September 2013


Clos du Val gets it right for its first commercially released sauvignon blanc, made all in stainless steel and 100 percent varietal. Took long enough; the winery was founded in 1972. Senior winemaker is Kristy Melton. The color of the Clos du Val Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley, is a shimmering pale gold. Aromas of pear, jasmine and cloves are highlighted by ginger, quince and lemongrass and a hint of freshly mown grass and damp straw. The wine is so suave, supple and spicy that one might think it had seen the inside of a few French oak barrels, but that’s not the case; a subtle and sunny leafy-fig element overlays notes of pear, yellow plum and lightly roasted peach and lemon, all wrapped around a vibrant core of steely acidity and limestone-flecked minerality. I’m quite happily having a glass right now with the tuna salad I made for our lunches. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 3,500 cases. Drink now through 2015. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review.

This is a follow-up to last week’s Weekend Wine Notes that presented brief reviews of 12 Napa Valley cabs. Today, we’ll make do with seven examples, five from vintage 2010, two from 2009. These were samples for review except for the Sequoia Grove 2010, tasted at the winery in August. No mention here of history, geography, oak regimen and other technical matters or the personalities involved. These Weekend Wine Notes, sometimes transcribed directed from my tasting notes, other times expanded, are intended to pique your interest and whet your palate (or not) quickly. Enjoy …

Next week, I plan a similar post about cabernet sauvignon wines from regions of California other than Napa Valley.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. With 5% merlot. Dense ruby-purple shading to magenta at the rim, fantastic vibrant color; rich, warm, spicy; black currants, black raspberries and plums, roots and branches, moss and wheatmeal; cedar, thyme, black olives; new leather, hints of cranberry and rhubarb; cleansing, not to say chastening, acidity; dense and chewy but not ponderous or obvious; you feel the dusty iron-like mountain underpinnings; long finish packed with minerals, oak and dry fairly austere tannins, but not astringent; gets more profound as the moments pass. 2016 or ’17 through 2024 to ’28. Exceptional. About $80.
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Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. With 7% cabernet franc, 5% merlot, 2% petit verdot. Deep and radiant ruby-mulberry color; rich, ripe, warm and spicy; graham cracker with a hint of fruitcake (the baking spices and dried fruit); violets, thyme and cedar; sleek, lithe and chiseled, like a great athlete; cassis, black cherry, hint of cherry tart; core of graphite, bitter chocolate and licorice, all permeated by finely-milled, slightly granitic tannins; power and elegance not quite in blissful harmony; try 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’25. Or tonight with a hot and crusty medium rare ribeye steak right off the grill. Excellent. About $38.
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Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon grapes. Intense ruby-purple color; broad and generous scents and flavors of black currants, black cherries and plums; deeply spicy and minerally, woven with iodine and iron and graphite; touches of walnut shell and wheatmeal in the oak and tannins that impose real structure on the wine; still, this is sleek and elegant, with beguiling hints of lavender, black olives and cedar; long, fairly tight finish. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $40.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With dollops of merlot, petite sirah, petit verdot and syrah. Dark, intense ruby-purple color; cassis, black cherry, plums; very dusty graphite and iron-like minerality; deep dusty tannins, earth and loam; pretty tight and stalwartly structured; this needs breathing space and elbow room to soften and grow more expansive. 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Perhaps Excellent potential. About $34.
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Parallel Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. Dark ruby color with an opaque center; very intense and concentrated, with dusty, earthy velvety tannins and a profound iodine-iron-graphite component; ultimately, the tannins and oak are numbing, and one hopes for a glimmer of fruit; altogether austere, vigorous, potentially long-lived. Try 2015 or ’17 through 2024 to ’26. Very Good+. About $60.
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Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. Radiant dark ruby color with an intense magenta rim; black raspberry and cassis, plums and fruitcake, ripe, roasted and fleshy; succulent black fruit flavors but dry and with a rigorous structure — iron and iodine, graphite and granitic minerality, dense tannins; still manages to be attractive and drinkable, now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $38.
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Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. Dark ruby color; cassis, black cherry and blueberry, spicy, ripe and roasted; a big wine, highly structured but balanced; drenched in chewy, dusty, fairly austere tannins; dry, vibrant with acidity; long graphite and spice-infused finish. Needs a steak. Try 2015 through 2020 to ’24. Very Good+. About $38
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This series is dedicated to cabernet sauvignon wines produced by wineries founded 1980 or before.

Few wineries in Napa Valley or in all of California’s wine-making regions could claim to be as old-school, particularly for cabernet sauvignon, as Beaulieu Vineyard. The winery was founded in 1900 by Frenchman Georges de Latour (1858-1940), whose first business interest in California was cream of tartar (potassium tartrate). After buying vineyard acreage in Rutherford, in Napa Valley, de Latour began using the Beaulieu name in 1906. A zealous entrepreneur, de Latour obtained a contract supplying sacramental wine to the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1908; he was well-prepared when Prohibition came into effect in 1919 to expand the altar-wine business nationwide, a fact that kept his winery not only open during prohibition but profitable. When Prohibition was repealed, he was ready with a national distribution system, well-tended vines and name recognition. Perhaps the smartest move de Latour made was hiring the Russian enologist Andre Tchelistcheff in 1938. Tchelistcheff did not create the Beaulieu Vineyards Private Reserve wine; credit for that goes to previous winemaker Leon Bonnet, who produced the first model in 1936. Tchelistcheff, however, refined the technique, introduced American oak barrels — an interesting choice considering his French training and background — and generally overhauled practices in the vineyard and winery. He was with BV until 1973 but returned in 1991 as an advocate of French oak instead of American and of altering what had been a 100 percent varietal wine with a dollop of merlot. Tchelistcheff died in 1994, at the age of 90.

BV was sold to Heublein in 1969, and that company greatly expanded production and the label line-up; perhaps coincidentally, the Private Reserve suffered a checkered reputation in the 1970s and early 80s. After a series of buy-outs and transfers complicated enough to make your head spin, BV is now owned by Diageo. Winemaker is Jeffrey Stambor; consultant is –who else? — Michel Rolland.
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Beaulieu Vineyard Georges De Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, offers a dark ruby-purple color that’s almost opaque at the center. The wine contains four percent petit verdot and aged 22 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels; long gone is the American oak that gave this classic wine its distinct spicy edge. BV PR 09 is dense, intense and concentrated in every sense, delivering hints of black currant and plum scents and flavors that are ripe, barely macerated and roasted and touched with vanilla, toast and a tinge of caraway. The wine smells like iron and oak, and indeed the structure is rock-ribbed, with dusty, iron-like tannins, burnished oak and a tremendous granitic, lithic quality; the austere finish is packed with graphite, shale, toast and underbrush. The alcohol content, making for a slightly over-ripe and hot character, is a staggering 15.7 percent. Where are the subtlety, the elegance and nuance that made this wine, particularly in the 1950s and ’60s and again in the 1980s, so harmonious yet deep, the qualities that made it, for me, the Lafite of Napa Valley cabernets? Every aspect here adds up to just one of a hundred other Napa Valley cabernets. It ain’t so old-school anymore. Very Good+ and perhaps Excellent potential (say 2020 to ’25) but with reservations. About $135 a bottle.

A sample for review.
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The Balverne label has quite a pedigree. Its parent winery, Windsor Oaks, occupies land that was part of the Rancho Sotoyome grant in Sonoma County later acquired by Antonio Perelli-Minetti (1882-1976), the Italian immigrant who eventually headed the 20-million gallon California Wine Association near Delano in Kern County. Though Antonio Perelli-Minetti first planted grapes on the property south of Healdsburg, in Russian River Valley, the estate was primarily used as the family’s summer residence. It was purchased in 1972, named Balverne, and the vineyards were replanted; winemakers who came on board in 1978 were recent UC-Davis graduates Doug Nalle and John Kongsgaard, neither of whom, as they say, need any introduction to devotees of fine California wine, having gone on to found their own highly regarded wineries. The 710-acre estate was acquired in 1992 by current owners Bob and Renee Stein, who renamed it Windsor Oaks Vineyards and Winery. Windsor Oaks sold grapes to more than 35 wineries before turning back to wine production in 2005. Last year, the Steins reintroduced the Balverne label and kept the pedigree going by hiring as winemaker Margaret Davenport (Simi, Clos du Bois) and as consulting winemaker, Doug Nalle, creating a sort of full-circle homecoming.

So, today, I offer as Wine of the Week the Balverne Rosé of Sangiovese 2012, from Chalk Hill, a sub-appellation within Russian River Valley. The wine is a estate-grown blend of 88 percent sangiovese and 12 percent grenache grapes and is made completely in stainless steel tanks; no oak influence here. The color is a lovely shade of russet-Rainier cherries, slightly darker than pink or onion skin. Speaking of cherries, notes of red cherries, strawberries and mulberries dominate a bouquet that subtly unfurls its hints of rhubarb, cloves and limestone. This rosé is tart on the palate, bright and lively, and here the red fruit, with tinges of sour cherry and melon, takes on a slightly riper and macerated tone, though the wine is spare, bone-dry and permeated by limestone and chalk minerality. The finish brings in a touch of dried orange rind and pomegranate. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink through 2014 as an aperitif or with simple picnic or luncheon fare. Excellent. About $20.

A sample for review.

Today’s edition of Weekend Wine Notes offers brief reviews, ripped from the pages of my notebooks, of 12 cabernet sauvignon wines from Napa Valley, most from the year 2010, a few from 2009. Thanks to Beaulieu Vineyards, Inglenook, Louis M. Martini and other pioneering producers and the many wineries that followed beginning in the 1960s, Napa Valley and the cabernet sauvignon grape are fairly synonymous; in fact, Napa Valley, both the valley floor and the surrounding hillside appellations, is rightly noted as one of the world’s prime areas for cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends. Today’s examples are not cheap and the quality varies, though perhaps the right word is “philosophy” rather than quality. A lot of alcohol is spread across these models too. If 14.5 percent alcohol in the new 13.5 percent, then 15 must be the new 14. What’s interesting is that some wineries manage to keep 15 percent or more under control while others allow their cabernets to veer into the territory of hot and overripe zinfandel. Little technical data here, other than the grape percentages in blends; the impulse is concise reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palate, if such is the case. These wines were all samples for review, as I am required to inform My Readers by fiat of the Federal Trade Commission.
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Buccella Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 3% petit verdot, 2% malbec, 1% cabernet franc. The package is pretentious and over-determined, but it holds a damn fine bottle of cabernet. Dark ruby-purple, hint of violet-magenta at the rim; lovely balance and authenticity; cassis, cloves and sandalwood, intense and ripe black currants, raspberries and plums; tremendous presence concentrated fruit and iron and iodine, rather numbed by flaring tannins and oak materiality; still, plush and velvety, very Californian, with exotic spice, bitter chocolate and vanilla; finishes with walnut shell and granitic rigor. 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Production was 1,238 cases. Excellent. About $145.
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Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. 86% cabernet sauvignon, 5% cabernet franc, 4% merlot, 4% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Deep ruby-purple; dark, intense, rich, warm and spicy but an iron-like, sea-salt aspect plus savory elements and bracing acidity that make the wine seem as if it’s standing at attention; still, though, ripe and roasted and fleshy, quite dynamic and resolute; spiced and macerated black and red fruit scents and flavors with a hint of blueberry tart; dense chewy tannin, a dry and fairly austere finish. A grand example of the Napa Valley style. 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch 2009, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 15.1% alc. With 6% cabernet franc. Dark ruby color, not quite opaque; here’s how it adds up: dusty minerals, dusty fruit, dusty dried flowers, dusty tannins, dusty oak, dusty spices, but pretty damned tasty and delectable for all that; heaps of plums, black raspberries and black currants, undertones of licorice, lavender, smoke and graphite, mocha, underbrush and brambles; authoritative heft and substance, rather muscular and sinewy, but never too dense or monolithic, and it carries the alcohol surprisingly lightly. Now through 2019 to 2024, and give it a thick, juicy, medium rare ribeye steak. Or wild boar. Or venison. Or oxtail stew. Excellent. About $90 to $125.
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Frank Family Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 9% merlot, 3% petit verdot, 1% cabernet franc. Vivid dark ruby color, opaque at the center; intense and concentrated, fleshy and meaty black currants, raspberries and plums, hints of cedar, black olive and thyme, with austere structural elements of wheatmeal, walnut shell and dusty graphite; substantial and large-framed, with dense grainy tannins and fine-grained oak, vibrant acidity; pretty darned foundational presently, but with enough fruit to rise above being solely about architecture. Try from 2015 or ’16 to 2020 to ’24. Very Good+ now, Excellent potential. About $49.75.
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Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 5% petit verdot, 3% cabernet franc, 1% merlot. Deep ruby color with a mulberry-magenta rim; you feel as if you’re smelling and tasting the earth, the rocks, the geology, the geography, the roots; tremendously proportioned and dimensioned in every way — granite, iodine and iron, graphite, dense yet svelte tannins and sleek and deeply spicy oak — yet the wine is almost winsome in its attention to fineness and finesse; scents and flavors of ripe and intense black currants, cherries and raspberries notably clean and fresh, and with backnotes of smoke, lavender, espresso and leather; long supple, earth-and-mineral packed finish. Best from 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Exceptional. About $60.
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Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 921 cases. Vivid dark ruby color; big, sumptuous, resonantly tannic; the whole drawer of exotic spices; black currants and plums, hint of blueberry tart, quite ripe, a little macerated, fleshy and meaty; a real cut of graphite-like minerality, iron filings, lip-smacking acidity; velvety texture but rigorous structure; a finish packed with dust, minerals and the austere essence of tarry black fruit. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $65.

You will notice that the illustration here, taken from the winery’s website is three vintages behind; let’s keep up, please.
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Liparita Cellars Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 916 cases. Deep ruby-purple color; huge graphite-granite-iron-like structure, dusty furrry tannins, a real mouthful of austere, dusty, spicy oak; traces of black olives, cedar, dried rosemary; smoke, lavender, fruitcake, leather and dried moss; exotic without being outré; makes rather a spectacle of its own confidence and stalwart character; fruit’s there but requires another year or two to begin to unfurl. 2015 or ’16 to 2020 to ’24. Very Good+ for now, Excellent potential. About $55.
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Liparita Cellars V Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Yountville, Napa Valley. 15.4% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 831 cases. Very dark ruby-purple, opaque almost to the rim; devastating minerality and raw tannins; no masquerading here: this is about the power of earth, tannin, oak, acidity and alcohol, that latter adding a sheen of super-ripeness and boysenberry zinfandel character that take the wine out of the range of cabernet sauvignon; some tasters may be attracted to this stalwart and flamboyant display, but I am not. Try, perhaps, from 2015 or ’16 through 2019 or ’20. Very Good. About $55.

Both of these Liparita labels are one vintage behind the wines being reviewed: is it too much to ask that producers keep their websites up-to-date?
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Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 15% alc. With 7% cabernet franc, 4% merlot, 1% malbec. Deep ruby-purple with a magenta-violet rim; a blazing snootful of graphite and iodine, lavender and violets, intense and concentrated black currants, cherries and blueberries, slightly spiced and macerated; rousing acidity, scintillating minerality; tremendous vitality, tone and presence, yet with exquisite poise and integration, as well as dense, gritty, velvety tannins and a sleek facade of burnished oak; perfect marriage of power and elegance, grace and dynamism, with Napa Valley written all over it. Drink now to 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 89% cabernet sauvignon, 6% merlot, 3% petit verdot, 2% cabernet franc. Dark ruby-purple color; like eating currants and raspberries right off the bush but with doses of graphite, briers and brambles, lavender and lilac, smoke and bitter chocolate; very clean, pure and intense, with a scintillating edge of iodine and iron; dense dusty tannins; deeply savory and spicy; plush without being voluptuous; sleek, chiseled finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $48.
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Silverado Solo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Deep ruby-purple with a magenta-violet rim; again, the iodine and iron, the dusty graphite and earthy, granitic minerality; black currants and plums touched with black raspberry and lavender, briers and brambles; sleek, suave, lithe; supple slightly muscular tannins over a vibrant acid framework; dense, substantial without being heavy or obvious, carries its weight easily; long tannin, oak and mineral-imbued finish. Try 2015 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $100.

The label date here is one vintage behind; let’s keep those websites current.
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Silverado Limited Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Intense, opaque ruby color with a tinge of magenta at the rim; classic, rigorous, chiseled and architectural, which does not mean brutally tannic and oaky; red and black currants and plums, hint of blueberry jam; dried fruit, dried spice, dried flowers; immense granitic/graphite mineral element; tannins are dusty, robust; acidity cuts a clean swath on the palate; not often I say that a wine has a wonderful structure but this is one of those times; long spice-and-mineral-drenched finish. Now through 2020 to 2022. Excellent. About $140.
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The surprise that came when I first received a bottle of the Renaissance Vineyard and Winery Vin de Terroir Granite Crown 2005, made by the winery in the North Yuba area of the Sierra Foothills, was the alcohol level: 15 percent. This factor was a shock to my fragile system since it came from a winemaker, Gideon Beinstock, who scrupulously keeps alcohol content lower than his counterparts in Napa and Sonoma and points south. Indeed, I found the bottle, which I tried early in 2012, uncharacteristically disjointed for a wine from Renaissance. Now My Readers who can add on their fingers will be thinking, “Wait, FK, this is a wine from 2005 and you were tasting it in 2012?” Yes, the Renaissance Granite Crown 2005 was released, to be completely accurate, on May 15, 2011, that is, five years and eight months after harvest. A blend of 60 percent syrah, 30 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 merlot, 2 cabernet franc and 1 petit verdot, from vineyards at 2,350-feet elevation, the wine aged 27 months in 225-liter French and American oak barrels, that is, the standard 59-gallon barrel. These containers were one- to five-years old, adhering to Beinstock’s usual credo of No New Oak. The wine was bottled on March 13, 2009. Now, that particular bottle I found rather unbalanced, but a second bottle that I was fortunate enough to receive seemed to prove that the first was (relatively) young to be consumed. A year and a half later, the Renaissance Granite Crown 2005 is utterly beguiling. The color is radiant medium ruby with a garnet tinge; the ravishing bouquet offers notes of red currants and cherries with dusty plums, cloves, lavender and potpourri and touches of dried spices, graphite and earthy briers and underbrush elements; you could swim in these aromas and be happy. In the mouth, the wine is mellow, supple and lithe, beautifully balanced among soft grainy tannins, alert acidity, a finely-milled granitic quality and spiced and macerated red and black fruit flavors, all in all, a perfect medium for the mature expression of a personality, a time, place and agricultural product that becomes more structured as the moments pass. It this it for the wine? Is it finished? No, I would say that well-stored the Renaissance Granite Crown 2005 will drink with seductive though perhaps slightly diminishing effect through 2018 to 2022. Provided you can find some or a single bottle. The rub is that Renaissance produced only 74 cases. The winery is still selling the 2002 version of Granite Crown; here’s a link that includes my review of the 2002 wine from Dec. 3, 2009, on this blog; production that rendition was 210 cases. My rating for Renaissance Granite Crown 2005 is Excellent. About $40.

A sample for review.

The small-minded might say that Bonny Doon’s Clos de Gilroy is the least of the winery’s products, but let’s assert, instead, that Clos de Gilroy 2012, Central Coast, should not be regarded as “least” or “lesser” — that is, compared to some of Randall Grahm’s more expensive and expressive syrahs and Rhone-style blends — but as a wine that definitely fills a purpose, is a wine that could even boast of a certain raison d’être, and that is to be pleasing, approachable, delicious and drinkable. So there. Clos de Gilroy 2012 is a blend of 84 percent biodynamically-farmed grenache grapes, 11.5 percent syrah and 4.5 percent mourvèdre. The wine has no contact with oak barrels and is all the better for it. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry tinge; aromas of black currants and cherries are wreathed with hints of blueberries and plums and touched with cloves, potpourri and a bit of clean mossy earth and leather. Black and blue fruit flavors taste ripe and spicy, a trifle macerated and fleshy, and are bolstered by vibrant acidity and a nod toward granitic minerality. The finish is sleek and supple and delicately imbued with lavender and graphite. 14.4 percent alcohol. We tasted this for a couple of days — it’s closed with a screw-cap — with a variety of lunch and dinner dishes. Production was 1,444 cases. Drink through 2015. Very Good+. About $18.

A sample for review.

Rarely do I say “Damn, this was good!” about a pinot grigio wine, but I’m happy to make an exception for the Tolentino Winemaker’s Selection Pinot Grigio 2011, Mendoza, Argentina, from Bodegas Cuarto Dominio. I needed to out together a pick-up dinner for LL and me last night, so I sliced some gravlox I made over Monday and Tuesday and served it with scrambled eggs that had pea shoots and chopped radicchio whisked in; alongside were a tomato salad with mint and a few leftover roasted potatoes that I fried in butter. Sorry, no pictures, I was too busy. To accompany this meal, I opened a bottle of this Tolentino Pinot Grigio 2011, made from grapes grown in Mendoza’s Uco Valley at an elevation of 3,300 feet. Winemaker was Javier Catena, and if that name seems familiar, well, yes, Javier is the nephew of Nicolas Catena, the mastermind behind the estate of Catena Zapata, the development of high altitude vineyards in Mendoza and the apotheosis of the malbec grape; the father of Javier is Jorge Catena, Nicolas’ brother, who in 2006 left the family winery where he worked for 40 years to start his own venture.

What compels my excitement about the Tolentino Pinot Grigio 2011? Rarely do you find a pinot grigio that displays this much character and complexity. The color is pale gold; aromas of quince and ginger, preserved lemon and lemon balm, slightly roasted peaches and pears are wreathed with hints of yellow plums, jasmine and almond skin. The note of almond skin is the key to the wine’s character, because as lush, ripe and sensual as this panoply of delights must seem — all citrus, spice, stone-fruit and flowers — the Tolentino Pinot Grigio 2011 is spare, lean and supple, a touch astringent and slightly bitter on the finish, with the influence of damp gravel, dried thyme and grapefruit rind. Give the wine a few minutes, and it pulls up subtle elements of smoke, earth and underbrush. Delightful and tasty, but with more seriousness than you expect. 12 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. Excellent. About $15, a Bargain of the Decade.

The Tolentino Pinot Grigio 2011 was a superior choice with the scrambled eggs and gravlox, nicely balancing the richness of the eggs and the savory-spicy pepper-cured salmon.

Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Illinois. A sample for review.

What, you say, you’re making a wine from 2007 the Wine of the Week? Are you mad? Neither mad nor angry, Readers, and if you follow my advice, you will be not only neither mad nor angry but gratified and wise. Colognole, in the area east of Florence dubbed Chianti Rufina — not the producer Ruffino — is one of my favorite estates in the region. Rufina, which, unusually, is not contiguous with the rest of the vast Chianti DOCG, was singled out for mention by Cosimo III Grand Duke of Florence in his edict of 1716 as one of the zones of superior production for the wine; as is the case of the Chianti Classico terrain that Cosimo also commended, the Grand Duke was correct. There’s nothing flashy or flamboyant about the wines of this traditional estate, acquired by the Spalletti family in 1890 and owned now by Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Coda Nunziante; you just don’t find names like that in the USA. Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007 offers a lovely, limpid medium ruby-garnet color; the complete balance, harmony and integration of this wine are not awe-inspiring — remember, there’s nothing showy here — but rather intensely satisfying and, well, humane, in the sense that one really wants to share the wine with family and friends around a table set with a simple, delicious meal. Aromas of red and black currants and red cherries are woven with hints of sour cherry, dried cranberries, lilac and rose petal; give the wine a few minutes in the glass and notes of graphite, moss, black tea and loam enter the picture. Colognole typically ages 12 months in 660-gallon Slavonian and French oak casks, far larger than the standard 59-gallon French barrique beloved by many producers at the various levels of Chianti, and then ages additionally in stainless steel tanks and concrete vats. Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007 is enlivened by fine-edged acidity that cuts a swath on the palate but doesn’t disrupt the wine’s enticing suppleness and lithe character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. This is the first release from a vineyard replanted in 1995; one has to appreciate the 12-year wait to allow the vines to mature. The blend is about 95 percent sangiovese, 5 percent canaiolo. Excellent. I paid $19, the average of prices around the country.

Vintners Estates Direct Importing, Healdsburg, Cailf.

The Chianti region of Tuscany, as was the case with many vineyard and wine-making areas of Italy, was assailed by the vagaries of reputation in the second half of the 20th Century, mainly of its own doing. Chianti was marketed as a cheap wine for college students and cheap restaurants; the straw “basket” covering didn’t help. Growers overplanted their vineyards and extended acreage into inappropriate terrain, resulting in wines that were diluted and bland, when they weren’t shrieking with acidity. Fortunately, the regulations of 1984, when Chianti became a DOCG wine, lowered yields and the amount of white grapes allowed in the blend and instituted more stringent vineyard and winery practices. Chianti Classico was granted its own DOCG in 1996.

The history of Chianti, as a wine and a region, is long and storied, though the story, as I have indicated, is not always a great one. The earliest written record of Chianti wines dates to the mid-13th century, referring to some villages around Florence; at that time, the wine was white. Cosimo III de’Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, laid out the official area of Chianti in 1716, an act that seems to be the earliest effort to regulate wine production and delineate a vineyard territory. The region was expanded in 1932 and 1967, the latter edict encompassing most of central Tuscany, from the hills of Pisa in the northwest to the hills of Pomino in the northeast and far south to Siena. The first “formula” for Chianti was elucidated in 1871 by Baron Bettino Ricasoli, who recommended a blend of 70 percent sangiovese, 15 percent canaiolo, 10 percent malvasia (later amended to include trebbiano) and 5 percent other local red varieties. That is not the Chianti we see nowadays, when the wine may be 100 percent sangiovese — the minimum is 80 percent sangiovese — or with dollops of “international” grapes like merlot, cabernet sauvignon or syrah. Only the most traditional estates include indigenous red varieties like canaiolo, ciliegiolo and colorino.

The other innovation in Chianti — particularly in Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva — is the use of 59-gallon (225-liter) French oak barriques for aging instead of the traditional large Slovenian oak casks; you will notice at least one of the wines under consideration today aged in 100 percent new French oak barrels, and when that process occurs I think we’re leaning more toward Pauillac and Napa Valley than Tuscany. In fact, if a Chianti Classico Riserva is made from 100 percent sangiovese grapes and ages, say, two years in barriques, how different is it from Brunello di Montalcino also produced completely from sangiovese and aged in barriques? If you smell vanilla, you smell French oak, no matter where the wine was made.

Today we look at a dozen wines, Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva, some fairly traditional, some more progressive or modern in spirit. Though I tend to like the traditional manner better, not a one of these wines is flawed or overplayed; most of the ratings are Excellent. Chianti Classico, by the way, derives from the heart of Chianti, the area south of Florence that still conforms largely to the geographical outlines laid down by Cosimo III in 1716. The implication is that the Grand Duke’s foresight was prescient and that Chianti Classico and Riserva remain the best that the region can offer, though the producers of Chianti Rufina, northeast of Italy might beg to differ.

Map from viottolowines.com.
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Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico 2010 consists of 90 percent sangiovese and a 10 percent blend of merlot and syrah; yes, syrah is allowed in Chianti Classico. The great majority of the wine aged nine months in 55 hectoliter Slavonian oak casks, the rest in American oak barriques; 55 hectoliters equals 1,453 gallons, so those are large casks. This is a beguiling old-style Chianti Classico (despite the merlot and syrah) that displays a dried fruit/dried spice/dried floral character still fresh, ripe and appealing and singing in notes of red and black currants flecked with sour cherry, dusty plums and graphite. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry cast; the wine is quite dry, spare without being severe, elegant without being delicate. Vibrant acidity and a long mineral and woody-spice finish reveal the fine structure that underlies this enterprise. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $28.

The Antinori wines are imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Wash.They were samples for review.
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Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 and Marchese Antinori Chianti Classic Riserva 2008. The Villa Antinori CCR 10 is a blend of 90 percent sangiovese and 10 percent merlot; the Marchese Antinori CCR 08 is 90 percent sangiovese, 10 percent cabernet sauvignon. The oak treatment reflects the slightly more serious nature of the “Marchese”; while it aged 14 months in new French oak barriques, the “Villa” aged 12 months in French and Hungarian small oak barrels. The color of “Villa” is radiant deep ruby with a hint of violet at the rim; aromas of black and red cherries and red currants are imbued with notes of lilac, cloves, sandalwood, graphite and a hint of mocha, and I’m saying that for such a young CCR, this is pretty seductive. The wine does not neglect a scrupulous structure, though, one resting on resonant acidity, sturdy yet lithe and harmonious tannins and a slightly dusty woody quality in the finish. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $35. The grapes for the “Marchese” 08 derive mainly from Antinori’s Tignanello estate, with the rest coming from Badia a Passignano (see the next entry) and Peppoli. There’s heft and character here, a depth of structure that touches on modernity without going all the way into an “international” or California style, held in check by the sangiovese grape’s typical acidity and spareness. The balance between freshness and ripeness — fruit lies in the red and sour cherry range (with a hint of cranberry and black currant) — on the one hand and the panoply of dried fruit, spice and flowers on the other is deftly handled, while the fairly dense chewy tannins lend a paradoxical dynamic of velvety elegance and muscular power, and granitic minerality adds intensity in the lower registers. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $35.
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Marchese Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. Gosh, what a lovely wine, beautifully balanced and harmonious. It was made completely from sangiovese grapes and aged 14 months in new Hungarian oak barriques. The Antinori family acquired the 1,000-year-old abbey and its vineyards in 1987. The color is medium ruby with a tinge of garnet; aromas of spiced and macerated black currants, raspberries and plums are permeated by notes of coffee and tobacco, dried orange rind and violets. Tannins are both plush and rigorous, and the oak brings not only spice on the palate and suppleness to the texture but a sense of distinguished austerity. For all that, Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 is delicious, tending toward mellowness, and finishes with a long swallow of graphite, brambles and lavender. Alcohol content is … percent. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $53.
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Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico 2010 and Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. (Jackson Family Wines) These are modern-style wines, each aging 10 months in French oak barriques. The CC 10 is a blend of 80 percent sangiovese, 19 percent merlot and a bare 1 percent cabernet sauvignon. The color is dark ruby; the wine is ripe, fleshy, spicy and oaky; notes of raspberry and black currant are permeated by cloves, orange zest, black tea and brambles; it’s really attractive initially, but you feel the sandpaper of burnished oak from mid-palate back. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20. The CCR 07 is a combination of 80 percent sangiovese, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon and 5 percent merlot. The color is dark ruby with a touch of mulberry at the rim;aromas and flavors of dried black and blue fruit and dried baking spices admit of some fleshy and meaty elements, a little spiced and macerated, but this is primarily dry, dense and chewy, smoky, austere, packed with spice, graphite, bittersweet chocolate and dusty oak that comes up in the finish. 14.7 percent alcohol. Try 2014 to 2020 or ’22, hoping for the best. 1,430 cases. Very Good+. About $25.

Samples for review.
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Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 and Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2009. Here’s a pair of well-made traditional CCR and CC. Each is based on the sangiovese grape with dollops of canaiolo, ciliegiolo and colorino — no merlot! no syrah! — and aged in French and Austrian casks of various sizes, CCR 08 for 24 months, CC 09 for 12 months; the wines were produced from organically grown grapes. Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2009 offers a medium ruby color of moderate intensity and cleanly delineated black cherry and currant scents and flavors permeated by blue plums and blueberries, violets and cloves and hints of orange rind and pomegranate. A pleasing rasp of acid and slightly grainy tannins makes for an attractive texture, while the finish pulls together elements of graphite, bitter chocolate, lavender and leather. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to 2018. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value. Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 is rather a different creature, high-toned, taut, a tad imperious in the tannin and wood departments, very dry in the sense of encompassing not only a bit of austerity but the dryness associated with potpourri, woody spices such as allspice and sandalwood, the dried citron and currants of fruitcake; the oak comes up from mid-palate through the finish. Still, one gets undertones of the classic elements of sour cherry, violets, clean new leather, black tea and pomander, until they’re o’er-tower’d by the inscrutable lithic finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Best from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.

The wines of Badia a Coltibuono are imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. The badia (“abbey”) was founded in 1051. It has been owned by the Stucchi Prinetti family since 1846 and is home to the famous cooking school of Lorenza de’Medici. These were samples for review.
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Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico 2009. This ancient estate was purchased by Dominic Poggiali Fèlsina in 1966 and is now run by his sons. While the wine is composed of 100 percent sangiovese grapes, in the modern fashion, it aged only a year in “mid capacity” Slovenian oak barrels. The color is dark ruby at the center shading to slightly lighter ruby-garnet at the rim; beguiling aromas and flavors of dried red currants and plums, sandalwood, violets and dried orange rind are heightened by notes of oolong tea, graphite and new leather, a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of smoke, sour cherry and loam. The structure can only be called lovely; moderately dense and grainy tannins are supplemented by a gentle wash of granitic minerality and a burnished, lightly dusty wood influence; acidity is bright and supportive. 13 percent alcohol. A beautifully-made, nicely restrained Chianti Classico for drinking through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. I paid $24, but it can be found around the country as low as $18.

Imported by Delta Wholesalers, Memphis, Tenn.
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Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. The flagship of Ruffino’s “Ducale Trilogy,” the Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 is regal enough for a dukedom and indeed displays a measure of Olympian detachment and power. The wine is a blend of 80 percent sangiovese with approximately 10 percent each cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The aging is ultra-traditional: six months in vats; 24 months in oak casks of 35- or 75-hectoliter capacity; another six months in vats; six months in bottle; for a total of 3 years. (How many gallons in a hectoliter, class? That’s right, Johnny, there are 26.4 gallons in a hectoliter!) The color is vivid medium ruby with a magenta tint at the rim; you can smell how dry the wine is in its legions of potpourri, racks of dried spices, bushels of dried, crushed black and red berries, in its tomes of dusty graphite and old leather and tobacco-like old paper qualities. Same in the mouth, as the wine develops a dynamic that pitches keenly expressed acidity against supple polished yet substantial tannins, a dry, dusty rather ecclesiastical woody character and an earthy, lithic foundation. 13.5 percent alcohol. Give this breathing space, elbow room, years to grow, say, 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.

Ruffino Imports, Rutherford, Calif. A sample for review. The estate was launched in 1877 by cousins Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino, who sold it to the Folonari family in 1913. The Folonaris expanded the estate and the brand tremendously beginning in the 1970s. Constellation Brands acquired 49.9 percent of the company in 2010 and the remaining 51.1 percent in 2011.
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Tenuta Vìgnole Chianti Classico 2008 and Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. This 51-acre estate was acquired in 1970 by the Nistri family and is operated by brothers Massimo and Fabrizio Nistri. The CC 08 is comprised of 85 percent sangiovese grapes and 20 percent merlot; the wines are aged separately for 12 months, the sangiovese in large casks, the merlot in barriques, before blending. The color is dark ruby with a slightly lighter rim; overall, the wine is seamlessly balanced and integrated, with aromas that twine the freshness of red and black currants and red cherries with cloves and sandalwood, notes of violets and dried orange rind and a light granitic, earthy, loamy quality. These elements segue smoothly on the palate, where the wine is dry and spare, and bright acidity keeps it lively, if not pert, and the earthly and mineral character asserts itself through the dry finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $37. The Vìgnole CCR 07 is a creature of different nature; medium ruby with a garnet tinge, it’s a blend of 85 percent sangiovese and 15 percent cabernet sauvignon, aged 20 months in a combination of 225-liter barriques and 400-liter tonneaux. The word is “tough,” as in a rigorous, leathery, stalwart tannic and woody structure that coats the palate and makes for a pretty damned demanding mouthful of wine. Traces of dried spice and a dried floral element lend a hint of piquancy, but this needs time in the bottle to soften and become more inviting, say 2015 or ’16 for consuming through 2022 through 2025. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent production was 1,200 six-pack cases. Excellent potential. About $60.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. Tasted at a trade event in Chicago, May 15.
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