February 2018

Here’s a real bargain in a certified organic white wine from Bordeaux. Les Hauts de Lagarde 2015, Bordeaux blanc, is a blend of 60 percent sauvignon blanc and 40 percent semillon, made all in stainless steel. The color is an attractive bright medium gold; aromas of heather and hay, peach and apricot are woven with notes of quince, dried thyme and preserved lemon. The wine is quite dry, permeated by a strain of seashell salinity and activated by crisp acidity; lemon and tangerine with a touch of sunny, leafy fig are burnished by a thread of graphite and green tea, this panoply leaning gently on a shelf of limestone. 12.5 percent alcohol. Remarkable personality and presence for the price. Drink through the end of 2018 with shrimp and snow-pea stir-fry, seafood risotto or seared salmon or trout; also a great picnic wine, thinking tuna or shrimp salad and cucumber and watercress sandwiches. Excellent. About $14, representing Terrific Value. (A local purchase.)

Imported by Natural Merchants, Grants Pass, Oregon.

Steve Dutton and Dan Goldfield each grew up in families intimately connected through generations to the cultivation of grapes in Sonoma County. They formed a partnership and launched Dutton Goldfield Winery in 1998, with Steve as vineyard manager and Dan as winemaker. Dutton Ranch, a term that appears on their labels, is not one piece of earth but a collection of over 60 non-contiguous parcels in Russian River Valley comprising approximately 1,300 acres of land that they either own, lease or manage. About 1,150 of these acres are planted to grapes, and the other 150 to apples. As we say of certain automobiles, the Dutton Goldfield products are performance wines, immediately gorgeous, dramatically appealing, ambitious and dense with possibility, and delivering immense presence on the palate. Dan Goldfield is not shy with oak, though I thought only one of these examples displayed its barrel influence overtly. Alcohol levels for the wines mentioned in this post are a comfortable and well-poised under-14 percent. Green Valley, at the southwest corner of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley AVA, is one of Russian River’s coolest sub-AVAs. It was approved as an AVA (American Viticultural Area) in 1983 but altered in 2007 to Green Valley of Russian River Valley to distinguish itself from Green Valley in Solano County.

These wines were samples for review.
The one of these wines that I did not entirely give my heart to was the Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley, a chardonnay that was fermented in barrel and went through complete malolactic fermentation; it aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. It’s a bold, ripe, spicy chardonnay that features pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors lavished with elements of vanilla, creme brulee and toasted coconut; the oak dominates from mid-palate back through the finish, where the saving grace of clean acidity and limestone minerality strive to give the wine balance. 13.8 percent alcohol. This fashion of chardonnay may appeal to some consumers, but not to me. Very Good+. About $38.
No such quibbles mar the experience of the Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Rued Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, made from dry-farmed vines planted in 1969. The wine is barrel-fermented and goes completely through malolactic while aging 15 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels; it’s bottled unfiltered. The color is a limpid medium gold hue; aromas of slightly macerated and baked pineapple and grapefruit are tinged with preserved lemon and green tea, talc and flint, with a gradual unfolding of acacia and verbena. Pretty heady stuff, all right. It’s ripe and rich, to be sure, but beautifully balanced by rivers of swingeing acidity and bastions of powdery, slightly graphite-driven limestone minerality for exquisite heft and energy; the finish brings in lime peel, lightly spiced pear and flint. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 649 cases. Now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $55.

Aged 16 months in French oak, 55 percent new barrels, the Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Fox Den Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, displays a transparent ruby-mulberry hue. You could eat the bouquet with a spoon: black and red cherries and plums enveloped in lilac and lavender, sandalwood and sassafras, new leather and a hint of loam; a few moments unfurl notes of wood-smoke, cigarette paper and talc. A real beauty, the wine is sleek and lithe on the palate, propelled by throbbing acidity and spice-infused black fruit flavors; it gathers woodsy underbrush elements as the minutes pass and concludes with a fairly high-toned, austere finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 490 cases. Try from 2019 through 2028. Excellent. About $62.

“Perfect” is not a word one should toss around blithely, but I’ll unlimber it in the case of the Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch Freestone Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley. The wine aged in French oak 16 momths, 55 percent new barrels. The color is a beautiful transparent ruby-magenta shading to an invisible rim; scents of spiced and macerated (and slightly smoky) black cherries and currants feel infiltrated by threads of sassafras, pomegranate and cranberry, with undertones of cool graphite and iodine; a few minutes in the glass unfold hints of sage, cumin and underbrush. Super lithe, supple and satiny in the mouth, this juicy pinot noir develops an essential and almost feral loamy element, as well as touches of tobacco and leather inside its ripe black fruit flavors. Altogether, it’s a remarkable marriage of power and elegance. 13.9 percent alcohol. Production was 317 cases. Drink now through 2023 to 27. Exceptional. About $72.

Fans of old-fashioned Chianti will surely gravitate to the Selvapiana Chianti Rufina 2015. Rufina is a separate area of Tuscany’s Chianti zone, isolated to the northeast of the city of Florence. By “old-fashioned,” I mean that the wine does not contain any international grape varieties, like cabernet sauvignon, merlot or syrah, and that it was not aged in small French oak barriques. The rules for Chianti, which is based on the sangiovese grape, were changed in 1996 so the wines may consist of 70 to 100 percent sangiovese plus a portion of the grapes mentioned above, though cabernet sauvignon cannot be more than 15 percent. It is possible, then, for a modern Chianti to be 80 percent sangiovese and 20 percent syrah or merlot. The Selvapiana Chianti Rufina 2015, however, is a blend of 95 percent sangiovese and a five percent combination of the traditional grapes canaiolo, colorino and malvasia nero. Where many producers in Tuscany are swayed by the siren-call of the 59-gallon French barrique, our Wine of the Day aged 10 months in French oak casks ranging from 15 to 25 hectoliters, that is from 396 to 660 gallons, so the wood influence is gently shaping, almost subliminal. The color is a ruddy, transparent cherry-garnet; notes of cloves, oolong tea and macerated cherries and plums open to hints of sandalwood and violets, with undertones of cherry pit, stem and skin that lend piquancy to the aromas and a touch of bitterness on the palate. Subdued flavors of red cherries and currants (and a bit of orange rind) flow on a lithe, supple texture riven by keen acidity, while an element of graphite-tinged tannins provides structure; the finish brings in shades of woodsy, meadowy qualities. 13.5 percent alcohol. A lovely drink, through 2020, for pasta marinara, rabbit with pappardelle or mixed charcuterie. Excellent. About $17, representing Good Value.

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

Looking for a terrific and inexpensive sparkling wine with which to toast your sweetheart, baby or doppelganger of whatever gender, ethnicity, spiritual orientation or galactic origin for Valentine’s? Why of course you are! Here’s my advice: Find and enjoy a bottle of the Domaine Paul Mas M Côté Mas Blanc de Blancs Brut, from France’s Côteaux du Languedoc appellation. Non-vintage-dated, 100 percent chardonnay and made in the traditional Champagne method, this delightful quaffer offers a hue of palest blond and an attractively clean and fresh character enlivened by a fount by energetic bubbles; hints of pear and spiced peach open to notes of lime peel and almond skin. The whole sleek package is taut and crisp, light and delicate, with an elegant tide of limestone minerality that finishes with fragile seashell salinity. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. Impressive for its detail and dimension, and no one will know that it only cost $16.

Imported by Esprit du Vin, Boca Raton, Fla. A sample for review.

Let’s begin our foray into the most recent vintage of rosé wines with the Cline Cellars Ancient Vines Mourvèdre Rosé 2017, from the winery’s Oakley vineyards in Contra Costa County, way east across the bay from San Francisco. The wine is 100 percent varietal and was not produced by the “bleed-off” method but from grapes grown purposely for rosé, lightly crushed and then removed from the juice. The color is a lovely medium salmon-coral, an appropriate introduction to the delicacy and elegance of nicely nuanced raspberry and strawberry notes permeated by touches of blood orange, cloves and crystallized ginger; the wine flows with lithe refreshment and brightness on the palate, highlighted by blithe acidity and tide of flint-like minerality, slightly infused with an element of graphite, all in support of subtle but tasty raspberry-peach-plum flavors. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink this rosé through the rest of 2018 as a charming aperitif or with brunch and picnic fare. Excellent. About $17.

A sample for review.

That term — “red wine blends” — should produce some rolled eyes and deep sighs among a portion of my readers. After all, there’s nothing unusual about red wine blends. However, a few years ago, my colleagues in wine writing and I began receiving press releases from eager and enthusiastic marketers and PR people extolling the hot new trend of blended red wines, particularly from California, and what an innovation these wines were. Apparently these bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked young persons never heard of, for example, Bordeaux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Port and Chianti (or old-fashioned Chianti). Nevertheless, secure in that knowledge, I’ll review today a trio of pretty damned unusual or at least interesting red wine blends from Portugal, Uruguay and California’s Sonoma County. Each is quite individual from the others.

These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform my readers by fiat of the Federal Trade Commission.

The Monte da Peceguina 2015 comes from the Portuguese region of Alentejo, where is was made by Herdade da Malhadinha Nova, a compound that includes a hotel, spa and restaurant as well as a winery. The sparsely populated region covers most of the lower third of Portugal; its chief asset and export is cork. Vinho Regional Alentejano, this wine’s category, is the designation for the entire region, VR being somewhat the equivalent of the French vin de pays. Monte da Peceguina 2015 is a blend of native grapes with several imports, none in the majority: 25 percent touriga nacional, 23 percent syrah, 22 percent aragonez, 20 percent alicante bouschet and 10 percent cabernet sauvignon; call it a sort of Portuguese-French hybrid. Information about oak aging is not available. Far from these divergent grapes uneasily co-existing, they came together to form a robust, vigorous whole greater than the sum of its parts. The color is intense dark ruby; it’s a ferrous and sanguinary wine that features ripe and fleshy black currants, blueberries and plums infused with cloves and sandalwood, mint and licorice, with a burgeoning tide of smoke and tar. A wallop of graphite bathes the palate ahead of dry dusty, gritty tannins and vibrant acidity; it’s a dark, brooding, pondering place in the black and blue fruit flavors slightly sympathetic to hints of lavender and violets that succumb to a dense, mineral-ridden finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 through 2028 to ’30 with steaks, roasted goat and pork and game meats. Excellent. About $19.

Imported by Wine in Motion, Union, N.J.
Bodegas Marichal was founded in 1938 and is now operated by the family’s third and fourth generation. The estate’s vineyards are located in the province of Canelones, 15 miles north of Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital. Though this wine offers the simplest blend of this trio, it’s also the most unusual. The Marichal Reserve Collection Pinot Noir/Tannat 2015 is a blend of — yes — 70 percent pinot noir and 30 percent tannat. Let’s think about this pairing. Pinot noir is often considered sacrosanct in its elegance and perfumed singularity, that is, a red grape so noble and highly characteristic that it is not to be blended with other grapes — unless producers in Burgundy surreptitiously pump up the color of their wines with a slurp of Cotes-du-Rhone from the south. Ha-ha, of course that would never happen! On the other hand, tannat, tough as a motorcyclist’s left boot and tannic as black tea left in the pot overnight, well, gosh, tannat seems an anomaly even if its function is to lend heft and structural might to pinot noir. The grape, declining in plantings in France, gives robustness and rusticity to the red wines of Madiran and Irouleguy in the Southwest, in the foothills east of the Pyrenees. Seventy percent of the Marichal Reserve Collection Pinot Noir/Tannat 2015 aged 10 months in oak barrels. The color is a brilliant medium ruby hue, and while the mild color might indicate a mild wine, the aromas of dusty, briery black currants and plums, permeated by cloves and graphite, tell us that the 30 percent tannat tends to dominate the enterprise; a silky texture feels slightly roughened by dry sifted tannins that provide grip and traction on the palate rarely encountered in pinot noir. In other words, the blend here is transformative, with the lesser grape working its powerful wiles upon the greater. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. It’s certainly a very unusual drink. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 or ’24. Very Good+. About $20.

Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
Looking at the roster of wines available from Rodney Strong Vineyards, your first thought might be, “Do they need another label?” The answer to your inquiry would be: “Probably not,” yet here is Upshot 2015, a Sonoma County blend — primarily Alexander and Knights valleys — of 44 percent zinfandel, followed by 29 percent merlot, 15 percent malbec and 7 percent petit verdot and — out in left field — 5 percent riesling. It’s not unprecedented for red wine to contain a bit of aromatic white to elevate the nose and provide a touch of softness to a rigorous structure; after all, among the 13 grape varieties permitted in the typically deeply dark Chateauneuf-du-Pape, only nine are red. (Few CdP producers today employ all 13 varieties or any white grapes at all.) Anyway, Upshot 2015 aged 18 months in oak barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a lighter magenta rim; notes of black currants, cherries and plums are ripe and fleshy, slightly spiced and macerated and infused with hints of iodine and iron, mint and licorice and a touch too much vanilla to suit me. On the palate, the wine is super-charged by vivid acidity and layered with fairly stout, dusty, graphite-washed tannins; a bit of zinfandel-influenced blueberry and boysenberry emerges after a few minutes in the glass, and perhaps a whiff on the back-end of something astringently floral from that smatter of riesling. So, yeah, nicely made, yet I don’t find this model totally impressive, in fact a bit too much generically “red wine” or “cabernet-ish” than distinctive enough, especially for the price. On the other hand, you and this wine could have a really good time with a medium-rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $28.

Long mysterious to European explorers of the 16th and 17th centuries, the region known as Patagonia, forming the southernmost geography of South America, is shared by Argentina, about 90 percent, and Chile, the remaining 10 percent. The Argentine side is characterized by an immense series of steppes that gradually ascend in elevation, the landmass cut by several powerful rivers. Even today, Patagonia’s northern boundary remains rather ambiguous. One of those waterways is the Rio Negro, in the Upper Valley of which we find Aniello, the winery that produced today’s featured wine. It’s the Aniello 006 Riverside Estate Chardonnay 2017, designated Patagonia. The wine sees only neutral French oak and a tiny bit — 7 percent — malolactic fermentation. The result is a bright medium gold chardonnay that bursts with fresh, spicy allure and attractive scents and flavors of slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit; notes of green apple, mango and quince linger on the palate, highlighted by touches of cloves and damp gravel in a texture that’s talc-like and almost dense, all these elements animated by crisp, brisk acidity and a burgeoning limestone quality. 13 percent alcohol. Pure pleasure that you could sell the hell out of in restaurant and bar by-the-glass programs. Now through 2020. Very Good+. About $17, representing Good Value.

Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif. A sample for review.

I met Michael and Anne Dashe in San Francisco, a few weeks ago, at the ZAP conference — Zinfandel Advocates and Producers — cards were exchanged, and they sent me a couple of samples. Their Dashe Cellars winery does not occupy a facility on a vine-covered hillside in Napa Valley or Sonoma County, where sheep might graze and rabbits cavort, but a warehouse in Oakland. Mike Dashe, the winemaker and co-owner with Anne — she’s originally from a town on the coast of Brittany — makes wine from selected vineyards over which he exerts final control over farming techniques and harvesting practices. Our Wine of the Day is the Dashe Cellars Les Enfants Terribles Heart Arrow Ranch Zinfandel 2016, from a new AVA, Eagle Peak, in Mendocino County. The vineyard is certified organic and biodynamic. The wine is made, at least partially, by the method of carbonic maceration, a process in which a portion of whole grape clusters is placed in a large barrel or tank and then, as in this case, the rest of the uncrushed grapes are piled on top. Sealed under a blanket of carbon dioxide, the grapes begin to produce fermentation inside themselves and releasing juice as the weight of the grapes on top crush the grapes below. The chemical transformations involved and the possible variations are far more complicated than this simple — or simplistic — explanation implies, but the result, anyway, is a fresh, bright red wine. You can understand why the process is popular in Beaujolais. Les Enfants Terribles 2016 is certainly bright and fresh, with its seductive, spice-infused black raspberry and cherry scents and flavors, but there’s a glittering edge of graphite, too, and dusty, fine-grained tannins for a structure both succulent and lithe. Five to six months in 900-gallon oak Burgundian barrels give this highly drinkable wine shape and firmness, all these elements contributing to a real sense of grip and traction on the palate. From mid-range back, the wine gains woodsy, raspy qualities of raspberry leaf and briers, with the finish a supple wreathing of fruit, spice, acid, tannin and a subtle mineral-floral character. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 or ’21. Lovely, with a serious aspect. Production was 491 cases. Excellent. About $28.

The label image is one vintage behind.

We touch on several regions today on this brief survey of sauvignon blanc wines: Lake County, Monterey, Napa and Sonoma in California, the poetic Horse Heaven Hills in Washington, the North Fork of Long Island, and New Zealand’s Marlborough appellation. The wines range for tasty little quaffers to products that display great tone, character and dignity. As usual in this series, I eschew data of the technical, historical, geographical/geological and personal for quick, incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks, designed to whet your palate and pique your interest. Enjoy, but in moderation.

These wines were samples for review.

District 7 Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Monterey. 13.5% alc. Pale gold hue; a hit of pure lime peel, celery seed, lemongrass and gooseberry, hay and thyme; very dry but juicy, displaying taut acidity and flint-like minerality and a pleasing silky texture. Very Good+. About $16.

Illumination Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa County 64%, Sonoma County 36%. From Quintessa Estate. With 9% semillon. Pale straw-gold color; green, leafy and gingery; notes of grapefruit and pea shoot, lime peel and lemongrass; unfolds touches of lilac, lemon balm and almond blossom, with the pleasant slight bitterness of almond skin; crisp, resonant acidity and a talc-like texture with a glaze of oak, dry, lithe and supple. Impressive tone and character. Excellent. About $50.

Kontokosta Sauvignon Blanc 2015, North Fork of Long Island, New York. 13.9% alc. 582 cases. Medium straw-gold; at first, pure lime peel and grapefruit; then, thyme and tarragon, notes of green tea and lemongrass, peach and pear; lovely silky texture with tart acidity; finish of quince, melon and limestone. Excellent. About $25.

McBride Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Marlborough, New Zealand. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw gold; lively elements of grapefruit, pea shoot and lime peel with notes of gooseberry and freshly-mown hay; bright, pert, tart and sassy; unfurls touches of smoke and heather. Very Good+. About $17.

Mercer Wine Estates Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington. 12.5% alc. Very pale gold; slightly leafy and grassy, with notes of lime peel and grapefruit, tarragon and fennel and an undertone of celery seed; brisk acidity keeps it lively, while a texture poised nervily between lush and lithe makes a pleasing impression on the palate. Very Good+. About $15.

Morgan Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold; lemongrass, hay and lilac; lemon and pear, celery feel and fennel; very crisp and pert, with seashell-iodine salinity and minerality, yet a soft unfolding texture; hints of fig and a green leafy quality on the finish. Excellent. About $18, marking Real Value.

Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit; green tea, fennel, and thyme; quite dry but juicy with stone-fruit flavors and a leafy-figgy element; a soft haze of oak lends a touch of smoke and spice; lively, animated, suave. Excellent. About $24.

Sidebar Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, High Valley, Lake County. 13% alc. Light, bright gold hue; lemongrass and fennel, notes of grapefruit pith and apple skin; heather and dried thyme; a fluent braiding of zinging acid with spiced pear and peach flavors and piquant notes of limestone and flint; lovely supple texture with intriguing traction at mid-palate. Excellent. About $22.

Sidebar Ritchie Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Limpid pale gold color; roasted lemon, acacia and heather; fig, grapefruit and almond skin; quite lively, spicy and engaging; a sleek, suave, lithe texture that borders on elegance, with a fine edge of limestone-flint minerality. Excellent. About $34.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Aveta” Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Limpid pale gold hue; subtle notes of lemongrass and green tea, lime peel and heather, tangerine and just a tinge of mango; very pure, clean and fresh, with lip-smacking acidity; lithe and supple on the palate; hints of gun-flint and talc, with a finish that builds in intensity. Lots of character. Excellent. About $26.

Tom Gore Sauvignon Blanc 2016, California. 13.6% alc. With 6% French colombard. Very pale straw-gold; very dry; generic but pleasant; notes of green apple, pear and grass, lime peel and lemon; touch of fig; good acidity and a prominent flint/limestone minerality. Very Good+. About $15.

Yount Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Pale straw-gold; roasted lemon and spiced pear, fig, thyme and tarragon; hints of lime peel, pea shoot and lemongrass; sleek, slightly talc-like texture riven by vibrant acidity; close to dense and chewy, a note of gardenia on the finish. Just lovely. Excellent. About $38.