August 2017


Robert Mondavi Winery established a reputation for the sauvignon blanc grape soon after the charismatic and innovative Robert Mondavi broke away from his family and established his own winery in 1966. Long a neglected grape in California, used for blending generic proprietary white wines or badly made on its own, sauvignon blanc became in his hands a fresh, grassy, appealing wine that bore a made-up French name on the label, “Fumé Blanc,” a nod to the Pouilly-Fumé appellation in the eastern Loire Valley, where sauvignon blanc reigns supreme. The result was a marketing triumph. In fact, some wineries in California still maintain a theoretical distinction between sauvignon blanc wines, supposedly made in the fashion of white Bordeaux, and fumé blanc wines, fashioned in the Loire Valley manner, if such distinctions can practically be made.

Today I look at three fumé blanc wines from Robert Mondavi. While I give out two Excellent ratings here and one Very Good+, my caveat is that the winery seems to make a fetish of French oak barrels and of employing every possible winemaking technique to shape a sauvignon blanc in a particular image rather than — especially in the instances of the Oakville 2014 and Reserve 2014, made from the almost hallowed To Kalon Vineyard — allowing the character of the vineyard to achieve eloquent expression. One feels, again particularly for the Reserve ’14, that the wines were poked and prodded and minutely examined rather than being allowed a natural development. Still, two Excellent ratings out of three ain’t bad. I especially liked the basic Fumé Blanc 2015, which at about $20 rates as a distinct bargain.

Director of winemaking for Robert Mondavi is Genevieve Janssens.

These wines were samples for review.
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The winery’s basic product in this iteration is the Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, a blend of 96 percent sauvignon blanc grapes and 4 percent semillon. The grapes derived from a Wappo Hill vineyard in Stags Leap District (70 percent); from Mondavi’s famed To Kalon Vineyard (13 percent), with the balance from Napa Carneros. Eighty-five percent of the juice was barrel-fermented — the rest in stainless steel — and then aged five months in French oak barrels on the lees, hand-stirred twice a month. This is a smoky sauvignon blanc, truly fume, that offers a very pale straw-gold color and entrancing aromas of roasted lemons and lemon balm, lime peel, pea shoot and lilac. The texture is silky, talc-like but balanced by bright acidity and the burgeoning edge of limestone minerality, all in support of pert and tart flavors of guava, greengage, lemon and heather, the latter for a subtly grassy touch; spicy oak stays at the filigreed periphery. 14.5 percent alcohol. One of my favorite sauvignon blanc wines of the year. Drink now through 2019 or 2020. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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The Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2014, Oakville District, contains 21 percent semillon grapes, a factor that lends the wine notes of honeydew melon and fig and a particular sunny-leafy aspect that I associate with the variety. Ninety-one percent of the wine fermented in French oak and then aged on the lees for eight months, undergoing regular bâtonnage (hand-stirring); only eight percent of the oak was new barrels. Grapes for this wine derived from the renowned To Kalon Vineyard that surrounds the winery in Oakville. The color is pale gold; besides the features I already mentioned, the wine teems with hints of lime peel and lemongrass, crushed gravel, verbena and fennel, hay and heather. Vivid acidity and scintillating limestone minerality provide the balance between fruit and oak, which indeed as the moments pass becomes a dominating aspect of the wine: dry, spicy and burnished, a bit more powerful than I would like. Still, this sense of tension and resolution in texture and structure gives the wine its exciting quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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Strangely, or sadly, my least favorite of this trio of sauvignon blancs is the Robert Mondavi To Kalon Reserve Fumé Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. The amount of new oak increased to 42 percent, the aging to nine months, from the previous example; a small difference one might think, but enough to make this wine feel burdened by its wood regimen rather than enhanced, at least from mid-palate back through the finish. There’s a bare two percent semillon. The grapes came from the To Kalon Vineyard, half from Robert’s Block, first planted in 1960. A small portion of the fruit was fermented in cement egg-shaped containers and was added to the final blend. Of course the wine was barrel-fermented and hand-stirred in barrel. The color is very pale straw-gold; aromas of lime peel and celery leaf, lemongrass and preserved lemon are woven with notes of spiced pear, tangerine and just a hint of fig, all abetted by a snap of gunflint and graphite. The wine offers a texture almost dense in its fluid materiality, though it’s lightened and heightened by vibrant acidity and a sense of lithe energy. That oak, though, develops from a subtle haze to a formidably drying factor in the mouth, powering over all other aspects to become the wine’s raison d’etre. Through all the technique exercised in the winery, does the character of the vineyard shine through? It just feels all too handled. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $52.
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We recognize that the kings of Napa Valley are cabernet sauvignon and merlot, while the queens are chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, but the storied region is home to a spectrum of interesting and intriguing grapes, especially in the white category. Think, for example, of the rieslings produced by Smith-Madrone, Trefethen and Stony Hill. Perhaps an improbable grape for the region is the Rhone variety grenache blanc, yet here is our Wine of the Day, the Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc 2016, Napa Valley, made all in stainless steel from grapes grown on the Somerston Estate at an elevation of 1,250 feet in the Vaca Range that defines the area’s eastern boundary. This is one of the palest wines I have encountered, its hue as ineffable and pure as water; distinct aromas of lemon balm, peach and spiced pear are woven with notes of straw and heather, while after a few minutes in the glass hints of dried honey, jasmine and bees’-wax emerge. The wine is clean, precise and dry on the palate, crisp and vibrant yet offering lovely balance between litheness and a soft, almost talc-like texture; it’s the sort of contrast that makes a wine exciting to drink. Flavors of roasted lemon, peach and melon are inextricably melded with bright acidity and a burgeoning element of limestone minerality; the finish is bracing in its marsh grass-sea breeze austerity and seashell salinity. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19 with seafood risottos, seared salmon or swordfish or as a scintillating aperitif. Production was 1,271 cases. Winemaker was Craig Becker. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

I don’t often feature chardonnays made in California in the Wine of the Day series because basically it’s difficult to find examples that aren’t overblown with strident spice, rampant tropical fruit and strenuous oak. When I find one that matches my idea of what chardonnay should be, however, I will man the barricades for it. Such a one is the Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley. David Ramey is one of the busiest people in the Golden State’s wine industry, overseeing his own roster of mainly single-vineyard chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and syrah under his primary label, but also managing a recently launched second label, Sidebar, as well as consulting for a wide range of top producers. It requires a pinpoint sense of attention to detail to be able to carry off such a spectrum of activity and responsibility. The Ramey Chardonnay 2014, RRV, falls under the winery’s Appellation series that features wines made from grapes derived from vineyards including several that Ramey uses for his single-vineyard bottlings. The wine fermented by natural yeasts and underwent full malolactic and bâtonnage, that is, stirring of the lees while in barrel; it aged 12 months in French oak, only 13 percent new barrels, so the wood influence is almost subliminal, a subtle shaping. The color is pale straw-gold; the whole package feels like a fine sifting of fruit, spice, oak and minerals, animated by bright, persistent acidity. Scents of apple peel, pineapple and grapefruit open to smoky notes of roasted lemon, cloves and lemon balm, over layers of slightly dusty limestone. Notably clean and dry, this is one lithe and chiseled chardonnay that features ripe, spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors washed by a texture that’s like pulverized flint; the sense of deftness combined with heft is remarkably gratifying on the palate. 14.5 percent alcohol. At close to three years old, this chardonnay is drinking beautifully and will continue to do so through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.

A sample for review.

Now that American consumers have embraced rosé wines as a legitimate drink not just for girls and sissies, and practically every winery on the planet that makes red wine is also turning out rosé to cash in on the trend — bleeding off some of that first-press juice before too much skin contact — an inevitable backlash is occurring. Popping up on social media are posts and comments asserting not only that “Rosé Sucks!” — in addition to the die-hards who insist that “Derrick Rose Sucks!”– but that the category itself is a trash wine, an afterthought not worthy of consideration to people who drink “real” wine. Leaving aside the issue of Derrick Rose, those of us who love rosé wines know that our exemplars are far from trashy afterthoughts, but totally real wines that offer style, elegance, grace, refreshment and complexity — and a great deal of pleasure.

The actual problem, I think, isn’t that rosé wines suck, but that, in the broad scheme of the vinous realm, most wine sucks. Looky here, friends, the wines that receive most of the attention and praise, the wines that consumers and collectors alike search for avidly, the wines that receive the high scores from the slick magazines and young sommeliers wet their pants over to get onto their lists — these wines account for about five percent of the wine made in the world every year, 10 percent, if you want to be generous. The other 90 to 95 percent of the wine made in the world annually is basic plonk, designed to be gulped thoughtlessly while people work their way through a platter of nachos and scarf down a burger or a slice of pizza or a bowl of chili. Decent, perhaps, drinkable, harmless, bland, dull, innocuous, forgettable: the everyday quaff.

Unfortunately, many of these wines are an amalgam of de-acidifiers (or their opposite), oak chips, powdered tannin, color stabilizers and, oh right, grapes, all assembled in anonymous warehouses in industrial suburbs. Hardly wine at all, though you can slap a weird name and goofy label on it and Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Costco can sell it for $5 a bottle.

But what the hell, most products of human ingenuity, industry and sweaty brows suck, so why shouldn’t most wine? Most books are dreadful; most films and television programs are stupid; the music industry churns out enough garbage to clog our ears to the end of time yet manages to sleep the sleep of the just every night and rake in the dough. Art, architecture and design? Don’t get me started! And how often do we get someone to come in and perform a home repair job with competence and fairness?

Do you understand what I’m saying?

Mediocrity is the quotidian.

Why should the wine industry be any different? Oh, right, it’s swathed in a haze of romance and mystique, an aura which is, frankly, entirely fictitious. Very few people outside of tech CEOs and media giants can afford the “wine country life,” whether the environment is Napa Valley, Tuscany or Provence.

I’m tending far afield in riffing mode here, so getting back to the actual point: Don’t blame the mediocrity — the “sucky factor” — of wine in general on rosé wines in particular. There’s a lot of nasty sauvignon blanc and over-oaked chardonnay and cloyingly alcoholic cabernet sauvignon out there, and that’s at the ultra-premium level. I have nothing against well-made inexpensive wine, and when I come across one of those wines, I’ll promote it eagerly. I think, in fact, that there’s more honor in creating 10,000 cases of an authentic and essential 10-dollar wine than in creating 1,000 cases of a 100-dollar wine that tastes like every other 100-dollar wine. Chose your wines carefully, readers, and when you find some you like, grasp them to your bosoms with gratitude. Even rosé.

Here’s a beautiful pinot noir for lovers of the style that toes a line between lush and lovely, on one hand, and sinewy and dynamic, on the other. What I’m saying is that the FEL Pinot Noir 2015, Anderson Valley (in Mendocino County), strikes a perfect balance in nose and palate in terms of the elegant, the ethereal, and the powerful. The wine, made by Ryan Hodgins, aged 16 months in French oak, 34 percent new barrels. The color is an alluring dark ruby that shades to an utterly transparent magenta rim; ripe and spicy black and red cherries and currants are permeated by notes of cloves and sassafras, rhubarb and cranberry, while a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of lilac and rose petals and subtle undertones of loam and oolong tea. Lip-smacking density is riven by persistent acidity that enlivens flavors of black and blue fruit leaning toward plum and mulberry, all set in a compelling, lithe, satiny texture; a tide of slightly dusty, velvety tannins brings a sense of framing and foundation that joins with a wisp of oak and all that dark, spicy fruit compote for a succulent finish. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’21 with a roasted chicken, seared duck magret, pork tenderloin. Anderson Valley’s FEL Wines is an adjunct of Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa Valley. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review.

One of the most meticulous producers in Alto Adige is Alois Lageder. Now run by the sixth generation, on biodynamic principles, the winery’s pinot blancs, pinot grigios and gewurztraminers consistently earn high marks on this blog. For 2015, a hot year in northeastern Italy, owner Alois Clemens Lageder and winemaker Jo Pfisterer fashioned a pinot grigio with a difference. The Alois Lageder “Porer” Pinot Grigio 2015, Alto Adige, is a blend of juice from grapes that were pressed immediately after picking with fruit that was left on the skins for several hours. The result is a pinot grigio that offers more body and more nuance in nose and mouth than just about any other version of the grape that I have tried. The color is very pale pink-copper-topaz, like the last hue of a fading sunset; aromas of heather and broom, spiced pear and lemongrass, almond blossom and lilac waft subtly from the glass; a few moments bring out notes of ginger and quince, with a highlight of crystallized lime zest, all of these elements etched in fine detail. The wine fills out on the palate, adding a dimension of depth and heft unusual for pinot grigio, yet retaining an almost ethereal quality; crisp with vibrant acidity and a scintillating quality of flint-like minerality, the wine invites sip after sip through to a finish distinguished by limestone, apple peel and a hint of almond skin bitterness. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19 with seafood risottos, seared or roasted fish or with a variety of fish or game terrines. Excellent. About $25.

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

Not that I would expect any of My Readers to purchase these 12 wines collectively, even if they could be assembled, but in these models we see some of the best of what Napa Valley can be. These cabernet-based wines share a sense of vigor and rigor, of abundance and luxury married to earthy, brooding qualities that never descend to truculence. Some of the high quality of this group derives from the years, 2013 and 2014 being two and three of a trio of fine vintages. Equally important is the treatment of the grapes and the wines in the winery; it feels almost miraculous that whatever the widely diverse nature of the oak regimens practiced and new oak barrels applied, none of these feel unduly influenced by wood. It’s true that I tend to approve of the more sinewy, reticent style of cabernet sauvignon (see Stony Hill, below), but I try to keep to keep my receptors open even for the more florid, succulent models.

These wines were samples for review.
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Amici Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, is composed of 80 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent cabernet franc, 4 percent petit verdot and 2 percent each merlot and malbec, thereby touching all of what used be be called the five classic Bordeaux red grapes, though in truth there’s very little malbec in Bordeaux nowadays — it emigrated to South America — and not a lot of petit verdot. The wine aged 22 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels; the grapes derived 60 percent from vineyards on the valley floor, 40 percent from mountain vineyards. The color is dense ruby-magenta with a mulberry rim; the glass teems with notes of walnut shell, briers and brambles, graphite and loam, cedar, tobacco and dried rosemary, tending, after a few minutes in the glass, to exotic hints of espresso and bittersweet chocolate, cloves and sandalwood, and finally admitting a slightly meaty and fleshy element of intense and concentrated black currants, cherries and plums. Yes, there’s a lot going on here, but all these aspects are balanced with pinpoint precision and integration. If satin could be woven from iron filings, well, there’s a metaphor for this wine’s dense, mineral-inflected structure, yet it presents a real mouthful of juicy, spicy black fruit and berries propelled by vibrant acidity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
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The Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Calistoga, is a blend of 86 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent merlot and a 1 percent smidgen of cabernet franc; the wine aged 16 months in French and Eastern European oak — usually being Slovenian or Hungarian — 27 percent new barrels, a completely rational oak regimen. The color is a typical dark ruby shading to a purple edge; classic notes of cedar and tobacco, dried thyme and rosemary are woven with ripe and spicy black currants, cherries and plums (with a surprising blueberry undertone) and hints of mocha and oolong tea, loam, walnut shell and graphite. This complex layering continues on the palate, where you feel the sway of the earth and the power of surging acid that lend the wine grounding and energy; flavors of ripe and spicy black and blue fruit are bolstered by forceful dusty, graphite-inflected tannins and a background of subtle, supple oak. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2024 to ’30. Excellent. About $58.
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If ever a wine qualified as a theoretical “First Growth” of Napa Valley cabernet-based wines, the Chateau Montelena “The Montelena Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon would be one of them. For 2013, the fine-tuned blend of the winery’s top cabernet is 97 percent cabernet sauvignon, with 1.5 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot; the wine aged two years in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color, if you can call it that, is opaque purple-black with a vivid magenta rim; the wine is, as you might expect, a cauldron of graphite, iodine and iron that seethes with loam, briers and brambles, with spiced, macerated and roasted black currants and plums. These elements segue seamlessly onto the palate, where they feel wrapped around an intense core of crushed lavender and violets, licorice and bittersweet chocolate, with a helping of more graphite. Dusty, velvety tannins reach far into the depths, where they meet bastions of supple, subtle oak and streams of vibrant acidity; the wine tends toward Olympian austerity through the formidable finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Matt Crafton. A wine of this character and costing this much entails a sense of responsibility on its owner, so don’t treat this one frivolously; cellar until 2019 to ’21 and consume through 2033 to ’35. Exceptional. About $160 (a bottle).
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The Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, from Huneeus Wines, draws cabernet grapes mainly from the Rutherford and Coombsville AVAs, with smaller portions from Yountville, Mount Veeder and Atlas Peak, making this wine a representative of a general Napa Valley notion. It aged 19 months in French oak barrels. The color is opaque ruby-purple shading to a glowing magenta rim; the aromas radiate sweet Asian spices, graphite and iodine, infusing fruit that feels like a macedoine of black currants, cherries and plums infused by lavender and violets, rosemary and cedar and grilled bread. The wine is heady and voluminous, offering perfect weight, heft and balance; it flows across the palate in a resonant tide of lip-smacking acid and tannin, flint and granitic minerality; it’s very dry, and you feel the burgeoning elements of walnut shell and forest floor in the depth, while on the surface, notes of lilac and loam appear. 14.8 percent alcohol. Drinkable now, with a steak, or try from 2019 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $55.
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Flora Springs Trilogy Red Wine 2014, Napa Valley, is a blend of 86 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent malbec and 6 percent petit verdot; the wine aged 22 months in 85 percent French oak, 15 percent American oak. The color is dense dark ruby; the nose is very ripe, spicy and intense, with black currant and cherry scents deeply imbued by a whole, old wooden box of dried spices and grilled herbs and penetrating notes of iodine and iron. The wine is quite dry, and the entire enterprise leans to, even rushes toward, austerity from mid-palate back. No problem with that, of course, just give it time, but Trilogy 2014 at this point feels like a four-square house from the 1910s in a good neighborhood, solidly-built on a firm foundation but pretty much unexciting. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2029 to ’32. Very Good+, with Excellent potential. About $80.
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The Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent merlot, 4.5 percent petit verdot and 2.5 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 21 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels. This feels like totally classic Napa Valley cabernet, from its intense, glowing dark ruby shade; to its notes of cassis and spiced and macerated plums permeated by briers, brambles and forest floor over a deep layer of loam, graphite and granitic minerality; to its tight core of lilac and lavender, bittersweet chocolate and ancho chili. It’s a very dry wine, yet delivering luscious black and blue fruit and berry flavors girt by a framework of dusty, earthy tannins and bright acidity; the finish is long, a little untamed, both rigorous and luxuriant. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 or ’32. Excellent. About $72.
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The Robert Mondavi Maestro 2014, Napa Valley, is an operatic wine that extends its range from bass to baritone through tenor and even allows some alto notes with scarcely a pause for breath; a great deal of crescendo, not much diminuendo. This is the second vintage; I did not try the 2013. The wine is a blend of 73 percent cabernet sauvignon, 23 percent cabernet franc and 2 percent each merlot and petit verdot, aged 21 months in French oak, 28 percent new barrels. The grapes derived from Mondavi’s estate vineyards, Wappo Hill in Stags Leap District and To Kalon in Oakville. The fathomless hue is purple black with a bright magenta rim; the bouquet offers an abundance of rich, spicy black and blue fruit and berries permeated by iodine and graphite, violets, lavender and bittersweet chocolate; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of smoke, roasted fennel and ancho chili, briers, brambles and walnut shell. This is a juicy, sizable, dense, sleek and suave red wine, framed by dry but velvety tannins, subtly spicy oak and a rising tide of loam and gravel minerality that tends toward austerity in the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Best from 2018 or ’19 through 2025 to ’29. Excellent. About $50.
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The 100 percent varietal Stewart Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, aged 22 months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels. The color is intense ruby-purple with a delicate, transparent magenta rim; boy, this delivers a real snootful and mouthful of iodine, graphite and iron, barely tempered by resonant and pretty damned luscious flavors of black currants, cherries and mulberries. For all that, though, plush and dusty tannins coat the mouth, and while the wine is succulent without being gooshy, it offers real rigor in its broad effects and true character in its depths, both powerful and chaste. 14.5 percent alcohol. Do not touch until 2019 or ’20, and allow it to develop through 2028 to ’30. On the other hand, decant it tonight and give it plenty of air and a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Production was 1,436 cases. Excellent potential. About $75.
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The 100 percent varietal Stewart Cellars Beckstoffer Las Piedes Vineyard “Nomad” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, aged 22 months in French oak, 85 percent new barrels. The abyss in your glass is inky purple-black that allows a glowing, nuclear violet rim; the extraordinary, provocative, intensely perfumed bouquet wreathes strands of walnut shell, iodine, crushed blueberries, currants and violets with smoke from the smoldering spice box and hints of macerated and slightly roasted black and blue fruit, fruitcake and loam. As if that panoply were not enough, the wine is as dense as a velvet blanket, framed by mineral-drenched tannins and creamy oak (that wisely stays in the background), and enlivened by resonant acidity that seems to pluck all the bass and baritone strings of dark, spicy fruit and healthy vigor; the finish is very dry, sleek, chiseled and rigorous. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Blair Guthrie. Production was 180 cases. Your children may be enjoying this wine, fully developed or in gentle decline, between 2035 and 2040. A stunning achievement. Exceptional. About $175 (a bottle).
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The grapes for the Stony Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Spring Mountain District, grew in vineyards that average 1,550 feet elevation, and indeed there’s something of mountain rootiness and stoniness about the wine, which aged 18 months in French oak, only 20 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby fading to a garnet rim; aromas of black currants and cherries are permeated by graphite and wood-smoke, with unfurling hints of cedar and tobacco, dried thyme and rosemary (with the latter’s slightly astringent resiny quality), briers and brambles; a few moments in the glass bring out touches of blueberry. It’s a wine that feels warm in its spicy nature of fruitcake and slightly roasted berries, yet also cool in its bright acidity and scintillating granitic mineral character. Tannins like an antique velvet gown are dense, dusty and chewy and extend their reach through a long graphite- and flint-laden finish. Lovely balance and integration in a young but perfectly drinkable cabernet, though you could defer the pleasure from 2025 to 2028. 14 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Mike Chelini. Excellent. About $70.
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The Yount Ridge Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, contains 97 percent cabernet sauvignon, with mere nods toward 2.5 percent malbec and .5 percent merlot, grown in a certified organic vineyard in the Oakville District AVA. Winemaker is Cecilia Welch. The color is very dark, almost impenetrable ruby; it’s a dense, supple and sinewy cabernet, packed with dusty graphite, iodine and iron; a new minutes in the glass expose notes of lavender, ancho chile, cassis, cedar and rosemary; a very dry cabernet that delivers a huge presence and weight on the palate, this has deep roots in the earth, as well as swingeing acidity and a finish that feels chiseled from granite and flint. This needs some time to become more well-knit, say 2018 through 2025 to ’28. Production was 500 cases. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $96.

Don’t confuse Yount Ridge Cellars with Young Ridge Winery, also in Napa Valley.
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The percentages for the Yount Ridge Cellars Proprietary Red Blend 2014, Napa Valley, are 66 percent cabernet sauvignon, 24 percent merlot and 10 percent malbec. An opaque ruby-purple hue shades to a vivid purple-magenta rim; the wine is quite intense and concentrated, unfurling multiple layers with some airing: cassis and black cherry, lavender and licorice, violets and plums; notes of cedar, rosemary and black olive. It’s a dense and chewy wine that offers significant weight and heft, feeling sifted with dust and graphite and slightly exotic elements of sandalwood and incense. This is a lovely and expressive red wine but with an earthy background, none of which prevents it from being warm, spicy and appealing; the finish brings in touches of leather, briers and brambles and granitic tannins. A surprisingly drinkable yet seemingly ageless Napa Valley red that offers both pleasure and abundant character. Production was 500 cases. Now through 2025 to ’30; it’s not really ageless, of course. Excellent. About $98.
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It’s not easy to produce an inexpensive pinot noir, one that expresses real varietal character in an easy-to-drink package, but Toad Hollow Vineyards seems to succeed every year with its offering from Monterey County. Don’t look to the bright and totally transparent ruby-cranberry hued Toad Hollow Pinot Noir 2016, Monterey County, for great depth and dimension. Find satisfaction and pleasure, instead, in its scents of smoky and slightly fleshy red and black cherries imbued with cloves, rhubarb and mulberries; its super satiny and supple texture; its sleek, fine-boned structure; and its delicious and darkly-spiced flavors of black cherries and currants animated by clean acidity and, from mid-palate back, a nicely chiseled mineral quality that gains some heft as the moments pass. 14.2 percent alcohol. This pinot noir would sell like crazy in wine-by-the-glass programs at bars and restaurants. Now through 2019. Very Good+. About $17, representing Real Value.

A sample for review.

I don’t think you’ll find a better gewürztraminer at the price, so look for this model diligently — that is, if you like the grape variety. Not everyone does, because it can be assertively floral and spicy, but I’ve been a fan for 30 years and more; the Castel Sallegg Gewürztraminer 2015, Südtirol/Alto Adige, would be a good place to start if you’re not familiar with the grape. The wine hails from that part of the old Austro-Hungarian empire where borders between countries may be marked by road signs and lines on maps, but the ties of language, culture, families and agricultural practices are more important on the local level. In fact, many wines from this area of northeastern Italy bear labels with indications in Italian and German, and the appellation is listed, as you see, as both Südtirol and Alto Adige. The Castel Sallegg Gewürztraminer 2015, made all in stainless steel, offers a riveting nose of an unabashed floral nature, through it’s never cloying or overwhelming. Notes of jasmine, rose petal and lilac are wreathed with hints of lime peel, lemongrass, damp flint and heather in a heady, seductive amalgam. Also unabashed is the vital stream of bright acidity that lends the wine terrific appeal and drinkability, though the texture is not only crisp and lively but almost soothingly talc-like, both elements poised in exciting balance; subtle flavors of spicy, baked stone fruit (with a slightly exotic touch of lychee) continue through a finish that’s sleek with chiseled limestone minerality. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20 with roasted pork shoulder or charcuterie, with seafood stews or risottos. A remarkably pure and intense gewürztraminer for the price. Excellent. About $16.

Weygandt-Metzler Importing, Rhinecliff, N.Y. A sample for review.