November 2013


It’s true that Thanksgiving has come and gone, but I wanted to offer my notes — made in the kitchen, not at the table; that would be impolite — on the wines we imbibed during and after the great feast. I always offer a riesling, this year two, a zinfandel and a pinot noir, and I don’t usually deviate from the actual wines. Of course, Christmas is coming right up, and many households will mount the same or a similar meal, so these wines, or ones like them, would be equally appropriate. The idea, as you have doubtless read a thousand times in the past few weeks, is to serve wines that somehow encompass the range of Thanksgiving dinner’s complimentary and contradictory sweet and savory sensations. This trio has stood the test of the FK/LL groaning board for years, changing only vintages as time rolls along; the added riesling is one that I have tasted from several past vintages and never been disappointed. Unless indicated, these wines were purchased by me. Today’s reviews in Weekend Wine Notes are rather more full-bodied than usual. Enjoy!
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The additional wine this year was the Smith-Madrone Riesling 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, produced by brothers Charles and Stuart Smith, who share growing and winemaking duties. The color is a shimmery pale gold with fleeting green highlights; aromas of green apple, pear and lemon are infused with jasmine, lime peel and limestone. Flavors of roasted lemon, lychee and peach are fresh, ripe and lightly spiced, while crisp acidity and scintillating limestone and flint minerality lend the wine verve and excitement. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 463 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. This was a sample for review. Excellent. About $27.
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The Trefethen Dry Riesling, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, has appeared at our Thanksgiving dinner for years. I tend to like this riesling with a year or two of age — in 2011, we drank the ’08; in 2010, we drank the ’07 — to give it some golden burnish, and I mean that in terms of color but also metaphorically in a sense of sensual glow. The 2012 was what my local wine merchant had on the shelf, though, and he remembered that I like this wine at the present festive time of year. So, the color of the Trefethen Dry Riesling 2012 is very pale straw-gold; a bouquet of apple, pear and lychee wreathes notes of peach and honeysuckle and an intriguing hint of petrol or rubber eraser. In the mouth, flavors of roasted lemon and spiced pear are pointed with ginger and quince and equipped with a spare elegant texture that features crackling acidity and high-toned chalk and flint qualities. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $23.
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In 2010, we drank the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2007, Willamette Valley, with Thanksgiving leftovers. This year was the turn of the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2009. The Yamhill Cuvée is the winery’s cadet pinot noir, made from estate vineyards but not as a single-vineyard or reserve wine. I first tasted the 2009 at a trade event in the middle of February this year; I bought a bottle last week, and it feels as if the wine — or at least this bottle — is reaching the peak of its development. The color is radiant medium ruby with a touch of garnet; notes of black cherries, plums and black currants are touched with elements of fruitcake, smoked game and loam. A few minutes in the glass bring out hints of melon and sour cherry that linger above a supple satiny texture buoyed by moderate tannins and slightly fading acidity. Quite delicious but not as fresh and vibrant as the example I tried nine months ago. Very Good+. About $45.

Image, much cropped, from sipswirlsavor.com.
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It’s not exactly cheating, but this year, instead of buying a bottle, as I usually do, of the Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys, a red blend that includes zinfandel, I substituted a 100 percent zinfandel wine, the Ridge Benito Dusi Ranch Zinfandel 2011, Paso Robles. This, I think, was the Wine of Night. Made from vines planted in 1923, and aged 12 months in a combination of one- to five-year-old American oak barrels, the Ridge Paso Robles Zinfandel 2011 — the label, as you see, emphasizes the AVA rather than the single vineyard — offers a lovely dark ruby color with a lighter magenta rim; a bright and lively bouquet of raspberries, black currants and plums is highlighted by notes of red cherries, briers and brambles and a touch of black fruit compote. On the palate, the wine weaves smoke and leather and graphite with raspberry and black currant flavors wrapped around an intense core of violets, lavender and dried thyme, all supported by moderately dusty and chewy tannins and a fine line of crisply etched acidity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30 .
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Looking for a nifty red to go with burgers, steaks, hearty pizzas and pasta dishes? What Dr. FK orders is the deeply flavorful Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2011, from Il Poliziano, an estate established in 1961 in the Montepulciano commune of southeast Tuscany. A blend of 80 precent sangiovese grapes and 20 percent merlot, the wine matures for eight months, about 20 to 40 percent (depending on the vintage) in two-year-old American 59-gallon barriques and the rest in large vats. The color is rich dark ruby; aromas of mulberries, black raspberries and black currants are permeated by notes of dried rose petals, violets, orange rind and Earl Grey tea. The flavor profile is consistent with the bouquet, perhaps a bit fleshier, though wrapped around a spine of firm slightly dusty tannins, lively acidity that makes you crave another sip and a touch of graphite-like minerality for depth. The finish is dominated by spicy oak that takes on some austerity as the minutes pass. 14.5 percent alcohol, which seems to be the universal standard now. Drink through 2015. Winemaker was Federico Carletti. I’m not saying that the Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2011 wouldn’t be appropriate with the ever-nearing Thanksgiving feast, but I’m just sort of finished with that topic, O.K.? Very Good+. About $15, representing Real Value.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. Image from cellartracker.com.

“But, FK,” some readers are saying, “isn’t Argentine Malbecs redundant.” Oh ho, so you think perhaps that vineyards of malbec grapes sprang up unbidden in Argentina the way fully-armed Athena burst from the brow of Zeus? Tis not so. Malbec, which found a ready home in the soil of certain parts of the Little Silver country, came from France, where it was one of the so-called five classic Bordeaux red grapes — greatly diminished in use now — and forms the primary component in the wines of Cahors (70 percent required with the rest merlot and tannat), where the grape is called “côt.” Malbec cuttings were brought to Argentina in the mid-19th Century, though it was not until the 1970s and the experiments of Nicolas Catena in which he planted malbec vines at altitudes up to 5,000 feet in the Andean foothills of Mendoza that the grape began to fulfill its potential for producing fine wine as well as a moneymaker exported to the United States. Unsuperstitiously, I offer today 13 malbec wines from Mendoza at prices ranging from $15 to $120. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, I dispense with technical, historical, climatic and geographical data to bring My Readers incisive reviews, snatching from the very pages of my notebooks, designed to whet their palates and stimulate their imaginations. These were all samples for review or were tasted at trade lunches and other events. Enjoy!

Map of Mendoza’s wine regions courtesy of Vine Connections via mumulesvignes.com.
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“1955″ Malbec 2011, Mendoza. (TintoNegro) 14% alc. Very dark ruby-purple color; yes, the weight, the substance and extraction but unexpectedly flexible and resilient; not a kissy-face little pushover, though; very deep, dark and ripe, almost potent with spiced and macerated black and blue fruit, vibrant acidity and piercing graphite minerality; a lively and engaging but close to monumental malbec. Try from 2015 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $100.
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Angulo Innocente Unisono 2010, La Consulta, Mendoza. 15.5% alc. Malbec 67%, cabernet sauvignon 26%, cabernet franc 7%. Holy moly; very dark, even opaque ruby-purple; black, black black, dusty and dusky; graphite, licorice, lavender and lilac; every element ground in the mortar of tannin with the pestel of granite; a huge wine in every respect, including alcohol, yet it’s neither rustic nor overwhelming. Try from 2015 through 2020 to ’25. Very Good+ with perhaps Excellent potential. About $42.
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biutiful Malbec 2012, Mendoza. (Maal Wines) 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; very intense and concentrated, packed with spice and graphite; dark glimmerings of black currants, black cherries and plums encompassing myriad macerated and roasted aspects; not so much beautiful as hypnotic and daunting; stalwart but sleek tannins, bright acidity, a profound granitic mineral character, yet something enticing there. Try 2015 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $23. representing Good Value.
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Bramare Malbec 2011, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza. (Vina Cobos) 14.7% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; amply fitted with graphite and granitic minerality, dusty slightly grainy tannins; black currants, blackberries and plums; very spicy oak, lively acidity; dense and chewy, a core of bitter chocolate, lavender and licorice; long finish packed with spice and minerals. Solid, well-built, powerful. Drink now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $45.
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Bramare Malbec 2011, Valle de Uco, Mendoza. (Vina Cobos) 14.8% alc. Dark ruby-purple color, almost opaque; very intense and concentrated, coats the palate with dusty tannins and graphite minerality, loamy and briery elements; ripe black and blue fruit flavors are slightly macerated and roasted, enveloping notes of mocha, potpourri, cloves and violets; a serious expression of the grape. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $45.
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Catena High Mountain Vineyards Malbec 2011, Mendoza. 13.5% alc. Very dark vibrant ruby-purple color; quite intense and concentrated but also ripe and juicy with blackberry jam, blueberries and plums; penetrating elements of graphite and gravel; smoke underbrush, forest floor; resolute, dense silky tannins; reveals the pedigree and cousinship with the Nicasia and Adrianna malbecs below, but at a fraction of the cost. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $24.
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Catena Zapata Nicasia Malbec 2008, Mendoza. 14% alc. Dense ruby-purple color; piercing graphite and granitic minerality; lavender and licorice, very intense and concentrated black currants, plums and blueberries but with tremendous ripeness and resonance; dense and chewy with finely-milled tannins; sleek, polished and chiseled, faceted yet retains an echo of earthy rusticity; leathery tannins come up more prominently on the finish. A soulful expression of the malbec grape. Drink now through 2024 to 2030. Very limited production. Excellent. About $120.
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Catena Zapata Adrianna Malbec 2009, Mendoza. 13.9% alc. Very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; exudes a terrific sense of immediacy, vitality and boldness yet feels a hair more balanced and integrated than the Nicasia 08 mentioned above; brooding but not truculent, substantial but not ponderous, in fact this malbec exhibits a fleet-footed feeling of style and bright acidity bolstered by deep mountain-like granitic minerality and dusty tannins; exquisite poise among ripe and dried black and blue fruit, fresh and dried floral elements and an insinuating herbal character. Malbec apotheosis. Drink from 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to 2030. Very limited production. Exceptional. About $120.
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Chento Vineyard Selection Malbec 2011, Mendoza. (Cuarto Dominio) 14% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; dense, dark, spicy, rustic; smoke, ash, leather, briers, brambles and underbrush; dusty tannins and minerals; fruit? well, it offers glimmers of intense and concentrated black currants, black cherries and plums, but these are nuances that need a year or two to flesh out, if ever. Very Good. About $20.
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Felino Malbec 2012, Mendoza. (Villa Cobos) 14.3% alc. Deep violet-purple color; leather, briers and brambles; blackberries, blueberries and plums; warm and spicy; adds smoky black cherries, bitter chocolate and graphite; the tannins emerge through the finish but a lively and appealing malbec for burgers, steaks, pizza and such. Very Good+. About $19
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imposible Malbec 2011, Mendoza. 14.8% alc. (Maal Wines) Dark ruby-mulberry color; very clean, fresh and bright, displaying lovely purity and intensity of fruit, acid and mineral qualities; vibrant and alluring, stuffed with spiced and macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors highlighted by notes of licorice, lavender and violets, hints of dried mountain herbs; great balance and integration, though the finish picks up the requisite flinty and dusty tannins. Now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $34.
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TintoNegro Co-Ferment Malbec 2011, Mendoza. 14% alc. Malbec 90%, cabernet franc 7%, petit verdot 3%. Tres sauvage. Very dark ruby-purple; bright blackberry-blueberry-plum fruit deeply imbued with spice, potpourri and bitter chocolate; scintillating, unfettered graphite minerality and vivid acidity, sleek sinewy tannins and lithe texture; great personality. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $20, Great Value for the Price.
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Tolentino Winemaker’s Selection Malbec 2012, Mendoza. (Cuarto Dominio) 13.5% alc. Deep ruby color, tinge of magenta; black currants, blackberries and blueberries, smoke and loam; dense and chewy yet smooth and supple; high intensity of vibrancy and resonance; tar, licorice, potpourri; loses some dimension in the finish but very enjoyable in its dark slightly roughshod manner. Now through 2017 to ’19. Very Good+. About $15, a Nice Price.
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The black kite of the winery name is not a fabrication of paper and sticks tossed on the wind at the end of a long string but a species of bird. Black Kite Cellars traces its origins to 1995, when Donald and Maureen Green bought a 40-acre parcel by the Navarro River just west of Philo in Mendocino County, in a cool area eight miles from the coast. They replanted an old vineyard with pinot noir vines and developed two more blocks on a hill above the river. The first crop was harvested in 2003, and the decision to retain a portion of the grapes to make their own wine brought the concept of Black Kite Cellars, named for a bird indigenous to the region, to fruition. Jeff Gaffner became winemaker in 2004; the first wines he worked on comprised the 2005 bottlings of distinct blocks within the estate. Black Kite pinot noirs showed up on my lists of 50 Great Wines of 2009 and 50 Great of 2011.
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Black Kite “Kite’s Rest” 2010 and Black Kite “Kite’s Rest” 2011, Anderson Valley. 14.5 and 14.3 percent alcohol respectively. These spend about 11 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The ’10 version offers a medium ruby-magenta hue and enticing aromas and flavors of rhubarb, sassafras, beetroot and cranberries; the wine is lively and vibrant, with piercing slate-like minerality and slightly dusty tannins. Lovely purity and intensity. 541 cases. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $45. The ’11 rendition displays a light ruby-red cherry color; it’s much more reticent than the ’10 and more structured, with leathery tannins, briers and brambles and a pronounced graphite mineral element. Pretty tightly wound. 953 cases. Try from 2015 through 2020. Very Good+. About $45.
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Black Kite Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 and Black Kite Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The alcohol content is 14.6 percent for 2010, 14.9 percent for 2011. These wines also age about 11 months in French oak but in 50 percent new barrels. The ’10 sports a vivid dark ruby-garnet color; the wine is ripe and a little fleshy and funky, with a dollop of briery earthiness and tinges of smoke. Scents and flavors of black cherries, currants and blueberries are infused with cloves and sandalwood for an overall sense of spicy warmth. 149 cases. Drink through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $55. The Soberanes ’11 is perhaps the most attractive of this group of pinot noirs from Black Kite. The color is lustrous medium ruby; heady aromas of sassafras, rhubarb, cranberry and blueberry are permeated by notes of cloves, macerated black cherries, briers and brambles; the wine is super satiny yet a touch raspy and underbrushy; you feel the earth and the roots; bright acidity keeps it lively, while mild slightly dusty tannins add depth. Great purity and intensity. 273 cases. Drink through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $55.
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Black Kite Stony Terrace Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley. The color is medium ruby, slightly lighter at the rim; a sniff opens a trove of cloves, lavender and lilacs, black cherries and red currants, a hint of plums and mint; lip-smacking acidity and smacky tannins give the wine a lively and somewhat substantial structure, though the whole impression is of a pinot noir that revels in being clean, fresh and wild. 14.6 percent alcohol. 153 cases. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $52.
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Black Kite Redwood’s Edge Block Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry tinge; violets and lavender form the leading edge of a bouquet that teems with notes of red and black currants and red and black cherries, highlighted with cloves, sassafras and underbrush. In the mouth, this pinot noir is super succulent and supple, spicy and savory, but it’s also quite dry and — speaking of redwood — the oak emerges to a slightly obtrusive degree. 14.6 percent alcohol. Perhaps a year or two with help it smooth out. 149 cases. Very Good+. About $55.
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Black Kite Rivers Turn Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley. The medium ruby color carries a touch of magenta; this is cool with penetrating graphite-tinged minerals; warm with clove-spiked spice; lively with arrow-bright acidity; succulent with black and blue fruit flavors; shapely with mildly dusty tannins and oak; richly detailed with notes of rose petals, pomegranate, cranberry, briers and brambles. I love it. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. 152 cases. Excellent. About $52.
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Black Kite Angel Hawk Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley. This reserve wine, which sees 20 months in French oak, derives from the winery’s Kites Rest Vineyard. The color is a limpid medium ruby with marked intensity of hue, I mean fucking gorgeous; aromas of spiced and macerated plums and red and black cherries and currants are permeated by hints of rose petals and lilac. It’s a substantial pinot noir, as befits a reserve wine, but it does not overwhelm with sheer size or oaken influence; it is, instead, supple and mouth-filling, and it displays layers of briers, brambles, graphite and moderately dusty tannins for foundation and framing. 14.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’20. 114 cases. Excellent. About $80.
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The holiday season stretching from Thanksgiving to Twelfth Night, with Christmas and New Years monumental stops on the road, is almost upon us. If you’re looking for a house sparkling wine that’s far better than cheap tank-generated sparklers but nothing as expensive and thought-provoking as the more luxurious examples from California and Champagne, here’s a candidate. The Laetitia Brut Cuvée, a nonvintage sparkling wine from San Luis Obispo County’s Arroyo Grande Valley, is a blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot blanc grapes, produced in the traditional champagne method by a winery noted for its precisely made single-vineyard pinot noirs. The color is pale gold with a slight shimmer of silver in the upward surge of tiny bubbles. This feels like steel and snow, biscuits and lemon curd, apples and pears, with cloves and almond skin in the background and a foundation of scintillating limestone. A few moments in the glass bring in notes of tangerine and grapefruit, the whole package enlivened by crisp and vibrant acidity. Laetitia Brut Cuvée spend 24 months en tirage – no, not triage — that is, two years in the bottle resting on the lees of the yeast cells and touch of sugar that stimulated the second fermentation. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 3,600 cases. Thoroughly enjoyable and engaging, close to elegant. Very Good+. About $25.

A sample for review.

Robert Turner is one of those people who qualify, as so many in California do, for the description “former [fill in the blank] turned winemaker,” in his case the long previous occupation being dentistry, with a practice in Palo Alto. He was in a wine club, got interested first in how wine was made and then in making wine, took courses at Davis, did some apprenticing and voila! he has a “winery,” in a rented space, where he produces tiny quantities of thoughtfully conceived and extremely well-made wines; ultimate goal is about 500 cases annually. A couple of days ago, at a local wholesaler’s trade tasting, I tried two vintages of his cabernet franc, the 2011 and 2010, and was more than intrigued by their quality; I was knocked out. The grapes derive from the Stoney Springs Vineyard in St. Helena. Robert Turner products are available at a handful of retail stores and restaurants in a handful of states. My recommendation is to go to the winery’s website — robertturnerwines.com — and order a few bottles directly. Here’s a link to my review on this blog of the Robert Turner Chardonnay 2011.
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The Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2011, Napa Valley, includes 10 percent merlot and 5 percent petit verdot. The wine aged for three or four months in new French oak barrels and then went into two- and three-year old French oak for a total of 12 months. The color is a strikingly vivid deep ruby-magenta hue; equally striking is the bouquet of pure and intense graphite and black raspberries, with notes of mulberries and red currants, violets and rose petals and a powerful undertone of tar and loam. The wine is very dry but vibrant with acidity, scintillating in its chiseled granitic minerality, spare and elegant in its moderately tannic structure yet offering deliciously ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Production was a minuscule 45 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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The Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2010, Napa Valley, is 100 percent cabernet franc; it aged 16 months in two-year-old French oak barrels. Every element here resembles the aromatic, flavor and textural profiles of its younger sibling of 2011 except that this example includes hints of bell pepper and black olives, cedar and tobacco leaf and profound impressions of briers and brambles and underbrush amid very dry and slightly dusty graphite-freighted tannins. At almost three years old, the wine is stunning in its freshness and sense of immediacy and authority, though it carries that authority lightly, almost elegantly, though the finish. NA% alcohol. Production was 50 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Exceptional. About $35.
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Wine writers and reviewers in many genres and medias tend to focus on Thanksgiving and its challenging multifarious dinner and wine selections during November. A few days ago, for example, in the Wine of the Week, I reviewed the Seghesio Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma County, and happened to recommend it for Thanksgiving, and it would be very satisfying in that role. The famous meal is, however, diverse enough in let’s say subject and structure, cause and effect, that it can be accompanied by a variety of wines, some of which might seem inherently contradictory. An example is the subject of today’s post, the Adelsheim Ribbon Springs Vineyard Auxerrois 2012, Willamette Valley. Confusingly, and typically of grape names in Europe, auxerrois — don’t come down too hard on the “x’; make it more a soft “s” — is the nom de plume in Cahors for the black malbec grape (also known as cot) and the name of a white grape prevalent in Alsace, where it often makes appearances in the sparkling Cremant d’Alsace. It’s also a principal grape in Luxembourg. Auxerrois is the offspring of pinot and gouais blanc, the latter a sort of grandfather to some 16 grape varieties, a wonder since in itself gouais blanc is a notably mediocre grape. Anyway, the point is that I came upon the Adelsheim Auxerrois 2012 yesterday afternoon at a wholesaler’s trade tasting event and was struck — actually blown away — by the wine’s distinctive aromatic qualities. The color, first, is very pale, with just a glimmer of light gold; scents of fig and lychee, greengage, honeysuckle and camellia are borne by notes of straw, lime peel and grapefruit with a trace of talcum powder in a heady melange that draws you in and doesn’t let go. The wine is quite dry, strikingly crisp and vivacious, deftly balanced between litheness and lushness — it’s made 89 percent in stainless steel, 11 percent in neutral French oak — and delivers flavors of roasted lemon, tangerine and lemongrass in a limestone infused package. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production is listed as 738 six-packs, meaning 366 cases, if that’s the way your mind works, and mine does. This feels not made for aging but for immediate consumption or perhaps into Summer 2014. Excellent. About $25.


Edoardo Seghesio and his wife Angela put down roots in Sonoma County’s northern Alexander Valley in 1895, building a house and planting their Home Ranch to zinfandel vines. The historic winery, owned by Crimson Wine Group since 2011, has a long tradition, then, of making zinfandel wines, though the family didn’t start bottling under its own label until 1983. The example suggested today as Wine of the Week is the Seghesio Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma County, a blend of zinfandel grapes from vineyards in Alexander and Dry creek Valleys. It aged 10 months in American and French oak barrels, 75 percent and 25 percent respectively. This deep ruby-purple hued zinfandel bursts with notes of blackberries, blueberries and black currants seemingly steeped in graphite and lavender with bass-tones of earthy briers and brambles. Vibrant acidity keeps the wine lively and appealing, while moderately dense and dusty tannins and granitic minerality lend weight and vigor. Spicy black and blue fruit flavors are juicy and lip-smackin’ ripe, but not at all over-ripe or jammy. The complete effect is of a creature slightly untamed but essentially balanced and integrated. 14.8 percent alcohol. The Seghesio Zinfandel 2011 is drinking perfectly now and would be ideal for Thanksgiving’s groaning board. Excellent. Suggested price for the wine is $24, but many retail outlets around the country have it discounted to $20.

Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.

Anyone who keeps up with this blog — bless your bones and may your tribe increase! — will deduce that I receive a great deal of cabernet sauvignon wines from California as review samples. In fact, I would say, anecdotally, that I receive more samples of California’s premier wine that any other type or genre, hence the attention paid to such wines on these pages. The 12 examples under consideration today mainly, that is with one exception, do not fall into the over-ripe, over-oaked, high alcohol category that we frequently encounter, and that exception has to do with the oak influence. Primarily, these are well-balanced fruit-filled cabernets amply supported by essential tannins, acidity and mineral qualities to ensure liveliness and some measure of longevity. Several of them are among the best California cabernets I have tried in 2012. As usual in the Weekend Wine Notes, I deliberately downplay details of history, geography, personality and technical matters in order to provide quick reviews designed to whet your palate and pique your interest. These wines were all samples for review. Enjoy!

The image is of cabernet sauvignon grapes at Jordan Vineyards.
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Cimarone Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Three Creek Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby with a magenta rim; nicely balanced, clean and fresh, tasty black and red fruit flavors; rather rigorous tannins, with classic touches of walnut shell and wheatmeal, but deftly integrated; hints of black olive, thyme, cedar and graphite; pleasing detail and dimension. Now through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $35.
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Cimarone Le Clos Secret 2010, Three Creek Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.5% alc. 62% cabernet sauvignon, 14% petit verdot, 10% cabernet franc, 9% merlot, 5% malbec. 198 cases. Dark ruby shading to a slightly lighter ruby/mulberry hue; layered bouquet of walnut shell, graphite, cedar, thyme and rosemary; spiced and macerated aromas and flavors of red and black currants and cherries, ripe and slightly stewed; dense, intense, concentrated; exquisitely balanced but with a powerful structure and dynamic acidity for length and vitality. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.
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Ferrari-Carano Trésor 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. 76% cabernet sauvignon, 8% merlot, 8% petit verdot, 6% malbec, 2% cabernet franc. Deep ruby-purple color; dusty walnut shell, fig and black olive, cedar and thyme; very intense and concentrated, tightly-wound; spiced and macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; iron-sides clasped with graphite; vibrant acidity and resonant tannins; a little inchoate and chthonic presently, try from 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $52.
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Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. 85% cabernet sauvignon, 11% merlot, 3% syrah, 1% malbec. Dark ruby color, slightly lighter at the rim; oak is the defining feature, the only one of these 12 wines to be so thoroughly imbued with wood; very dry, dense and chewy; walnut shell and wheatmeal, underbrush and forest floor; austere finish; for those who like their red wines to hit back. Not recommended. About $28.
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Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 19% merlot, 5% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Dark ruby-mulberry color; the most highly structured Jordan cabernet I have encountered, fortunately stimulated by bright acidity and gorgeous black and red fruit; wheatmeal, walnut shell, graphite, cedar and rosemary; very pure, intense and high-toned, with penetrating granitic minerality; very dry but seductively flavorful; bolstered by dense, tense tannins. Try from 2015 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $53.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. With dollops of merlot and petite sirah. Dark ruby color; black currants, plums, raspberries, undertones of smoky and macerated black cherries; very dry, dusty, minerally and tannic; full-bodied, with taut acidity, chewy and velvety texture; gets drier and dustier, with briers and branches, underbrush and loam qualities; finishes fairly austerely. Try 2015 through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $18.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. With 10% petite sirah. Intense dark ruby-magenta color; cool mint, iodine, iron and graphite; raspberries, black currants and plums, cedar and thyme; touch of spicy black cherry jam, earth and loam; rigorously structured, dense and chewy, with dust-permeated oak and tannins leading to austerity leavened by juicy black fruit flavors. Try 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $30.
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Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Calistoga, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. With 7% merlot and 2% cabernet franc. Radiant medium ruby color; a typical, classic and gratifying blend of sensual appeal and structural precision; very ripe yet intense and concentrated scents and flavors of spiced and macerated black currants and black cherries, touches of cloves and sandalwood, cedar and tobacco, bare hints of black olives and rosemary (with the latter’s redolent and slightly resinous character); iodine and iron, licorice and bitter chocolate; dignified tannins with a display of hauteur and some asperity, yet a cabernet of great appeal and potential. Who needs a $500 cult cabernet when you can have this? Now (with a steak or braised lamb shanks) through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Annum 2009, Napa Valley. 15% alc. With 12% petit verdot. Intense dark ruby-purple color; whoa, just a huge wine in every respect, epitome of the old iron-fist-in-velvet-glove concept, and with an uncanny sense of alertness; very dense, very chewy but the highly polished oak and tannins are not only not punishing but balanced and integrated; graphite, cedar and tobacco; ripe, spicy, racy and slightly roasted black currants, black cherries and plums, every aspect permeated by granitic minerality. A benchmark Napa cabernet. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $95.
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Rodney Strong Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby color, with a violet tinge at the rim; cool and clean, teeming with black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors; freighted with powerful and dusty tannins, grainy and chewy, yet a supple, lithe cabernet; quite intense and concentrated, robust and dynamic; all wrapped around a penetrating core of licorice, lavender and bitter chocolate; long, dense but smooth finish. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $28.
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St. Supéry Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 5% merlot. Deep ruby-purple color with a mulberry rim, opaque at the center; wonderfully fresh, clean and intense; thyme and cedar; walnut shell, toast and tapenade; black currants and black raspberries, iron and iodine; dense, chewy, dusty, gritty yet pretty suave and supple, background, though, of gravel and tar; gets bigger, denser, deeper, more minerally and spicy; opens the box on black tea and bitter chocolate, fruitcake and sandalwood; leathery tannins, underbrush for the finish. Quite a performance. Now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. about $30.
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Stone Edge Farm Surround 2009, Sonoma Valley. 14.4% alc. 56% cabernet sauvignon, 44% merlot. 692 cases. Dark ruby-magenta color; intense and concentrated, graphite, lavender and licorice; piercing iodine and iron minerality, a smoke and charcoal edge; very dry, with velvety tannins that coat the palate, dusty graphite and granitic mineral elements; deep spice-drenched black fruit flavors, cedar, tobacco and black tea; long oak-and-tannin-permeated finish. Best from 2015 through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $40.
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Almost 50 years after its founding in 1965, on a property purchased in 1862 by Jacob Schram, it has become a cliche that Schramsberg is one of the leading producers of sparkling wine in California and that Jack and Jamie Davies, both deceased, were pioneering visionaries in the field, especially in Napa Valley. Cliche or not, however, under the leadership of Jack and Jamie’s son Hugh — winemaker along with Keith Hock — the Schramsberg winery continues to produce world-class sparkling wine using the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. It was a pleasure to taste — nay, drink — these three examples of the Schramsberg line sent to me as review samples. My notes follow. Each of these, or all of them, would make ideal additions to your roster of Yuletide and New Year libations.
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The Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2010, North Coast, is made completely from chardonnay grapes — “white from white” — that derive from these North Coast counties: Napa 60 percent, Sonoma 37 percent, Marin 2 percent and Mendocino 1 percent. The color is shimmering pale gold; the effervescence is exuberant and persistent. Notes of roasted lemon and lemon balm are highlighted by quince and ginger, hints of lime peel and grapefruit, freshly baked bread and limestone. This sparkling wine is bright and crisp on the palate, with tingling acidity that buoys a lovely, almost creamy texture that nonetheless is characterized by lithe and lively and slightly angular minerality. The overall effect is of balletic elegance and finely-wrought stones and bones. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The composition of the Schramberg Blanc de Noirs Brut 2009 — “white from black” — is 87 percent pinot noir and 13 percent chardonnay; the North Coast county components are 34 percent Sonoma, 32 percent Napa, 26 percent Mendocino and 8 percent Marin. Pale gold in color, this sparkling wine features a constant stream of tiny silvery shivery bubbles; the initial impression is clean and fresh, with aromas of slightly macerated strawberries and raspberries, lightly buttered cinnamon toast with cloves and candied orange rind. These elements persist into the flavor profile, where the wine takes on degrees of earthy, flinty minerality and notably crisp acidity, arrayed in a spare, elegant body for a high-toned character. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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Last of this trio is my favorite, the Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2009, a blend of 70 percent pinot noir and 30 percent chardonnay, with North Coast contributions of 44 percent Sonoma, 28 percent Napa, 24 percent Mendocino and 4 percent Marin counties. The color is old rose-gold enlivened by an upward surge of tiny glinting bubbles. Aromas of dried red currants and raspberries carry hints of peach, orange rind and a touch of tropical fruit, all enveloped in limestone; a few minutes in the glass add notes of pomegranate and biscuits. This sparkling wine is juicy but very dry, a tissue of delicate nuance, spare and elegant, wrapped in a fleet-footed expression of bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; its elegance does not belie a sense of tautness and urgency. A beautifully-wrought brut rosé. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $43.
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