February 2014


Building on last week’s Weekend Wines Notes devoted to cabernet sauvignon or cabernet-based wines from California, here are 10 more. Several are absolutely splendid, several more are well-made and enjoyable, a couple I do not wholeheartedly recommend and there are a couple of disappointments, but I’ll get over it. That’s the breaks in BTYH Land. These are brief reviews, ripped, as it were, from the cramped and crabbed penmanship of my notebooks, not intended to go into complete technical, historical or geographical detail but to pique your interest and, where appropriate, whet your palate. These were samples for review, and in the case of a few of them, I’m damned lucky that they were. Enjoy!
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Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma Valley. 14.9% alc. 1,475 cases. With 7% petit verdot. Deep ruby-purple color with a mulberry rim; pure iodine and iron, sanguine and savory; unfolding layers of licorice and lavender, cassis, black cherries and raspberries, cloves and sandalwood; a paradoxical marriage of remarkable intensity and concentration with generosity and expressiveness; smoke, graphite minerality; acidity plows a furrow through bastions of sleek dense tannins; brings up notes of bitter chocolate, loam and shale; a long finish packed with spice and fruit compote; pinpoint balance and integration. Now through 2022 to ’25. Exceptional. About $70.
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Atalon Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) 76.2% cabernet sauvignon, 14.8% merlot, 4.9% malbec, 2.8% petit verdot, 1.3% cabernet franc. Lovely transparent ruby color; bouquet of graphite, lavender and violets, black currants and red cherries, hints of cedar, black olive and plum; mild tannins but very dry, bitter chocolate and exotic spice at the core, fairly austere finish, ending on a woody note; not badly-made but not compelling. Now through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+. About $35.
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Beaulieu Vineyards Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 4% petit verdot, 3% merlot. Dark ruby purple color; a cool and confident cabernet, very well-balanced and harmonious, every element under control; needs a bit of wildness and recklessness to be really interesting, something to ruffle the feathers and wake it up. Now through 2018 to ’20 Very Good+. About $32.
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Flora Spring Trilogy 2011, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 10% each merlot and petit verdot, 5% malbec. Dark ruby color; very intense and concentrated, very dry, highly structured, defined by stalwart grainy tannins and lots of dusty oak; the finish is austere, densely packed with wood and graphite elements; doubtless a well-made wine but so typically Napa Valley that you want to give it a shake. Try from 2016 through 2025. Very Good+. About $75.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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Gallo Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. With 2% petit verdot. The signature on the label is that of winemaker Gina Gallo. Deep ruby-purple with an opaque center; ripe, fleshy, pungent; cassis and plums, notes of black raspberry, lively with cloves and allspice, lots of graphite minerality; pinpoint tannins and acidity bolster moderately dense and pliable tannins; really lovely depth and breadth; gratifying personality and character. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.
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Halter Ranch ancestor Estate reserve 2010, Paso Robles. 15.5% alc. 900 cases. 39% cabernet sauvignon, 35% petit verdot, 26% malbec. I’m generally a fan of Halter Ranch’s products, but this wine is a disappointment. Dark ruby tinged with magenta; very intense, very concentrated, quite powerful; needs a moderating component and some coherence; lots of toasty oak, slightly over-ripe black and blue fruit flavors and sweet with alcohol; not much pleasure here, perhaps a few years aging will bring out the nuances. Very Good. About $50.
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Hooker Rugby Club “Old Boys” Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. (Lawler Family Winery) 15.4% alc. 203 cases. Deep ruby-purple color; a real mouthful of lavender and violets, graphite, smoke and bitter chocolate; black currants, raspberries and plums with a touch of blueberry; quite rich, robust and plush, and you feel the oak too much from mid-palate through the finish, with that almost gritty charcoal-like edge; the 15.4% alcohol creates some heat on the finish too. If that’s yer cuppa tea, go ahead. About $32.
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J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 9% malbec. (From the owners of Schramsberg Vineyard, the sparkling wine producers.) Profound in every sense. Deepest of ruby-purple hues with a violet rim; earth, loam, black tea, cocoa powder; intense and concentrated cassis, black cherry and plum scents and flavors; penetrating graphite and granitic minerality; rich, expansive, enveloping yet shapely and supple, a monument with elegantly rounded edges chiseled by keen acidity; dusty, rock-ribbed tannins that manage to provide foundation and framework without being ponderous or austere. A real beauty. Try from 2015 through 2025 to ’30. Exceptional. About $90.
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Steven Kent Winery Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. 14.1% alc. 100% cabernet. 189 six-pack cases. Dark ruby color but not opaque or extracted; spiced and macerated black currants and plums; graphite, leather, loam; lavender and licorice, oolong tea and sandalwood; dense and almost chewy, solidly built, spicy oak in the background, yet not heavy or obvious; notes of winsome wildness, mint, black pepper, rose petal; long steady finish. Both profound and delightful. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $65.
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Steven Kent Winery Folkendt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Livermore Valley. 14.2% alc. 100% cabernet. 143 six-pack cases. Definitely darker ruby (than the preceding SKW cabernet) with a mulberry edge; piercing minerality of graphite and ferrous elements; firm, powerful, lithe and muscular; tremendous presence and vivacity; black currants and plums, bitter chocolate, cedar, black olive and dried thyme; ascendent oak spreads its dusty influence, grainy tannins penetrate deep; a finish densely packed, sleek and supple. Try from 2016 through 2025 to ’28. Excellent. About $65.
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Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” revolves around the notion that places exist that represent the epitome of decency and decorum. I hope the late, great (but deeply troubled) author doesn’t mind if I borrow the term to apply to a group of wines that represent, for me, the epitome of clarity and crystalline transparency, wines that seem to radiate light and chiseled elegance. The six wines under review today hail from the roster of Alois Lageder, an estate founded in 1823 and now operated by the fifth generation. The vineyards from which these wines derive — all white, though reds are also produced — lie in Italy’s Alto Adige region and in the foothills of the Dolomiti — the Dolomites — where the Alps render national and regional boundaries inconsequential. The wines of Alois Lageder, the eponymous leader of the estate, are divided into two groups: Alois Lageder and Tenutae Lageder. Under the former label, the wines are produced partly from the company’s own biodynamically-farmed vineyards and partly from grapes purchased on long-term contracts with local estates. The second group encompasses wines made solely from biodynamic single vineyards owned by the estate. A third tier is Cantina Riff, a pinot grigio and a merlot-cabernet blend made from selected growers in the “Tre Venezie” region; these are the least expensive of the offerings. Winemaker is Luis von Dellemann.

Samples for review from Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. Image of the Dolomites from adventourus.com

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The Riff Pinot Grigio Terra Alpina 2012, della Venezia, is as delicate and crisp as a snowflake and just as faceted. The color is very pale gold; piquant aromas of lemons, apples and lime peel unfurl to backnotes of grapefruit and almond blossom and a hint of almond skin. In the mouth, this wine feels chiseled from green apples, limestone and crystalline acidity, bolstered by touches of ripe peach and spiced pear; the finish is lean and spare. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014 as aperitif, with seafood and vegetarian appetizers or fish stews. Very Good+. About $10, an Amazing Bargain.
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Higher on the quality and price scale is the Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2012, Dolomiti, deriving from more specific locations in Trentino than the generalized Riff Pinot Grigio Terra Alpina ’12. The color is radiant straw-gold with faint green highlights; jasmine and honeysuckle dominate a bouquet inflected by notes of cloves, lilac, pomander, roasted lemons and yellow plums. Surprisingly full-bodied, ripe and spicy with citrus and stone-fruit, but leavened by crisp acidity and a shimmering limestone element; the texture is lovely and buoyant, the finish of medium length, packed with spice and minerals. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now into 2015. A superb aperitif, with seafood terrines, dry cheeses, green olives, or with grilled fish. Excellent. About $15, a Fantastic Bargain.
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The grapes for the single-vineyard Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto Adige, derive from biodynamic-farmed vines certified by the Demeter organization. (I’m not advocating for biodynamic principles; just informing those who are interested.) The color is pale gold; the whole package feels like tissues of delicate froth seamlessly woven with tensile strength; jasmine and camellia dominate a nose that features notes of greengage, lime peel and lemon lightly spiced and touched with almond. The wine offers delicious citrus and pear flavors and moderately full body, almost creamy, but brightened by crisp acidity and streamlined limestone and flint qualities; the whole effect is of lovely transparency and elegance. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016. Excellent. About $25.
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Now we go to pinot blanc, first with the “regular” Alois Lageder Pinot Blanc 2012, Dolomiti. The color is pale pale straw-gold; there’s a burst of floral energy, a seductive strain of jasmine and honeysuckle, then roasted lemon and lemon balm, lime peel and a hint of grapefruit. That grapefruit element persists through the wine’s striking acidity and its note of bitterness on the finish. In between, this is bracing and saline, shot through with limestone and river-rock minerality in lovely crystalline filigree. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Quite delightful. Very Good+. About $14, an Attractive Price.
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The Alois Lageder Haberle Pinot Blanc 2011, Alto Adige, derives from the Haberlehof estate vineyard that ranges in altitude from 1,500 to 1,710 feet. This is a cool-climate vineyard that sees extremes of day and night temperature variation. The color is mild gold; the wine overall is more subdued than its cousin mentioned immediately above, but is also more expressive and expansive. Yes, it is saline and bracing, as if it had feasted on seashells; yes, it features elements of roasted lemons and lime peel but adds spiced pear, a hint of lychee and dried thyme. The aura here is elevating and balletic, elegant, transparent; bright acidity arrows through to a finish heightened by notes of ginger and quince and a touch of grapefruit bitterness. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2015 or ’16 with seafood pastas or risottos or grilled fish. Excellent. About $22.
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Last in this roster is the Alois Lageder Müller Thurgau 2012, Dolomiti, made from a grape that we tend to associate with Germany (where it’s the second-most widely planted grape) and Austria but is grown all over Eastern Europe as well as in New Zealand, England and the United States. It was created in 1882 as a cross between riesling and madeleine royale grapes by Hermann Müller of the Swiss canton of Thurgau, hence the name. The wine derives from Alois Lageder’s highest vineyards, at 1,960 to 2,780 feet altitude. The color is pale gold; the bouquet is notably floral and spicy, weaving cloves and ginger with jasmine and camellia, as well as hints of roasted lemon, grapefruit pith and lime peel and a faint wash of musk. It’s more straightforward in the mouth, quite tasty, a bit savory and saline, very crisp and lively with acid and limestone minerality, but the real attraction is in the nose. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15.
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I’m not rushing Spring by offering as the Wine of the Week the Jean-Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rosé 2013. Parts of the country are still under snow, and it’s even fairly chilly today in my neck o’ the woods. Rosé, however, can and should be consumed all year around, seasons and weather be damned! Scrambling an egg for lunch? You need a rosé. Laying out some charcuterie for a little snack? Another occasion where rosé shines. Having a vegetarian dinner? Ditto the rosé. The Jean-Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rosé 2013 is a blend of 67 percent syrah grapes and 33 percent mourvèdre, grown in vineyards in the hills above Marseilles. The color is pale salmon-copper; attractive aromas of fresh strawberries and raspberries are highlighted by notes of peach, white pepper and orange rind. The texture delivers pleasing balance between softness and moderate lushness, on one hand, and fresh, crisp acidity on the other; flavors of red currants and cherries are permeated by hints of dried thyme, caraway and limestone. That minerality builds from mid-palate through the dry, elegant finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. A tasty patio, porch, pool and picnic wine, through 2014. Very Good+. About $13, manifesting Excellent Value.

The appellation for this wine is Indication Géographique Protégée Méditerranée, IGP being the new term for the old Vin de Pays. La Méditerranée, as it’s called, is a vast region, created in 1999 (as a Vin de Pays), that encompasses l’Ardèche, Drôme, Var, les Alpes Maritimes, les Hautes Alpes, les Alpes de Haute Provence and Vaucluse. Corsica was added in 2002 and les Bouches du Rhône in 2003. Under the EU wine region reforms of 2009, Vin de Pays became Indication Géographique Protégée, a rather less salubrious title.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla. A sample for review.

After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the cabernet sauvignon grape, in the hands of winemakers at Beaulieu Vineyards, Inglenook, Louis M. Martini and other Napa Vallery estates, raised California to world renown. Cabernet sauvignon continues to dominate the state’s prestige winemaking efforts, as properties established in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s and some more recently, command top prices at retail, in restaurants and, in terms of wineries like Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle, at auction. New labels appear every year; it’s a crowded and competitive field. Today, I offer nine examples of cabernet and cabernet-blend wines from producers that range from venerable (Mount Veeder, founded in 1973) to brand-new (Mt. Brave, on its third release) to an impressive debut wine with an impressive pedigree. Common threads include the fact that alcohol levels are comparatively low (compared to 20 and 30 years ago) at 13.7 to 14.7 percent; that none of these wines feels heavy with oak; that the emphasis is mainly on structure rather than ripeness. We touch several climes in Napa Valley, Sonoma County and, far to the south, Paso Robles. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I primarily avoid technical, historical, geographical and personnel matters for the sake of immediacy, hoping to spur your interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Amici Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby with a magenta-violet rim; black currants, raspberries and cherries, juicy, spicy, lots of graphite and lavender; that gratifying blend of ripe fruit and a rigorously tannic and mineral-tinged structure; oak providing a firm framework and foundation; lithe, almost sinewy, quite dry, even a little austere but lively, attractive, with an engaging personality. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $45.
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Cenyth 2009, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 47% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 8% petit verdot, 7% malbec. The debut release from this collaboration between Julia Jackson, daughter of the late Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke, and Helene Seillan, daughter of Pierre Seillan, winemaker of Verite. You know how some wines just hit you first thing, and you know they’re great; such a one is this. Opaque purple, almost more a force that a color; brilliant purity and intensity, scintillating and penetrating graphite and granitic minerality, very intense and concentrated black and blue fruit; lean and supple, lively and energetic yet with a brooding, inward cast; broad, deep tannins but a deftly poised marriage of power and elegance. Try from 2015 through 2025 to ’30. Exceptional. About $60.
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Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 13% merlot and 2% cabernet franc. 973 cases. Impenetrable dark ruby color; graphite, violets and lavender, bitter chocolate and walnut shell; very intense and concentrated black currant and raspberry fruit; densely packed with dusty tannins, dried spice and granitic minerality; yet manages to be open and generous, almost seductive, a sweet-talking brute, rigorous but buoyant. Try from 2015 through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $65.
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Cornerstone Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 10% merlot. 470 cases. Dark ruby-purple, motor-oil black at the center; ripe, fleshy and meaty on the one hand, rock-ribbed, granitic, intense and concentrated on the other; lavender, potpourri, sandalwood, black currants, raspberries and plums; dense dusty tannins, fluent acidity, lithe and supple texture; tremendous presence, vibrancy and resonance. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2028 to ’30. Were I the sort of person who bought wine by the case to drink it over the years of its development and maturity, this would be one. Exceptional. About $80.
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Daoa Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Paso Robles. 13.9% alc. 78% cabernet sauvignon, 8.5% merlot, 7.5% cabernet franc, 6% petit verdot. Dark ruby-purple color; clean, intense, concentrated; very earthy, with piercing graphite minerality; mint, eucalyptus, dried sage and rosemary; black cherries and currants and plums, ripe, macerated and roasted; hint of plum pudding; dusty tannins, quite dry, a little austere but well-balanced; great structure and personality, pretty damned irresistible. Try 2015 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $28.
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Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. With 3.5% merlot, 3% cabernet franc. (The former Chateau Potelle property.) Intense purple-black color, opaque at the center, a magenta rim; ripe and fleshy with black currants, raspberries and plums, notes of rosemary and cedar, lavender and licorice, hint of new leather; very dense and chewy, laden with graphite and polished, grainy tannins, deeply flavorful over a foundation of penetrating granitic minerals and bright vibrant acidity; brings in notes of moss, loam and underbrush; great presence and resonance. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Excellent. About $75.
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Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. 14% alc. With 5% merlot, 2% petit verdot, 1% each malbec and syrah. Dark ruby-purple color, slightly lighter rim; cloves and sandalwood, bay leaf and sage, black olive and rosemary; intense and concentrated notes of black currants and plums; deeply, stalwartly tannic, dense and dusty; graphite and shale, but well-knit and balanced; a nicely done if predictable performance. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $40.
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Olema Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Sonoma County. 14.5% alcohol. Second label of Amici Cellars. With 7% merlot. Dark ruby color, lighter at the rim; graphite, cloves, black currants and plums, an undertow of briers, underbrush, dusty tannins and keen acidity; ripe and flavorful, goes down smoothly. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $22.50.
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Ravenswood Pickberry Red Wine 2011, Sonoma Mountain. 13.8% alc. 750 cases. 66% merlot, 35% cabernet sauvignon, 9% malbec. Medium ruby color with a light magenta cast; a seamless and gratifying blend, ripe, spicy, floral and deeply fruity, all edged by graphite and dusty tannins and dense oak that emerges after an hour in the glass; elements of loam, briers and brambles bring in the earthy note. I didn’t find this as exciting as some of the other selections in this post, but it’s immensely enjoyable as well as revealing a serious character. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $50.
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When Constellation purchased Ravenswood for $148 million in 2001, the consensus was: “Uh-oh.” No way, we thought, will the giant alcoholic beverage company allow Joel Peterson to make those single-vineyard old vine zinfandels with the same individuality, if at all. These fears proved groundless, as a decade shows. Peterson founded the winery in 1976, and it’s a measure of his dedication — and the slim profits that the winery generated — that he kept his day-job as head of a medical laboratory at Sonoma Valley Hospital until 1992, when the success of the Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend wines enabled him to devote what must be his every waking moment to making wine and running the facility. Under review today are three samples of Peterson’s genuinely old vine products, as in each vineyard — Old Hill Ranch, Barricia, Belloni — contains at least part of the original vines planted more than a century ago. What I like about these zinfandels is that they deliberately eschew the blockbuster qualities of high alcohol, deep extraction and super-ripe fruit; don’t look for anything plummy and jammy in these wines, no cloying boysenberry flavors or alcoholic heat. Peterson’s hallmarks are purity and balance in terms of structure and fruit. He succeeds admirably.
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When one steps into Old Hill Ranch, in what is now the Sonoma Valley AVA, there’s a feeling of being on sacred ground. The vineyard was planted around 1880 by William McPherson Hill, who established his farm in 1851. The property passed through his descendents until Otto and Anne Teller acquired it in 1981 and decided not to uproot the historic but abandoned overgrown vines but to restore the vineyard to productivity, working with Joel Peterson, who released Ravenswood’s first Old Hill zinfandel in 1983. The vineyard contains more than 30 varieties of red grapes, the majority zinfandel but also a remarkable array of the well-known and the obscure. It is now farmed by Otto Teller’s stepson, Will Bucklin, who has his own label.

The Ravenswood Old Hill Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley — 75 percent zinfandel, 25 percent mixed black grapes — offers a medium ruby-magenta color and pungent aromas of fresh raspberries and blueberries infused with lavender and graphite, with hints of dried thyme and cedar, all highlighted by some clear wild berry notes. The wine is quite dry but balanced and integrated, its moderately dense but supple tannins and lithe acidity providing support for black and blue fruit flavors inflected by pepper, cloves and a touch of mint. The wine aged 19 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels, but the influence stays firmly in the background. The finish is clean and well-knit, packed with spice and graphite minerality. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 1,200 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $60.
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Barricia looks Italian or Spanish, but it’s a combination of the first names of Barbara Oleson and Patricia Herron, who bought the historic property in 1978. How historic is it? In the 1840s, the land belonged to Sonoma pioneer General Mariano Vallejo, who traded it to his children’s music teacher for piano lessons. Of the 10 acres of zinfandel vines on the estate, six were planted before 1892, the rest in 1995; two acres of petite sirah were planted in 1998. The vineyard now belongs to Mel and Angela Dagovitz.

The Ravenswood Barricia Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley, is a blend of 75 percent zinfandel and 25 percent petite sirah grapes. Fermentation is by indigenous yeasts; the wine aged 19 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is intense medium ruby; the wine is bright, clean, fresh and spicy, roiling with notes of macerated raspberries, plums and mulberries wreathed with hints of white pepper, leather and loam. In the mouth, this is, characteristically, muscular and sinewy but light on its feet and enlivened by brisk acidity; still, the tannins build incrementally, chiseled and faceted, along with granitic minerality, leading to a very dry, almost austere finish. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 1,250 cases. Try from 2015 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $35.
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The property that became Belloni Vineyard was planted around 1900 and acquired by Italian immigrant Ricardo Belloni in 1971. Joel Peterson started making zinfandel from the vineyard after meeting Belloni in 1991. The owner died in 1997, but his widow, his children and grandchildren keep the legacy going. This is a flat, sea-level site in a cool foggy Russian River Valley climate.

The Ravenswood Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel 2011, Russian River Valley, is a blend of 75 percent zinfandel and 25 percent mixed black grapes — Peterson’s magic numbers; the wine is fermented on native yeasts and aged 19 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. The color is glowing medium ruby; the vivid bouquet offers spiced and macerated black and red cherries and raspberries with notes of sandalwood and fruitcake, licorice and lavender, staying just on this side of the exotic. As with its sister wine from Barricia, the Belloni ’11 gradually layers its sleek tannins, its granitic core and its seething acidity in seamless balance, while the oak component provides supple framework and foundation. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 800 cases. From 2015 through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
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Sunday night I cooked the Smoked Catfish with Sweet-and-Sour Fennel and Kumquat Sauce from Charlie Trotter’s book The Kitchen Sessions (10 Speed Press, 1999), in which the recipes are more manageable for home-cooks than is the case with his earlier series of large-format, full-color manuals. I’ve done this dish three times for LL and me and once for a dinner party, and like most of Trotter’s recipes it involves a sequence of different preparations with all elements assembled just before serving. And speaking of serving, what wine did I choose for the dish? One that was not a review sample but rather purchased at a retail store: the Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011. Those of you who are fanciers of Burgundy wines will say, “Mâcon-Verzé? But Leflaive is one of the greatest producers of white Burgundy. Why would you bother with Mâcon?” Well, My Readers, Leflaive is indeed among a handful of the greatest producers of white Burgundy at the Grand Cru and Premier Cru levels in Puligny-Montrachet, but quantities are minutes and prices high. This Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011 was there, on a shelf at a retail store, and I bought it.

The chapter on Domaine Leflaive in Clive Coates’ Côte d’Or: A Celebration of the Great Wines of Burgundy (University of California Press, 1997), is unsurpassed in its research, acumen and judicial enthusiasm. In quick summary, the family traces its origin to the 15th Century, and the beginning of the domaine to 1717. In accordance with French law, though, with the death of each patriarch, the vineyards were divided among the heirs, until all that remained to the family by 1905 was two hectares of vines (5.14 acres). Joseph Leflaive (1870-1953), a mechanical engineer — he helped design the first French submarine — saw opportunity in the depression that followed the phylloxera disaster and started buying tiny portions of Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards in Puligny-Montrachet, totaling about 20 hectares (some 51.5 acres). Proprietorship passed to brothers Joseph Leflaive (1908-1982) and Vincent (1912-1993), and then, when Vincent retired in 1990, to his daughter Anne-Claude and nephew Olivier, who now operates his own negociant company. Anne-Claude Leflaive began experimenting with biodynamic methods in selected parcels in 1990, and now the entire domain is operated on those techniques.

In 2004, the domaine acquired five sections of vines in the Mâcon-Verzé appellation. These vineyards are farmed biodynamically, and the wine is made by Eric Remy, Domaine Leflaive’s estate manager. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts; the wine spent 15 months in barrels. The vines are 26 years old.

The Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011 displays a clean light gold color and offers exceedingly attractive aromas of jasmine and lilac, talc, roasted lemon, yellow plums and lemongrass; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone. This is a wine — 100 percent chardonnay — of tremendous tone and presence that still embodies all we desire in the way of harmony, delicacy and elegance. The lovely texture is almost powdery in effect yet enlivened by bright vibrant acidity and scintillating flint-and-limestone minerality. The finish — very dry, a little austere — delivers spare elements of cloves, lemon balm and shale. 12.5 percent alcohol. The Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011 is drinking beautifully now and will through 2016 or ’17 and perhaps go longer. Excellent. I paid $50, the full asking price, but the wine is being discounted around the country to $35 or so as the 2012 version becomes available.

Imported by Wilson Daniels, St, Helena, Calif.

At least in my neck o’ the woods, we’re entering a transitional season between Winter and Spring. The temperature is gradually rising, the wind is occasionally blustery, and the sky is flecked with white, long-tailed clouds. Late nights and early mornings are chilly. Here’s an inexpensive red wine, then, to match the food you might be preparing to placate this state of things. If you live in the Northeast, where the sky still rather gratuitously dispenses heaps of snow, this would be fine for a hearty home-cooked meal, the family seated — as I picture the scene — around a long hand-hewn wood table in a warm kitchen facing steaming bowls of beef stew. The product in question is the Calcu Cabernet Franc 2011, from Chile’s Colchagua Valley. The wine is made completely from cabernet franc grapes and matures mainly in stainless steel tanks with a smaller portion in used French oak barrels. The grape speaks for itself in a dark mulberry-magenta hue and with notes of smoke and wood shavings, lead pencil, cedar and dried thyme and gradually emerging elements of black currants, cherries and blueberries; a few moments in the glass bring out hints of black olives and lavender. There’s no denying that this is a robust and rustic red wine, dense and dusty, a little chunky, deeply spicy and flavorful but not slavishly clinging to ripeness; revel in the stalwart tannic and graphite tinged structure and the vibrant acidity that compels you to take another sip. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Very Good+. About $14, representing Good Value.

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

Villa Ragazzi has Napa Valley pedigree written all over it. Named for the Italian word for “ragamuffin” or “street urchin,” the winery boasts as owner and operator Michaela Rodeno, well-known in Napa as the person on the ground who helped launch Domaine Chandon and as the former 21-year CEO of St. Supery. Villa Ragazzi is a pet project for Rodeno and her husband Gregory, a lawyer who practices business, environmental and real estate law and manages the Villa Ragazzi vineyard. The enterprise is also a pet project in the sense that the Rodenos produce minute quantities of the mainly sangiovese-based wines they make. It’s a boot-straps concern fueled by mild (or major) obsession and a great deal of knowledge and experience. I love the labels, a giddy blend of the elegant and the carnivalesque.

I’ll come right out and say that my favorite of this trio was the Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese 2010, Napa Valley, which offers a medium ruby color and enticing aromas of black cherries and mulberries, cloves and dried rosemary (for a deft slightly piny resiny character), bitter chocolate, lavender and graphite; hints of orange rind, sour cherry and black tea circulate in the depths, both in nose and on the palate. The wine is quite dry, nimbly textured and bright with acid, and its moderately dense tannins and subtle minerality do not detract a whit from juicy yet spare red and blue fruit flavors. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was all of 58 cases, so I feel rather guilty that we drank a whole sample-for-review bottle one night with Jamie Oliver’s Pasta alla Norma, with lots of eggplant, basil and tomatoes. Not much sangiovese is grown in Napa Valley, but this, from the Rodena Vineyard, is probably the best. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $36.

Unfortunately, I had reservations about the other wines of this small group, or let’s say that I was not as enamored of them as I was of the sangiovese. The Villa Ragazzi Faraona 2010, a blend of 75 percent sangiovese and 25 percent cabernet sauvignon, was pleasing enough, offering a medium ruby color, robust and spicy red currant, red cherry and plum scents and flavors and a full-bodied tannin-graphite structure — it could age a few years — but it seemed more typical of such blends rather an individual expression. 14.5 percent alcohol. 70 cases. Very Good+. About $48. As for the Villa Ragazzi Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, a 100 percent varietal wine, I felt that whatever essential character it might have was smothered by wood. Remember, readers and winemakers, if a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, it has too much oak. 14.6 percent alcohol. 37 cases. Not recommended except for those who value the influence of wood over everything. About $60.

Call me a romantic, but I was raised on Keats and Tennyson, Chopin and Brahms; how could I be anything else? So, here I am again, offering a roster of brut rosé Champagne and sparkling wines for your Valentine’s celebration. Yes, the idea is trite, but it’s also right for the occasion. We hit Italy, Spain, France and California in this post and offer prices that range from a highly manageable $15 to the elusive $100. Whatever the differences in price and character, these are all very satisfying — and in some instances, exciting — products. Pop the cork (carefully) and pour (carefully) into tall flute-style glasses, gaze upon the vivid colors, revel in the effervescence, enjoy the lively flavors and the tingle on your palate. Above all — share with someone you love.

These products were samples for review. Image from clipartguide.com.
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When a sparkling wine bottle comes robed in pink, my first thought is “Gack, sweet!” The Anna Codorníu Brut Rosé, Penedès, Catalonia, Spain, however, feels crisp and bone-dry. Composed of 70 percent pinot noir grapes and 30 percent chardonnay, “Anna” is made is the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, as the regulations for Cava dictate. The color is fiery copper; aromas of blood oranges, raspberries and dried red currants are heightened by notes of cloves and orange rind; dry and crisp, yes, but leavened by juicy orange, lemon and strawberry flavors that arrow in to a lively grapefruit zest, lime peel and limestone finish. 12 percent alcohol. This estate goes back to 1659, when Anna Codorníu married Miquel Raventos; their descendants still run the company. Very Good+. About $15, a Distinct Value.

Imported by Aveníu Brands, Baltimore, Md.
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Juvé y Camps Brut Rosé, Penedès. Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, this crowd-pleaser offers a brilliant ruby-garnet hue and a fount of tiny bubbles; notes of pure strawberry and raspberry with a hint of pomegranate lead to a dry, crisp yet juicy and delicious sparkler that provides plenty of crisp acidity and flint-like minerality for body and structure. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16 and Worth the Price.

Imported by Winebow, New York.
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Cavicchioli & Figli Vigna del Cristo 2011, Lambrusco di Sorbara, is made completely from lambrusco di Sorbara grapes in Italy’s Emilia- Romagna region. The grapes derive from the Cavicchioli family’s original 12.5-acre vineyard; though in the grape-growing business for over a century, the family first bottled its own wines in 1928. For this example, 50 percent of the free-run juice undergoes second fermentation in tank, lending the wine a mild but very pleasing effervescence. Unlike many lambrusco wines, which manifest a dark ruby-purple hue, the color of the Cavicchioli & Figli Vigna del Cristo 2011 is a ruddy copper-flame color; enticing aromas of ripe strawberries and rose petals open to a background of raspberries and a slight earthy rasp to the texture; the wine is very dry, and a surprising limestone and flint element emerges, as well as an autumnal aura, just a touch over-ripe and mossy. All this adds up to a delightful wine with a hint of seriousness. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Very Good+. About $17.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
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The latest release of the J Vineyards Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, is a blend of 66 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay and 1 percent pinot meunier; it’s made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. The color is a radiant coral-topaz hue, energized by a gentle upward swirl of tiny silver bubbles. Strawberry shortcake in the bouquet is balanced by notes of raspberries, cloves and orange zest with hints of floral astringency and spiced pears. The stones-and-bones structure is both powerful and elegant, dry and crisp, with a halo of dried red currants and raspberries supported by pert acidity and an impressive limestone character. A lovely sparkler. Winemaker was Melissa Stackhouse. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $38.
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The Ronco Calino Radijan Rosé, Franciacorta, Lombardy, is dedicated to owner Paolo Radici’s father. The color is slightly ruddy, smoky salmon-pink; the bubbles are exceedingly tiny, fine and persistent; first impression is pure strawberry and raspberry but highlighted by notes of orange rind and grated lemon peel, limestone and steel. This is a very lively, spicy sparkling wine, truly effervescent; ripe and macerated red berry flavors are wrapped around a spine of bright acidity and clean flint-like minerality. The whole effect is sensual, charming and appealing yet with dark earthy undertones. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. The image of a piano on the label is an homage to the great pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995), to whom the estate once belonged. Excellent. About $31.

Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.
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The Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut Rosé, North Coast (Napa and Sonoma counties), is one of the prettiest sparkling wines you’ll find, though it has a serious, even a dramatic side too. A blend of 49 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir and 6 percent pinot meunier (slightly different than the previous release), it displays an entrancing fiery copper-peach color and a steady pulse of infinitesimal glinting bubbles. The bouquet is characterized by strawberries and red currants enlivened by orange zest and cloves and hints of fresh-baked bread, flint and steel. There’s very agreeable tension among slashing acidity, taut and crisp-edged limestone-like minerality and an almost luxurious sense of round citrus and stone-fruit nuances and irresistible seductive power. This would be a great special occasion — i.e., romantic — sparkling wine. 13 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Tom Tiburzi. Excellent. About $50.
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Delamotte is owned by Champagne Laurent-Perrier (see below), and as such is a sister house to Champagne Salon, one of the greatest, rarest and most expensive of all Champagnes. Don’t worry, though, the Delamotte Brut Rosé is a special brut rosé Champagne priced reasonably for the type. The pinot noir grapes for this blend derive from Grand Cru vineyards at Montagne de Reims; the chardonnay is from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, superior pedigree all round. The color is shimmering copper-salmon, like a deepening sunset; tiny bubbles surge swirling to the surface. This is a high-toned and austere rose, built on strains of steel and limestone wreathed with orange zest, camellia, quince, ginger and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; chiming acidity and an almost crystalline flint and limestone element lend frosty if not glacial elegance, but the effect is more thrilling than forbidding. 12 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Michel Fauconnet, also cellar-master at Laurent-Perrier. Excellent. About $70, though online there’s a wide range of prices.

Imported by Vineyard brands, Birmingham, Ala.
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The entrancing color of the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut, Champagne, France, is a ruddy copper-salmon color, like tarnished silver over rosy-gold, enlivened by a constant upward froth of tiny glinting bubbles; this is all pinot noir, from 10 Grand Cru villages, presented in an old-fashioned bell-shaped bottle. The initial impression is of raspberries, red currants, orange zest and lightly toasted brioche, quickened by high notes of something wildly berry-like and broadened by bass tones of flint and chalk. The balance between fleetness and suppleness is exciting, and while the whole package is beautifully woven, elegant and sleek, it harbors depths of limestone minerality and bright acidity for resonance. Intense yet buoyant and sophisticated. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $100 suggested retail price but can be found for far less on the Internet.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier U.S., Sausalito, Cal.
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Italian families like Parducci, Pedroncelli and Sebastiani added immeasurably to the development of the California wine industry, particularly in Sonoma County. (And of course Mondavi in Napa Valley.) Today’s Wine of the Week comes from Pedroncelli, family-owned since 1927; ; winemaker is John Pedroncelli. Over the course of its existence, the winery has been noted for red wines, of which the Pedroncelli “Mother Clone” Zinfandel 2011, Dry Creek Valley, is a delicious example. “Mother Clone” refers to the winery’s home vineyard, replanted in the 1970s using original budwood and featuring grapes from some of the vines remaining from 1904. The wine spent a year aging in American oak barrels and includes 10 percent petite sirah grapes. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry tinge at the rim. The bouquet is exactly as racy, as briery, brambly and peppery as you want from a well-proportioned zinfandel that includes notes of wild blueberries, black currants and plums; the wine is gently but persuasively framed by oak and slightly chewy tannins and enlivened by brisk acidity and clean graphite minerality, all going to support tasty, spicy blackberry and black currant flavors touched by hints of lavender and licorice. 14.8 percent alcohol. We drank this wine with a hearty pizza; it would also be appropriate with roasted or braised meat dishes, pork chops with a Southwestern rub or burgers and steaks. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $17, representing Excellent Value.

A sample for review.

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