December 2013

Chardonnay gets all the glory, but if I had my druthers, sauvignon blanc would get the love, especially sauvignon blanc wines made in the vast curve where the Loire River makes a left-turn from the south and starts its long westward journey to the Atlantic. In that geography lie the regions of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and several lesser known areas where sauvignon blanc is the dominate grape. Today’s featured wine is the Chateau de Sancerre 2011, and while the 2012 rendition is presently on the market, the 2011 is drinking beautifully now, and it looks online as if plenty is available. Chateau de Sancerre is owned by the Marnier-Lapostolle family, perhaps more widely recognized for their proprietorship of the ubiquitous liqueur Grand Marnier and the Lapostolle winery in Chile, but this estate in Sancerre, which they have owned since 1919, is something of a jewel. Made in stainless steel, Chateau de Sancerre 2011 offers a medium gold color and penetrating aromas of chalk, limestone and earth, with herbal notes of meadow and lemongrass and elements of roasted lemon, ginger and quince; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of jasmine and camellia. The wine is taut with bracing and cleansing acidity, and it resonates with scintillating limestone minerality, but not at the expense of deeply spicy lemon and grapefruit flavors with undercurrents of spiced stone-fruit. The finish builds to a kind of mushroom-like earthiness and a fresh clean mineral character. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $20 to $26.

Terlato Wines International. A sample for review.

If River Road Family Vineyards and Winery, located in Green Valley of Russian River Vallery, didn’t issue the first wine in California from the harvest of 2013 — you know, like three months ago — then it’s right up there in the front of the vanguard; the wine was released on December 2. Not surprisingly the wine, made by Joe Freeman, is a rosé. The wonderful color of the River Road Rosé of Pinot Noir Reserve 2013, Russian River Valley, is a radiant violet-melon hue that we’ll call Kardashian pink. Aromas of pure strawberry and raspberry, slightly spiced and macerated, mingle with notes of rose petals, orange rind, cloves and limestone; in the mouth, this rosé gushes with red fruit flavors, adding a hint of blueberry, that flow in a moderately satiny texture; the finish brings in more limestone minerality and a touch of almond skin. While not made in the stony, austere style of rose that I prefer — this is a little riper and more voluptuous — the River Road Rosé of Pinot Noir Reserve 2013 is a delightful and tasty rosé for drinking through the summer of 2014. Alcohol content is 12.5 percent. Production was 240 cases. Very Good+. About $15.

A sample for review.

It’s an article of faith that Oregon — specifically the Willamette Valley and its constituent AVAs — is a salubrious region for the pinot noir grape, but other “pinots” thrive there, too, as in pinot gris and pinot blanc. Willamette also turns out to be a spot rich in possibility for the versatile riesling grape. Consumers simply need to be exposed to these wines, and to that end I offer brief reviews of some rieslings and a smaller number of pinot gris. Unfortunately, many of these wines are produced in limited quantities, but you will see in my notices below which ones are worth searching out. Reviews in the Weekend Wine Notes are purposely brief, shorn of technical, historical and geographical matters and ripped, as one might say, from the stained and blotched pages of my notebook. I hope My Readers will be inspired to look for some of these highly rewarding wines. All were samples for review.
Amity Vineyards “Wedding Dance” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley. 8.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; redolent of petrol, lychee, cloves and lemongrass, peach and pear; initial hint of sweetness but zinging acidity and a keen limestone-flint element keep it quite dry from mid-palate back; quince and ginger and stone-fruit; exhibits all the tension and balance, the vibrancy and elegance, you want in a classic riesling. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $17 to $19, Good Value.
Anne Amie Estate Dry Riesling 2012, Yamhill-Carlton. 11.9% alc. Pale gold color; very clean and fresh, dry, chiseled and faceted; a very high limestone threshold yet a pretty riesling, delicately outfitted with elements of peach, pear and grapefruit, with a hint of spice, yellow flowers; more than a hint of lively, bracing acidity and mineral austerity on the finish. Very Good+. About $23.
Argyle Riesling 2011, Eola-Amity Hills. 11.5% alc. Absolutely lovely medium-dry riesling; elegant, delicately woven, flirts with sweetness of ripe peach, pear and lychee; slightly macerated with a hint of clove-like spice; exquisite balance and acidity, seductive texture poised between lushness and pert limestone minerality; long spicy finish. Excellent. About $21.
Brooks “Ara” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley. 11.5% alc. 300 cases. My third experience with this superb wine. Very pale straw-gold color; a blissful state of pure minerality lightly imprinted with notes of rubber eraser, pears, ginger and quince, highlighted with smoke, lilac, chalk and limestone; shimmering acidity, whiplash tension and energy, spare and elegant, yet so ripe and appealing. A great riesling. Excellent. About $25.
Chehalem Three Vineyards Riesling 2011, Willamette Valley. 10.5% alc. Radiant pale gold color; very clean and fresh, slightly honeyed but with a resonant tang of acidity; notes of peach and spiced pear, touch of lychee and mango, yellow plum and quince; slightly earthy as the limestone element asserts itself from mid-palate through the bracing stony finish. A superior riesling. Excellent. About $22.
Christopher Bridge Sartori Springs Estate Vineyard Pinot Gris 2011, Willamette Valley. 11.4% alc. Pale gold color; crystalline purity and intensity; fresh and spicy; apple, pear, lime peel, hint of greengage; sweetly ripe but very dry limestone-and-flint packed minerality, with tight, bright acidity; hints of jasmine and honeysuckle emerge. Great shape and tone. Excellent. About $26.
David Hill Estate Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley. 12.9% alc. Pale gold color; truly lovely pinot gris, very floral, very spicy; very appealing delicacy, heft and texture; cloves, quince, ginger; lemongrass, orange blossom, peach; notes of lemon balm and spiced pear; keen acidity and limestone minerality provide structure and a touch of seriousness. Wonderfully attractive. Excellent. About $18. representing Great Value.
Foris Riesling 2011, Rogue Valley. 11% alc. Pale gold color; ripe pear with a smack of grapefruit; cloves, ginger and quince, a hint of lychee; just off-dry; tinge of grapefruit rind and pithiness in the finish; lively, tasty. Very Good. About $15.
Penner-Ash Riesling 2012, Willamette Valley. 10.5% alc. A golden and crystalline riesling; very dry, shattering acidity and scintillating limestone character; the typical spiced peach-pear-lychee but conducted with luminous purity and intensity; very ripe, all yellow and gold; multi-layered and complex. A model and exemplar. Exceptional. About $23.
Terrapin Cellars Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley. 13% alc. Light gold color; rich and spicy, roasted lemon, lemon balm, cloves, quince and ginger; very dry, scintillating acidity and limestone minerality; hint of grapefruit bitterness on the finish; thirst-quenching and drinkable. 1,400 cases produced. Very Good+. About $13, an Amazing Bargain.
Willamette Valley Vineyard Riesling 2012, Willamette Valley. 8.7% alc. Very pale gold color; delicate, graceful; notes of ripe peach and pear with hints of lychee and petrol; cloves, orange zest and roses; a bit sweet on entry but with a dry finish that features a touch of grapefruit bitterness and limestone austerity. Very Good+. About $14, another Bargain.

It’s a good thing that Paul Hobbs’ reach exceeds his grasp, because he’s a winemaker and consultant with his fingers in many vinous pies. He worked at important estates in California, including Opus One, before launching his Paul Hobbs Winery in 1991. Consistently interested in the potential of South American vineyards, he opened, with two partners, Vina Cobos in Argentina in 1999; the company now has seven wineries and 11 labels. While the constant theme in Hobbs’ wines, wherever they are made and whatever the grape variety, is minimal intervention in the winery, the motif of the wines themselves tends to be power and structure, and these two examples of pinot noirs from CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs demonstrate that fact perfectly; they are succulent and tasty but deeply imbued with the foundational elements of acid and minerality. CrossBarn, named for the building on the farm where Hobbs grew up in Upstate New York, produced its first wine from the vintage of 2000. Winemaker for CrossBarn is Molly Bohlman, image at right. These wines were samples for review.
The CrossBarn Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, offers a ravishing purple-magenta color and equally ravishing aromas of black cherries and plums, cloves and cinnamon, a bit of smoke and toasty oak and notes of rhubarb, pomegranate and cola. This is quite substantial for an Anderson Valley pinot, which often tend to be leaner and lither than this example, though the texture is super satiny, and acidity cuts a bright clean swath on the palate. There’s a briery, brambly edge and a pass at graphite minerality, and as the moments elapse, elements of leather and loam emerge. There’s more power than elegance here, but this pinot noir also manages to be succulent and flavorful. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 14 percent new barrels. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $35.
The color of the CrossBarn Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, is slightly different from the color of its Anderson Valley stablemate, being more in the dark ruby-mulberry range. This one is even spicier than its cousin, with an exotic panoply of cloves, allspice and cardamom wedded to a procession of macerated black and red cherries, currants and plums and hints of rhubarb, sassafras and oolong tea. This is another substantial, even dense pinot noir, though, as before, it slides across the tongue like the finest, flowiest satin in a stylish welter of slightly roasted black and blue fruit flavors, dried spices and flowers, all borne by layers of clean earth, graphite minerality and energizing acidty. The differences between these two pinot noir wines seem to reside more in the realm of detail than in dimension and intent. This one aged 10 months in French oak, 10 percent new barrels, keeping the influence to a minimum but contributing to the wine’s supple character. 14.1 percent alcohol. drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.

It took the insight of Argentine winemaker Nicolas Catena to understand that chardonnay vineyards could be planted at high altitudes and produce excellent grapes. From the Andean areas of Lujan de Cuyo and Tupungato, grape-growing regions of Mendoza, and family vineyards at heights ranging from about 3,100 to 4,700 feet, comes the Catena High Mountain Vines Chardonnay 2012, from Bodega Catena Zapata, a wine that spent 10 months in French oak barrels, 35 percent of which were new. The color is radiant medium gold. Aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit, with a hint of peach and mango, are wreathed with cloves, lime peel, wet stones and a touch of buttered toast; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of jasmine and lilac. This chardonnay is distinguished by its deeply spicy nature and a lovely, seductive texture that perfectly balances the muscle and bone of limestone minerality and bright acidity with an almost cloud-like, talc-y softness. The wine picks up sinew as it goes, with a close to tannic effect, and builds to a conclusion of tremendous presence, tone and character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Winemaker was Alejandro Vigil. Excellent. About $20, a Bargain to Shiver Your Timbers.

Imported by Winebow, Inc., New York. A sample for review.

If Randall Grahm, proprietor of Bonny Doon Vineyards, were going to tackle cider, his reputation alone would tell us that he would do so in a contrarian manner. Thus was born ¿querry?, a sort of inquiry into the proposition that one could blend pears (58 percent) apples (33 percent) and quince (nine percent) — 91 percent of the fruit from California, 9 percent from Oregon — and come up with a lightly sparkling, low-alcohol beverage that would not only be different from but perhaps better than regular apple cider. Better than? I don’t know about that. Splendid ciders are certainly available. Different from? A definite “yes” to that. Produced in a normal 750 milliliter Burgundy-type bottle, ¿querry? offers a mild, medium gold color and an appealing bouquet that wreathes fresh aromas dominated by apples and spiced pears bound by a mineral cut and a hint of the ephemerally autumnal. This is tasty stuff but quite dry and jazzed by the bright acidity of apples and the puckery, gingery character of quince. Though made in California, there’s something of Yankee spareness and rigor about this slightly austere cider that finishes with a touch of apple-peel bitterness. Nonetheless, it’s surprisingly versatile. I had a glass at one lunch with cheese toast and the following day with scrambled eggs; it was a winner both times, though it seems to me that its supreme moments would be with charcuterie or roasted chicken. 6.9 percent alcohol. Production was 1,639 cases. Drink over the next 12 months. Excellent. About $16.

A sample for review.

Because that’s what we want during these chilly weeks, isn’t it? Red wines that we don’t so much have to cogitate about as enjoy, red wines that pair nicely with the hearty, stick-to-the ribs food we’re craving now: red meat pasta dishes, braised short ribs, veal and lamb shanks, chili and beef stew and lentil soup. Oh, sure, it’s easy for collectors to trod the dusty stairs down to their dim wine cellars and snatch a bottle of deep dark Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Cornas or muscular Australia cult shiraz from the shelf, but most of us don’t have the luxury or the fiduciary prowess for that. Instead, I offer today a trio of reds, not huge block-buster reds with high alcohol and powerful extraction, , just attractive, full-flavored reds with fairly gentle tariffs that should do the trick right now for your palates and pocketbooks. And they’re from three different countries; you’re so cosmopolitan!

First, the Meli Carignan 2012, Maule Valley, Chile, a wine that includes 10 percent cabernet sauvignon and aged a few months in 10 percent used oak barrels and 90 percent in stainless steel tanks. The result is a wine with a dark purple-violet color and immediately appealing freshness of black cherry-black currant-and-plum scents and flavors permeated by notes of lavender, potpourri, dark chocolate and graphite. Moderate tannins gently assert themselves, to remind you that there’s some heft and backbone, while acidity keeps its end of the bargain by provided a lively aspect. 14 percent alcohol. Clean, lively and tasty. Drink now through 2014. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Global Vineyards, Berkeley, Calif.
All right, we turn to Spain and the wine region of Utiel-Requena, named for two towns in the province of Valencia, for the Pasión de Bobal 2010, produced by the Sierra Norte estate. Utiel-Requena undergoes the harshest conditions of any wine region in Spain, with poor soil, extreme heat in the summer and frigid temperatures in winter, but the indigenous bobal grape, which makes up about 75 percent of vine cultivation in the region, is hardy enough to withstand the rigor. I loved the Pasión de Bobal 2010 for its deeply mineral and tarry individuality, its dark panoply of ripe, spicy black and blue fruit effects; its acute and roiling acidity for freshness and vibrancy and its structure that deftly yet powerfully melds litheness and sinew with a dense, dusty almost cushiony texture; undertones of briers and brambles lend earthiness. The wine was made from 25- to 60-year-old vines and aged six to eight months in French barriques. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2015. Excellent. About $15, a Bargain That Sends The Mind Reeling.

Steve Miles Selections, Denver, Co.

Composed of sangiovese grapes with dollops of alicante and malvasia nera, the Fattoria Le Pupille 2011, Morellino di Scansano, from the estate of Elisabetta Geppetti in southwest Tuscany, offers a medium ruby color with a hint of violet hue and beguiling aromas of black and red cherries, currants and plums, highlighted by notes of fruitcake, lavender, oolong tea and dried orange rind. This pleasing array segues seamlessly into the mouth, where mildly dense tannins and vibrant acidity provide support for spicy black and red fruit flavors and intriguing depths of graphite minerality and a core of dried flowers and dark chocolate. 14 percent alcohol. Highly drinkable and tasty, through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $16.

Importer N/A.

The Ricardo Santos Semillon is consistently one of my favorite white wines and one of the world’s great wine bargains. Made from 70-year-old vines, the wine delivers wonderful character for the price, actually performing far above its scale, and without the benefit (or detriment) of oak aging. Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina, offers a medium gold color and beguiling aromas of fig, roasted lemon and greengage plum with hints of fennel, cloves and a touch of dusty talc. A lovely supple texture and fleet acidity support lemon and grapefruit flavors highlighted with notes of bay leaf and dried thyme, a sunny leafy element with a hint of grass and a background of wet stones. The whole package is savory and saline, deeply spicy, bright, lively and delicious. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 850 cases, so call around and order a case. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $16.

Imported by Global Vineyards, Berkeley, Calif. A sample for review.

LL made pappardelle with chanterelles; I opened the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Ka-wham! Synergy. Meeting of true minds. Cosmic twins. Sublime dish with a divine wine. I could probably stop there, but you know I won’t. The wine is made from a high-elevation dry-farmed — that means no irrigation — vineyard planted 39 years ago. What’s remarkable is that the wines went through complete barrel-fermentation and aged in 100 percent new French oak barrels, yet it retains no sense of being woody or over-oaked or stridently spicy; those excellent mature grapes soaked up that oak and came out as a supple, subtly spicy and deeply nuanced chardonnay. The color is brilliant medium gold; aromas of pineapple, grapefruit and roasted lemon carry notes of jasmine and camellia, a hint of cloves, a bell-tone of mango. The wine is unusually dense and substantial without being heavy or viscous; it’s quite dry, almost tannic in effect, but it feels permeated with light and grace and elegance. a lithe and resonant construct of stones and bones, which is to say, abandoning metaphor, that it’s thoroughly enlivened by bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. The Smith brothers do it again. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 463 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’23. Exceptional. About $30, a price more than fair for the quality.

This wine was a sample for review.

Because the Wine of the Week is a couple of days late, here’s a twofer, a red and a white. These wines were samples for review.

The white is the Jekel Vineyards Riesling 2012, Monterey, a medium gold-colored wine that exudes winsome notes of golden apples, grapefruit and lime peel with touches of mango, lychee and candied orange rind; there’s just enough mineral action going on, in the form of a scintillating limestone element, and bright acidity, to keep it on the straight-and-narrow path. Faintly sweet on entry, with spiced peach and grapefruit flavors, the wine turns bone-dry through the finish. 13 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Charlie Gilmore. Drink now through 2014. Quite charming. Very Good+. About $16.

For the bonus wine, we’ll go with the Noble Vines 1 Red Blend 2011, carrying a California designation. This well-made amalgam of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel is a product of DFV Wines, that is to say, the umbrella of the Indelicato family for a wide range of labels. Their legacy in Monterey goes back to 1924 and vines planted by Italian immigrant Gaspare Indelicato. The color is medium ruby with a magenta tinge; scents of black raspberries, black currants and plums include notes of graphite, lavender and blueberry tart. Tasty and spicy black and blue fruit flavors are ably supported by moderately dusty, chewy tannins, a clean mineral element and bright acidity. Lots of verve and personality. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15.

« Previous Page