Alexander Valley


I launched the “Whither Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon” series in October 2014 as a way of focusing on cabernet-based wines from one the the world’s best places for the grape’s production into fine wine. Or not so fine, depending on one’s point of view about over-strict oak regimen, super-ripe, jammy fruit and alcohol levels that soar to 15 percent and beyond, characteristics that occur too often. But cabernet-based wines are made not only in other regions of California but all around the world. We look today at a baker’s dozen — the superstitious way of saying “13” — of non-Napa Valley examples, mainly from Alexander Valley in Sonoma County and from various spots in Chile. Some of these wines stuck me as being classic in proportion and balance, while a few leaned toward exaggeration; none, however, seemed beyond the pale, and most of the ratings are Excellent. With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
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2012_Cad_CS
The powerful and seductive Cadaretta Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Columbia Valley, Washington, is a blend of 89 percent cabernet, 6 percent petit verdot and 5 percent merlot that aged 20 months in French oak, 90 percent new barrels. That’s a lot of oak by my lights, yet the wine displays very agreeable personality and character. The color is inky ruby with a slightly lighter purple rim; a dynamic wafting of iodine and iron, mint and blackberries and currants, briers and brambles, walnut shell and forest floor surges from the glass; the wine is propelled by bright acidity and granitic minerality that feels chiseled and honed, bolstered by plush, dusty, graphite-infused tannins while still offering delicious notes of ripe and spicy black fruit flavors. The essence is balance and integration of all elements. 14.8 percent alcohol. Now — with steak — through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $50.
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Cliff Creek Cab Sauv 2012
The 100 percent varietal Cliff Creek Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Southern Oregon, sees 20 months in oak, 95 percent French barrels, five percent American. The color is deep ruby shading to a lighter magenta rim; the initial impression is of its herbal nature in the form of cedar, sage and dried thyme, followed by ripe and spicy black currants and blueberries infused with lavender and graphite. Dusty, velvety tannins flow across the palate in a sleek tide, while bright black and blue fruit flavors are buoyed by vibrant acidity; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of smoked walnuts, walnut shell, loam and bittersweet chocolate, all wrapped in chiseled granitic minerality. 13.6 percent alcohol. Lots of personality. Drink through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $27, a local purchase at $26.
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In every vintage that I have tried, Domus Aurea is consistently one of the best cabernet-based wines made in Chile. The Domus Aurea 2012, Upper Maipo Valley, is a blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent merlot and 4 percent petit verdot that aged 12 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is dark, radiant ruby shading to a magenta rim; the bouquet is a finely-milled welter of black currants, iodine and graphite, licorice and lavender, cedar and tobacco, with a tinge of slightly resinous rosemary and sage and burgeoning notes of black raspberry and cherry. The wine combines sleekness and litheness of texture with a chiseled edge of graphite minerality and bright acidity to keep it lively and alluring; ripe and spicy black fruit flavors are delicious, yet subdued to the power and energy of granitic minerality and keenly etched tannins. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2026 to ’30, Excellent. About $65.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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Concha y Toro’s flagship red wine always packs plenty of character into the glass. Don Melchor Puente Alto Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon don melchor 132013, Puente Alto, Chile, is 91 percent cabernet sauvignon and 9 percent cabernet franc, aged 15 months in French oak. From its opaque purple-black hue to its structural elements of walnut shell and graphite, flint and iodine, its dense, chewy dusty tannins, it’s a wine that needs a few years in the cellar. However, it blossoms beautifully with notes of black currants and raspberries, cedar and tobacco, mint and ground coriander and beguiling hints of lavender and crushed violets, and it balloons in size and scope as the moments pass, becoming, it feels, more sizable, denser, a bit shaggier in its combination of tannic, oak and minerality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Quite a performance for trying from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 or ’33. Excellent. About $120, though often discounted on the internet to $100 or so.
Imported by Excelsior Wines, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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The Dry Creek Vineyards The Mariner Meritage 2013, Dry Creek Valley, is a blend of 54 percent cabernet sauvignon, 24 percent merlot, 10 petit verdot, 8 malbec and 4 cabernet franc; the wine aged 20 months in French and Hungarian oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color, if one can call such an impenetrable hue a color, is opaque ruby-black; this is all about structural elements presently, offering a welter of iodine, iron and graphite, walnut shell and cedar, rosemary and leather, couched in a dignified and authoritative fashion. It’s quite dry and displays a deep expression of lavender, bittersweet chocolate and mocha, loam and underbrush, with glimmers of slightly resinous black fruit scents and flavors shining darkly through. The embodiment of intensity and concentration; try from 2018 or ’19 through 2028 to ’30. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent potential. About $45.
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Tasting through a group of cabernet-based wines at home one afternoon, the Enzo Bianchi Red Wine 2012, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina, Enzo_Label clearly stood out as the best. It’s a blend of 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent petit verdot and 7 percent malbec, aged 10 months in 100 percent new oak barrels (80 percent French, 20 percent American) and a further two years in bottle. While there’s no denying that this is a large-framed cabernet, broad and deep in scope and dimension, it’s surprisingly light on its feet and never overwhelms the palate with oak and tannin. Oh, sure, it offers a youthful inky ruby-purple color and a whole spectrum of iodine-iron-graphite rock-robbed minerality and dusty, slightly austere tannins, but it’s also quite attractive with its scents and flavors of spiced and marinated black currants and cherries that carry hints of blueberry tart and violets. Yes, it’s very dry, and the finish remains rather demanding in its tannic and mineral nature, but overall, this is a deftly balanced and integrated red wine. 14.1 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 to ’34. Excellent. About $55.
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The Jordan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley, represents a shift toward more French oak and more new oak than in previous vintages. Every one of the winery’s cabernets since the first in 1976 has been made by Rob Davis — a remarkable record for California — so he is certainly in a position to know the wine and the grape sources in 2013-Jordan-Alexander-Valley-Cabernet-Sauvignon-Label-WebThumbdepth and detail. The blend here is a carefully calibrated combination of 75.5 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15.5 percent merlot, 7 percent petit verdot, 1.5 percent malbec and 0.5 percent cabernet franc. The oak regimen? Twelve months at 83 percent French and 17 percent American, 43 percent new barrels, predominantly new French. How does that scale compare to recent vintages (to get all geeky about this issue). In 2012: 69 percent French, 31 percent American, 41 percent new; in 2011: 73 percent French, 27 percent American, 37 percent new; in 2010: 74 percent French, 26 percent American, 39 percent new. So, yes, this current vintage does lean more heavily on French oak barrels; the question is, how much difference does that factor make in the wine? I’ll say this right now: Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is the tightest and most unapproachable cabernet from the winery that I have tasted, founded on an oak and tannin structure that feels both vertical and horizontal. It also exudes an undeniable aura of majesty and dignity. The color is an intense dark ruby-black; initially the wine is characterized by an essence of iodine and iron, sage and loam, slightly resinous rosemary, violets and mocha, all ground in some granitic pestle; as for fruit, that aspect takes 45 minutes to an hour to assert itself, after which the wine gently opens and becomes a bit warmer and spicier, though still operating under the wood-tannin-mineral cloak of darkness. 13.8 percent alcohol. Is this change a reasonable development in the 37-year history of the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon? From my perspective, what the 2013 gains in power and structure it loses in elegance and alluring nuance, always the hallmarks of these wines in the past. Try from 2018 to ’20 through 2030 to ’33. Very Good+ for now, with Excellent potential once it becomes more balanced and integrated. About $55.

I’ll add that Jordan fields what is hands-down the most informative, detailed and accessible website of any winery I have encountered in California.
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Essentially, the Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Maipo Valley, Chile, is Concha y Toro’s next-to-top-tier line of wines, more affordable than the Don Melchor mentioned above but still considered by the winery as part of its Fine Wines division. This one spent 16 months in French oak barrels and is a blend of 92 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent cabernet franc and 1 percent each merlot and syrah. The color is very dark ruby with a slightly lighter rim; aromas of black currants, cherries and raspberries are infused with dusty graphite and loam, given high tones of black olive and bell pepper, all sliding on a faintly leafy herbaceous note. Ripe and spicy black fruit flavors are couched in vivid acidity, dense and velvety tannins and granitic minerality, adding up to a fairly rigorous treatment of the wine. 14 percent alcohol. Drink from 2018 through 2024, or open tonight with a medium rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the flames. Very Good+. About $26.
Excelsior Wines, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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The Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, is undoubtedly well-made, yet it’s so typically Californian that I wish it took a few risks, went a bit higher and lower in tone and effect. That said, I think anyone who cottons to the style would like it. The wine aged 20 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. It presents a ruby hue so dark that it’s almost opaque, though shading to a lighter magenta rim; aromas of cedar and fresh rosemary, ripe black currants and cherries are touched with notes of lavender and mocha, graphite and violets. On the palate, this cabernet wine delivers plush velvety tannins for texture, brisk acidity for lithe liveliness, and elements of iodine and iron that bolster the somewhat austere finish. 14.4 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2026 to ’28. Very Good+. About $50.
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stone street cab 12
The not-quite-100 percent-varietal Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Alexander Valley — there’s 5 percent mixed merlot and malbec — aged a decent 17 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The vineyard from which it derives ranges from 400 to 2,400 feet, providing a spectrum of drainage, exposure and elevation that lent the grapes a full complement of detail and dimension. A very dark even unto black-ruby-purple hue, the wine offers a classic mountain-style array of sage and bay leaf, tobacco and loam, dried rosemary and a tinge of pine resin; these elements bolster notes of deeply spiced and macerated black currants, cherries and plums thoroughly permeated by dense, furry chewy tannins that coat the palate with a kind of velvet-iron-filings texture. The finish is long and chiseled and packed with granitic minerality, none of which prevents the wine from being surprisingly drinkable. Try through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $45.
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Stonestreet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley, despite a sensible oak regimen — 18 months French oak, 37 percent new barrels — feels dominated by toasty wood from beginning to end. The color is black-purple with a glowing magenta rim, and, to be sure, there’s plenty here that indicates the wine’s fairly classic status, with its spiced and macerated black currants and cherries with a hint of baked plums, its notes of cedar, tobacco and sage, its structural elements of briers and brambles, forest floor and moderately dusty tannins; still, the smoke, charcoal, walnut shell and graphite character pulls a veil of toasty oak over the whole proceedings, and, for my palate, becomes obtrusive. Perhaps two or three years will even it out. Very Good+. About $45.
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2012-Henrys-Blend
Trione Vineyards and Winery Geyserville Ranch Henry’s Blend 2012, Alexander Valley, is a Bordeaux-style blend — with a California emphasis — that combines 35 percent cabernet sauvignon, 34 percent merlot, 13 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot, and 5 percent malbec, aged 18 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The concept of a “Bordeaux-style blend” is a bit of an idealization, of course, because very few red wines from Bordeaux employ what used to be thought of as the five “classic” Bordeaux red grapes; malbec doesn’t even enter the picture. This is a cool, inky, chiseled wine that features a dark ruby-purple hue and aromas of ripe black currants, plums and blueberries permeated by notes of cedar, tobacco and graphite, dust and loam, iodine and iron; dense, sleek and chewy, this wine displays huge reserves of acid, austere tannins and granitic minerality, all the while offering delicious black fruit flavors (with a tinge of black olive and roasted fennel) and a nicely balanced tide of burnished oak. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $54.
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Trione Block Twenty One Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Alexander Valley, is predominantly cabernet sauvignon — 85 percent — Trione-2012-Cabernet-Sauvignonwith 9 percent merlot and 2 percent each cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec in the blend; it aged 18 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is impenetrable ruby from stem to stern; the bouquet offers an enticing melange seething with notes of cedar, violets and lavender, loam and smoke, tobacco and cigarette paper, with hints of graphite and intense, concentrated black fruit. The wine is more succulent on the palate, its ripe, spicy black currant and cherry flavors rich and beguiling, but the effect is tempered by the presence of immense, dusty, granitic tannins that produce an austere, aloof finish. 14.4 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2029 to ’32. Excellent potential. About $67.
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So, here it is, My Readers, the annual “50 Great Wines” roster, presently for the past year, that is, 2016. Not the “Greatest” of all wines or the “Best” of all wines, but a selection of 50 products that struck me as embodying everything we want in a wine: freshness, balance, appeal; depth, personality and character; an adherence to the nature of the grapes and, where possible, the virtues of the vineyard and climate. These are wines that leave aside the ego of the winemaker and producer for an expression of — not to sound too idealistic — an ideal of what a wine should be. I won’t belabor the process by which I arrived at this list of 50 wines, except to say that every wine I rated “Exceptional” during 2016 is automatically included. Did I leave out wines that I truly admired? Indeed, I did, because this list focuses on wines that I truly loved. Enjoy!
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Acorn Heritage Vines Alegria Vineyard Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 78 percent zinfandel, 12 percent alicante bouschet, 8 percent petite sirah and 2 percent a combination of carignane, trousseau, sangiovese, petit bouschet, negrette, syrah, black muscat, cinsault and grenache. A real field blend. Production was 548 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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gratien
Alfred Gratien Brut Rose nv, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $65.
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Arrow&Branch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $35.
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Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Production was 212 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2012, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. Exceptional. About $50.

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R. Buoncristiani Vineyard Orentano Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 305 cases made. Excellent. About $40.

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Les Cadrans de Lassegue 2012, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux. Merlot and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $35.

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Champ de Rêves Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Exceptional. About $45.

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chartogne
Chartogne-Taillet “Heurtebise” Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $65 to $80.

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Domaine Chignard “Beauvernay” 2014, Julienas, Beaujolais Cru. Excellent. About $22.

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Cornerstone Cellars Michael’s Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. Production was under 250 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

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Erath Winery Prince Hill Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $50.

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Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills. Exceptional, About $45.

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Eve’s Cidery Essence Ice Cider, Finger Lakes, New York. 390 cases produced. Exceptional. About $28.

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Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2013, Lodi. 250 cases made. Excellent. About $28.

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gamble
Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

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Tenute Cisa Asinari Marchesi di Grésy Martinenga Camp Gros Riserva Barbaresco 2010, Piedmont, Italy. Exceptional. About $106.

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inman-ogv
Inman Family OGV Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $73.

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Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $75.

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Luscher-Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 200 cases produced. Excellent. About $80.

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Lutum La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills. Production was 225 cases. Excellent. About $50.

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MacPhail Wightman House Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $55.

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Frederic Mallo Vielles Vignes Rosacker Riesling 2010, Alsace Grand Cru. Excellent. About $23.

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merisi
Merisi Wines Denner Vineyard Petite Sirah 2013, Lake County. 100 cases produced. About $35.

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montelena-riesling
Chateau Montelena Riesling 2015, Potter Valley. About $25.

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Chateau La Nerthe 2014, Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc. 40 percent each grenache blanc and roussanne, 10 percent each clairette and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $65.

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Patz & Hall Vineyard Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros-Napa Valley. Excellent. About $70.

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Pine Ridge Le Petit Clos Chardonnay 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $75.

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Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve Brut Rose 2004, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $80-$100.

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Prieure de Montezargues 2014, Tavel Rose. 55 percent red and white grenache, 30 percent cinsault, 13 percent clairette, 2 percent melange of syrah, mourvedre, carignane and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $24.

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Red Newt Cellars Tango Oaks Vineyard Riesling 2013, Finger Lakes, New York. About $24.

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Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Josephshoff Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.

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Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley. 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent cabernet franc, 2 percent each malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Excellent. About $60.

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2014 Romb_SB_f+b_v5
Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $24.

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Saxon Brown Durell Vineyard Hayfield Block Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. Fewer than 100 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

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Sedition Chenoweth Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 230 cases produced. Exceptional. About $75.

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The Seed Malbec 2014, Altamira District, Uco Valley, Argentina. 59 cases made. Excellent. About $60.

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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Production was 806 cases. Exceptional. About $32.

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Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $35.

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Stony Hill Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley. Production was 1,852 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 585 cases produced. Exceptional. About $65.

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Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. Production was 125 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

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troon
Troon Vineyards Vermentino Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon. 80 percent vermentino, 20 percent sauvignon blanc. 176 cases produced. Excellent. About $24.

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2-sheps
Two Shepherds Catie’s Corner Viognier 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Production was 75 cases. Exceptional. About $26.

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Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc 2013, Russian River Valley. 12.9% alc. Roussanne 50%, marsanne 25%, viognier 13%, grenache blanc 6%, grenache gris 6%. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $30.

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Two Shepherds Trimble Vineyard Carignan Rosé 2015, Mendocino County. Production was 50 cases. Exceptional. About $22.

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Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $55.

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poete
Guillaume Sorbe “Les Poëte” 2014, Quincy, Loire Valley, France. Sauvignon blanc. Exceptional. About $30.

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windracer
WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 1,007 cases produced. Exceptional. About $50.
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Zena Crown Vineyard Conifer Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Production was 240 cases. Excellent. About $75.

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I endured technical problems Sunday and Monday, so I was delayed in getting this edition of Weekend Wine Notes posted, which really should happen on Saturday, so I feel like a freaking failure all the way around. But everything is fine now! I bought a router and didn’t actually need it, so Best Buy better take it back, because it cost a lot! Anyway, moving along, following the last Wine of the Day, which was a sauvignon blanc, I thought it might be a good idea to visit more sauvignon blancs, so here are 14, most from California, but one from Italy and several from Chile. The vintage is predominantly 2015, and the majority of these wines ought to be consumed within the next six months or so or certainly by the end of 2017. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, I offer incisive and trenchant reviews based on the scribbles in my notebooks, avoiding mention of technical, historical and geographical elements for the sake of immediacy. Enjoy and consume with moderation. These wines were samples for review.
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14MrArPrCs75dF
Angeline Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Sonoma County. 13.8% alc. Pale gold with green highlights; lime peel, caraway, grapefruit, celery leaf; slightly tropical with guava and jasmine; fresh, clean, lively and delicately-wrought. A good bet for a well-made bargain sauvignon blanc. Very Good+. About $15.
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Armador Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13% alc. From Odfjell Vineyards, certified organic. Very pale gold; fennel and celery seed, lime peel and lemongrass; quite lively, even exuberant, feels filled with sunlight and fresh air; hints of leafy fig and dried thyme; lovely lithe limpid texture. Excellent. About $14, an Amazing Bargain.
Epic Wines and Spirits, Capitola, Calif.
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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Russian River Valley. 14.8% alc. The palest of very pale gold hues; roasted lemon, lime peel and lemongrass; leafy and herbal with a touch of fig; big hit of flint and damp seashell, bracing and saline, with swingeing acidity, a prickly and briery element and a chiseled, faceted finish. Always a favorite in our house. Excellent. About $25.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Dry Creek Valley. 14.5% alc. I’m going to mention the stainless steel and oak proportion here because it’s interesting: 92% stainless steel, 8% chestnut, acacia and French oak barrels; the details matter, n’est-ce pas? Very pale straw-gold; aromas of grass and hay, pea shoot and fennel, lime peel and grapefruit; very dry but a texture nicely balanced between lush and crisp; a few minutes in the glass bring in beguiling notes of fig and roasted lemon, gardenia and gunflint, spiced pear and heather; the finish is all limestone, flint and green tea. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.
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Flora Springs Soliloquy Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Pale straw-gold color; polished, honed and elegant; lime peel and tangerine, hints of celery leaf and lemongrass, a warm spicy bouquet; limestone and chalk, a soothing talc-like texture riven by bright acidity; the distraction if the oak that asserts itself from mid-palate back through the finish, muting the otherwise charming character. Very Good+. About $50.
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Galerie Naissance Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale, almost colorless; heady scents of lilac and gardenia, tangerine and almond skin, lime peel and lemongrass; though very dry the wine is lively and vibrant, offering a dense, talc-like powdery texture riven by keen acidity; heaps of chalk and limestone in the background, beautiful shape and elegance over a stony foundation. Both alluring and serious. Excellent. About $30.
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Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Sonoma County. 13.8% alc. Pale gold color; a verdant and meadowy sauvignon blanc, offering notes of kiwi and lime peel, celery seed and tangerine, opening to peach, lemongrass and spiced pear, all encompassed by a leafy, summery floral element; a lovely light, lithe texture jazzed by a Sancerre-like snap of gunflint and graphite; heaps of limestone in the finish are softened by a furze of dried herbs. Real class and style. Excellent. About $22.
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russiz
Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Sauvignon 2015, Collio, Italy. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw-yellow hue; fairly standard array of lime peel and lemongrass, celery seed and fennel, but presented with unusual verve and fervor, and with interesting hints of lychee and yellow plum; suave and silken texture buoyed by an increasingly element of limestone and flint. Very Good+. About $28.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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morgan-sb
Morgan Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; green bean and gooseberry, lime peel and grapefruit, unfurls green and leafy veils of pea shoot and preserved lemon, ginger and quince and an intriguing earthy component of wet leaves and moss; lively, even pert acidity, crystalline clarity and appeal, all founded on a burgeoning element of limestone and flint minerality. Feels essential and vital in the glass. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.
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Oak Farm Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Lodi. 13% alc. Very pale gold with a faint green cast; lime peel and peach, lemongrass with hints of dried grasses and herbs; quite dry, crisp and snappy; seashell-flint minerality with a hint of bracing salinity; vital, vibrant finish. Charming and eminently drinkable. 579 cases. Very Good+. About $20.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Dry Creek Valley. …% alc. Pale gold hue; warm sunny figs and lemongrass, pears and lime peel with back-notes of grapefruit and yellow fruit and flowers; polished, suave and supple texture, lively and alluring but not tart or pert; a scintillating dry limestone character with overall lovely balance and presence. Excellent. About $24.
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Ritual Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Palest of pale gold hues; another meadowy sauvignon blanc, with notes of lemongrass and broom, heather and hay under lime peel, pea-shoot, spiced pear and celery seed; very dry, multiple layers of limestone and flint etched by bright acidity; a finish that seethes with bracing salinity and grapefruit pith. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Huneeus Vintners, Rutherford, Calif.
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Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Northern Sonoma. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; bright, clean and fresh, taut and sinewy; lime peel, pink grapefruit, gooseberry and tangerine; slightly dense talc-like texture, soft and appealing but permeated by plangent and resonant limestone minerality; very dry; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of lilac, honeydew melon, almond blossom and chalk. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.
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Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; a leafy, meadowy sauvignon blanc manifesting notes of hay, heather and dried thyme underlying hints of gooseberry, lime peel and grapefruit, with yellow fruit and flowers; practically pulses with bright acidity and briary, briny elements; lovely texture, heft and presence, perfect poise and elegance, graceful yet dynamic; a dominant limestone and flint finish is garnished with roasted lemon and green tea. A wonderful achievement. Exceptional. About $35.
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Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley is named for 19th Century settler Cyrus Alexander, who lends his given name, in turn, to the flagship red wine from Alexander Valley Vineyards. The winery CYRUS_2012_bottlegoes back to 1962, when Maggie and Harry Wetzel purchased a large portion of a homestead built by Cyrus Alexander. They planted grapes the following year and produced their first cabernet sauvignon in 1968, as a private project. By 1975, however, the family had built a small winery, and matters took off from there. Alexander Valley Vineyards is operated now by the third generation; winemaker is Kevin Hall. The Cyrus 2012, Alexander valley, is a blend of 76 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent merlot, 7 cabernet franc, 3 petit verdot and 2 malbec. It aged a total of 24 months in French oak barrels, 12 months before blending and 12 months after. The color is dark ruby-purple from core to rim; loads of graphite, iodine and iron encompass a pinpoint focus on black currant, black cherry and blueberry scents and flavors that unfold notes of plum pudding and red velvet cake, lavender, licorice and bittersweet chocolate. If all of these factors sound like a confusion of aims and a tendency toward sweetness, that’s not at all what I mean. Yes, the wine gushes with ripeness, but it also is governed by dense, dusty tannins, swingeing acidity and a rigorous granitic mineral element. Some moments in the glass bring in hints of dried rosemary and sage (with the slightly resinous character of those herbs) as well as a tantalizing tinge of wild berries and meadow flowers. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2022 to ’25 with steaks, pork chops, venison and braised meat dishes. Excellent. About $65.

A sample for review.

If you look at the website for Rodney Strong Vineyards, you’ll see quite an array of cabernet sauvignon wines, arranged in the order of Sonoma County, Estate, Reserve and Single Vineyard, seven offerings altogether. There’s rodney-strong-logo-crest-72dpialso a “meritage” style blend called Symmetry, which in the current vintage contains 75 percent cabernet, so that counts. Does the winery really need eight cabernet sauvignon-based bottlings? Does an audience exist for each level in this broad cabernet category? Do consumers care?

As to the issue of price, the basic Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon goes for $20. The two Estate bottlings — Alexander Valley and Knights Valley — are $35. Moving up the ladder, the Reserve costs $40, the Symmetry Meritage is $55 and the Single Vineyard wines — Rockaway, Brothers and Alexander’s Crown — top out at $75. These are not cheap wines by any means, yet let’s be honest, compared to limited edition reserve-style wines from other California producers, particularly in Napa Valley, the Rodney Strong cabernets are bargains, though quality also is a factor in determining if a wine delivers good value, at whatever price.

Rodney Strong’s single vineyard project was launched in 2008 with the release of Rockaway 2005. Brothers — originally Brothers Ridge — and Alexander’s Crown were added over the next few years, the latter named for the elegant Alexander’s Crown cabernet-based wines that Rodney Strong himself made in the 1970s. Elegance is not the game-plan for this contemporary trio of high-concept cabernet sauvignons, except in terms of the simple, suave packaging.

From the beginning, alcohol levels have been high — 15.4 percent in the Rockaway 2005 — a device that consistently contributes a sense of over-ripeness and opulence on the palate and sweetness on the finish. On the other hand, these single vineyard offerings are crafted with rigorous tannins and dominant dusty graphite-inflected minerality, lending them a sleek, chiseled structure. Too often, though, the contrast between the succulence and ripeness of fruit and the precision and austerity of the structure isn’t resolved, leaving the wines awkward and unbalanced. I have chided this winery in the past with the overuse of French oak barrels and the length of aging, a criticism that applies to the wines presently under consideration. A criticism that I leveled against Rockaway 05 was that it felt made by a committee, as if a checklist of characteristics desirable in a cabernet wine from Alexander Valley had been followed. Indeed, it takes four men to make these wines: Rodney Strong’s longtime head winemaker, Rick Sayre; winemaker Greg Morthole; winery owner Tom Klein; and consultant (and highly regarded producer of his own label) David Ramey.

To this somewhat discouraging discourse, I’ll add a note of sweetness and light. The Rockaway and Alexander’s Crown 2012 are the best I have tasted in this series, a reflection, I feel sure, of a superb vintage but also, in some sense, of a certain delicacy of touch from the team. On the other hand, these are highly calibrated wines; visit the winery’s website to see how exacting the scheme behind each wine is, from the picking of the grapes at different times from various areas of the vineyards to their treatment in the cellar.

I review today the trio of Rodney Strong Single Vineyard offering from 2012 and 2010; for some reason, I had only the Brothers from 2011. If the other two from 2011 show up in the barbarian welter of my notes, I’ll append them promptly. I’ll write about the winery’s other cabernet-based wines in a subsequent post.

These wines were samples for review.
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Rodney Strong Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Alexander Valley. A dark ruby-purple hue leads into a definitive rockawaystatement of intensity and concentration in nose and mouth; the bouquet is characterized by cassis, black cherry and plum infused with cedar, sage and graphite and notes of leather loam and black pepper. Dusty, dense but manageable tannins cloak a rigorous and chiseled mineral element that maintains discipline while relegating plenty of space to juicy black and red fruit flavors; the finish is granitic, a bit austere and sustained. 14.5 percent alcohol. The vineyard lies at elevations from 225 to 700 feet. 14.5 percent alcohol. This feels classic Alexander Valley and the best Rockaway I have tasted. With 4 percent malbec; aged 21 months in French oak, 56 percent new barrels. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $75.
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Rodney Strong Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Alexander Valley. The color is unvarying dark ruby; crownstructure is foremost, with the nose detecting whiffs of wheatmeal and walnut shell and intense and concentrated aromas of black currants, cherries and plums; give it a few minutes and it offers hints of black olives and bell pepper and, with a little more swirling of the glass, touches of lavender and violets. Tannins are lithe, sinewy and rigorous, and the wine’s structure includes incisive acidity and graphite-tinged minerality, yet for all that, this is a surprisingly approachable (and slightly over-ripe) wine for drinking now through 2022 to ’25. The vineyard lies at elevations of 250 to 360 feet; the wine aged 21 months in French oak, 38 percent new barrels. 15 percent alcohol, but carries it lightly. Excellent. About $75.
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Rodney Strong Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Alexander Valley. For 2012, the Brother Cabernet feels like an brothersamalgam of its stablemates, the Rockaway and the Alexander’s Crown. (It contains 2 percent petit verdot; it aged 21 months in French oak, 44 percent new barrels.) Yes, the intensity and concentration; yes, the important tannins, meaningful acidity and sleek, sculpted graphite minerality; yes, the spicy, slightly roasted and succulent black fruit flavors; yes — damnit! — the 15.5 percent alcohol that creates a slight sweet and over-ripe aura. So, that being the case, what is the justification for these wines created from separate vineyards in Alexander Valley, this one the highest at 400 to 1,030 feet elevation? They are far more similar than they are different, perhaps a reflection more of a house style and philosophy than the actual character of the vineyards involved. And if that’s the case, what’s the point? Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $75.
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Rodney Strong Brothers Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Alexander Valley. The color is deep ruby verily unto the opacity of a black hole, with no trace or purple or magenta or mulberry; the bouquet offers an extraordinary melange of mint, iron and iodine layered with lavender, violets and loam, finally delivering notes of ripe red and black currants and cherries bolstered by dusty graphite. Well, that’s quite a performance! The effect on the palate is more typical and unsurprising, that is, the standard plush, velvety mineral-laced tannins, boot-strap oak hauling up the wood influence, vibrant acidity, all at the service of an austere, lithic finish. 15 percent alcohol. This wine is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon; it aged 26 months in French oak, 48 percent new barrels. Very Good+. About $75.
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Rodney Strong Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley. A deep ruby-purple hue presages a bake-shop bouquet of blueberry tart and plum jam as a glaze to graphite, lavender and licorice and hints of black currants and cherries; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of rosemary and thyme and a hint of black olive. A huge and daunting tannic and oaken presence creates a dense, dusty, chewy structure on which to hang glimpses of succulent blue and black berry flavors. 15 percent alcohol. Plenty of substance, not much character. 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent malbec, 5 petit verdot; aged 20 onths in French oak, 57 percent new barrels. Very Good+. About $75.
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Rodney Strong Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley. The color is dark ruby-magenta, with little fading at the rim; notes of caraway, roasted fennel, potpourri and violets mingle with hints of very intense and concentrated black currants, blueberries and blue plums; a few minutes in the glass open a dusty-herbal aspect. A tremendous element of graphite and charcoal minerality plows every other quality under, dominating the palate from entry through the chiseled finish. 15.5 percent alcohol. Only for wine masochists. About $75.
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Rodney Strong Brothers Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander valley. The wine is 100 percent varietal; it aged 21 months in French oak, 43 percent new barrels. Very dry yet sweetish with alcohol and oak; wearying opulence, tiring alcohol, strident, unbalanced. 15.5 percent alcohol. Not recommended. About $75.
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Anyone could spend 10 minutes in a wine store and realize that 20 sauvignon blanc wines amount to about a quarter of a drop in a whole large bucket of sauvignon blancs produced in California every year. And why not? It’s a terrific grape with tremendous potential for making wines that range from simple, direct, snappy little numbers for quaffing out on the back porch to profound examples possessing great depth and character capable of aging for 25 or 30 years. Of course, it can also make wines that are bland, insipid and watery or screaming with acidity, but that’s hardly the grape’s fault. The Ur-territory for sauvignon blanc is the eastern end of the Loire Valley, in Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and several related areas, and Bordeaux’s Left Bank, where the grape is generally blended with semillon (and sometimes muscadelle) to produce grand expressions of the grape and some favored terroir. Even in Bordeaux, however, sauvignon blanc can be a work-horse grape, as in Entre-Deux-Mers, and fashioned into simple, tasty wines of no great importance. Sauvignon blanc wines are produced almost anywhere in the world that grapes can grow, from South Africa and New Zealand to northeastern Italy and (in our own country) the state of Virginia and just about everywhere in California. The wines described in this post occupy the complete geographical range, from Santa Barbara County in the south to Knights Valley in the north, and a full complement of styles. As they say on the carnival midway, “You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.” With a couple of exceptions duly noted, these wines were samples for review. A subsequent post will deal with sauvignon blanc wines from other regions and countries.
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The Bernardus Grivia Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Carmel Valley, was fermented in stainless steel and aged “several months” in 24-year-old French oak tanks. The wine contains a dollop of semillon grapes. The color is pale straw-gold; it’s a fresh, clean and sprightly sauvignon blanc, with subtle herbal and grassy elements and notes of pea-shoot, roasted lemon, tarragon, lime peel and grapefruit. The wine is sleek and supple on the palate, energized by bright acidity and a slightly chiseled limestone quality, while delivering a boatload of juicy citrus and stone fruit flavors; there’s a bracing hint of leafy fig and grapefruit bitterness on the finish. 13.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Dean DeKorth. Very Good+. About $22.
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The Cliff Lede Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, has a complicated genesis. The primary vineyard source, located in eastern PrintRutherford, has old vines planted to a heritage musqué clone and semillon. Another component of the sauvignon blanc came from a vineyard in the southeastern hills of Napa Valley standing on ancient, weathered, alluvial fans of silty impoverished soils. Other grapes derive from a cooler climate vineyard on the east side of Napa, while a vineyard in Chiles Valley, a small pocket in eastern Napa County, contributes sauvignon vert planted in 1947. The final blend was 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 12 percent semillon and 3 percent sauvignon vert. The grapes fermented and the wine aged 44 percent in stainless steel tanks, 49 percent in mostly neutral French oak barrels and 7 percent in concrete eggs. What was the result of all this activity and contrivance? A frankly beautiful sauvignon blanc with seductive and almost unlimited appeal. The Cliff Lede Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014 displays a very pale straw hue and riveting aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, roasted lemon, lemongrass and a hint of mango, with herbal and grassy elements poised in the background; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of fennel and grapefruit. The wine is very dry, crisp with fleet acidity and almost tannic in structure, while a soft, talc-like texture offers a haze of smoke and light oak accents; the finish offers hints of limestone, grapefruit and spiced peach. 14.7 percent alcohol. This wine should drink beautifully through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $25.
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The Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc 2014, Sonoma County, is composed of grapes half from Russian River Valley and half from Dry Creek
2014_fume_labelValley. It sees no oak, only stainless steel. The color is very pale straw with a faint green tinge; the leafy, grassy bouquet is characterized by notes of celery seed and caraway, grapefruit, lime peel and lemongrass, with hints of jasmine and lavender in the background. Crisp and pert, the wine exhibits lovely purity and intensity in its lithe texture and lightly spiced citrus flavors, finishing with touches of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone. Very refreshing and engaging. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Winemaker was Tim bell. Very Good+. About $14, a Terrific Bargain.
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The Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Dry Creek Valley, is a bit milder and more subtle than its Fume Blanc stablemate. It 2014_Sauvignon_Blanc_label_rgb1
incorporates 14 percent of the sauvignon musque clone and 4 percent sauvignon gris. It, too, was made completely in stainless steel.The musque contributes honeysuckle and spiced pear to a melange of orange zest, honeydew melon, roasted lemon and lime peel and notes of grapefruit and tarragon. The wine is quite dry and crisp, supple and lively on the palate and bright with citrus flavors leaning gently toward stone-fruit and a tropical tinge; damp flint minerality infusing the clean finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 into 2017. Excellent. About $18, marking Great Value.
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A wine of shimmering purity and intensity, the Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014, St. Helena, made from certified organic grapes, sees only stainless steel and neutral oak in its making. The color is very pale, an ethereal almost-not-there straw-gold; delicate notes of lime peel, grapefruit, lemon balm and lilac wreathe themselves with hints of thyme and tarragon and a faint grassy tinge; matters are a bit bolder in the mouth, where chiming acidity contributes riveting crispness and a scintillating limestone and chalk element lends poignant vibrancy, all cutting through a slightly creamy texture. 13.2 percent alcohol. A masterpiece for drinking through 2017 or ’18. Winemaker was Kevin Morrisey. Excellent. About $28.
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The Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, is beautifully modulated in every aspect — fruit, acidity, body, minerality. The 2014_napa_valley_sauvignon-blanc_labelgrapes, from the winery’s estate vineyard in Oakville, fermented in concrete and stainless steel tanks and aged nine months in large French oak casks and stainless steel drums. A very pale hue is almost colorless; subtle layers of lightly spiced stonefruit and citrus, herbs, fresh-mown grass and meadow flowers are delicate strung. The wine is quite tart and crisp, displaying lovely and elegant weight and heft, purity and intensity; it finishes with an infusion of limestone and grapefruit. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Winemaker was Paul Steinhauer. Excellent. About $25.
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Made from certified organic grapes, all in stainless steel, the Frog’s Leap Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, Napa frog's sbValley, is about as limpid, lithe and crystalline as the grape gets. Notes of pea-shoot, gooseberry, lychee, fig and lime peel open to hints of grapefruit, orange blossom, licorice and lilac in a welter of sensation that amounts to awesome purity and intensity. Wonderfully poised among bright, accented citrus flavors, brilliant acidity and shattering limestone-chalk minerality, the wine is crisp and zesty yet not overly tart and quite dry without being austere. 12.1 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017 or ’18. Winemakers were John Williams and Paula Moschetti. Excellent. About $22, a local purchased. (I paid more.)
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Winemaker Ondine Chattan reaches out to Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino and Solano counties, and east to Clarksburg in the Sacramento Delta for the grapes that go into the Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2014, which carries a California designation. For the price, this is a surprisingly subtle and nuanced sauvignon blanc. The color is pale gold; we get the expected notes of grapefruit, lime and orange zest, along with hints of leafy and herbal elements and touches of bell pepper and fennel, with a whiff of earthy white pepper. There’s plenty of pep here, without feral exuberance, in a wine happy to be crisp and vibrant and appealing. 13 percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $14, meaning A Real Bargain.
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2012 RR Sauv Blanc- bottle shot
The difference in the Geyser Peak River Ranches Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Russian River Valley, and its cadet stablemate mentioned just above is not merely the much narrower geographical focus — a single vineyard within an AVA inside Sonoma County — but in degrees of intensity and concentration. Again, the color is pale gold; the emphasis here is on gooseberry and dill seed, lime peel and spiced pear, with a marked enveloping of jasmine and verbena. The wine is quite dry and crisp, with bright acidity animating a pleasing softness in texture and tasty, slightly leafy citrus and stone fruit flavors, all wrapped in a scintillating limestone element and green notes of grass and thyme. NA% alcohol. Drink through 2017. Excellent. About $22.
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They don’t all come as pert, tart and sassy as The Hess Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, though the wine is not as flamboyantly crisp as some examples can be. Still, this pale straw-gold quaffer is energized by gripping acidity that carries a lithesome freight of tangerine, lime peel, green apple and spiced pear through to a limestone-laced finish. In the bouquet: almond blossom, jasmine and apple skin, grapefruit, peach and tarragon. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Dave Guffy is director of winemaking. Very Good+. About $22.
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The current release of this wine is 2014, but I was sent the 2013 several months ago, and it’s still drinking very nicely. The very pale Illuminate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, North Coast, made all in stainless steel, offers notes of lime peel and melon, celery seed and caraway; it’s very clean and fresh, energized by riveting acidity and limestone minerality; the finish admits hints of peach and apple skin. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $14.
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Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara was designated an American Viticultural Area in 2009; it occupies the far eastern and warmer end of sybariteSanta Ynez Valley. The Margerum Wine Company Sybarite Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, was made 91 percent in stainless steel and 9 percent in a combination of neutral and new French oak barrels, aging for 10 months. The result is a clean, spare and elegant sauvignon blanc that dips deeply into a dusty foundation of limestone and gun-flint, licorice and lilac. Notes of lime peel, thyme, heather and talc make for a beguiling entry into a wine that’s vibrant without being snappy and dry without being austere, though the finish comes on with prominent limestone and chalk minerality. 13.06 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Doug Margerum is director of winemaking; winemaker is Michael Miroballi. Excellent. About $21, a local purchase. (I paid more.)
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matanzas bennett
The Bennett Valley AVA, granted official status in 2003, exists primarily because of the petition of Matanzas Creek Winery, a part of Jackson Family Wines. Bennett Valley lies almost totally within the Sonoma Valley AVA, with some overlap into Sonoma Coast and Sonoma Mountain. The Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Bennett Valley, was made in stainless steel and used French oak foudres and barrels. The color is pale straw-gold; it’s a jaunty, zippy sauvignon blanc, sporting grapefruit and tropical notes infused with lime peel, fennel and thyme. Though quite dry and even a bit austere on the finish, it’s a pleasingly balanced and integrated wine that offers a sunny, leafy aspect with hints of fig and yellow plum; bright acidity keeps its aim straight through a limestone and flint-packed finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 or ’17. Winemaker was Marcia Monahan-Torres. Excellent. About $32.
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matanzas helena bench
Knights Valley is warmer than the fog-influenced Bennett Valley, a condition perhaps accounting for the slightly more ripe and spicy nature of the Matanzas Creek Helena Bench Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Knights Valley, a pale gold-colored wine made two-thirds in stainless steel, one-third in neutral French oak barrels. There’s more fennel and roasted lemon in this wine, with hints of yellow plums, quince and ginger and a distinct herbal quality; a touch of oak lends suppleness and spice initially but grows to more than a hint from mid-palate back, dominating the finish and muting the character of the grape. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $40.
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Careful winemaking by Patrick Muran produced a beautiful Niner Wine Estates Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Paso Robles. The 14 PR Sauvignon Blanc ninerwine aged five months in 90 percent stainless steel tanks, 5 percent new French oak barrels and 5 percent neutral French oak, but that new oak was used only for the 10 percent semillon grapes that go into the blend; the rest is 62 percent sauvignon blanc and 28 percent musque clone. Yeah, that’s a lot of “percents” to read about, but I like for My Readers to understand what kind of thought goes into making a wine of authority and concentration. The color is pale straw-gold; penetrating scents of grapefruit and lime peel, peaches, quince and cloves are melded to layers of limestone and flint, while above all waft scents of jasmine and honeysuckle. This is a very dry sauvignon blanc, with about it something saline and savory, bracing and slightly astringent; it’s a bit smoky and earthy, a touch roasted in its citrus flavors that flow to a long, vibrant, steely finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Excellent. About $20.
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A perennial favorite, the pale gold-colored Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Northern Sonoma, was fermented 90 percent in stainless steel and 10 percent in French oak barrels. This is one of the most elegant and delicate of the sauvignon blanc wines enumerated in this post. Aromas of pear and roasted lemons offer notes of peach, hay and new-mown grass, with subtle hints of quince and greengage plum; the wine is dry, buoyed by brisk acidity and a smoky-stony-steely quality that lifts the mildly spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2016. Winemaker was Greg Morthole. Very Good+. About $17.
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tonella sb
A subtle haze of oak envelops the S.R. Tonella Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, but it’s an element that adds depth and resonance to a beautifully detailed wine. The color is pale but rich gold; the bouquet is characterized by pear and roasted lemon, hints of figs, banana and mango and spare notes of cloves, quince and ginger; any nuances of grass and herbs are kept to a minimum. The wine is quite dry but juicy with the softness of ripe peach and lemon flavors; brisk acidity enlivens a slightly powdery texture, leading to a finish packed with limestone and chalk minerality. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 or ’19. Production was “under 500 cases.” Winemaker was Fred Delibert. Excellent. About $29.
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2014EstateSauvBlanc
Beautifully balanced and integrated but displaying tremendous energy and vigor, the Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Alexander Valley, derives from vineyards 900 feet up the western slopes of the Mayacamas range. The grapes fermented 70 percent in stainless steel tanks, 30 percent in neutral French oak foudres, that is, large barrels; the wine did not undergo barrel aging. The color is pale gold; beguiling aromas of lemon balm, verbena, lime peel and grapefruit open to notes of fennel and celery seed, lemongrass and lilac, quince and ginger. On the palate, the wine is seductively poised between crisp vibrancy and a moderately lush, talc-like texture riven by brisk acidity and a crystalline limestone element; roasted lemon and slightly caramelized grapefruit flavors are mellowed by a touch of spiced pear on a finish that segues through deep resonant mineral qualities. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to 2020. A real dreamboat of a sauvignon blanc. Winemaker was Lisa Valtenbergs. Exceptional. About $35.
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Four months in neutral French oak barrels lend the Trione Vineyards River Road Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Russian River Trione-2014-Sauvignon-BlancValley, suppleness and suavity. The very pale straw-gold hue is as attractive as the aromas of pea shoot, grapefruit and lime peel that open to notes of spiced pear and roasted lemon, celery seed and fennel, all encompassed in a leafy, grassy character. The wine is exuberant without being flamboyant, a quality that extends across the palate in a line of bright acidity and freshness that culminates in a finish chiseled from damp limestone and flint. 13.9 percent alcohol. Lots of personality. Drink through 2017 or ’18. Winemaker was Scot Covington. Excellent. About $23.
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Made all in stainless steel, the Vina Robles Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Paso Robles, offers a very pale straw-gold hue and bright aromas of lime peel, tarragon and celery seed, fennel, grapefruit and thyme; pretty darned crisp, tart and zingy, the wine sings through the mouth on a stream of citrus and stone-fruit flavors touched with leafy fig and infused with flint and limestone. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink up. Winemaker was Kevin Willenborg. Very Good+. About $16, representing Fine Value.
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The Trione family, third generation grape-growers in Sonoma County, launched their eponymous winery in 2005. The family cultivates vines in the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations, producing a broad range of fairly individually Trione-2011-Red-Wine-Henrys-Blendstyled wines. Winemaker is Scot Covington. Today’s Wine of the Day is the Trione Geyserville Ranch Henry’s Blend 2011, Alexander Valley. This is not an inexpensive wine, and it pushes above the limit I try to set for the Wine of the Day — not that this series is a vehicle for cheapness — but I wanted to feature something from a small family-owned and -operated estate. Henry’s Blend 2011 is a combination of 35 percent cabernet sauvignon, 34 percent merlot, 13 percent each petit verdot and cabernet franc and five percent malbec, touching what we think of as the five classic Bordeaux red grape varieties, though in truth malbec plays little role in Bordeaux nowadays, its plantings having declined radically since the 1950s. The wine aged 18 months in small French oak barrels, 40 percent new. The color is an entrancing deep ruby-purple with a vivid violet-hued rim; vivid also are the scents of iodine, cedar and graphite, cloves and black pepper, all permeated by notes of quite ripe, spicy and fleshy black currants, raspberries and blueberries. This is a dry, dark and rooty wine, with layers of loam and granitic minerality, dusty and velvety tannins and the suggestion of oaken suavity and suppleness seamlessly animated by bright acidity; fruit is not forgotten, though, all those previous elements serving to bolster vital and tasty currant and plum flavors infused with lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. Quite a performance. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink through 2019 to 2022 with hearty, meaty fare. Production was 1,730 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $54.

A sample for review.

We had been drinking lots of white wines and rose wines, and finally LL said, “I need something red!” So with medium-rare cheeseburgers from Belmont Cafe — cheddar for LL, Swiss for me — I opened the Stonestreet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Alexander Valley, and found a cabernet made exactly the way that I want a cabernet to be made. Stonestreet was launched when Jess Jackson, founder and owner of Kendall-Jackson, acquired the Zellerbach winery and vineyards in Chalk Hill in 1989. This became the prestige label for K-J and was a part of what was called the Artisan and Estates division of Jackson’s growing empire. Between May 1996 and May 1999, for my newspaper column, I reviewed the Stonestreet Chardonnay 1994 and ’95, the Pinot Noir 1994, the Pinnacle Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 1995, the Merlot 1994, ’95 and ’96, the Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 and ’96, the flagship Legacy 1994, the Sauvignon Blanc 1997 and, oddly, a Gewurztraminer 1997. Many changes have come upon Stonestreet since that period. The winery and estate now occupy 5,100 acres in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, ranging from 400 to 2,400 feet up the western flank of the Mayacamas Range. Nine hundred acres are planted in grapes divided into 235 individual vineyard blocks. Winemaker is Lisa Valtenbergs; vineyard manager is Gabriel Valencia. The focus is on chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon.

The Stonestreet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 is 100 percent varietal; it aged 16 months in French oak, 38 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby-purple shading to a magenta-violet rim. The immediate impression is of tremendous vitality and vigor, as aromas of cedar and thyme, graphite and lavender, hints of black olive, green peppercorns and bell pepper seethe in the glass, opening to notes of ripe but spare black currants, cherries and blueberries; there are undertones of black tea, iodine, tapenade and flint. I love how on the palate this cabernet reveals stones and bones through its potent and seductive ferrous and sanguinary nature, its wash of roots and branches and underbrush, its granitic aplomb. Give this wine 30 or 40 minutes and it calls up an extraordinary core of violets, black licorice, pomegranate, potpourri and sandalwood, all anchored in sleek, lithe dusty tannins and bright propulsive acidity. Those tannins, and the wine’s granite-backed mineral character, dominate the finish, which grows a bit austere but never astringent or undernourished. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22 with such suitable fare as grilled steaks, pork chops, barbecue ribs — or hamburgers. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

While other wineries attempt to be all things to all consumers — “Maybe we better make a moscato, they’re hot now!” — Jordan Vineyard and Winery goes right on doing what it has always done since starting in 1976, producing chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon wines from its estate vineyards, Alexander Valley for cabernet, Russian River Valley for chardonnay. These are not opulent, flamboyant, super-ripe or over-oaked wines. Alcohol levels are kept low — see the wines reviewed below — and new oak is employed thoughtfully. Jordan’s wines drink exceptionally well with food, and while in some quarters such an assertion is greeted with disdain, that factor seems to me to be the highest purpose and achievement of wine. Jordan also fields a website almost unparalleled in California for its usefulness, range and flow of information and accessibility. Pay heed, all you wineries that cannot manage to get your latest releases on your websites.

These wines were samples for review.
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Two-thirds of the Jordan Chardonnay 2013, Russian River Valley, was barrel-fermented, one-third fermented in stainless steel. The wine aged six months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels; only 18 percent of the wine went through “malo” — the so-called malolactic fermentation that transforms sharp malic (“apple-like”) acid to creamier lactic (“milk-like”) acid — thus retaining most of the wine’s crisp, vibrant character. The color is bright but pale gold; classic aromas of pineapple and grapefruit are highlighted by notes of cloves, quince and ginger, with tinges of mango and jasmine lingering in the background. This is quite fresh, lively and appealing, poised among spicy citrus and slightly roasted stone-fruit flavors, a scintillating limestone element and a texture just lush enough to add some sensuality to its spare elegance. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or 2020 with seared salmon or swordfish, trout with brown butter and capers, seafood risottos. Excellent. About $30.
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The Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Alexander Valley, is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent merlot, 3 percent petit verdot and 1 percent malbec. Interesting that 85 percent of the grapes derived from Alexander Valley; 14 percent came from Mendocino County and a scant 1 percent from Dry Creek Valley; this is called choosing your sources carefully. The wine aged 12 months in 73 percent French oak barrels and 27 percent American oak, a total of 37 percent being new barrels; it spent 22 months resting in bottle before being released. The color is a transparent medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim; the wine is unusually intense and concentrated on structure, with aromas of briers and brambles and loam permeating notes of black currants, cherries and plums, accented by hints of cloves and allspice, with the latter’s element of exotic woodsy astringency. On the palate you taste the spicy black fruit flavors wrapped around a firm core of iodine and iron etched with lavender and violets and a touch of bitter chocolate; the texture is lithe and supple, while the whole package, animated by bright acidity, is dense and chewy with dusty, graphite-tinged tannins. While this cabernet may display a tad less elegance than Jordan cabernets typically do, it feels imbued with more dignity and character; consider it a triumph from a difficult year. 13.8 percent alcohol. Try with steak or grilled veal or pork chops from 2016 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $53.
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The history of Respite Wines goes back to 1948, when Corinne Reichel’s grandfather purchased 400 acres high in what would become the Alexander Valley AVA of Sonoma County, high as in 2,400 to 2,600 feet elevation. Corinne and Charles Reichel began growing grapes on 20 acres of that land in 1985 but decided a decade ago to shift from just growing grapes to producing wine. Winemakers for this small enterprise are Denis and May-Britt Malbec (pictured in this image). Denis was born on the property of Chateau Latour, the world-famous Bordeaux estate in Pauillac, and was the third generation, going back to 1920, of his family to work there, being cellar master from 1994 to 2000, after his father’s retirement. May-Britt Malbec is an award-winning sommelier from Sweden. She and Denis formed an international winemaking consultant business in 2000 and joined Respite in 2004.

Not surprisingly, these three cabernet sauvignon-based wines combine power and elegance in packages energized by relatively moderate alcohol levels and mountain-vineyard acidity and minerality. Production is tiny, even for the least expensive “entry” wine, and distribution is limited, so try the winery’s website for information about purchasing.

These wines were samples for review. Image of Denis and May-Britt Malbec from wine-blog.org.
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The Respite Antics Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Alexander Valley, is a blend of 84 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent cabernet franc and 4 percent malbec; it sees 50 percent new French oak. The color is consistent dark ruby from center to rim; aromas of cassis, black cherries and plums are wreathed with elements of dusty graphite, bitter chocolate and lavender. This is a solid, dense and chewy wine, not rustic by any means, but a little blocky and rough-hewn; intense and concentrated black fruit flavors are permeated by notes of tar, loam, cedar and tobacco-leaf. The whole effect is of something sprung wildly from the mountain soil. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 112 cases. Very Good+. About $26.
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The Respite Reichel Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Alexander Valley, is a blend that includes 4 percent cabernet franc and 2 percent malbec; 60 percent new French oak was used in aging. A dark ruby hue is opaque at the center; the bouquet seethes with notes of black raspberry and black currant, touches of cedar, caraway and sandalwood, with a pungent strain of graphite, rosemary, black olives and caramelized fennel. This is an earth-bound, rock-carved cabernet sauvignon, settled on a deep foundation of loamy granitic minerality, resonant acidity and dense, finely-milled and sifted tannins; there’s no neglect of thoroughly spiced and macerated black currants, cherries and plums, though they take a back seat to the wine’s burgeoning oaken and tannic character. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 325 cases. Drink now (with hearty braised meat dishes) through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $48.
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The Respite winery’s flagship Reichel Vineyard product is Indulgence, for 2010 a proprietary blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent malbec and 13 percent cabernet franc, aged in 60 percent new French oak and feeling like a pure expression of a high-elevation vineyard in its intensity and concentration of iron and iodine, graphite and walnut shell, underbrush and graham meal. The color is vibrant dark ruby with a magenta rim; the bouquet teems with notes of cassis, black raspberry, blueberry and kirsch permeated by sandalwood, lavender, bitter chocolate and tobacco. This wine is dense and chewy, and it not only slides through the mouth with tremendous tannic, mineral and acid presence but it inhabits the tongue and palate, staking claims on your attention and sensibility. It’s the epitome of Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 77 cases. Best from 2016 or ’17 through 2025 to ’30. Exceptional. About $75.
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