol. In terms of Bordeaux generally, this is certainly a minor wine, but it would compliment and enhance any grilled steak or bowl filled with braised short ribs or even a burger; you know what I’m talking about. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $20.
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I saved the best for last. La Source du Chateau de Sours 2010, Bordeaux blanc, is one of the most satisfying white wines I tasted recently. A blend of 80 percent sauvignon blanc and 20 percent semillon, this wine exudes elegance, sophistication and confidence. The color is very pale gold with a faint greenish sheen; notes of lychee, lemongrass, lime peel and limestone teem in the bouquet, with hints of fig, thyme and tarragon coming underneath. From start to finish, the wine is characterized by intense and penetrating limestone and flint minerality and piercing acidity; yes, it’s dry as a bone, with a big bit of grapefruit and grapefruit rind asperity, yet the texture is lovely, ethereal, almost talc-like in effect, so there’s intriguing balance between vivacious crispness and soft evanescence. On the other hand, the finish is packed with minerals and concludes with a fillip of grapefruit bitterness. 12.5 percent alcohol. Don’t waste this wine as an aperitif, though it delivers many charms; its complexity really demands fish or seafood. Now through 14 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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The “family” part of the winery name is true. Founder Joe Donelan, originally from Connecticut, is accompanied in the business by his sons Cushing, the winery’s director of marketing, and Tripp, director of sales. This is the former Pax Wine Cellars; the name was changed in 2009. The winery is in Santa Rosa, owns no vineyards and makes its wines from grapes purchased primarily from cool climate vineyards in Sonoma County. Though the emphasis at Donelan is on syrah and Rhone Valley grape varieties, the samples I received for review include only one of those, the “Venus” 2011, a roussanne-viognier blend; the others are the Nancie Chardonnay 2011 and the Two Brothers Pinot Noir 2011. Winemaker is Joe Nielsen; consulting winemaker is Tyler Thomas. These wines are limited in production, so mark them Worth a Search.
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It rather gives the game away to say that the Donelan “Venus” 2011, Sonoma County, is exactly what I want a white Rhone-style roussanne-viognier blend to be. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, peach, pear and yellow plum are wreathed with deeper notes of straw, rosemary, salt-marsh and dried apricots. This wine saw no new oak, but was fermented in stainless steel and neutral oak barrels. There’s some lushness in the texture, and the pear and stone-fruit flavors are rich and slightly honeyed, but the overall effect is of spareness, reticence and finesse and of vitality born of scintillating acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16, well-stored. Production was 165 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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The Donelan “Nancie” Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma County, offers a different aura than the preceding wine; this is boldly ripe and rich, fully fledged with spice and floral notes, yet here too the richness is firmly tempered by brisk acidity and by a wet rock and limestone character that expands from the finish up through the entirety of the wine. Classic pineapple-grapefruit scents are highlighted by hints of tangerine, lime peel, orange blossom and cloves; pretty heady stuff, but in the mouth a core of dynamic acidity and gun-flint and limestone minerality tethers the juicy fruit-and-spice complexity to an earthy anchor. As with the previous wine, no new oak was used for the “Nancie” Chardonnay 2011; only neutral puncheons (large casks) and barriques (small barrels). 13.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 tor ’17, well-stored. Production was 825 cases. Excellent. About $45.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Donelan “Two Brothers” Pinot Noir 2011, North Coast, derives from two vineyards in Sonoma County and one farther north in Mendocino. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry tinge, the hue that I think of as “Burgundy.” This opens with the impression of lovely pinot noir purity and intensity; the bouquet holds notes of macerated and slightly stewed plums, red currants and cherries with undertones of rhubarb, cloves, white pepper and sandalwood and an intriguing smoky, mossy, earthy element. The texture is divinely smooth and satiny, a fitting repose for red and blue fruit flavors given depth by touches of fruitcake-like dried spices and fruit and a slightly foresty layer of underbrush and dried porcini. The wine is dry and gets drier as the moments pass, picking up some austerity and woodiness on the finish; give it a year or two to mellow and drink through 2019 to ’20. Alcohol content is 14.4 percent. 900 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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The sparkling wines of Mirabelle, second label of Schramsberg, have shown steady improvement and seriousness of intent over the years. The Mirabelle sparklers are always non-vintage, whereas the products under the Schramsberg label always have a vintage date. Today’s particular wine is the Mirabelle Brut Rosé, North Coast, a blend of 55 percent chardonnay grapes and 45 percent pinot noir. Eighty-six percent of the wine is from the 2010 vintage, the rest made up of aged reserve lots. The designation is North Coast because the grapes derive from multiple counties north of San Francisco, mainly Napa and Sonoma but also Mendocino and Marin. Made in the traditional champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, Mirabelle Brut Rosé offers a beautiful light copper-salmon color and a teeming upward stream of tiny bubbles; aromas of fresh and dried strawberries and raspberries, lime peel and guava open to notes of limestone and chalk and hints of quince and ginger. This sparkling wine is quite dry, very crisp and lively, not only with effervescent but crystalline acidity, though the texture is almost creamy; spicy yet subdued red berry and stone-fruit flavors are heightened by the burgeoning limestone and flint minerality, while the finish is long, elegant and steely. 12.8 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $27.

A sample for review.

Yes, another title change, from “Weekend Wine Sips” to “Weekend Wine Notes,” because I think that nomenclature more accurately described what I do in these posts. “Sips” implies that all the wines are recommended, and that’s not always the case. So, today, a dozen wines that derive from many grapes varieties and combinations thereof and from many countries and regions. Prices range from about $14 to $53, and if you were hoping to buy some wines by the case, they would be the Hendry Ranch Rosé 2012, Napa Valley (about $15), and the Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles (about $14). There are also some hearty red wines to accompany steaks and burgers, pork chops, leg of lamb and other items from the grill. As usual, I eschew technical matters and concerns of history, geography and biography for quick, incisive reviews, sometimes transcribed directly from my notes. The purpose is to pique your interest and whet your palate. With one exception, these were samples for review.
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Hendry Ranch Rosé 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, primitivo (which is really zinfandel, right?). Pale copper-salmon color; very charming bouquet of strawberries and raspberries with undertones of peach and orange zest; loads of juicy berry and stone fruit flavors but dry, spare, mildly spicy; limestone and flint minerality and zippy acidity provide structure. Hugely enjoyable quaffer and substantial enough to accompany all manner of picnic and pool-side fare. Very Good+. I paid $15.
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Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 14.3% alc. Very pale straw color; hints of guava and lime peel, grass and grapefruit, a bit of fig and celery seed; dry, vibrant, lively; lovely texture poised between crispness and an almost talc-like silkiness; citrus and stone fruit flavors imbued with notes of grass and dried herbs; the limestone minerality burgeons from mid-palate through the finish. Excellent. About $14, a Great Bargain.
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Frei Brothers Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. Pale straw-gold color; very fresh, clean and zesty; pear and grapefruit, lime peel, thyme and tarragon, celery seed and freshly mown grass; a nicely chiseled sauvignon blanc, faceted with brisk acidity and scintillating lime and chalk elements; a touch of oak lends spice and suppleness to a texture that seethes with leafy notes of pear, honeydew melon and hay; finish is dry and austere. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $17, representing Good Value.
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The Whip 2012, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. (Murrieta’s Well) 13% alc. 43% chardonnay, 15% gewurztraminer, 13% sauvignon blanc, 9% orange muscat, 8% viognier, 5% pinot blanc, 3% muscat canelli. Pale gold color; boldly floral, with notes of jasmine, honeysuckle and orange blossom; peach and pear, touches of roasted lemon, mango and greengage, apple peel and almond skin; quite dry, spare, savory and saline with an austere permeation of limestone and flint on the finish. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $21.
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Lapostolle Canto de Apalta 2010, Rapel Valley, Chile. 14/1% alc. 36% carmenere, 31% merlot, 18% cabernet sauvignon, 15% syrah. Very dark ruby-purple; strikingly fresh, clean and fruity, with cassis, blackberry and blueberry, plums and blueberry tart, hint of fruitcake dried fruit and spices; velvety, cushiony tannins; very dry, dusty graphite; intense and concentrated black fruit flavors; finish packed with tannin and minerals. Fairly rustic for a wine from Lapostolle. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $20.
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Una Selección de Ricardo Santos Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.4% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; dusty tannins and granitic minerality; dense and chewy yet supple; cassis, ripe black raspberry, cherry and blueberry; hints of cloves and sandalwood, graphite and underbrush; lippsmacking acidity and velvety tannins; slightly astringent finish packed with spice and minerals. Now through 2015 or ’26. Very Good+. About $19.
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El Malbec de Ricardo Santos La Madras Vineyard 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby color; cassis, black cherries and plums, lavender, violets and a tight line of bitter chocolate and allspice; a real graphite-granitic edge, intense and concentrated but a deeply flavorful wine, with roots, earth and forest floor elements. Perfect for steak, burgers and rack of lamb. Now through 2015 to ’16. Very Good+. About $19.
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Toad Hollow Goldie’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. Lovely medium ruby-mulberry color; spiced and macerated red cherries and currants, highlighted by notes of cloves and sassafras; opens to hints of black cherry and rhubarb; very attractive tone and heft, pretty juicy but dry, with swath-cutting acidity and mild-mannered and supple tannins for structure, oak staying firmly in the background; the finish brings up slightly funky elements of clean earth, underbrush and more spice. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $19.
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Penalolen Cabernet Franc 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 14.3% alc. Dark ruby color; heady yet slightly brooding notes of blueberries and black currants, bacon fat, black olives and cedar; big finely-honed, plush tannins; well-honed and polished, lots of personality but plenty of grit and grip; intense flavors of black and blue fruit, very spicy and with hints of dried herbs and flowers; long, dense mineral-packed finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Well-made rendition of the grape that’s beggin’ you for a medium-rare ribeye steak or a rack of ribs. Excellent. About $19, Good Value.
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Yangarra Estate Vineyard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, South Australia. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-purple color with a magenta rim that practically glows in the dark; lots of depth and layers, intense and concentrated; bitter chocolate, lavender and leather, earth and graphite; very ripe, spicy and pure blackberry and blueberry scents and flavors with a wild strain of ebony juicy delicious restrained by stalwart tannins and vibrant acidity; wheatmeal and walnut shell austerity characterize a finish crowded with oak, tannin and graphite. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+ to Excellent Potential. About $25.
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Bodegas Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordòn Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain. 13.5% alc. Tempranillo 80%, garnacha 15%, mazuela 5%. Dark ruby color, slightly lighter rim; ripe and spicy, fleshy and meaty; macerated and slightly stewed black and blue fruit scents and flavors; white pepper, sandalwood, cloves, hint of lavender; silken and mellow but with plenty of dry grainy tannins and mineral-based power. Now through 2018 to 2020 with roasted quail or duck or grilled pork tenderloin. Very Good+. About $17. Rioja Reservas tend to be excellent value.
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Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.7% alc. Consistently one of the best syrah wines made in California. Dark ruby-purple color; amazing dimension, detail and delineation; intense and concentrated yet generous and expansive; meaty, roasted and fleshy fruit scents and flavors, with macerated wild berries and plums infused with leather, briers and brambles, touch of damp moss and wet dog; squinching tannins are round and plush, while acidity plows a furrow on the palate; huge graphite and granitic mineral character solid through the finish. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Exceptional. About $53.
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I could have titled this post just “Colgin Cellars IX Estate Red Wine, 2009 to 2005,” but Ann Colgin’s vision of a particular place and a particular wine is so thoroughly inextricable from that place high on Pritchard Hill and the wine that derives from those vineyards that the woman and the estate must be talked of inseparably. On a tour of the vineyard, of the art-and-antiques-filled house that looks with spectacular views out to Lake Hennessey and Napa Valley, during a tasting of five vintages of the wine produced here, the word that Ann Colgin reiterates is “precise.” Indeed, the 20 acres of eastward-facing vines, out of a property of 125 acres, are among the most beautifully tailored and maintained vineyards that I have ever seen, and that description applies as well to the grounds, the house and the winery facility, all conceived, fashioned and utilized with dazzling precision and attention to detail. The result of this obsessive attention, a trait that amounts to fanaticism on the part of Ann Colgin and her husband, investment banker Joe Wender, winemaker Allison Tauziet, vineyard manager David Abreu and consultant Dr. Alain Raynaud, is a wine that — and I’ll say this frankly — absolutely floored me.

Ann Colgin was born and raised in Waco, Texas, and has degrees from Vanderbilt and New York University. A career in art, antiques and auctions — she worked for Christie’s and Sotheby’s — brought travel and exposure to fine wine and a desire to produce her own wines that would be competitive with the best in the world, though “competitive” may be too strong a term; my intuition tells me that Colgin wanted, simply and with purity and intensity, to make one of the world’s best cabernet sauvignon-based wines and that no notion of the fray of competition entered the picture. So, from 1992 to 2997, Colgin Cellars produced one of Napa Valley’s legendary wines, the Herb Lamb Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, and if in those years you were a wine collector who possessed sufficient fiduciary prowess, then you are very happy to have cases of Herb Lamb in your cellar.

The Colgin winery on Pritchard Hill was completed in 2002 after tremendous engineering feats of clearing land at 1,150 to 1,350-feet elevation — there were boulders the size of barns — planting the vineyard and constructing the facility. I don’t know who coined the adage about to make a small fortune in the wine business in Napa Valley you have to start with a large fortune, but everything about the effort involved in creating Colgin Cellars and the impeccable results speaks volumes about the immense outlay of money. Does that matter? My Readers, we are speaking here of rarefied heights of accomplishment that few people can hope to achieve, and the simple truth is that to create one of the best wines on earth — I am not using that phrase frivolously — tremendous resources are required. (On the other hand, for the alternative story of the impact that the building of Colgin Cellars had on the neighbors on and below Pritchard Hill, read James Conaway’s The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley.)

Ann Colgin gives to the world not only her wines — the IX Estate Red Wine, the Tychson Hill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cariad Bordeaux blend and the IX Estate Syrah — but a regular and obliging presence in philanthropic and charitable efforts in terms of donations of special lots of wines and her activities as spokesperson and auctioneer. Over the past several decades, these efforts have raised millions of dollars for causes all over the world.

All right, let’s get to the wines, which, to be honest, neither My Readers nor my Humble Self could afford. Thanks, then, to Katherine Jarvis and Elizabeth Glenn of Jarvis Communications in Los Angeles for arranging this visit.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2009, Napa Valley. This wine is a blend of 69 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15 percent merlot, 10 cabernet franc and 6 petit verdot. (You’ll notice that among these examples of IX Estate, the percentage of cabernet sauvignon varies consistently only between 65 and 70 percent, with merlot poised between 15 and 21 percent.) The color is deep ruby-purple with a purple-magenta rim; the wine is packed with floral and spicy aromas; incredibly intense and concentrated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; and every possible dimension of deep dusty fine-grained tannins and graphite-granitic minerality. The whole package displays awe-inspiring power and dynamism yet with sweetly-honed inklings of its eventual elegance and allure. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2029 to ’34. Production was 1,200 cases. Exceptional potential. About $450 on release.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2008, Napa Valley. The blend is 69 percent cabernet sauvignon, 16 percent merlot, 9 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot. A very dark ruby hue is practically opaque in the center and displays a motor-oil-like sheen; the bold aromas come straight at you with penetrating elements of graphite, iron and iodine that are startling in their purity and intensity and with equally startling notes of ripe, spiced and macerated black currants, blueberries and raspberries. I’ll unlimber the word “iron” again to describe the wine’s formidable but not ferocious tannins and the chiming throb of its fathomless acidity; it feels as if there’s an engine at work in these depths, one still fueled by the appropriate blocks of IX Vineyard’s rocky soil and gently sloping typography. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2025 to ’30. Production was 1,500 cases. Excellent potential. About $300 to $500.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2007, Napa Valley. This ’07 seems a bit closed at present, as would be natural with an almost six-year-old cabernet of monumental proportions; it’s marvelously intense and concentrated, seemingly vast in its dimension and sense of detail, and even exhibits a texture that’s close to creamy. However, IX Estate 07 — from a great cabernet year in California — now settles into a brooding, Olympian, slumbrous state of being from which it will awake, say, from 2015 or ’16 through 2027 to ’35. The IX Estate ’07 is a blend of 70 percent cabernet sauvignon, 21 percent merlot, 5 cabernet franc, 4 petit verdot. Excellent potential. Released at $290, prices now range from $400 to $650.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2006, Napa Valley. For ’06, the IX Estate is a blend of 66 percent cabernet sauvignon, 21 percent merlot, 8 cabernet franc, 5 petit verdot. The color is deep ruby with a dark violet-magenta rim; the wine in every sense is majestic, hypnotic and seductive, exhibiting amazing tone, presence and confidence. Aromas of cassis and black raspberry, blackberry and blueberry are wreathed with notes of licorice and lavender, violets, mocha, smoke and graphite; this feels absolutely classic in the sense of being fashioned on a Bordeaux model — particularly, to my palate, on St-Estephe — but with the ripeness, the lithic “cut,” the bold presence that a high elevation vineyard lying open to the California morning sun provides. Among these five vintages of IX Estate Red Wine, this 06 was my favorite. 1,500 cases. Try tonight — haha — with a medium rare ribeye steak hot and crusty from the grill or from 2015 or ’16 through 2026 to ’30. Exceptional. About $425 to $750.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2005, Napa Valley. The blend this vintage is 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 19 percent merlot, 10 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot. The color is deep ruby with a faint violet rim, as if the wine were glowing radioactively, and it seems to embody, metaphorically, a similar intensity of elemental being. Penetrating iron and iodine and lithic minerality characterize an effort that despite its density and concentration, its bastion of finely-milled tannins, its huge, resonant structure offers beguiling touches of spiced and macerated (and slightly roasted and fleshy) black and blue fruit scents and flavors permeated by classic notes of cedar and tobacco, black olives, briers and underbrush, oolong tea and loam, sage and bay leaf. A few moments in the glass bring out the wine’s innate generosity and elegance, though this has long life ahead: say until 2020 to 2025. Production was 1,500 cases. Exceptional. Nationally, the average price is about $375.
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