Sat 22 Apr 2017
As if David Ramey didn’t have enough to do, as proprietor of Ramey Wine Cellars, maker of single-vineyard chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and pinot noir, and as one of the most ubiquitous winery consultants in California, he recently launched Sidebar Cellars, the idea being to break out of the RWC mold to play with interesting grapes from Russian River Valley and lesser-known AVAs. I will eventually get around to five of the Sidebar offerings, but today, as Wine of the Day No. 259, I want to discuss the Sidebar Cellars Red Field Blend 2015, from the certified sustainable Alegria Vineyard in Russian River Valley. The vineyard was planted in 1890 and partially replanted in 1950, so the grapes for this wine came from vines that were either 65 or 125 years old. The Sidebar Red Wine Blend 2015 is comprised of 80 percent zinfandel, 11 percent alicante and 9 percent petite sirah, fermented by native yeast and aged 14 months in neutral French oak barrels. The color is dark ruby with a lighter mulberry rim; aromas of blackberries, black currants and plums are wreathed with notes of cedar, tobacco and dried rosemary, with just a hint of lavender and blueberries, all framed both by immediate freshness and ripeness and knotty intensity and concentration. On the palate, the wine is dry, lively and focused, its pure black and blue fruit flavors inflected by boxwood and heather, loam and graphite and undertones of tannins that balance rigor with velvety plushness; an hour in the glass brings in elements of fruitcake and brandied raisins, while the chiseled finish is long and lithe. 14.5 percent alcohol. If you’re firing up the grill this weekend (or any day) and laying on the gridiron a leg of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary or pork chops rubbed with cumin, smoked paprika and Szechuan pepper or your version of barbecue ribs, this is the wine for you. Now through 2020 or ’21. Production was 1,200 cases. Excellent. About $27.
A sample for review.
Wed 19 Apr 2017
Many white wine blends possess a certain kitchen sink quality, as in “Let’s throw in a bunch of different white grapes and see how they work together,” with the result that the wines smell and taste like nothing but generic white wine. That’s not the case with the Brooks Wines Amycas 2016, Willamette Valley, a blend of 44 percent riesling, 21 percent muscat, 18 pinot blanc, 10 gewurztraminer and 7 pinot gris, and those who are fans of the white blends of Alsace called Edelzwicker will recognize the ancestry. Made all in stainless steel, from grapes grown in Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyards, this delightful wine offers a very pale gold hue and aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, delicate notes of peaches and spiced pears, hay and heather, with a background of damp limestone. It’s terrifically appealing and animated, bright with crisp acidity and ethereally juicy with citrus and stone-fruit flavors — touches of tangerine, lime peel and quince — and while there’s just a slight lean toward sweetness, that aspect comes across more as ripeness and roundness on the palate. The limestone element burgeons from mid-palate back through the finish, which concludes on a welcome bracing note of grapefruit pith and sea-breeze salinity. 13.5 percent alcohol. Thoroughly charming and delicious. We drank a few glasses with seared salmon with a juniper rub and cous-cous with preserved lemon. Now through 2018. Excellent. About $18.
A sample for review.
Tue 18 Apr 2017
And here’s a tasty, accessible chardonnay for Wine of the Day, No. 257. The Martin Ray Chardonnay 2016, carries a Sonoma County designation, featuring grapes that derive from the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Valley and Carneros AVAs. Any wood influence is minimal, more in the shaping spirit of subtlety and suppleness; the wine sees 35 percent new French oak barrels. The color is very pale straw-gold; it’s a fresh, clean and crisp chardonnay that offers classic notes of clove-inflected pineapple and grapefruit, with hints of quince and ginger and a lovely, lively texture that feels as if you’re sipping liquid quartz, so, yes, there’s a tantalizing mineral aspect. The wine is quite dry but juicy on the palate with citrus and stone-fruit flavors, all leading to a bright, spicy, limestone finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Now through 2018, maybe ’19, and a shoo-in for your house chardonnay, especially during the Summer, and for restaurant and bar by-the-glass programs. Very Good+. About $17.
A sample for review.
Mon 17 Apr 2017
We drink wine for many reasons, for pure enjoyment with a meal or perhaps for the prestige that a great, long-lived bottle brings; for raging thirst and desire or for the conviviality of friendship. Here’s a brief tale about one of those motivations.
In the early 1990s, we made the acquaintance of Jack M., an elderly man, a native Memphian, who had returned to the city after closing his gallery in New York. Before his sojourn in Manhattan, he had operated a gallery in Paris for several decades. He abandoned New York primarily because of a crippling ailment that gradually deprived him of the power of movement. Not of thought or expression, though, not a bit of that. Jack was sharp, witty, a little irascible but always courtly and considerate, widely-read and knowledgeable about all the aspects of life worth knowing about, but primarily art, literature and music, food and wine. His garden apartment in Memphis was filled with drawings, prints and paintings and books, many of these objects inscribed by grateful artists and writers to their benefactor. We visited Jack as often as possible; though a few relatives attended to his needs, he was lonely in his city of origin, a sad fate for such a gifted raconteur with a talent for friendship. Just in the time we knew him, he had to give up his car, yet he never complained about the pain his affliction brought him, only the inconvenience.
Much as he loved food and wine, Jack’s doctors forbade him any indulgence in the latter of those essential quantities, a ban that gave him a great deal of frustration. When we invited him to our apartment for dinner, an occasion that required the working out of all manner of logistics, I pondered the wine issue deeply. Would it be an act of mercy or arrogance to disobey his doctors’ orders and give Jack a glass of wine? And how would he feel if the rest of us had wine and he didn’t? And would it seem strange to have no wine on the table at all, a gesture that would make no sense to this Francophile?
The dinner was simple: A roasted chicken, scalloped potatoes and a salad. At a private wine tasting I had been to recently, a collector had given me a bottle of Madame Leroy’s Bourgogne Rouge 1989, the basic, classic entry-level wine from the most meticulous and expensive of Burgundy houses. At four years old, it would be drinking perfectly. That night, our friends drove to Jack’s place, brought him to our building and helped him up the stairs to our second-floor apartment. Setting the table for five, I positioned a wine glass at each place, but at dinner time poured only four glasses.
Jack regaled us with stories about his time in Paris and New York, anecdotes, a few scandalous, about artists and writers he knew, and tales about his life and travels. He kept an eye on that bottle of wine, though, and finally he said, “How about pouring me a little of that wine? Just an inch.” I looked at my wife and she nodded, so I said, “Sure, Jack, an inch of wine can’t hurt.”
On the candle-lit table in our darkened dining room, the wine glowed deep cherry-red, like a glass of wine in a Dutch still-life painting. Jack lifted the glass to his nose and sniffed the pinot noir aromas and then drank the wine down in one long supple swallow. He sat still for a moment, holding the glass, and then said, “God in heaven, that was good. Bless you.”
Jack died a few weeks after that dinner party, to which he brought a present of Armagnac in a funny old bottle that leaned over at the top, as if the bottle itself were joyfully inebriated. We held on to that Armagnac for years, sipping a glass late at night occasionally, until only an inch or even less pooled at the bottom. On Christmas Eve 2006, I poured the last of Jack’s Armagnac, and we toasted to the generosity and kindness of a man who knew how to live and how to die.
And that’s a great reason for drinking wine.
This little piece is dedicated to Meg Houston Maker, whose lovely and insightful writing about food and wine and whose talent for storytelling continue to inspire me.
Sat 15 Apr 2017
It’s a beautiful Spring day in our neighborhood, and I hope that’s the case in your neighborhood too. You can tell that it’s a beautiful Spring Day because the lawn mowers and leaf-blowers fired up about 7:30 this morning. Beautiful Spring days — and Summer also — call for crisp refreshing rosé wines, and my candidate today is La Crema Winery Pinot Noir Rosé 2016, from Monterey County, the first produced by this winery that has been part of Jackson Family Wines since 1993. Appropriately made all in stainless steel, this delightful wine offers a lovely coral-smoky topaz hue and delicate aromas of orange rind and pink grapefruit with a hint of strawberry, opening, after a few moments in the glass, to almond blossom and a hint of heather. Bright acidity keeps this sleek rosé lively and appealing, while the finish brings in a welcome note of bracing limestone and seashell salinity. 13.5 percent alcohol. One need not ask for anything more from a thirst-quenching porch-patio-picnic wine. Very Good+. About $20.
A sample for review.
Fri 14 Apr 2017
Posted by Fredric Koeppel under Anderson Valley
, Mendocino County
, Napa Valley
, Russian River Valley
, San Luis Obispo
, Santa Barbara County
, Santa Maria Valley
, Sonoma Coast
, Sonoma County
, Spring Mountain District
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Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t hate the chardonnay grape, I just despise and am frequently saddened by what is done to the grape in wineries in California. And it’s true, as I have remarked many times on this blog, that I hate the over-oaked, brassy, blatantly ripe, stridently spicy, dessert-and-tropical-flavors-dominated chardonnays that I often receive as samples for review. I find such wines drastically unbalanced, harsh yet sweet, and undrinkable. Today, however, I post for your delectation and edification reviews of 12 chardonnay wines that I found to be splendid examples of the intensity and purity of form and flavor that come from thoughtful fidelity to the grape and, possibly, to a particular patch of land. I have always felt that richness, whether in food or wine, is not a virtue in itself, and you will notice that while most of these examples display sufficient or even marked richness of fruit, that aspect is balanced and supported by clean, bright acidity and minerality. I don’t mind wines that provoke and take risks, but ultimately the governing principle is equilibrium of all the qualities that compose the whole package. With one exception — an online purchase — these chardonnays were samples for review, mainly 2014s and ’15s and one 2013. Geographically they range along the vertical axis of winemaking in the Golden State, from Santa Barbara County in the south to Mendocino in the north. Technically, they illustrate an interesting gamut of possibilities, from the lightest touch of neutral oak and no malolactic to (surprisingly) full barrel-fermentation, 100 percent new French oak and malolactic. Too often, we encounter wines — not only chardonnay — fashioned along the lines of the winemaker or producer’s ego and prescribed expectations, but in the models I describe today, it feels as if purity, sensitivity and integrity won the race.
The Black Kite Cellars Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, the rest one-year-old. The color is pale gold; aromas of baked apples and spiced pears are woven with layers of grapefruit and pineapple that are ripe and spicy but controlled on the palate by scintillating acidity and limestone-flint minerality; some moments in the glass bring in hints of gardenia, smoke and jasmine. The wine is quite dry, energized by its crystalline clarity and intensity and a lithe supple texture. The finish is packed with elements of damp stones and bright yellow stone-fruit flavors. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Jeff Gaffner. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Production was 201 cases. Excellent. About $48.
The Nielson Vineyard, the first commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County, was planted in 1964. Ken Brown, who acquired the 432-acre vineyard in 1989 after founding Byron Wines, started replanting in 1991. Jackson Family Wines purchased the winery and vineyard in 2006. Winemaker is Jonathan Nagy, who puts the Byron Winery Nielson Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, through 100 percent barrel fermentation, aging in 54 percent new French oak and full malolactic. To my palate, that regimen could be a recipe for disaster, but Nagy manages to fashion a high-impact chardonnay that offers lovely purity and intensity, texture and structure, a rich, ripe wine that isn’t stridently spicy or cloying with oak. The color is very pale gold with a faint green tinge; notes of green tea and lemongrass infuse aromas and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit that open to suggestions of clover, peach and quince. The wine is deftly balanced and integrated, and what might feel florid and forward in its approach is leavened by bright acidity and a lingering coastal shelf of limestone, flint and sea-salt. Tremendous vitality, verve and presence. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 848 cases. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
The Edna Valley Vineyard Winemakers Series “Fleur de Edna” Chardonnay 2014, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County, sees only neutral oak barrels. The wine is very clean and fresh, offering a pale gold hue and pert aromas and flavors of green apple and pear, pineapple and grapefruit, all lightly spiced and macerated; lip-smacking acidity sends a bright arrow through a lean and lithe structure honed by limestone and flint minerality. The wine gradually opens to notes of smoke, lilac and honeysuckle, peach and quince, gently expressed. While this chardonnay makes no great display of itself, it asserts real confidence and character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. (The 2015 is also available now.) Excellent. About $27.
Winemaker Ryan Hodgins gave the FEL Chardonnay 2015, Anderson Valley, nine months in neutral French oak barrels and limited malolactic fermentation. The result is a chardonnay of lovely delicacy and elegance that features a pale straw-gold hue and elusive aromas of honeysuckle and jasmine; a few moments in the glass add classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit and subtle hints of cloves and roasted lemon. The wine is sleek and supple on the palate, juicy with ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors buoyed by a burgeoning limestone quality and fresh, bracing salinity on the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $32.
Winemaker Todd Graff put the Frank Family Wines Chardonnay 2014, Napa-Carneros, through nine months in French oak, 1/3 each new, one-year-old and two-year-old barrels. The grapes derived from the winery’s Lewis Vineyard, where 68 acres of chardonnay vines and 10 acres of pinot noir are subject to the maritime influence of San Francisco Bay’s cool temperatures, fog and wind. The color is pale gold; the wine feels as if you’re sipping crushed gravel minerality with a cool flint chaser, these elements at the service of spiced pear and roasted lemon with notes of jasmine, cloves, honeysuckle and heather. This vibrant chardonnay offers texture and juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors galore, edging a bit toward flamboyance but still nicely restrained by crisp acidity and its prominent mineral component; real personality and energy here, animating a finish packed with grapefruit and graphite. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $35.
Rob Davis has made every vintage of Jordan chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon since the winery was launched in 1976. That’s a record for longevity, dedication and knowledge almost unsurpassed in California. For the Jordan Vineyards Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley, the grapes fermented for 17 days in 47 percent stainless steel tanks and 53 percent new French oak barrels, and then aged six months — not a long passage — in 100 percent new French oak. Did I read that right? 100 percent? Mais oui, mon lecteurs. How did the wine turn out? Delicate, elegant, steely, filled with tantalizing nuance. The color is pale straw-gold; white floral aromas are ethereal, while notes of pineapple and grapefruit and a hint of peach are spare and subtle, opening gradually to touches of heather and seashell. The limestone and chalk minerality settles in for the long haul, lending this chardonnay an extraordinary sense of presence and gravity, buttressed by an arrow-bright line of chiseled acidity. You could say that this is a very Chablis-like chardonnay for Russian River Valley; I just say that it’s great. 13.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $32.
The Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast, is a bright, bold chardonnay whose tendency toward richness took my tolerance right to the edge — but held back from the plunge by incisive acidity and a profound depth of limestone and chalk minerality. The oak regimen is interesting, the wine aging 13 months in French oak barrels and puncheons, 35 percent new, 65 percent two and three years old. A puncheon is typically about twice the size of a traditional barrique, or approximately 123 U.S. gallons to 59 U.S. gallons, though, truly, different interpretations as to the size of a puncheon exist from country to country and region to region. Anyway, this wine offers a mild gold hue and an initial impression of daunting mineral elements that make it quite spare and austere; as the moments pass, it opens and softens to the extent that notes of lime peel and roasted lemon emerge, with attendant touches of baked pineapple and grapefruit, mango and bananas Foster, all tempered by acid and a mineral nature that practically glitter in the glass. What’s most compelling here is the exquisite sense of tension and risky balance among all these qualities, making for a drink that’s both satisfying and exciting. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
The Mayacamas Vineyards The Terraces Special Bottling Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley, is simply one of the best chardonnay wines I have ever tasted. It was made from a high-altitude 60-year-old vineyard that will not be used again, so this one is a rare treat. The color is pale straw-gold; notes of ginger and quince, guava and yellow plum and peach are woven with a slightly piney-resinous element and a tincture of lilac; it feels like liquid quartz on the palate, animated by chiming acidity and an aura both propulsive and dignified; ripe and spicy stone-fruit flavors nestle in a texture that’s soft as talc yet lithe and a little muscular, all devolving to a finish loaded with tangerine, lemongrass and grapefruit pith. 14.25 percent alcohol. A chardonnay of stunning and crystalline balance, tone and presence. for drinking through 2021 to ’25. Exceptional. About $95, an online purchase and Worth a Search for devotees of varietal purity and intensity.
Though the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, saw 100 percent barrel-fermentation and aging in 100 percent new French oak barrels — that a lot of wood in my book — the wine feels as if it had been chiseled from the bedrock of the 42-year-old, dry-farmed vineyard whence it originated, while the oak influence feels almost subliminal in lending the wine shape, size and subtle spice. It’s a beautifully proportional chardonnay in every aspect — made from a 42-year-old dry-farmed vineyard — displaying a pale straw-gold hue and enticing aromas of cloves, ripe pineapple and grapefruit with a touch of mango and guava and back-notes of quince and crystallized ginger; these elements segue seamlessly to the palate, where the wine feels etched by bright acidity that cuts a swath and a deeply-hewn, scintillating limestone quality. 14.2 percent alcohol. One of my favorite chardonnays to taste in any and every year. Production was 850 cases. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $32.
New oak was kept to a minimum in the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Karia” Chardonnay 2015, Napa Valley, which aged seven months in 30 percent new French barrels. The color is pale straw-gold; hints of peaches and spiced pear, quince and ginger waft from the glass in an effect that’s delicately floral and both faintly smoky and slightly candied, as in just a note of caramelized grapefruit lightly touched with mango, the whole impression being beguiling and intriguing. This chardonnay is quite dry but offers a vibrant, vital presence in a lithe supple texture that flows over a keen edge of limestone-flint minerality; citrus and stone-fruit flavors are ripe and moderately spicy, bold without being overdone. A really lovely chardonnay. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $35.
The grapes for the Stony Hill Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, were grown on dry-farmed vines from 23 to 32 years old, at elevations ranging from 800 to 1,500 feet. Winemaker Mike Chelini uses only neutral oak for the winery’s chardonnays and inhibits malolactic. The result is a chardonnay whose innate richness and generous nature are buttressed by a powerful limestone and flint element and enlivened by riveting acidity. The color is medium straw-gold; aromas of slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit are shot through with notes of quince and cloves, acacia and heather, a hint of yellow plum and a faint whiff of lilac. This chardonnay offers true grace, elegance and spareness, with a lithe, lightly powdered texture brightened by vibrant crispness and scintillating minerality that feels filigreed and transparent through the finish. 13 percent alcohol. Drink this exquisite yet powerful wine through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $48.
If you’re looking for a taut, vibrant chardonnay that admirably balances fruit and floral elements, acidity and mineral power, Trione Vineyards and Winery River Road Ranch Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, is your baby. Deriving from the winery’s 115-acre estate vineyard, the wine features a shimmering pale gold hue and lovely aromas of apple and pear, quince and ginger and slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, all heightened by notes of cloves and a hint of quinine; there’s a gradual blooming of honeysuckle and jasmine. This chardonnay is fleet and fluent in all aspects, quite dry but delivering a beguiling talc-like texture riven by clean acid and a burgeoning limestone quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $34.
Mon 10 Apr 2017
One of my favorite wines of the year — any year — is the Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Chenin Blanc, made from grapes grown in the Clarksburg AVA, an unusual region (approved in 1984) that lies athwart portions of three counties in Northern California: Sacramento County, Solano County and Yolo County, near the town of Clarksburg. Benefiting from the breezes that waft from San Francisco Bay, Clarksburg is cooler than nearby Sacramento. Fewer than 10 percent of the grapes grown in Clarksburg are actually crushed within the AVA, most being trucked to wineries in distant climes. And speaking of this wine, I would argue that the designation “Dry Chenin Blanc” is not necessary. Do consumers meet so much sweet chenin blanc that the “dry” distinction needs to be asserted? I don’t think so. Anyway, the Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Chenin Blanc 2016, Clarksburg, displays a very pale straw-gold hue and offers lovely aromas of hay and heather, quince and ginger, notes of roasted lemons and poached pears inflected by lilac and camellia. It is indeed a dry wine (made all in stainless steel) but juicy with flavors of yellow stone-fruit, clean and fresh with bracing acidity and an intriguing limestone edge; several minutes in the glass bring in hints of acacia and broom, flint and just a bit of guava. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of this year or into 2018 with all sorts of porch, patio or picnic fare, or as aperitif while you’re preparing dinner. Winemaker was Tim Bell. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.
A sample for review.
Sat 8 Apr 2017
You won’t find a sauvignon blanc much fresher than the just-released Stewart Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa Valley. The small winery, founded in 2000, is a close-knit family-run company whose winemaker is son-in-law Blair Guthrie, working with ubiquitous consultant Paul Hobbs. For its first foray into the variety, the winery whole-cluster pressed the grapes and fermented half in barrel and half in stainless steel. The color is palest straw-gold; arresting aromas of lime peel and guava, heather and hay are pert and lively and infused with notes of greengage and fig, fennel and lilac. On the palate, this wine runs fleetly and lightly, with a texture that’s partly lush and talc-like and partly lean and lithe, buoyed by bright acidity for pinpoint balance. The effect is quite dry and sprightly but juicy with citrus and stone-fruit delicately spiced with cloves and lent complexity by a burgeoning grassy-lemongrass element. 13.5 percent alcohol, and a delicious reflection of thoughtful winemaking. Production was 771 cases. Now through the end of 2018. Excellent. About $25.
A sample for review.
Fri 7 Apr 2017
Little preamble is necessary for this post. As the title implies, I’m catching up with reviewing a clutch — make that a case of 12 — pinot noir wines that I tasted from six weeks to six months ago. These are primarily from 2014, with a few ’13s, and one ’15. This group does not make it down to Santa Barbara County. The reviews range from Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, up north to Mendocino’s Anderson Valley. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy — in moderation, please.
The winery website offers no information about this wine, which was a sample from the local distributor, so I’ll just say that the Bernardus Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, is out to seduce you with no qualms whatsoever. Might as well give in. A deep vibrant ruby color shades to transparent garnet; beguiling aromas of red cherry and currant compote are wreathed with notes of rhubarb and sassafras, cloves and sandalwood that open to a flamboyantly floral element of lilac, violets and rose petals, all bolstered by undertones of loam, briers and brambles. As if that weren’t enough, the substantial texture flows super-satiny and supple over the tongue in a welter of bracing acidity and delicious, fully spiced and fleshy black and red berry flavors partaking of autumn leaves and forest floor; it’s definitely woodsy and elemental and frankly almost overwhelming. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not my favorite style of pinot noir but unabashedly attractive and saved from exaggeration by the elements of resonant acidity and nascent tannins. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $35.
Winemaker Jeffrey Blair put the Blair Estate Delfina’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Arroyo Seco, through 10 months aging in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby-garnet hue; arresting aromas of red and black cherries are infused with rhubarb and pomegranate, cloves and allspice, moss and loam. Clad in the bosky garb of roots, dry leaves and branches and bearing a rather meadowy floral character, this pinot noir features riveting acidity and flavors of macerated and slightly stewed red and black berries, nestled in a lithe, silky texture; it grows increasingly spicy through the finish, picking up a hint of tannin. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $45.
The difference between this wine and the previous example lies in the fact that the grapes for the Blair Estate Delfina’s Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir 2013, Arroyo Seco, were harvested from vines specially selected for their superior quality and treated separately. The wine also spend 10 months in French oak but 100 percent new barrels. The color is what I deem the perfect pinot noir hue, a muted transparent ruby-garnet; aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly stewed red cherries and currants feel fleshy, a bit smoky and meaty, though displaying an innate delicacy and sense of poise; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and cranberry and deeper elements of loam, leaf-smoke and graphite. Despite the wood regimen, the wine, while offering silky, dusty heft, feels light on its feet, finishing with a hint of racy elegance. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 125 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $75.
Nobody ever lost money betting on the sweet-tooth of the American consumer, as Joe Wagner proves again with a new label from Copper Cane, the Böen Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley. A dark vibrant ruby hue fading to a transparent violet rim, the wine gushes with very ripe black currants, cherries and plums, sweet and succulent and drenched in licorice, lavender, mocha and enough blueberry and boysenberry for a Lodi zinfandel. The texture of dusty velvet wraps the palate in fleshy allure. A superficially gorgeous wine, though that’s the definition of gorgeous, n’est-ce pas? Not my style at all. Very Good. About $32.
Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, aged 10 months in French oak, 31 percent new barrels. The color is a transfixing transparent medium ruby-magenta; spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants feel infused with rhubarb and cranberry, oolong tea and woodsmoke, talc and loam for an impression that’s irresistible. A beguiling lithe, supple texture flows engagingly across the palate, while both in nose and mouth the wine grows more lavish and multi-layered, taking on shades of pungent and flavorful darkness animated by bright acidity. A real beauty. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Greg Morthole. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
The transparent medium ruby-magenta hue of the Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, draws you in, while the acute balance in the nose and on the palate remind you that the best wines offer an exquisite sense of tension and release. The wine aged eight months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels, which seems a perfect regimen to me. The bouquet presents a poised artifact that weave elements of loam and forest floor with allspice and cumin, macerated red and black cherries and currants, and notes of lavender, talc and graphite. In its lithe slithery texture, the wine is dense and almost chewy, though cut by a swath of fluent acidity; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of briery raspy raspberry, oolong tea and more underbrush. 14 percent alcohol. A lovely marriage of power and elegance for drinking through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $45.
Winemaker Ryan Hodgins fashioned a pinot noir of beautiful balance, tone and presence in the FEL Wines Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 53 percent new barrels, a process whose near miraculous result is an almost subliminal effect of spicy subtlety and litheness of texture. The color is dark ruby shading through gradations to a transparent magenta rim; scents and flavors of red and black cherries and plums are permeated by notes of rhubarb and pomegranate, sandalwood and cloves. Some minutes in the glass bring more elements of dried baking spices and flowers and macerated fruit; on the palate, the wine is lively yet dignified, confident and, in the finish, slightly austere. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 395 cases. Try from 2018 through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $70.
Winemaker Sam Spencer gave the Head High Wines Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, a thoughtful 10 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels, giving the wine shape, suppleness and sensitivity on the palate. The color shades from dark ruby to a delicate magenta rim; this is an intense, dense, earthy version of the pinot noir grape that features black cherries and currants with notes of cherry pits and stems, cloves, sassafras and cranberry, roots and branches, briers and brambles. You feel — or imagine — the vines themselves digging down to the water-table. The texture is super plush and satiny, a bit too plush for my taste, but the opulence is leavened by bright acidity and surprising depth of lightly dusted tannins. 14.2 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
The Morgan Winery 12 Clones Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, is named for the diversity of pinot noir clones planted in Morgan’s estate vineyards. While the grapes for this wine derive from a variety of vineyards in the appellation, 57 percent are from the winery’s signature Double L Vineyard. The wine aged eight months in French oak, 37 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby with a slight lightening at the rim; notes of ripe black and red cherries offer traces of black tea and damp roots over dark, flinty, briery elements that feel robust and feral. The wine slowly opens to hints of lavender and cloves, sassafras and pomegranate, while it builds heft and presence on the palate. One senses deep foundations in the soils and bedrock of Santa Lucia Highlands. 13.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 through 2024 to ’26. Yes, I believe this could be a 12-year pinot noir. Excellent. About $34.
The Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 36 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a transparent violet rim; the first impression is of rose petals and violets, then intense and concentrated notes of black and red cherries and currants, infused with briers and loam. This is a deep, ebony-tinged exotic pinot noir that seethes with Asian spices and dried mountain herbs and finds expression in vibrant acidity and foresty, brambly tannins that feature a graphite edge. You feel the oak at the circumference of the palate, a slightly drying and dominating factor. 14.2 percent alcohol. Needs a year or two to find poise, then drink through 2022 to ’24. Production was 720 cases. Very Good+. About $60.
Tondre Grapefield — sounds like a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel — is my favorite vineyard from which Morgan makes pinot noir, and for 2014, I am not disappointed. The Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is medium to transparent ruby with a tinge of garnet; striking notes of sassafras, cloves and cumin with hints of leather and loam lead to aromas of slightly baked black and red cherries and plums, touched with fruitcake and tobacco leaf. The wine is extraordinarily satiny and supple on the palate, filling out and fleshing out from some initial spareness into something more esoteric and glamorous, though neither opulent nor flamboyant; some moments in the glass bring out elements of lavender, sandalwood and pomegranate, as well as a quality of oak-inflected austerity on the finish. Wonderful potential from 2018 or ’19 through 2024 to ’28, with truly impressive balance and tone, though production was a mere 45 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
The Kali Hart designation indicates Talbott Vineyards’ entry-level line. The winery, which produces only chardonnay and pinot noir, primarily single-vineyard, was acquired by E&J Gallo in September 2015. Talbott Kali Hart Pinot Noir 2014, Monterey, displays a transparent ruby hue with a garnet tone; classic notes of cloves, sassafras and beetroot permeate elements of cherries, pomegranate and cranberry with a bit of cherry pit and forest floor. The wine is very sleek and satiny, spicy and savory, animated by vivid acidity and moderate tannins supported by briers, brambles and loam. 14.3 percent alcohol. Thoroughly tasty and enjoyable. Now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $26.
Mon 3 Apr 2017
Posted by Fredric Koeppel under Cheap Wine
, Spain No Comments
Readers, buy this wine by the case and clasp it to thy bosom as a long-lost friend, not to store under your bed or in a closet but to drink with pleasure for the rest of this year and into 2018. The Principe de Viana Garnacha Roble 2015, from Spain’s Navarra region, is 100 percent varietal — garnacha grapes, also called grenache — and aged a brief three months in older oak barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent mulberry rim; this is a bright, spicy wine with immediate appeal, featuring red and black currant and plum scents and flavors infused with briers and brambles and notes of wild cherry. A lithe, supple texture leads the way across the palate to a slightly dusty, loamy finish; give this wine a few minutes in the glass, and it brings up hints of lavender and violets, graphite and smoke. 14 percent alcohol. Consume with burgers, spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, grilled pork chops, tacos and tapas; you get the idea. Very Good+. About $11, a Wondrous Bargain.
Imported by Classical Wines from Spain, Seattle, Wash. A sample for review.
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