May 2016

Not every wine needs to be profound, protean, fathomless and brooding, as I have asserted many times and will probably do so many more times before I shuffle off to Buffalo, a ditty that has, by the way, been looping through the convoluted canyons of my mind for several days. (Why do these things occur? I haven’t seen “42nd Street” since I was a mere lad innocent of the vine.) Anyway, often all we require of a wine is that it offer enough character that our noses lab_Carmenere_piu.pngand palates perk up and the flavors and body to go with whatever we’re eating at the moment. Such a one that fulfills these obligations and more is the Inama Carmenere Puì… 2013, from the Colli Berici wine region of the Veneto. The wine is classified, in fact, as a Veneto Rosso, being composed of 70 percent carmenere grapes and 30 percent merlot. It aged 12 months in second-use French barriques. For those of you who believe that the carmenere grape is exclusive to Chile, remember that it was grown in Europe first, before migrating to South America, where for decades people thought it was merlot. C’est la vie! The Inama Carmenere Puì… 2013 sports a dark ruby robe and a bright, ripe and engaging bouquet of black and red cherries and currants buoyed by notes of bitter chocolate, tapenade and rosemary, with a bit of that herb’s dry, resinous power. It’s robust without being rustic, amply furnished with vibrant acidity and dry, slightly dusty, mineral-flecked tannins and displaying plenty of spicy black fruit flavors. The tannic influence increases as the minutes pass, contributing to a finish that feels a bit austere. 13.5 percent alcohol. If you’re firing up the grill, consider this wine with leg of lamb studded with rosemary and garlic; pork chops crusted with a Southwestern rub; or, as we employed it, with baked ziti. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $20.

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

The Rodney Strong Vineyards Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma County, was fermented and then aged 12 months in new and used French oak barrels, except for three percent; that dollop went chalk hill chardinto stainless steel. Whatever the effect of wood and stainless steel on the wine was, it’s a chardonnay of lovely balance and integration that offers surprising depth and dimension for the price. The color is palest gold; aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, lime peel, quince and pear assert themselves with crystalline purity and intensity, adding, as moments pass, layers of limestone and flint minerality. The wine flows across the palate in a winsome blend of moderate lushness and pert acidity, poised between elegance and energy; ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors are imbued with notes of cloves, limestone and heather, the latter tone opening to a authoritative finish that brings in a slightly earthy quality and a tinge of grapefruit bitterness. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemakers were Rick Sayre and Justin Seidenfeld. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. You could sell the hell out of this chardonnay in bar and restaurant by-the-glass programs. Excellent. About $22, representing Good Value.

A sample for review.

It’s warm and humid in our neck o’ the woods. Perfect time to open a bottle of a rosé wine bhrose2015lthat’s perhaps a bit more robust than most of that genre, though balanced by fine detail and a sense of cleanly-etched delicacy. The Domaine Bila-Haut “Les Vignes” Rosé 2015, from France’s vast Pays d’Oc region, is a blend of 55 percent grenache grapes and 45 percent syrah. The color is pale salmon-pink, and aromas of strawberries and peaches, cloves and ginger and macerated raspberries are tinged with orange zest and rose petals; a few minutes in the glass bring out notes of tomato skin and dried thyme. The wine flows across the palate is lithe, pert fashion, propelled by bright acidity and a touch of scintillating flint-like minerality; it’s quite dry, very tasty in its red berry fruit traced with light citrus, and nicely poised between moderate lushness and elegant spareness. 13 percent alcohol. Drink into 2017 — it has the structural chops to age a year or so — with all sorts of patio and picnic fare. Excellent. About $15, representing True Value.

An R. Shack Selection for HB Wine Merchants, New York. A sample for review.

The history of Byron Vineyards and Winery is as Byzantine as any of the wineries in a state where convoluted narratives of origins, founders, failures, buy-outs, consolidation and recovery SBCare common. It’s too easy to say that Byron Ken Brown founded his winery in the eastern reaches of Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley in 1984. We have to go back to 1964, when Uriel Nielson planted the first commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County, in an area considered too cool to grow grapes. Brown, the first winemaker at Zaca Mesa (for six vintages), purchased the Nielson Vineyard in 1989, and it became his estate vineyard. The people at Robert Mondavi Winery were impressed by the quality of Byron’s wines — mostly chardonnay and pinot noir — with the result that Mondavi bought the winery in 1990, retaining Ken Brown as winemaker. Such was the new owner’s faith in Byron’s potential that in 1995, Mondavi financed the creation of a technically advanced 32,000-square-foot winery.

O.K., now, when Constellation bought Robert Mondavi Winery in 2004 for $1 billion, the giant drinks company signaled that it would divest itself of Mondavi’s individual winery properties, selling Byron to Legacy Estates Group, founded in 2000 by brothers Calvin and Dev Sidhu. Legacy had purchased Freemark Abbey in 2001 and followed with Arrowood and Byron in 2005, purchased for $40 million from Constellation. Eight months later, Legacy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Waiting in the wings was Jess Jackson, founder of Kendall-Jackson and owner, with his wife Barbara Banke, of Jackson Family Wines. He acquired Legacy for $97 million, and it’s with Jackson Family Wines that Freemark Abbey, Arrowood and Byron remain. Byron, not coincidentally, lies next to JFW’s Cambria Estate, and Byron winemaker Jonathan Nagy produces pinot noir from Cambria’s Julia’s Vineyard (see review below). Nagy came to Byron in 2001 as assistant winemaker and became director of winemaking there in 2003.

The four pinot noirs under review today from single vineyards in Santa Maria Valley. Byron also makes pinot noir and chardonnay from vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, southeast of Santa Maria in the Santa Ynez Valley. While this quartet offers differing quotients of detail and dimension, the wines feature a similarity of seductive fruity, floral and spicy bouquets; dense enveloping textures; and loamy, slightly granitic earthiness and minerality.

These wines were samples for review. Map of Santa Barbara County AVAs from
At about 1,750 cases, the Byron Winery Nielson Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria ECM306808Valley, offers by far the largest production of these four single-vineyard wines. The south-facing vineyard lies 18 miles from the coast, some 500 to 800 feet above sea level, on benchland overlooking the Santa Maria River. The site contains a mixture of alluvial, decomposing rock and older soils that have washed down from the foothills to the north. Nielson is the warmest of Byron’s vineyards in the valley, though still quite cool. The wine aged approximately 16 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels.

The color is a beautiful medium ruby shading to transparent magenta; aromas of ripe black cherries, raspberries and plums are permeated by hints of cloves, sassafras and rhubarb, with high notes of rose petals and lilac. This is a sultry and satiny pinot noir, deeply spicy and almost luxuriously textured, though cut by vivid acidity and a tinge of slightly dusty tannins. The black fruit flavors are bolstered by an intense core of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate, while a few minutes in the glass bring out elements of mint and talc. 14.5 percent alcohol. Lovely dimension and detail. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.
Planted in 1974, the well-known Sierra Madre Vineyard, the coolest of Byron’s Santa Maria Valley sites, sits 10 miles from the Pacific at about 215 feet elevation. The environment is the sort of poor, sandy-loamy soil that forces vines to search deeply for water and nutrients. No pain, no gain, n’est-ce pas? The Byron Sierra Madre Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley, aged about 16 months in French oak, 31 percent new barrels.

The color is a beguiling medium transparent ruby-mulberry hue; it’s a dark and slightly brooding pinot noir, pungent with cloves, sassafras and beetroot, smoky black cherries, and notes of violets, lavender and graphite. On the palate, it feels burnished, polished and sleek, flowing across the tongue in a sensuous satiny fashion, though it develops a serious loamy-musky-graphite element that speaks of profound depths and roots in the earth. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 225 cases. Now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $45.
Julia’s Vineyard encompasses some of the oldest pinot noir vines in Santa Barbara County, having been planted in 1970 and 1971. The location is two miles west of the Nielson Vineyard, situated at 500 feet elevation and running east-west. The soil is poor sandy limestone, requiring hard work on the part of the vines. The Byron Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley, aged about 16 months in French oak, 39 percent new barrels. An entrancing transparent medium ruby hue shades to an invisible rim; you would be hard-pressed not to love this bouquet that seethes with smoky black cherries and currants imbued with hints of cedar and cloves, sage, rose petals and lilac, flint and graphite and revealing poignant notes of rhubarb and pomegranate. Totally seductive in its lovely weight and viscosity, uttering beguiling in its nuance and detail (and spicy black fruit flavors tinged with blue), this pinot noir does not neglect the structural elements of clean, bright acidity or an almost subliminal tannic edge etched with flint-like minerality. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 115 cases. Prodigiously satisfying. Now through 2021 through 2024. Excellent. About $45.
The Byron Monument Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley, is composed of grapes chosen from the best blocks of the winery’s estate Nielson Vineyard. The wine aged about 16 months in French oak, 78 percent new barrels. A transparent medium ruby hue shades to an ephemeral magenta rim; aromas of black cherries steeped in oolong tea, notes of rhubarb and cola, cloves, an aura like clean linens snapping in an urgent breeze, fresh and dried fruit and flowers — all contribute to a wonderfully layered and appealing bouquet. The wine is dark and spicy on the palate, woodsy and loamy, dense and chewy, yet it displays ineffable delicacy and elegance despite its size and presence. It’s vivid and vital, a pinot noir whose languid satiny drape on the tongue belies its energy and elan. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 120 cases. Excellent. About $65.

The Marchesi di Grésy family has been sole owner of the Martinenga vineyard in the Barbaresco barbregion of Piedmont since 1797. The nebbiolo grapes for the newly released — to give the full name — Tenute Cisa Asinari Marchesi di Grésy Martinenga Camp Gros Riserva Barbaresco 2010 derive from a small south-facing portion of the vineyard. It’s the first Riserva bottling in the estate’s roster of wines. The wine aged 12 months in French barriques, 12 months in 12.5-hectoliter Slavonian oak casks (330.2 gallons), with no new oak, and 26 months in bottle before release. It’s a wine of splendid beauty, elegance, tone and presence. The color is medium ruby shading to a light magenta rim; aromas of mint and iodine, graphite, spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants are touched by hints of smoke, lavender, violets and sandalwood; melding in the background are elements of loam and Lapsang Souchong tea. The Martinenga Camp Gros Riserva Barbaresco 2010 offers a texture that sweeps the palate with a lithe and supple effect, enlivened by bright acidity and deepened by a strain of granitic minerality. Flavors of sour cherry and orange rind bear that same loamy, tea-like influence, along with a woodsy-herbal quality that persists through the depths of a slightly dusty, tannic finish. 14 percent alcohol. A model of balance, integrity and harmonious decorum, and a distinct pleasure to drink. Drink now through 2024 to 2030. Exceptional. About $106.

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

I don’t often use the word “charming” to describe a chardonnay wine, but I’ll unlimber that EQ_Chardonnay_Labelcritical term for the Matetic EQ Chardonnay 2014, from Chile’s San Antonio Valley. The wine region is south of the well-known Casablanca Valley, about 55 miles west of Santiago and in proximity to the Pacific Ocean. The grapes are certified organic and were fermented with native yeast in French oak barrels of various sizes, only 15 percent new oak; a minimal percentage of malolactic fermentation occurred, while the wine aged in barrels for 11 months. The result is a chardonnay that displays a pale straw-gold hue and lively aromas of green apple, roasted lemon, pineapple and grapefruit, elevated by subtle notes of cloves, mango and damp flint. It strikes the palate in a clean, fresh and engaging manner, offering bright acidity and a spare, lithe texture that grows more dense as the moments pass; this is a very dry chardonnay, animated by ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors that burgeon with quince and ginger, all leading to a finish packed with limestone and chalk. 14 percent alcohol. Drink this enticing chardonnay, lightly shaded by oak, through 2017 or ’18 with seafood risottos, shrimp or chicken salad, grilled or seared fish. Excellent. About $26.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

Many German wines have names that are a real mouthful of terms and umlauts, so here goes. Our schlossjohannisberg_rieslinggrunlack_labelfront_loreswine today is the Fürst von Metterich Schloss Johannisberg Grünlack Spätlese Riesling 2012, from the Rheingau region.

Schloss Johannisberg is an ancient estate that occupies a magnificent site on a broad hill that slopes in a southerly direction down to the Rhine. Grapes have been grown there apparently since the 12th Century, during monastic days. It has been an all-riesling property since 1720 and was one of the first, if not the first, in Germany to make a late harvest sweet wine from grapes affected by botrytis cinerea, the “noble rot.” In 1816, Schloss Johannisberg was given to Prince von Metternich by the Austrian Franz I for services at the Congress of Vienna — which redrew the map of Europe after Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo — and while the Metternich name still appears on the estate’s labels, it was acquired in 1974 by the giant conglomerate Dr. August Oetker KG, manufacturer of baking soda, dessert mixes, frozen pizzas and yogurt and owner of breweries, sparkling wine facilities, hotels and so on.

The color is shimmering pale straw-gold; aromas of peaches and pears, lime peel, jasmine and honeysuckle are highlighted by notes of cloves and a snap of gunflint. It’s almost needless to say that this is very attractive, even seductive stuff. Made 70 percent in stainless steel and 30 percent in oak, the wine is clean and bright, with a subtle graphite influence in the depths and a fine vibrant line of acidity for animation. This is, yes, a fairly sweet version of the Spätlese category, with flavors of ripe and slightly honeyed peaches and apricots, but it’s also beautifully balanced and even a bit dry around the circumference and through the golden finish. 7.5 percent alcohol. A lovely wine for pairing with moderately spicy Thai or Vietnamese fare, with, say, a pork roast cooked with apples, or with simple desserts. Winemaker was Christian Witte. Excellent. About $30.

MW Imports, White Plains, N.Y. A sample for review.

We drank the Tommasi “Rafaèl” 2013, Valpolicella Classico Superiore, with pizza last weekend — it made one of those “bingo” effects with the Salami Toscana with fennel — and it would work tommasiequally well with hearty pasta dishes, braised short ribs and grilled pork chops, or a burger. Made by an estate founded in 1902, near Verona, and operated now by the fourth generation of siblings and cousins, the wine is a blend of the traditional Valpolicella grapes: corvina Veronese, 60 percent; rondinella, 25 percent; molinara, 15 percent. It aged 15 months in large Slavonian oak casks, large as in 65 hectoliters, or 1,717 gallons. The color is a medium ruby hue with a tinge of garnet at the rim. “Plums and more plums,” I wrote in my notes, along with black tea, pepper and a whole box of dried spices and potpourri, or think of the heady scent of a pomander, an orange studded with cloves, slowly drying in the sun; other fruit accents include black cherries and raspberries. The wine flows across the palate with a sense of urgency, propelled by bright acidity and a clean, chiseled graphite mineral element, managing to be pleasantly dense and elegantly spare at the same time. The finish brings in beguiling touches of tobacco and cigarette paper and a hint of sage. 13.5 percent alcohol. Lovely personality and character. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $20, representing Real Value.

Imported by Vintus LLC, Pleasantville, N.Y. A sample for review.

From the winery’s warmest vineyard (above Calistoga) and from a warm year, the Grgich Hills ZN12-FRONT_750Estate Zinfandel 2012, Napa Valley, tips the scale at 15.5 percent alcohol, a factor that accounts for the wine’s sizeable presence on the palate without sending it into the over-ripe, cloying camp. The zinfandel grapes were fermented with two percent petite sirah, all certified organic; the wine aged 15 months in large French oak casks, so there’s very little wood influence (and no new oak vanilla), more a sense of shaping the wine’s suppleness and depth. The color is a pleasing medium ruby hue, not dark or extracted; aromas of plums, black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of black pepper, tar and oolong tea, with deeper hints of cloves, boysenberry and blackberry jam. It’s a very dry zinfandel, framed by dusty tannins and buoyant acidity over fathoms of briery-brambly elements and chiseled graphite minerality; the spicy black fruit flavors, tinged with blue, make a delicious melange with the wine’s suave structure. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with grilled steaks and pork chops or similar hearty meaty fare. Excellent. About $36.

A sample for review.

Typically around the middle of April, I and my fellow wine writer/blogger colleagues begin rose brutreceiving marketing messages about brut rosé Champagnes and sparkling wine for Mother’s Day. Not long after, the suggestions about Port for Father’s Day gifts begin to pour in. It’s as if there’s some sacred PR tenet that dictates Pink for Moms and Port for Dads, in some sort of Venus/Mars dichotomy. Now I truly love Brut Rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines — and I like Port too — so I don’t mind playing along with the game, though my real inclination is not to limit these products to the days that honor our individual parents but to indulge all year round. Here, then, are six brut rosé examples from a variety of countries and regions, mostly composed of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, but featuring some outliers too. Prices range from $18 to $70. Your mothers will thank you. With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
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The Vilarnau Brut Rosé Reserva, nv, Cava, is a blend of the indigenous red trepat grape, commonly used for rosé wines in Catalonia, (90 percent) with the remainder pinot noir. It spends 12 months or more in the bottle before disgorgement. A delightful, dry and delicious brut rosé, it offers a very pale copper-salmon color, with a supercharged surge of tiny bubbles, and pert aromas of strawberries and orange zest, somewhat tea-like and floral, and a slightly candied note of orange marmalade. The wine is lively with bright acidity and a keen-edged limestone element. 12 percent alcohol. Quite charming. Very Good+. About $18.
Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago.
ROTARI ROSE_075_2016_Data
A blend of 75 percent pinor noir and 25 percent chardonnay, the Rotari Brut Rosé 2013, Trento, Italy, offers a very pale onion skin hue and attractive aromas of strawberries, orange rind, apple peel and almond skin. This sparkling wine is very dry, spare, almost elegant, with crystalline acidity and chiming limestone-and-flint minerality, all enlivened by a sort of spanking fresh seashell-sea breeze salinity and savoriness. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.
Imported by Rotari USA,
The Szigeti Pinot Noir Brut Rosé, nv, Burgenland, Austria, is 100 percent varietal and aged on the yeast 12 months in the bottle. The color is a soft salmon-copper hue, energized by a constant stream of tiny bubbles. This is a very attractive and rather exotic sparkling wine that along with the usual elements of orange zest and strawberries includes notes of cloves and red currants, brambles and rose petals, in a dry, tart package framed by flint and chalk minerality. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Winebow, Inc., New York.
La Valle Brut Rosé 2011, Franciacorta, Italy, sees no oak or malolactic fermentation, the philosophy being to produce a sparkling wine that reflects freshness and purity and the influence of the vineyard. I can’t speak about the last aspect, but as to the first two, yes, this is a wonderfully fresh and pure brut rosé, sporting a classic pale onion skin hue and a fabulous frothing of tiny bubbles. (It’s 100 percent pinot noir and spent 30 months on the lees in the bottle.) It’s a sparking wine that depends on delicacy and elegance for its effects, yet hinges on a display of tensile strength in its crisp, vibrant, austere, stony-steely structure. A lovely nuance of faint raspberry, orange zest and brioche completes the picture. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020. Excellent. About $55.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection for Winebow Inc., New York.
The current issue of the Champagne Veuve Fourny et Fils Premier Cru Brut Rosé, nv, is a blend of 85 Fourny_Rose_nonvintage(12)_webpercent chardonnay (30 percent of which is reserve wine) and 15 percent pinot noir. It rested on the lees in the bottle two years before release. The wines are primarily 2011, with portions of 2010, ’09 and ’08. The color is an entrancing pale copper-salmon hue, animated by a torrent of glinting bubbles; dried strawberries and raspberries and permeated by notes of toasted almonds and almond skin, heather, apple peel and orange rind. This is a juicy, close to delicious but very dry Champagne of ice and snow, bolstered by ample limestone minerality and vibrant acidity that push it toward glacial, Olympian heights and crystalline purity. 12 percent alcohol. Always a favorite in our house. This recent release, disgorged in 2014, should drink well through 2020 to 2024. Excellent. About $65, a local purchase.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Calif.
The color of the Möet et Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2008 is vivid blood-orange-red with a sheen of tarnished silver; blood orange shows up, too, in aromas redolent of that fruit, with notes of raspberry, heather and wildflowers, a touch of orange liqueur and the vibrancy of damp limestone. This Champagne is quite dry, savory and saline, with a depth of clove spiciness, macerated strawberries, seashell minerality and a distinct flint-chalk element; a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of apple peel, heather and peach fuzz. It’s taut with acidity yet generous and enveloping, and it finishes slightly briery and with a yin and yang suggestion of orange marmalade, both the faint sweetness and the echo of bitterness. 12.5 percent alcohol. This is a blend of 46 percent pinot noir, 32 percent chardonnay and 22 percent pinot meunier; the wine aged seven years on the lees in bottle. Now through 2020 to 2025. Wonderful weight, presence and tone. Excellent. About $70.
Imported by Möet Hennessy USA, New York.

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