May 2015


If a pinot noir wine doesn’t touch both the sublime of the ephemeral and the profundity of the chthonic, it is, to me, perhaps not a failure but a gravely lost opportunity in allowing the grape’s complicated and paradoxical virtues to express themselves. Greg Bjornstad, winemaker for Pfendler Vineyards, employs the panoply of craft, art and intuition to make pinot noirs that satisfy my desire for the broad range of the grape’s character and dimension. The winery is owned by Kimberly Pfendler, pictured here. The Pfendler Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 50 percent new. The color is a fairly opaque ruby shading to transparent magenta at the rim; what a seductive procession of black cherries and cranberries, with notes of cloves and sassafras, pomegranate, potpourri and sandalwood, emerges from the glass! The texture offers a lovely, dense, satiny drape that flows with lithe and lissome engagement on the palate, while a few moment’s pause for swirling, sniffing and sipping lend the wine hints of smoke and tobacco leaf, rose petals and rhubarb. Earthy, leathery elements burgeon, and the wine takes on more loamy, underbrushy qualities as it leans toward the power of slightly dusty tannins and a flinty mineral structure. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Production was 350 cases. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

If your weekend includes such activities as lying out in the sun by the pool, lounging on the patio, making merry at a woodland picnic, then I have a wine suitable for these lazy, early Summer occasions. Or, you might live in Texas, in which case, never mind. The product I offer today is the Monopole 2014, a delightful, refreshing white wine from the CVNE estate in Spain’s Rioja region, made entirely from viura grapes in stainless steel; never did a wine less require a “kiss of oak.” The color is pale straw-gold with a tinge of green; the bouquet — appropriate term — wreathes notes of jasmine and honeysuckle with hints of green grapes, yellow plums and spiced pears, not ostentatiously but with lovely subtlety and nuance. Nor is the wine’s texture or structure ostentatious, rather exhibiting juicy yellow and stone-fruit flavors with bright, engaging acidity and a scintillating limestone element in perfect, spare balance; the finish is enlivened with slightly bitter touches of grapefruit and almond skin. Above all, this is a wine outfitted for pure pleasure, so don’t worry your pretty little head about it, just sip contentedly and let the weekend do its work. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15, representing a Real Bargain.

Imported by Europvin USA, Van Nuys, Calif. A sample for review.


I was supposed to receive a sample of the Bedell Cellars “Taste” Rosé 2014, North Fork of Long Island, but the vintage instead was 2012. Generally, we want the most recent year of a rosé wine, for its fresh quality and immediate appeal, but I thought, “What the hell, let’s try it anyway.” Reader: It was great. For 2012 — the blend changes every year — this is an interesting combination of 70 percent merlot, 25 percent cabernet franc, 3 percent cabernet sauvignon and 2 percent syrah, and it touches the authenticity points of sustainably grown estate fruit, whole cluster pressing and indigenous yeast. The color is a slightly darker than usual onion skin infused with light copper; a core of dried sage and thyme and crushed rose petals unfolds notes of slightly candied orange peel, pomander, and dried strawberries with touches of rhubarb and pomegranate. The finish is crisp, clean and savory, accented by hints of flint, grapefruit rind and sour melon. It could easily age another year or two. 11 percent alcohol. Drink with pizza, pates and terrines — rabbit and duck — or such picnic fare as fried chicken, shrimp salad and deviled eggs. Excellent. About $25.


Michael McCay uses a light touch to make small quantities of impeccable wines at his McCay Cellars facility in Lodi. He is probably best-known for a series of single-vineyard zinfandels, but he produces versions of more out-of-the-way grapes too. An example is the McCay Cellars Cinsault 2013, derived from the Bechthold Vineyard planted in 1886. This cherry-red wine, fermented on native yeasts and seeing only 23 percent new French oak, sings with purity and intensity. Aromas and flavors of ripe cherries and raspberries are permeated by notes of cloves and allspice, briers, brambles and loam and wild tones of cranberry and rose petals. A flinty graphite edge hones the palate, while bright acidity cuts a swath and lends pert liveliness; the finish gathers touches of cherry-berry, apple peel and a modicum of dry, dusty tannins. Thankfully, there’s nothing opulent here; you feel this wine’s spare virtues and savory attractions strung on a line of limpid and uncontested structural depth. 13.8 percent alcohol. Fewer than 200 cases produced, so mark this Worth a Search. Excellent. About $39.

A sample for review.


From an estate that traces its origin in Italy’s Marche region to 1871 — pronounced “MAR-kay” — comes the Garofoli Macrina 2013, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, made all in stainless steel from 100 percent verdicchio grapes. This is a versatile and appealing white wine that offers a pale gold color and enticing aromas and flavors of roasted lemon and yellow plum infused with notes of dried thyme, almond skin and verbena. The whole effect is spare, savory, saline and bracing, as fleet acidity and a scintillating limestone element lend essential vibrancy and energy. It feels coastal and wind-swept. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2015 with grilled shrimp, seafood risottos, fish stews or as an attractive aperitif. Very Good+. About $14, marking Great Value.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.


That odor of grills firing up all over the land and wafting scents of steaks, chickens, sausages, pork chops, ribs and legs of lamb roasting over hickory coals puts me in mind of zinfandel, a versatile wine for pairing with red meat that sports savor and spice and a piquant charry-minerally edge. Of course the grape can be made — too often by my reckoning — into over-ripe, hot, unbalanced, high alcohol fruit bombs, but today I offer a more poised version that promises to behave itself while not letting go entirely of its dark, juicy feral side. This is the Quivira Vineyards and Winery Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, a blend of 89 percent zinfandel, 10 percent petite sirah and 1 percent carignane grapes, drawn from the winery’s three estate vineyards as well as smaller portions sourced from other DCV growers. The wine aged for an undisclosed amount of time in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; magnetic aromas and flavors of blackberries, black currants and plums are permeated by notes of cloves, black pepper and lavender, while a dense, velvety texture is off-set by a chiseled lithic character and a depth of dusty flint-laced tannins, the whole package lent vibrancy and resonance by bright acidity. The finish adds a fillip of pomegranate and wild cherry. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now, with the aforementioned grilled meats or a dish of pasta Bolognese, through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $26.

A sample for review.

Here’s what I decided to do, after posting a few days ago that this blog would take a hiatus until the cast came off my broken arm and I could write easily again. I don’t actually want to have a long gap in posting, so I will begin today with one brief review of a bottle of wine and continue in this manner every day until the arm heals and I can write more extensively again. This scheme forgoes my preferred method of comparing wines — six Napa Valley cabs, say, or pinot noir and chardonnay from the same producer and so on — but it keeps my (left) hand in and lets My Readers know that I’m still here.

So, first in this temporary series is the Matanzas Creek Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County. The winery falls under the Jackson Family Wines umbrella. The color is shimmering pale gold; this is a clean and fresh chardonnay, eloquent in its expression of green apples and peaches under classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit, all wreathed by hints of jasmine and crushed gravel. This chardonnay is dense, almost talc-like in texture, but enlivened by brisk acidity and a burgeoning limestone element; the spicy qualities, centered on cloves and ginger, increase through the crystalline, faceted finish, where a touch of oak holds everything together. A wine of lovely balance and animation. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17 with grilled salmon, tuna or swordfish. Excellent. About $26.

A sample for review.

Dear Readers, you have surely noticed, doubtless with mounting alarm, the absence of this blog from the airwaves. This hiatus will continue for an indefinite period of time due to a broken arm that I stupidly acquired last weekend. That appendage being the right arm, I find myself in the position of neither being able to open a wine bottle nor lift a glass of wine nor take notes. Anyway, my medications all forbid the consumption of alcoholic beverages. I am by the way writing this bulletin with one finger of my left hand; you could watch an episode of Games of Thrones in a shorter span. I hope to have cast off and stitches out soon, but I don’t know when I will return to serious work. Bear with me. Cheers!

I taste — not drink — a great deal of chardonnay wines made in California. Much of them are well-made and serve as exemplars of the grape, but far too many reveal signs of being over-manipulated in the winery with barrel-fermentation, malolactic, lees stirring and long aging in barrel. The result is often chardonnays that I find undrinkable because of their cloying viscosity and dessert-like character, their aggressive spiciness, their flamboyant richness and over-ripeness and basic lack of balance. This is why, when LL and I sit down to a dinner that requires a white wine, I generally open a sauvignon blanc or riesling, a Rhone-inspired white, a pinot blanc or an albariño. Looking for respite from tasting California chardonnays, I purchased a bottle of the Domaine Perraud Vieilles Vignes Mâcon-Villages 2013 from a local retail store. This is made completely from chardonnay grapes from 45-year-old vines; it sees no oak, and it’s a shimmering graceful beauty. Mâconnais lies south of Burgundy proper, between Chalonnais and Beaujolais and considerably smaller than either. The soil tends to be limestone and chalk and is best on the south-facing hillsides about 800 or so feet elevation. This wine spends eight to 12 months in stainless steel tanks, resting on the fine lees of dead yeast cells and skin fragments. The color is very pale gold; beguiling aromas of roasted lemon and lemon balm, lime peel, jasmine and verbena are highlighted by bright notes of quince and ginger; a lovely, almost talc-like texture is riven by a blade of clean acidity and bolstered by layers of chiseled limestone minerality, all at the service of delicious citrus and stone fruit flavors tempered by a concluding fillip of bracing grapefruit vigor. Utterly fresh, beautifully poised between elegance and delicacy, on the one hand, and presence and gravity on the other. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. We had this last night with a dinner of broiled catfish with boiled potatoes and salsa verde, green beans on the side. What’s the lesson here? Chardonnay does not have to be bold, brassy, brash and buxom. Excellent. About $20, a Great Value.

Imported by North Berkeley Wine, Berkeley, Calif.

So, the weather is getting definitely warmer over much of the United States of America, and millions of consumers are searching for delicious and juicy, crisp and lively wines to match the season of porch, patio, pool and picnic. Guess what? I have a candidate for such a position. It’s the Giesen Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014, from New Zealand’s Marlborough region. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Oh, right, another one of those flamboyant grapefruit-gooseberry-celery seed-lime peel New Zealand sauvignon blancs that gets up in your nose and tickles and teases your delicate scent organs so you almost sneeze.” Well, allow me to say that while the Giesen Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014 certainly displays some of those elements, they are subdued in nature, balanced and integrated with a gingery-jasmine character, scintillating acidity and a prominent edge of limestone minerality. Quite dry, yes, but sunny, leafy, endowed with intriguing thyme-clove notes and a sprightly finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. You can drink it with almost anything or with nothing. Very Good+. About $15, making it Bargain Status.

Imported by Pacific Highway Wine & Spirits, Petaluma, Calif. A sample for review.

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