July 2015

A blend of grapes from four vineyards and a plethora of classic clones, the Benovia Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, offers a medium ruby color that shades into ethereal transparency at the rim; first come smoke and loam, then an earthy briery-brambly quality, followed by touches of black cherry, cranberry and a hint of pomegranate seemingly macerated with cloves and sandalwood, mulberry and rhubarb; yes, that’s quite a sumptuous panoply of effects. The wine is dense and super satiny on the palate, a pretty wine with pockets of darkness and something sleek, polished and intricate that reminded me of the line from Keats’ sonnet “To Sleep”: “turn the key deftly in the oiled wards.” Not that this pinot noir feels too carefully made — winemaker is Mike Sullivan — because it concludes on a highly individual and feral note of wild berries, new leather, fresh linen and finely-milled tannins, all propelled by bright acidity. Alcohol content is 14.1 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with roasted chicken, seared duck breast, lamb or veal chops. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review.

Rully is one of the villages of the Côte Chalonnaise entitled to its own appellation. Named for the town of Chalon-sur-Saône, the region is part of greater Burgundy, lying between the southern tail of Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune and Mâconnais. As with its more important cousin to the north, the grapes in the Chalonnaise are chardonnay and pinot noir, except for the commune of Bouzeron, dedicated solely to the aligoté grape. Surprisingly, for its relatively minor status, 23 climats or vineyards in Rully are entitled to Premier Cru designation. The commune contains about 357 hectares of vines — 882 acres — of which 2/3 are devoted to chardonnay. Our Wine of the Day, No. 39, is the Rully Les Cloux Premier Cru 2012, from the distinguished firm of Olivier Leflaive. This estate owns vines in a magnificent roster of Côte de Beaune powerhouses, including Grand Cru and Premier Cru settings in Meursault, Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, as well as interests in Chablis and the Chalonnaise. As we would expect from Olivier Leflaive, the wine is treated carefully, aging six to seven months in oak barrels, never more than 15 percent new and then resting in stainless steel tanks for nine months, resulting in a wine of great freshness and direct appeal. The color is very pale gold; aromas of lime peel, orange blossom and slightly candied grapefruit are twined with a distinct loamy-briery character that segues seamlessly to the palate, where the wine exhibits a lovely, almost talc-like texture and bright acidity that lends liveliness and tautness. A few minutes in the glass bring in a tide of scintillating limestone minerality as well as a freshening swell of slightly exotic spice and floral elements. The importer’s website indicates that this 2012 is the vintage currently in the U.S. market, and while the wines of the region are not intended for laying down, this should certainly retain its attractive nature through 2016 and into 2017. Alcohol content is 13 percent. A chardonnay of terrific presence and integrity. Excellent. About $26, a local purchase that’s a bit below the national average price.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.

Fire up the grill! Here is a cabernet-based wine perfectly tuned to the broad strokes and the nuances induced by the kiss of flames upon beef, lamb, veal and pork. The Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, is the product of one of those vintages that winemakers refer to with sighs of relief and giddy smiles. It’s a blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent merlot and 3.5 percent each petit verdot and cabernet franc that never sees a smidgeon of artificial herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers and is fermented with indigenous yeasts. The wine spent 21 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels. The color is deep ruby from opaque center almost to the rim, where it shades delicately into a violet-magenta hue; to touches of cedar and rosemary, cloves and allspice, ripe and spicy black currants, cherries and plums, the wine adds grace-notes of black olive and bell pepper, creating a beautifully complicated bouquet that picks up on the slightly resiny woodiness of rosemary and the exotic slightly astringent woodiness of allspice; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of lavender and licorice and a teasing wisp of roasted fennel. On the palate, this cabernet delivers weight and substance without being ponderous or overstated; while sustained by large dimensions of graphite and granitic minerality and deep but soft and finely sifted tannins, it embodies the vivid acidity to keep it engaging and animated and the gorgeous black fruit flavors — now feeling spiced and macerated — to make it eminently attractive. Still, this is a wine that focuses a good deal of attention on structure, and the finish, from mid-palate back, shifts toward a bastion of austerity and aloofness. 14.7 percent alcohol. Try tonight with something grilled or from 2017 or ’18 through 2025 to ’28. Excellent. About $65.

A sample for review.

The Sicilian estate, Tasca d’Almerita, with vineyards at various locations on Mount Etna, dates back to 1830. It is operated now by Count Lucio Tasca and his sons Giuseppe and Alberto. The white wine under review today is made from a little-known indigenous grape, the carricante, and perhaps it’s the volcanic soil in which the vines grow, but this wine is unique. The Tascante Buonora 2013, Sicilia, made all in stainless steel, offers a pale straw color and notes of damp straw and heather, grapefruit and spiced pear, jasmine and yellow plums; a few moments in the glass bring out touches of quince, ginger and dried thyme. A few moments more, and you begin to appreciate the savory and saline elements that provide the wine with its foundation and dimension; it’s clean, fresh and bracing, with a crisp, lively presence, yet deeply imbued with earthy-limestone-seashell qualities; it’s a wine of both the marshy, sea-blown shore and the rocky uplands. For all that, there’s something chaste, delicate and chiseled about it. 12 percent alcohol. We happily consumed this bottle last night with a pasta LL made that was pappardelle with kale, baby leeks, mint, ricotto and walnuts. Drink through 2016 or into 2017. Excellent. About $20, and Worth a Search.

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

The Campofiorin red wine from Argicola Masi, produced since 1964, tends to over-perform for its price range, making it a must-have when My Readers are confronted with a platter of pappardelle with rabbit sauce or beef Carpaccio or a veal or pork haunch roasted with garlic and rosemary. Hmmm, venison, too. The Masi Campofiorin 2011, Rosso del Veronese I.G.T., is a blend of the typical red grapes of the Valpolicella region — corvina, rondinella and molinara. It’s made in a fashion similar to the great Amarone wines, that is, after it is vinified — turned into wine! — it is fermented again on the semi-dried grapes of the same variety. After that, the wine aged 18 months in barrels, 2/3s in 90 hectoliter Slavonian oak botti — big-ass barrels; 90 hl equals 2,377.5 gallons — and 1/3 in 600-liter new French oak casks, barrels of 158.5-gallon capacity; by comparison, the standard French oak barrique holds about 59 gallons. The point is to allow the oak to be a shaping but not dominant influence on the wine. The color is dark ruby, opaque at the center; aromas of dried raspberries, black cherries and plums, potpourri, sandalwood and cloves, all knit by notes of iodine and iron, seque to the mouth as a wine that features spiced and macerated black and red fruit flavors deeply imbued with the permeating factor of slightly dusty, finely-sifted tannins. Acidity is electric, almost pert, and it drives the dryness through a finish that becomes a bit austere. Give this a few minutes in the glass and it brings in hints of orange zest, oolong tea, loam and leather, all powered by a dynamic lithic element. The alcohol content is 13 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $18, a Remarkable Value.

Imported by Kobrand Corp, Purchase, N.Y. A sample for review.

Nobilo Wines qualifies as a pioneer winery in New Zealand, being founded in 1943, a mere blip in time for many estates in Europe. Better late than never, right! Anyway, the Icon label is Nobilo’s top designation, and today I look at the Nobilo Icon Pinot Noir 2013, Marlborough. The wine is a blend of grapes from three estate vineyards lying at different altitudes on different types of soil. It aged 10 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby in the center shading to a transparent rim; very attractive aromas of raspberries, cloves, rhubarb and smoked black cherries are twined with fairly profound notes of loam and underbrush, while a few minutes in the glass deepen the spicy element. This pinot noir is quite dry, edging toward finely-sifted dusty tannins, but it retains a feeling of juicy ripeness around the circumference, as well as offering a supple and satiny texture. It trades principally, however, on the earthy aspect, as it gathers its forces of mushrooms, briers and brambles, a touch of some rooty tea and dollops of graphite for a cool, slightly chiseled finish. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with grilled lamb or veal chops. In some degree, this pinot noir lacks the balancing effect of grace and elegance so essential to the grape, but it offers an interesting and satisfying exploration of the dark side. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.

Constellation Imports, Gonzales, Calif. A sample for review.

I’ll confess to a sense of ambivalence when I write about what used to be called Kendall-Jackson and is now Jackson Family Wines. After all, this is the company — let’s call it an empire — that was launched, in 1982, with the Kendall-Jackson Vintners’ Reserve Chardonnay 1980, a wine that did not change how America drank chardonnay but confirmed its secret and terrific yen for a ripe, fruity, slightly sweet white. Proprietor Jess Jackson, an attorney and horse-racing enthusiast, bought an 80-acre pear and walnut orchard in Lakeport, Calif., with his first wife in 1974 as a getaway from San Francisco, planted grapes and sold them to wineries including Fetzer. When an order from that winery fell through, the opportunity to make some chardonnay arose, with, apparently, a mistake in fermentation leaving the wine with a touch of residual sugar. Bingo! Selling at $4.50 a bottle, the first Kendall-Jackson Vintners’ Reserve Chardonnay created a niche and a craving in the wine-consuming habits of American consumers.

Jess Jackson died in 2011, at the age of 81. The company is still closely held by the family, with Jackson’s widow, Barbara Banke, as chairman.

Soon after the winery produced its first vintage in 1982, Jackson started acquiring properties. In 1988, for example, he bought Edmeades Vineyards in Mendocino. In 1994, he purchased Robert Pepi, the winery and vineyards. (Pepi cannot use his name on labels now and makes cabernets under his Eponymous label.) The year 2006 saw Jackson in high acquisition mode; within two months that summer, he took in Robert Pecota and Murphy-Goode and then for $97 million purchased Legacy Estates, which owned Freemark Abbey, Arrowood and Byron, a purchase that included winery facilities, brands, inventory and vineyards, all of these brought under the Kendall-Jackson umbrella.

In fact, let’s go ahead and list the labels and brands that fall under Jackson Family Wines’ broad banner.

The top of the line is the Spire Collection, consisting of Anakota (Knights Valley); Arcanum (Tuscany); Capensis (Western Cape, South Africa); Capture (Sonoma County); Cardinale (Napa Valley); Cyneth (Napa Valley); Chateau Lessegue (Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux); Chateau Vignot (Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux); Galerie (Napa Valley); Hickinbotham (McLaren Vale, South Australia); La Jota Vineyard (Napa Valley); Lokoya (Napa Valley); Maggy Hawk (Mendocino County); Mt. Brave (Napa Valley); Verite (Sonoma County);Windracer (Russian River Valley, Sonoma County). I have tasted wines from 12 of these 16 estates, and they are impressive in every sense.

Also under the Jackson Family Wines rubric but not included in the Spire Collection, are Champ de Reves and Edmeades (Mendocino); Carmel Road (Monterey); Atalon and Freemark Abbey (Napa Valley); Byron and Cambria (Santa Barbara County); in Sonoma County, Arrowood, Carneros Hills, Hartford Family, La Crema, Matanzas Creek, Murphy-Goode, Stonestreet, Silver Palm and the recently acquired Siduri; and in Oregon, Gran Moraine, founded in 2014.

Kendall-Jackson is now a brand inherent in the Jackson Family Wines stable, and it too is divided into a roster of labels and categories that includes K-J Avant (three wines); Vintners’ Reserve (10 wines); Grand Reserve (eight wines); Jackson Estate (eight wines); and Stature (two wines). Yes, just under the Kendall-Jackson label are 31 wines. Stonestreet offers 17 wines, primarily single-vineyard chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon: Murphy-Goode produces 19 wines, including chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel. You get the point. Add all the brands and labels together, from the heights of the august and costly Cardinale and Verite down to the common denominator of its least expensive offerings, and the company oversees the production, at many levels and price-points, of close to 100 different wines each year. That’s a lot of territory to cover, geographically, varietally and stylistically, but the gratifying fact is that, while of course variations in quality and style inevitably exist, the diverse range of wines tends to be consistently and thoughtfully well-made, with my ratings typically ranging from Very Good+ to, in a few instances, Exceptional.

That assessment is not the same as saying that all of these brands, labels and wines seem absolutely necessary. No winery or group of wineries can be all things to all people, and at prices, say, between $18 and $30, the line-up of Jackson Family Wines might be competing with itself, though I suppose that marketers and strategists take that aspect of the business into consideration.

In the rarefied echelon of the Spire Collection, where prices rise to a dramatic $250 a bottle for Cardinale, the competition is the realm of California’s famous and highly sought-after cult cabernet sauvignons. Certainly the wines from Cardinale, Cyneth, La Jota, Lakoya and Mt. Brave in Napa Valley and Anakota and Verite in Sonoma display the remarkable detail, depth and dimension and the capacity for long-aging that great wines must evince. I have tasted a number of the Spire Collection wines in the past, and in March spent a day in Napa Valley and a day in Sonoma County tasting the most recent vintages of these labels, as well as the sauvignon blanc wines of Galerie, the pinot noirs of Maggy Hawk and the chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons of Stonestreet. In a few days, I’ll post an assessment of these individual wineries that fall under the rubric of the Spire Collection.

Argyle’s Lone Star Vineyard in Willamette Valley’s Eola-Amity Hills AVA allots just under seven acres to the riesling grape, amounting to a bare two percent of the cultivation of the estate’s vineyards. The three blocks of riesling are divided into grapes that will undergo fermentation and aging in stainless steel, coming out with a smidgeon of residual sugar, and those that go into neutral French oak, coming out totally dry. That combination lends the Argyle Nuthouse Riesling 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, remarkable vibrancy and resonance, as well as real presence on the palate, though you would swear that the wine was weightless. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of peach and spiced pear are wreathed with notes of lychee and petrol, quince and ginger, jasmine and honeysuckle; give the wine a few moments in the glass — serve it chilled and let it gradually and softly warm up — bring in hints of nectarine and lime peel. This is a richly golden, slightly honeyed reisling whose riveting acidity drives through a generous talc-like texture to allow the emergence of burgeoning limestone minerality; it displays a liveliness that goes beyond just crisp acidity to an essential dynamism that does not negate its delicate and elegant structure. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 1,300 cases. I happily drank a glass of this wine with a Parmesan cheese omelet with tomatoes and green olives. Now through 2019 to 2023. I consider this riesling among the best not only in Oregon but on the West Coast. Exceptional. About $30.

A sample for review.

The Descendants Liegeois Dupont Red Mountain Les Gosses Vineyard Cuvée Marcel Dupont 2012, Washington state, boasts an Old World label and an Old World attitude in this 100 percent syrah wine that spent 14 months in French and American oak, 30 percent new barrels. There’s a lot of info on this label, but only on the back do we find a hint that the wine originates from Hedges Family Estate. The winery was instrumental in the application of Red Mountain for AVA status, supported by Kiona Vineyards, Blackwood Canyon Vintners, Sandhill Winery, Seth Ryan Winery and Terra Blanca Winery, granted by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in 2001. Red Mountain, not so much a mountain as a steep, long southwest-facing slope of deep gravelly soil, lies within the Yakima Valley AVA, which is part of the sprawling Columbia Valley AVA; with only about 600 acres under cultivation, Red Mountain, known for its distinctively tannic and minerally cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, wines of grain and substance, is the smallest of Washington state’s grape-growing regions. The wine’s name derives from the family names of Anne-Marie Hedges — Liegeois and Dupont — who is from the Champagne region and married Tom Hedges in 1976. The vineyard on Red Mountain is Les Gosses and the cuvée is named for Anne-Marie Hedges’ grandfather, a noted bon vivant (as my grand-children will say about me).

As for the wine, the color is dark ruby-purple with a slightly lighter magenta rim; aromas of dried blackberries, cherries and currants are permeated by notes of leather and loam, oolong tea and some heady rooty elixir; there’s a sense of dried mountain flowers, potpourri and heather, as well as a provocatively ripe, earthy, funky aspect. All of these qualities segue handily onto the palate, where they are buoyed by riveting acidity and profoundly deep, dense and dusty tannins and graphite minerality that assert a kind of Old World rusticity and structure. Nonetheless, there’s nothing rude or plodding about this wine, which, rather, displays a fleet-footed feeling of animation and vigor, as opposed to many New World syrahs that trade on succulence and opulence and high alcohol. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 2,902 cases. Drink through 2018 to ’22 with game birds, grilled leg of lamb, veal chops seared in a cast-iron skillet with garlic and rosemary. Excellent. About $27.

A sample for review.

Fans of sauvignon blanc wines from New Zealand will love this snappy streamlined number. Made all in stainless steel, the Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, opens with an exuberant burst of grapefruit, gooseberry, lime peel and pea shoot; it’s fairly grassy and leafy and displays notes of fig and dried thyme. The texture is lithe and lively, and the wine flows across the palate in a crisp zippy stream of melon, grapefruit and mango. It’s all a bit exotic and pretty darned tasty and obviously produced for immediate enjoyment as an aperitif or to accompany a plateful of grilled shrimp or fish tacos. Don’t worry yer pointy little head about it; just gulp it down, especially in these hot humid days. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12 to $14.

Imported by Ste Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Wash. A sample for review.

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