November 2015


Opening a bottle of chardonnay from California is always a tricky proposition. Will you be getting a lithe, energetic, deftly balanced amalgam of fruit, acid and minerality or a heavy concoction as cloying as a dessert selection from the cart at a third-rate Landmark_2013_Overlook_ChardSonoma_simple_sRGB_M-300x980continental restaurant? I swear, My Readers, that it boggles my mind to read the notices in the Big Wine Magazines that run something like “Rich, buttery and tropical; with notes of coconut cream pie, caramelized mango and lemon curd, against a lush background of French toast, candied pineapple and roasted marshmallows.” 93 points! High-fives all around! I mean, please, let’s not encourage America’s vast childish sweet-tooth any more than necessary with these undrinkable wines. Consumers looking for a more rational approach should pick up a bottle of the Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay 2013, a California chardonnay that for grapes draws primarily on vineyards in several Sonoma County AVAs but also reaches way down south to the well-known Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. The grapes fermented with native yeast; the wine aged 10 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. (Winemaker was Greg Stach.) This is a bright, keen and moderately rich chardonnay that avoids flamboyance through well-developed details and an impeccable dimension of lively acidity and scintillating limestone and flint minerality. The color is medium gold; fresh and ethereal aromas of green apple, grapefruit and pineapple are subtly woven with hints of cloves, heather and green tea. The wine is beautifully proportioned in the mouth, where a supple and fine-edged texture cuts a swath on the palate while providing support for flavors of lightly spiced pear and grapefruit; the chiseled finish practically glitters with limestone. 14.2 percent alcohol. If I had to choose a house chardonnay chez nous, this would be it. Drink through 2017. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

At first, your reaction to the deep ruby-magenta Stéphane Aviron Beaujolais-Villages 2013 will be, “Oh, goody, pure black raspberries avironand black cherries!” Why ask for more, right? Give it a few moments in the glass, though, and notes of cloves, lavender and violets creep in, followed by tinges of graphite and loam. A little plum, dark and spicy; a bit of cranberry, fresh and tart. It’s a tasty wine, actually delicious, but quite dry, with a definite mineral edge to the lithe finish. 13 percent alcohol. The wine is made from 100 percent gamay grapes, as it must be in Beaujolais, from vines 50 years old and older. It undergoes whole-cluster fermentation and ages briefly in old 50 hectoliter puncheons, that is, large barrels that hold 1,320.86 gallons; the standard French oak barrel for aging wine holds 59 gallons. The point is that the wine should possess shape and tone — much like human beings — but no taint of wood to inhibit freshness and flavor. Beaujolais-Villages is a versatile wine; we drank this with last night’s pizza of basil, roasted fennel and red onions with three cheeses and a dash of peppered salami. Really charming. Very Good+. About $15, a local purchase.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York, whose website has not caught up to the vintage of the wine under discussion.

Napa Valley’s Somerston Wine Co. encompasses three labels: Somerston, Priest Ranch and Highflyer. Today we look at the Priest Ranch PR-LogoFinal-EstateGrenache Blanc 2013, from a grape not commonly found in Napa Valley. The wine was fermented by native yeasts — that is, yeasts naturally occurring on the grapes, rather than inoculated in the winery — in stainless steel drums and tanks, with aging carried out in stainless steel with 10 percent neutral French oak barrels. No toasty new oak for this baby! The color is what I think characteristic for grenache blanc, a pale gold hue with a sheen of shadowy tarnish. The bouquet is a subtle melange of lemon and melon, greengage and white pepper, dried thyme, lavender and cedar. The wine is spare and elegant and nicely balanced with juicy roasted lemon flavors highlighted by notes of peach and spiced pear; for all its delicate felicity, though, it pulls up a slightly dusty, faintly tannic element that lends a mysterious earthy effect and leads to a finish lithe with an austere saline and savory quality. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 1,151 cases. This should drink well through 2016 with light fish and seafood dishes. Winemaker was Craig Becker. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

Here’s a robust Argentine red wine that will shiver the timbers of just about any big, rich, meaty braised dish you set before it, Vistalba_CorteC_NV_Label1particularly, I think, short ribs. Beef stew would be a good match too. The Vistalba Corte C Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Mendoza, contains 61 percent of the first named grape and 39 percent of the latter. It aged 12 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Alejandro Canovas. The color is deep, unfathomable ruby-purple; exuberant whiffs of black currants, blueberries and black plums offer notes of sage, cedar, black olive, black pepper and bell pepper, all encompassed by elements of graphite and loam. Pretty damned heady stuff, n’est-ce pas? It’s a warm, spicy and savory wine, with just a hint of mint, cloves and bitter chocolate about its black and blue fruit flavors and a bit of black raspberry tart; dense and chewy, the tannins are fairly dusty and rustic, leading to a spice and mineral-packed finish. 14.6% percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Very Good+. About $18.

Imported by Blends, Plymouth, Calif. A sample for review.

Napa Valley’s Chateau Montelena is best-known for its long-lived chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon wines. Riesling is something of a Rieslingsideline, but that doesn’t mean the approach is casual. The Chateau Montelena Riesling 2014, Potter Valley, is anything but off-hand. Potter Valley, in Medocino County, was approved as an American Viticultural Area in 1983; it’s the northernmost AVA in the vast North Coast region. This is a riesling of crystalline intensity and presence that begins with a pale gold hue and continues with arresting aromas of peach and lychee, spiced pear and lime peel, jasmine and lilac; there’s a snap of gunflint and a whiff of damp limestone. Chiming acidity cuts through a talc-like texture that whatever its burgeoning lushness feels spare, chiseled and elegant, presenting a thoughtful paradox of sensations to the palate. The wine is quite dry yet juicy with flavors of slightly dusty roasted lemon and candied kumquat; the finish brings in touches of limestone and spiced grapefruit, ending with a bracing saline note. 13.5 percent alcohol. We drank this wine last night with salmon dusted with fennel pollen rub and seared in a cast-iron skillet. Winemaker was Matt Crafton. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

If what you’re looking for in a zinfandel is a super-charged, over-ripe, sweet and hot alcoholic fruit-‘n’-spice bomb, then you might as well close this page and go on to the video of the kitty and the bunny riding skateboards off a dining-room table. I have other frank logothings in mind for you today, chief among them the well-balanced Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2012, Napa Valley. This wine is a blend of 79 percent zinfandel grapes, 18 percent petite sirah and 3 percent cabernet sauvignon; it aged 18 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels, 67 percent once- and twice-used. Winemaker was Todd Graff. The color is dark ruby shading to a scarlet rim. This is pure raspberry and blueberry in the nose and on the palate, with aromas that touch on cloves, boysenberry, rhubarb and gardenia; as the moments pass, the heady and seductive floral elements blossom with violets and lavender, permeated by notes of fruitcake and lightly caramelized fennel. Tannins are well-knit, graphite-flecked and dusty, and bright acidity cuts a swath through slightly loamy red and black fruit flavors. The finish is sleek, chiseled and elegant, offering subtle layers of spice and granitic minerality. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017 or ’18 with grilled steaks or pork chops, braised short ribs or hearty pizzas and pasta dishes — or with Thanksgiving dinner. Excellent. About $37.

A sample for review.

Anyone could spend 10 minutes in a wine store and realize that 20 sauvignon blanc wines amount to about a quarter of a drop in a whole large bucket of sauvignon blancs produced in California every year. And why not? It’s a terrific grape with tremendous potential for making wines that range from simple, direct, snappy little numbers for quaffing out on the back porch to profound examples possessing great depth and character capable of aging for 25 or 30 years. Of course, it can also make wines that are bland, insipid and watery or screaming with acidity, but that’s hardly the grape’s fault. The Ur-territory for sauvignon blanc is the eastern end of the Loire Valley, in Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and several related areas, and Bordeaux’s Left Bank, where the grape is generally blended with semillon (and sometimes muscadelle) to produce grand expressions of the grape and some favored terroir. Even in Bordeaux, however, sauvignon blanc can be a work-horse grape, as in Entre-Deux-Mers, and fashioned into simple, tasty wines of no great importance. Sauvignon blanc wines are produced almost anywhere in the world that grapes can grow, from South Africa and New Zealand to northeastern Italy and (in our own country) the state of Virginia and just about everywhere in California. The wines described in this post occupy the complete geographical range, from Santa Barbara County in the south to Knights Valley in the north, and a full complement of styles. As they say on the carnival midway, “You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.” With a couple of exceptions duly noted, these wines were samples for review. A subsequent post will deal with sauvignon blanc wines from other regions and countries.
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The Bernardus Grivia Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Carmel Valley, was fermented in stainless steel and aged “several months” in 24-year-old French oak tanks. The wine contains a dollop of semillon grapes. The color is pale straw-gold; it’s a fresh, clean and sprightly sauvignon blanc, with subtle herbal and grassy elements and notes of pea-shoot, roasted lemon, tarragon, lime peel and grapefruit. The wine is sleek and supple on the palate, energized by bright acidity and a slightly chiseled limestone quality, while delivering a boatload of juicy citrus and stone fruit flavors; there’s a bracing hint of leafy fig and grapefruit bitterness on the finish. 13.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Dean DeKorth. Very Good+. About $22.
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The Cliff Lede Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, has a complicated genesis. The primary vineyard source, located in eastern PrintRutherford, has old vines planted to a heritage musqué clone and semillon. Another component of the sauvignon blanc came from a vineyard in the southeastern hills of Napa Valley standing on ancient, weathered, alluvial fans of silty impoverished soils. Other grapes derive from a cooler climate vineyard on the east side of Napa, while a vineyard in Chiles Valley, a small pocket in eastern Napa County, contributes sauvignon vert planted in 1947. The final blend was 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 12 percent semillon and 3 percent sauvignon vert. The grapes fermented and the wine aged 44 percent in stainless steel tanks, 49 percent in mostly neutral French oak barrels and 7 percent in concrete eggs. What was the result of all this activity and contrivance? A frankly beautiful sauvignon blanc with seductive and almost unlimited appeal. The Cliff Lede Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014 displays a very pale straw hue and riveting aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, roasted lemon, lemongrass and a hint of mango, with herbal and grassy elements poised in the background; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of fennel and grapefruit. The wine is very dry, crisp with fleet acidity and almost tannic in structure, while a soft, talc-like texture offers a haze of smoke and light oak accents; the finish offers hints of limestone, grapefruit and spiced peach. 14.7 percent alcohol. This wine should drink beautifully through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $25.
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The Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc 2014, Sonoma County, is composed of grapes half from Russian River Valley and half from Dry Creek
2014_fume_labelValley. It sees no oak, only stainless steel. The color is very pale straw with a faint green tinge; the leafy, grassy bouquet is characterized by notes of celery seed and caraway, grapefruit, lime peel and lemongrass, with hints of jasmine and lavender in the background. Crisp and pert, the wine exhibits lovely purity and intensity in its lithe texture and lightly spiced citrus flavors, finishing with touches of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone. Very refreshing and engaging. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Winemaker was Tim bell. Very Good+. About $14, a Terrific Bargain.
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The Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Dry Creek Valley, is a bit milder and more subtle than its Fume Blanc stablemate. It 2014_Sauvignon_Blanc_label_rgb1
incorporates 14 percent of the sauvignon musque clone and 4 percent sauvignon gris. It, too, was made completely in stainless steel.The musque contributes honeysuckle and spiced pear to a melange of orange zest, honeydew melon, roasted lemon and lime peel and notes of grapefruit and tarragon. The wine is quite dry and crisp, supple and lively on the palate and bright with citrus flavors leaning gently toward stone-fruit and a tropical tinge; damp flint minerality infusing the clean finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 into 2017. Excellent. About $18, marking Great Value.
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A wine of shimmering purity and intensity, the Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014, St. Helena, made from certified organic grapes, sees only stainless steel and neutral oak in its making. The color is very pale, an ethereal almost-not-there straw-gold; delicate notes of lime peel, grapefruit, lemon balm and lilac wreathe themselves with hints of thyme and tarragon and a faint grassy tinge; matters are a bit bolder in the mouth, where chiming acidity contributes riveting crispness and a scintillating limestone and chalk element lends poignant vibrancy, all cutting through a slightly creamy texture. 13.2 percent alcohol. A masterpiece for drinking through 2017 or ’18. Winemaker was Kevin Morrisey. Excellent. About $28.
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The Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, is beautifully modulated in every aspect — fruit, acidity, body, minerality. The 2014_napa_valley_sauvignon-blanc_labelgrapes, from the winery’s estate vineyard in Oakville, fermented in concrete and stainless steel tanks and aged nine months in large French oak casks and stainless steel drums. A very pale hue is almost colorless; subtle layers of lightly spiced stonefruit and citrus, herbs, fresh-mown grass and meadow flowers are delicate strung. The wine is quite tart and crisp, displaying lovely and elegant weight and heft, purity and intensity; it finishes with an infusion of limestone and grapefruit. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Winemaker was Paul Steinhauer. Excellent. About $25.
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Made from certified organic grapes, all in stainless steel, the Frog’s Leap Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, Napa frog's sbValley, is about as limpid, lithe and crystalline as the grape gets. Notes of pea-shoot, gooseberry, lychee, fig and lime peel open to hints of grapefruit, orange blossom, licorice and lilac in a welter of sensation that amounts to awesome purity and intensity. Wonderfully poised among bright, accented citrus flavors, brilliant acidity and shattering limestone-chalk minerality, the wine is crisp and zesty yet not overly tart and quite dry without being austere. 12.1 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017 or ’18. Winemakers were John Williams and Paula Moschetti. Excellent. About $22, a local purchased. (I paid more.)
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Winemaker Ondine Chattan reaches out to Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino and Solano counties, and east to Clarksburg in the Sacramento Delta for the grapes that go into the Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2014, which carries a California designation. For the price, this is a surprisingly subtle and nuanced sauvignon blanc. The color is pale gold; we get the expected notes of grapefruit, lime and orange zest, along with hints of leafy and herbal elements and touches of bell pepper and fennel, with a whiff of earthy white pepper. There’s plenty of pep here, without feral exuberance, in a wine happy to be crisp and vibrant and appealing. 13 percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $14, meaning A Real Bargain.
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2012 RR Sauv Blanc- bottle shot
The difference in the Geyser Peak River Ranches Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Russian River Valley, and its cadet stablemate mentioned just above is not merely the much narrower geographical focus — a single vineyard within an AVA inside Sonoma County — but in degrees of intensity and concentration. Again, the color is pale gold; the emphasis here is on gooseberry and dill seed, lime peel and spiced pear, with a marked enveloping of jasmine and verbena. The wine is quite dry and crisp, with bright acidity animating a pleasing softness in texture and tasty, slightly leafy citrus and stone fruit flavors, all wrapped in a scintillating limestone element and green notes of grass and thyme. NA% alcohol. Drink through 2017. Excellent. About $22.
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They don’t all come as pert, tart and sassy as The Hess Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, though the wine is not as flamboyantly crisp as some examples can be. Still, this pale straw-gold quaffer is energized by gripping acidity that carries a lithesome freight of tangerine, lime peel, green apple and spiced pear through to a limestone-laced finish. In the bouquet: almond blossom, jasmine and apple skin, grapefruit, peach and tarragon. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Dave Guffy is director of winemaking. Very Good+. About $22.
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The current release of this wine is 2014, but I was sent the 2013 several months ago, and it’s still drinking very nicely. The very pale Illuminate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, North Coast, made all in stainless steel, offers notes of lime peel and melon, celery seed and caraway; it’s very clean and fresh, energized by riveting acidity and limestone minerality; the finish admits hints of peach and apple skin. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $14.
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Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara was designated an American Viticultural Area in 2009; it occupies the far eastern and warmer end of sybariteSanta Ynez Valley. The Margerum Wine Company Sybarite Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, was made 91 percent in stainless steel and 9 percent in a combination of neutral and new French oak barrels, aging for 10 months. The result is a clean, spare and elegant sauvignon blanc that dips deeply into a dusty foundation of limestone and gun-flint, licorice and lilac. Notes of lime peel, thyme, heather and talc make for a beguiling entry into a wine that’s vibrant without being snappy and dry without being austere, though the finish comes on with prominent limestone and chalk minerality. 13.06 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Doug Margerum is director of winemaking; winemaker is Michael Miroballi. Excellent. About $21, a local purchase. (I paid more.)
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matanzas bennett
The Bennett Valley AVA, granted official status in 2003, exists primarily because of the petition of Matanzas Creek Winery, a part of Jackson Family Wines. Bennett Valley lies almost totally within the Sonoma Valley AVA, with some overlap into Sonoma Coast and Sonoma Mountain. The Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Bennett Valley, was made in stainless steel and used French oak foudres and barrels. The color is pale straw-gold; it’s a jaunty, zippy sauvignon blanc, sporting grapefruit and tropical notes infused with lime peel, fennel and thyme. Though quite dry and even a bit austere on the finish, it’s a pleasingly balanced and integrated wine that offers a sunny, leafy aspect with hints of fig and yellow plum; bright acidity keeps its aim straight through a limestone and flint-packed finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 or ’17. Winemaker was Marcia Monahan-Torres. Excellent. About $32.
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matanzas helena bench
Knights Valley is warmer than the fog-influenced Bennett Valley, a condition perhaps accounting for the slightly more ripe and spicy nature of the Matanzas Creek Helena Bench Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Knights Valley, a pale gold-colored wine made two-thirds in stainless steel, one-third in neutral French oak barrels. There’s more fennel and roasted lemon in this wine, with hints of yellow plums, quince and ginger and a distinct herbal quality; a touch of oak lends suppleness and spice initially but grows to more than a hint from mid-palate back, dominating the finish and muting the character of the grape. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $40.
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Careful winemaking by Patrick Muran produced a beautiful Niner Wine Estates Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Paso Robles. The 14 PR Sauvignon Blanc ninerwine aged five months in 90 percent stainless steel tanks, 5 percent new French oak barrels and 5 percent neutral French oak, but that new oak was used only for the 10 percent semillon grapes that go into the blend; the rest is 62 percent sauvignon blanc and 28 percent musque clone. Yeah, that’s a lot of “percents” to read about, but I like for My Readers to understand what kind of thought goes into making a wine of authority and concentration. The color is pale straw-gold; penetrating scents of grapefruit and lime peel, peaches, quince and cloves are melded to layers of limestone and flint, while above all waft scents of jasmine and honeysuckle. This is a very dry sauvignon blanc, with about it something saline and savory, bracing and slightly astringent; it’s a bit smoky and earthy, a touch roasted in its citrus flavors that flow to a long, vibrant, steely finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Excellent. About $20.
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A perennial favorite, the pale gold-colored Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Northern Sonoma, was fermented 90 percent in stainless steel and 10 percent in French oak barrels. This is one of the most elegant and delicate of the sauvignon blanc wines enumerated in this post. Aromas of pear and roasted lemons offer notes of peach, hay and new-mown grass, with subtle hints of quince and greengage plum; the wine is dry, buoyed by brisk acidity and a smoky-stony-steely quality that lifts the mildly spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Winemaker was Greg Morthole. Very Good+. About $17.
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tonella sb
A subtle haze of oak envelops the S.R. Tonella Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, but it’s an element that adds depth and resonance to a beautifully detailed wine. The color is pale but rich gold; the bouquet is characterized by pear and roasted lemon, hints of figs, banana and mango and spare notes of cloves, quince and ginger; any nuances of grass and herbs are kept to a minimum. The wine is quite dry but juicy with the softness of ripe peach and lemon flavors; brisk acidity enlivens a slightly powdery texture, leading to a finish packed with limestone and chalk minerality. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 or ’19. Production was “under 500 cases.” Winemaker was Fred Delibert. Excellent. About $29.
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2014EstateSauvBlanc
Beautifully balanced and integrated but displaying tremendous energy and vigor, the Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Alexander Valley, derives from vineyards 900 feet up the western slopes of the Mayacamas range. The grapes fermented 70 percent in stainless steel tanks, 30 percent in neutral French oak foudres, that is, large barrels; the wine did not undergo barrel aging. The color is pale gold; beguiling aromas of lemon balm, verbena, lime peel and grapefruit open to notes of fennel and celery seed, lemongrass and lilac, quince and ginger. On the palate, the wine is seductively poised between crisp vibrancy and a moderately lush, talc-like texture riven by brisk acidity and a crystalline limestone element; roasted lemon and slightly caramelized grapefruit flavors are mellowed by a touch of spiced pear on a finish that segues through deep resonant mineral qualities. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to 2020. A real dreamboat of a sauvignon blanc. Winemaker was Lisa Valtenbergs. Exceptional. About $35.
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Four months in neutral French oak barrels lend the Trione Vineyards River Road Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Russian River Trione-2014-Sauvignon-BlancValley, suppleness and suavity. The very pale straw-gold hue is as attractive as the aromas of pea shoot, grapefruit and lime peel that open to notes of spiced pear and roasted lemon, celery seed and fennel, all encompassed in a leafy, grassy character. The wine is exuberant without being flamboyant, a quality that extends across the palate in a line of bright acidity and freshness that culminates in a finish chiseled from damp limestone and flint. 13.9 percent alcohol. Lots of personality. Drink through 2017 or ’18. Winemaker was Scot Covington. Excellent. About $23.
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Made all in stainless steel, the Vina Robles Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Paso Robles, offers a very pale straw-gold hue and bright aromas of lime peel, tarragon and celery seed, fennel, grapefruit and thyme; pretty darned crisp, tart and zingy, the wine sings through the mouth on a stream of citrus and stone-fruit flavors touched with leafy fig and infused with flint and limestone. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink up. Winemaker was Kevin Willenborg. Very Good+. About $16, representing Fine Value.
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Roero Arneis is one of those fortunate white wines that combines delicacy of detail with a savory quality to make it a perfect drink mic_arneis_lblfor Fall and Winter, or anytime, really, but I like to think of it as a bit autumnal. The grape is arneis, and it is grown around a group of villages with Roero in their names on the left bank of the Tanaro river in Piedmont. It is a wine best consumed within a year or two of harvest and best made in stainless steel to retain freshness and immediacy of effect. The color of the Michele Chiarlo Le Madri Roero Arneis 2014 is a pale straw-gold hue with a tinge of green; super-attractive but subtle aromas of jasmine and heather, peach and yellow plum are highlighted by spiced pear, almond blossom and a green leafy element. Pleasing tone and balance give the wine a sense of tension and poise on the palate that translates to a feeling of energy, while spicy stone-fruit flavors open to notes of apple peel and almond skin in a finish enlivened by fairly pert limestone minerality. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $18.

Imported by Kobrand Wine & Spirits, Purchase, N.Y. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.

Dry Creek Vineyard has been keeping the faith with the chenin blanc grape for 44 harvests, and not only with the grape but with the 2014_Chenin_label_rgbsame vineyard, Wilson Ranch, in the Clarksburg AVA of the Sacramento Delta. The wine is 100 percent varietal and is made completely in stainless steel tanks. I won’t tout the Dry Creek Vineyard Wilson Ranch Dry Chenin Blanc 2014 as a summer sipper, obviously, since we’re edging into the second week of November, but it works as a superb aperitif, as a quaffing wine while you’re hanging out in the kitchen cooking dinner, or as accompaniment to oysters and other fresh seafood, to clam linguine, chicken salad or lighter fish dishes. With its pale gold color and aromas of spiced pear, quince and ginger, jasmine and honeysuckle and notes of damp straw and heather, this is an eminently attractive wine. It’s silky and vibrant on the palate, featuring peach, melon and mango flavors generously spiced and enlivened by crisp acidity and a hint of limestone minerality. 13 percent alcohol. A lot of personality for the price. Drink up. Very Good+. About $12, a Remarkable Bargain.

A sample for review.

In the French language, the word is cidre, and it’s a tradition in Normandy and Brittany going back thousands of years. Those areas in northwest France, by the Atlantic Ocean and English Channel, are inhospitable to wine grapes but perfect for apples. Cider-applesmaking began with the Celts and continued with the Romans in a heritage that passes through Charlemagne — a cider-loving sovereign — almost unbroken through the history of France and northern Europe and England unto the present age, anywhere that apple orchards thrive, including North America. Cider is fermented apple juice, as wine is fermented grape juice. The reality, of course, is rather more complicated, but today’s post is a suggestion, not a treatise, though a few basic facts can’t hurt. First, the best apples for cider-making are sour and bitter, the “spitters,” in terms of your mouth’s reaction to biting into one. The best ciders, however, are made from a combination of many different types of apples, to lend balance and depth. Cider tends to be lower in alcohol than wine because even the sweetest apples embody less sugar than grapes. Finally, only in America is a distinction made between “cider” and “hard cider,” the first being just apple juice, the second being the mildly alcoholic beverage that the rest of the world terms “cider.”

Today, we look at six examples of cider — or cidre — from Normandy and Brittany, the heartland of cider-making. These ciders issue from small, family-owned farm-orchards and represent a level of character that might startle those used to commercial or factory-produced ciders in America. All are sparkling ciders marketed in the standard 750 milliliter bottle. I thought they were all intriguing, elemental, highly individual and excellent.

Imported by Winesellers, Ltd, Niles, Ill.; samples for review. Apple image from jamesbeard.org.
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Brittany, the thumb of France that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, is represented here by Le Brun de Bretagne, which has been brun ciderproducing cider by traditional methods since 1955. The names of apples are as exotic as the names of roses or tomatoes. For these two ciders from Le Brun, the apples are Kermerrien, Marie Ménard, Douce Moên, Peau de Chien (“skin of the dog”) and Douce Coëtligné. The Le Brun Brut Cidre is a clean, brassy-gold color and offers mild and pleasing effervescence. Twist the cork — carefully — and a swoonable aroma of ripe apples bursts from the bottle. There’s something a bit fleshy and floral about this cider, a little musky and autumnal, like damp straw, apple peel and almond skin, and the finish offers a tinge of fresh wood shavings. Lovely, crisp, very dry. 5.5 percent alcohol. About $9. Le Brun Organic Cidre is certified organic by Ecocert. This is a demi-sec or medium dry cider, which to my palate is still pretty darned dry. You feel the tannins rummaging through your taste buds, though they are soften by notes of spiced and baked apple, apple skin and a hint of lemony cloves. The finish brings in a touch of elemental bitterness and rootiness. 4 percent alcohol. About $10.
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Domaine de la Minotière is a 37-acre single domain of apple orchards in Normandy — or 15 acres, depending on which piece of paper one minotiere ciderlooks at. Anyway, the orchards are cultivated completely under certified organic practices. The Cidre Fermier Brut Bio displays a bright gold color, a frothy head quick to elapse and aromas of ripe apples, orange peel, apple blossom and what cider devotees call “horse blanket,” which I assume refers to what I perceive as a musty, sweaty, feral aspect that is not unpleasant; in my notes, I wrote, “smells like apples & trees & leaves & earth.” Quite dry and with tannins to pucker the palate, this cider is crisp, lively and almost viscous. 5 percent alcohol. About $11. The stablemate is the Cidre Fermier Bio Doux, which for a cider marked beyond “Medium Sweet” and into the lower end of “Sweet” felt pretty dry to my sensibility, though a softening of the dry, tannic edge was distinctly perceivable. Here the bright bronze-gold color is tinged with green highlights, and the scents and flavors of cedar, orange peel, slightly musty jasmine and spiced pear are very attractive. 3 percent alcohol. I could drink this cider with duck a l’orange, rabbit terrine with fig sauce or a selection of soft cheeses. About $11.
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The Manoir de Grandouet is a third generation farm run by Stephane and Lucile Grandval in Normandy’s Pays d’Auge region. In addition manoir ciderto cider, the Grandvals make Calvados, a brandy distilled from apples. The couple recommends keeping their ciders for up to two years, well-stored, to allow them to develop the aromas further. Their Cidre Fermier Brut — dry farmhouse cider — exhibits a clean, brassy gold hue and beguiling scents of apples, orchards, roots, autumn leaves and a slightly wilted floral arrangement. It’s very dry, dense, almost chewy yet with a sleek lithe structure; close to the best part of it is its dazzling balance among tannin, acid, fruit and the hint of leathery, leafy bitterness that enlivens the finish. 5 percent alcohol. About $11, and My Favorite of this sextet. The Cambremer Cidre de tradition Pays d’Auge is billed as demi-sec but felt fairly dry to my palate. The color is radiant medium-gold, and the bouquet is ripe, musky, dusty and foresty, with notes of heather, mashed and slightly cooked apples and spiced pears. Tannins feel soft and finely sifted. About $13.
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