August 2016

Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley is named for 19th Century settler Cyrus Alexander, who lends his given name, in turn, to the flagship red wine from Alexander Valley Vineyards. The winery CYRUS_2012_bottlegoes back to 1962, when Maggie and Harry Wetzel purchased a large portion of a homestead built by Cyrus Alexander. They planted grapes the following year and produced their first cabernet sauvignon in 1968, as a private project. By 1975, however, the family had built a small winery, and matters took off from there. Alexander Valley Vineyards is operated now by the third generation; winemaker is Kevin Hall. The Cyrus 2012, Alexander valley, is a blend of 76 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent merlot, 7 cabernet franc, 3 petit verdot and 2 malbec. It aged a total of 24 months in French oak barrels, 12 months before blending and 12 months after. The color is dark ruby-purple from core to rim; loads of graphite, iodine and iron encompass a pinpoint focus on black currant, black cherry and blueberry scents and flavors that unfold notes of plum pudding and red velvet cake, lavender, licorice and bittersweet chocolate. If all of these factors sound like a confusion of aims and a tendency toward sweetness, that’s not at all what I mean. Yes, the wine gushes with ripeness, but it also is governed by dense, dusty tannins, swingeing acidity and a rigorous granitic mineral element. Some moments in the glass bring in hints of dried rosemary and sage (with the slightly resinous character of those herbs) as well as a tantalizing tinge of wild berries and meadow flowers. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2022 to ’25 with steaks, pork chops, venison and braised meat dishes. Excellent. About $65.

A sample for review.

While the regulations that govern the production of Spanish Cava sparkling wine allow chardonnay cavaand pinot noir grapes in the blend, it’s refreshing to see examples that employ only the traditional grapes like the white macabeo, parellada and xarel-lo, the variety that sounds like the name of Superman’s father. Cava sparkling wines must receive the second, bubble-producing fermentation in the bottle — the Champagne method — and must age a specific amount of time according to their category, nine months for “regular” Cava, 15 months for Reserva, 30 months for Gran Reserva. Our Wine of the Day, No. 175, is the Vilarnau Brut Reserva, nv, a blend of 50 percent macabeo, 35 percent parellada and 15 percent xarel-lo; it aged the requisite 15 months on the lees. The package is striking, seemingly derived from shards of colorful Moorish and Spanish tiles. The color is very pale gold, enlivened by an exuberant effervescence of tiny glinting bubbles. It’s a delicate and finely-knit Cava, yet slightly earthy, savory and saline; aromas of green apples, spiced pears and lime peel reveal hints of chalk and flint minerality that segue seamlessly to the palate, where pert acidity keeps the energy moving. Touches of jasmine and almond skin come in through the limestone-laced finish. 11.5 percent alcohol. You could drink this tasty and nicely-detailed sparkler all day and night. Very Good+. About — ready for this? — $13.

Imported by Vin Divino Ltd., Chicago. A sample for review.

trione sb
I wrote last week about eight sauvignon blanc wines from Napa Valley. Here’s one from Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, that ought not to be missed. Half of the Trione Winery River Road Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Russian River Valley, aged four months in neutral French oak barrels — meaning used many times before — lending the wine subtlety, shape and suppleness without detonating a blatant woody influence. The color is shimmering pale gold; first come notes of lime and grapefruit, heather and lemongrass, followed by hints of lilac, talc and tangerine. On the palate, this sauvigvov blanc is sleek and chiseled, tart and sassy, powered by bright acidity and flush with limestone minerality that generates a burst of graphite and flint. Flavors tend toward leafy figs and yellow plums, permeated by ripe citrus and stone-fruit, all flowing to a finish packed with savory spice and a touch of grapefruit bitterness and every element etched with delicacy and elegance. Alcohol content is an eminently sensible 13.3 percent. Winemaker was Scot Covington. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $23.

A sample for review.

Dick Troon planted vines in southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley in 1972, making him a pioneer in the state by any standards. He sold the winery and vineyards to his friend and fishing buddy Larry Martin in 2003, and Martin took the opportunity to start almost from scratch, reshaping the landscape and building a new facility. The philosophy at Troon Vineyard is as hands-off as possible, and includes the use of indigenous yeast, foot-treading and minimal contact with new oak. In fact, the three wines under consideration today — a malbec, a tannat and a blend of the two — each age 18 months in mature or neutral French oak, only two percent new barrels. Another recent change brings on Craig Camp as general manager. Many consumers and wine professionals will remember Camp for the turn-around he orchestrated for Cornerstone Cellars in Napa Valley, bringing that primarily cabernet sauvignon producer into new markets at several levels and cementing its national reputation. The Applegate Valley AVA was approved in 2000. It is enclosed by the Rogue Valley AVA, itself part of the much larger Southern Oregon AVA.

These wines were samples for review.
troon malbec
The Troon Malbec 2013, Rouge Valley, Southern Oregon, displays an intense dark ruby hue, a radiant presage for a deep, intense spicy wine that revels, with brooding and breeding, in its ripe raspberry and plum scents and flavors, its dusty graphite element and its hints of lavender, violets and woodsy spice. The wine is quite dry, fairly loamy, briery and brambly, enlivened by clean, bright acidity and shaded by dense but lissome tannins. 13.7 percent alcohol. One of the best malbecs around. Production was 213 cases Excellent. About $29.
The label image is one vintage later than the wine reviewed here.
The stablemate to the wine mentioned above is the Troon Estate Tannant 2013, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon, a tannat so dark in its ruby-purple hue that it verges on motor-oil ebony. Notes of black plums, cherries and currants are infused with hints of cloves, cedar and tobacco, with a touch of ripe blueberry. Despite its depth, darkness and dimension, there’s nothing rustic about the wine, and in fact it’s more subtle and nuanced with detail than you would think, though it pulses with power and energy. The finish is sleek and chiseled with graphite and granitic minerality. 13.7 percent alcohol. A superior tannat. Production was 213 cases. Excellent. About $28.
troon reserve mt
Finally, of this trio, we have the Troon M*T Reserve 2013, Southern Oregon, a blend of — to be precise — 55.67 percent malbec and 44.33 percent tannat. Again, no surprise, this is a deep, dark wine that burgeons with dark savory, salty baked plum and currant scents and flavors, the latter bolstered by dry brushy tannins, dusty graphite and vibrant acidity. A few moments in the glass unfurl notes of briery, woody and slightly raspy notes of raspberry and blueberry and undertones of oolong tea and orange rind, all balanced by a sense of spareness and paradoxically elegant poise. 13.7 percent alcohol. An unusual and fruitful combination. Production was 195 cases. Excellent. About $50.

I had not tasted the Chateau des Annibals “Suivez-moi-jeune-homme” Rosé since the 2011 anibalsrendition, so I was happy to return to this archetypal wine in its release for 2015. It remains one of my favorite rosé wines, an exemplar of the spare, elegant style we associate with the South of France. In fact, the designation is Coteaux Varois en Provence, an appellation that lies in an area east of Marseilles and north of Toulon, a region of sun-bleached rocky soil, dusty fragrant wild herbs and wind-sheltered pine forests; vineyard cultivation here goes back beyond the stolid Romans, beyond the wily Greeks to the clever and mysterious Phoenicians. Founded in 1792, the estate operates nowadays on biodynamic principles. The wine is a blend of 50 percent grenache grapes, 40 percent cinsault and 10 percent rolle, the white grape that in Italy is called vermentino. This rosé offers a very pale onion skin hue, like pink if the pink were erased; the bouquet is a tantalizing melange of dried strawberries and raspberries, limestone and flint, with a scant hint of peach; it’s a wine that knows where the wild thyme blows and what it means to crush a handful of violets on a damp rock. On the palate, it’s taut and nervy, animated by swingeing acidity and a scintillating limestone element, all in support of the barest murmur of red berry and stone-fruit flavors couched in profound graphite minerality. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017 with all sorts of picnic fare. Excellent. About $20, a local purchase.

Imported by Lefgroup LLC, Asheville, N.C.

My Wine of the Day back on November 19, 2015, was the Chateau Montelena Riesling 2014, Potter Valley. That wine went on to be included in my list of “50 Great Wines of 2015.” Why would I montelena rieslingfeature, only nine months later, the version of this riesling from 2015? Because it illustrates how perfectly consistent and well-made the wine is; it certainly can claim its place among the best rieslings produced in California. The Chateau Montelena Riesling 2015, Potter Valley, which aged six months in a combination of stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels, exhibits a pale but radiant gold hue and immediately appealing notes of lemon balm, quince and ginger, with hints of lychee, peach and pear and an upper register of lilac and jasmine. On the palate, the wine is lively and vivid, offering an extraordinary texture and body like dusty graphite, talc and loam cut by riveting acidity and a bright limestone element. The balance here, the poise among all elements is exciting, racy, a little risky, yet it also delivers a pleasing and paradoxical softness, a cloud-like suspension of ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors. 13 percent alcohol. We drank this bottle last night with dinner: swordfish marinated in lemon juice and olive oil, maresh and urfa peppers and smoked hot paprika; a mash of Yukon Gold potatoes and one sweet potato; and green peas cooked in riesling and mint, all pretty damned perfect. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

Back in July, I used as a Wine of the Day the Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, follow the link here for the review, a selection that could, of course, have fit right in with this group of eight sauvignon blanc wines, also from Napa valley. Based on these models and others I tasted over the past few years, I would say that the world-famous wine region should be as well-known for this white grape variety as for the red cabernet sauvignon, of which it happens to be a parent (along with cabernet franc). Today I offer brief reviews of six sauvignon blanc wines from 2015 and two from 2014. The ratings divide into one Exceptional, six Excellent and one Very Good+. Scoring aside, however, this was a satisfying and exciting group of wines to taste, and I encourage my readers to stock up on such wines or order them in restaurants. These reviews are quick and incisive, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks and simply fleshed out to complete a full profile of each wine. Typically in the Weekend Wine Notes I eschew technical information, but for two of these selections I include a bit of data that I found interesting. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
Acumen Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. 14.45 alc. Very pale gold; leafy and grassy, celery seed and caraway; lime peel and grapefruit, with undercurrents of limestone and flint; a few minutes in the glass bring in intriguing notes of preserved lemon and lemon balm; a suave saugivnon blanc with plenty of verve and energy, a pleasing texture balanced between softness and crispness and a fluid spice-and-limestone infused finish. Super attractive. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $30.
Cliff Lede Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Pale gold color; interesting regimen in the winery: 52% French mainly neutral oak barrels, 42% stainless steel tanks, and 6% concrete eggs, no malolactic fermentation; elegant yet assertive in character, with hints of lemon rind and curd, jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and ginger; undertones of sunny, leafy figs, heather and meadow flowers, and a bell-note of currant at the center; an absolutely lovely texture poised between a soft, slightly powdery effect and the propulsion of vivid acidity and flint-chalk minerality. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $25.
Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2015, St. Helena, Napa Valley. NA% alc. Very very pale straw-gold hue; so attractive and appealing in body and presentation and feeling quite deliberately and thoughtfully wrought; roasted lemon and lemon balm, tangerine and honeydew, heather and flowery meadows; pert acidity and burgeoning limestone minerality lend an almost glittering quality to the palate; a soft, powdery texture that’s still lithe and supple; citrus and stone-fruit flavors — notes of grapefruit and peach, with a hint of greengage — are slightly leafy and grassy, all devolving to a delicate, elegant finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $28.
Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Very pale gold hue; the most tropical of this selection, with notes of mango and passion fruit and touches of lime peel, peach and nectarine; a sleek and lively sauvignon blanc that unfolds a soft sfumato effect heightened by a saline and savory character, poised over layers of limestone and chalk minerality. Starts simple and direct and builds to surprising complexity; the wine aged 9 months in a combination of concrete and stainless steel tanks, French oak barrels and stainless steel drums. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $25.
Label date is one vintage behind.
Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. Pale gold color; lime peel, nectarine, talc and lilac; hints of celery seed and fennel, lychee and almond skin; some moments in the glass bring in elements of roasted lemon, ginger and quince and penetrating notes of gunflint and graphite; lively and vital on the palate, with a lovely talc-like texture riven by bright acidity and a scintillating limestone quality; stone-fruit flavors are slightly leafy, with a touch of fig in the background; a long, lithe, minerally finish. Really beautiful tone, presence and balance. Now through 2019 to 2020. Exceptional. About $25, a Bargain at the Price.
Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Pale gold color; generously woven notes of mango and pear, lilac and lemongrass, lemon balm and lemon curd, all wrapped around an intense core of leafiness and heather, fig and graphite; a whisper of oak adds hints of woodsy spice; very dry, with a fleet arrow of acidity and a scintillating limestone character; penetrating personality and august character in a perfectly balanced package. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $31.
Priest Ranch Sauvignon Blanc
Priest Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Pale gold hue; very pleasing effect of lime peel, grapefruit and gooseberry, fennel and celery seed, talc and jasmine and leafy fig; jazzy and snappy, the most New Zealandish of these sauvignon blancs, but more subdued than those models can be; very dry, clean and bright, lithe and fluent, and overall very appealing. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $22.
Whitehall Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale gold; subtle and nuanced, with hints of peach and mango, celery seed, lemongrass and spiced pear; a little airing unfurls notes of graphite and gunflint, lilac and celery leaf and a touch of ripe yellow plum; quite dry, sleek and polished, lithe and supple, animated by keen acidity and avid limestone minerality; lovely presence and weight. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $22.

So, something important is happening in Brazil now, right? Ha ha, I’m kidding of course! The Olympics are happening in Rio, and I have to say that Aly Raisman’s floor exercise last night looked flawless to me, what were the deductions for? Still, she got the silver medal, or, as the commentators say, she “silvered.” Anyway, to show that we can be timely here on BTYH, I offer as Wine of the Day a robust and inexpensive Brazilian red wine that would be terrific with hearty fare like barbecue ribs, grilled steaks and pork chops, braised meats and goat (or “goat-like creatures”) roasted over an open fire. The Lidio Carraro Agnus Tannat 2014, Serra Guacha, displays a glossy deep ruby-black hue shading to a glowing magenta rim; it’s a big-hearted, two-fisted red, whose fervent aromas and flavors of black currants, cherries and plums are shot through with notes of tar and leather, lavender and violets, all propelled across the palate by vibrant acidity, glittering graphite and moderate but dusty, chewy tannins. What more could you ask for at the price, at least in terms of personality? 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was about 1,000 cases. Winemaker was Monica Rossetti. Very Good+. About — hold your breath! — $12.

Imported by Winebow, Inc., New York. A sample for review.

Tenuta Filodora is a 37-acre vineyard located in the town of Miane, in the heart of the Prosecco DOCG area, about halfway between Valdobiaddene and Conegliano. It’s from this vineyard that filodoraTommasi, a stalwart of the Veneto region since 1902, derives the glera grapes for its Prosecco. However, because the wine is bottled outside the DOCG region, it is entitled only to a DOC classification. Not to worry! The Tommasi Filodora Prosecco is one of the best around. The color is the palest of pale gold hues, animated by a torrent of upward-surging tiny platinum bubbles. At first, this sparkling wine is all smoke and steel, and then it opens to glimmers of green apple and peach, hints of roasted lemon and baked pear, a touch of acacia. Bright acidity (and the persistent effervescence) keep it lively and dry on the palate, where it partakes of a seriously serious aura of flint and limestone minerality, all hurtling toward a finish pert with grapefruit rind and almond skin. 11.5 percent alcohol. Totally charming. Excellent. About $18.

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

Here’s a wine that delves into the heart and soul of Sonoma County’s history and essence as a Acorn-2013-Heritage-Vines-Zinfandel-rgb-72dpivineyard and winemaking region. The Acorn Heritage Vines Alegría Vineyards Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley, derives from a vineyard planted in 1890. Some of those remaining vines contributed to a wine that, following old tradition, is a field blend of a wide variety of grapes planted side by side and randomly interspersed. The proportions for this wine are 78 percent zinfandel, 12 percent alicante bouschet, eight percent petite sirah and a whopping two percent mix of carignane, trousseau, sangiovese, petit bouschet, negrette, syrah, black muscat, cinsault and grenache. The wine aged 12 months in 54 percent French oak, 41 percent American and five percent Hungarian, with a total of 39 percent new barrels. While this zinfandel blend is robust and wild, it’s never hyperbolic or extravagant, feeling perfectly balanced in all aspects from beginning to end. The color is dark ruby with a lighter magenta rim; aromas of plums, blackberries and currants offer a hint of blueberries, fruitcake and bittersweet chocolate, all wrapped around an intense core lavender, licorice and dusty dried herbs. These elements segue seamlessly to the palate, where the wine delivers beautiful tone and presence, subtle complexity and a texture buoyed by moderately dense, dusty brushy tannins and animated by bright acidity. The ripe black fruit flavors are boldly spicy and a little plush, though always subdued to the wine’s deliberate acid-oak-tannin-and-mineral structure. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 548 cases. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

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