Arroyo Seco


Little preamble is necessary for this post. As the title implies, I’m catching up with reviewing a clutch — make that a case of 12 — pinot noir wines that I tasted from six weeks to six months ago. These are primarily from 2014, with a few ’13s, and one ’15. This group does not make it down to Santa Barbara County. The reviews range from Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, up north to Mendocino’s Anderson Valley. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy — in moderation, please.
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The winery website offers no information about this wine, which was a sample from the local distributor, so I’ll just say that the bernardus pnBernardus Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, is out to seduce you with no qualms whatsoever. Might as well give in. A deep vibrant ruby color shades to transparent garnet; beguiling aromas of red cherry and currant compote are wreathed with notes of rhubarb and sassafras, cloves and sandalwood that open to a flamboyantly floral element of lilac, violets and rose petals, all bolstered by undertones of loam, briers and brambles. As if that weren’t enough, the substantial texture flows super-satiny and supple over the tongue in a welter of bracing acidity and delicious, fully spiced and fleshy black and red berry flavors partaking of autumn leaves and forest floor; it’s definitely woodsy and elemental and frankly almost overwhelming. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not my favorite style of pinot noir but unabashedly attractive and saved from exaggeration by the elements of resonant acidity and nascent tannins. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $35.
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BLAIR-Delfina_Pinot_2013
Winemaker Jeffrey Blair put the Blair Estate Delfina’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Arroyo Seco, through 10 months aging in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby-garnet hue; arresting aromas of red and black cherries are infused with rhubarb and pomegranate, cloves and allspice, moss and loam. Clad in the bosky garb of roots, dry leaves and branches and bearing a rather meadowy floral character, this pinot noir features riveting acidity and flavors of macerated and slightly stewed red and black berries, nestled in a lithe, silky texture; it grows increasingly spicy through the finish, picking up a hint of tannin. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $45.
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Blair-Reserve-Pinot-web (1)
The difference between this wine and the previous example lies in the fact that the grapes for the Blair Estate Delfina’s Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir 2013, Arroyo Seco, were harvested from vines specially selected for their superior quality and treated separately. The wine also spend 10 months in French oak but 100 percent new barrels. The color is what I deem the perfect pinot noir hue, a muted transparent ruby-garnet; aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly stewed red cherries and currants feel fleshy, a bit smoky and meaty, though displaying an innate delicacy and sense of poise; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and cranberry and deeper elements of loam, leaf-smoke and graphite. Despite the wood regimen, the wine, while offering silky, dusty heft, feels light on its feet, finishing with a hint of racy elegance. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 125 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $75.
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boenNobody ever lost money betting on the sweet-tooth of the American consumer, as Joe Wagner proves again with a new label from Copper Cane, the Böen Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley. A dark vibrant ruby hue fading to a transparent violet rim, the wine gushes with very ripe black currants, cherries and plums, sweet and succulent and drenched in licorice, lavender, mocha and enough blueberry and boysenberry for a Lodi zinfandel. The texture of dusty velvet wraps the palate in fleshy allure. A superficially gorgeous wine, though that’s the definition of gorgeous, n’est-ce pas? Not my style at all. Very Good. About $32.
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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, aged 10 months in French oak, 31 percent new barrels. The color is a NewProofSheetV3transfixing transparent medium ruby-magenta; spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants feel infused with rhubarb and cranberry, oolong tea and woodsmoke, talc and loam for an impression that’s irresistible. A beguiling lithe, supple texture flows engagingly across the palate, while both in nose and mouth the wine grows more lavish and multi-layered, taking on shades of pungent and flavorful darkness animated by bright acidity. A real beauty. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Greg Morthole. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
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gary
The transparent medium ruby-magenta hue of the Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, draws you in, while the acute balance in the nose and on the palate remind you that the best wines offer an exquisite sense of tension and release. The wine aged eight months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels, which seems a perfect regimen to me. The bouquet presents a poised artifact that weave elements of loam and forest floor with allspice and cumin, macerated red and black cherries and currants, and notes of lavender, talc and graphite. In its lithe slithery texture, the wine is dense and almost chewy, though cut by a swath of fluent acidity; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of briery raspy raspberry, oolong tea and more underbrush. 14 percent alcohol. A lovely marriage of power and elegance for drinking through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $45.
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Winemaker Ryan Hodgins fashioned a pinot noir of beautiful balance, tone and presence in the FEL Wines Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Pinot-Savoy-Anderson-ValleyAnderson Valley. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 53 percent new barrels, a process whose near miraculous result is an almost subliminal effect of spicy subtlety and litheness of texture. The color is dark ruby shading through gradations to a transparent magenta rim; scents and flavors of red and black cherries and plums are permeated by notes of rhubarb and pomegranate, sandalwood and cloves. Some minutes in the glass bring more elements of dried baking spices and flowers and macerated fruit; on the palate, the wine is lively yet dignified, confident and, in the finish, slightly austere. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 395 cases. Try from 2018 through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $70.
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head high pn
Winemaker Sam Spencer gave the Head High Wines Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, a thoughtful 10 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels, giving the wine shape, suppleness and sensitivity on the palate. The color shades from dark ruby to a delicate magenta rim; this is an intense, dense, earthy version of the pinot noir grape that features black cherries and currants with notes of cherry pits and stems, cloves, sassafras and cranberry, roots and branches, briers and brambles. You feel — or imagine — the vines themselves digging down to the water-table. The texture is super plush and satiny, a bit too plush for my taste, but the opulence is leavened by bright acidity and surprising depth of lightly dusted tannins. 14.2 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
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The Morgan Winery 12 Clones Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, is named for the diversity of pinot noir clones planted in Morgan’s Morgan_Pinot_Noir_Twelve_Clones_2014_frontestate vineyards. While the grapes for this wine derive from a variety of vineyards in the appellation, 57 percent are from the winery’s signature Double L Vineyard. The wine aged eight months in French oak, 37 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby with a slight lightening at the rim; notes of ripe black and red cherries offer traces of black tea and damp roots over dark, flinty, briery elements that feel robust and feral. The wine slowly opens to hints of lavender and cloves, sassafras and pomegranate, while it builds heft and presence on the palate. One senses deep foundations in the soils and bedrock of Santa Lucia Highlands. 13.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 through 2024 to ’26. Yes, I believe this could be a 12-year pinot noir. Excellent. About $34.
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The Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 36 percent new barrels. The color Morgan_Double_L_Pinot_Noir_2014_frontis dark ruby with a transparent violet rim; the first impression is of rose petals and violets, then intense and concentrated notes of black and red cherries and currants, infused with briers and loam. This is a deep, ebony-tinged exotic pinot noir that seethes with Asian spices and dried mountain herbs and finds expression in vibrant acidity and foresty, brambly tannins that feature a graphite edge. You feel the oak at the circumference of the palate, a slightly drying and dominating factor. 14.2 percent alcohol. Needs a year or two to find poise, then drink through 2022 to ’24. Production was 720 cases. Very Good+. About $60.
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Tondre Grapefield — sounds like a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel — is my favorite vineyard from which Morgan makes pinot noir, and for 2014, I am Morgan_label_Tondre_2014_frontnot disappointed. The Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is medium to transparent ruby with a tinge of garnet; striking notes of sassafras, cloves and cumin with hints of leather and loam lead to aromas of slightly baked black and red cherries and plums, touched with fruitcake and tobacco leaf. The wine is extraordinarily satiny and supple on the palate, filling out and fleshing out from some initial spareness into something more esoteric and glamorous, though neither opulent nor flamboyant; some moments in the glass bring out elements of lavender, sandalwood and pomegranate, as well as a quality of oak-inflected austerity on the finish. Wonderful potential from 2018 or ’19 through 2024 to ’28, with truly impressive balance and tone, though production was a mere 45 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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kali hart
The Kali Hart designation indicates Talbott Vineyards’ entry-level line. The winery, which produces only chardonnay and pinot noir, primarily single-vineyard, was acquired by E&J Gallo in September 2015. Talbott Kali Hart Pinot Noir 2014, Monterey, displays a transparent ruby hue with a garnet tone; classic notes of cloves, sassafras and beetroot permeate elements of cherries, pomegranate and cranberry with a bit of cherry pit and forest floor. The wine is very sleek and satiny, spicy and savory, animated by vivid acidity and moderate tannins supported by briers, brambles and loam. 14.3 percent alcohol. Thoroughly tasty and enjoyable. Now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $26.
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So, My Readers, here is my annual list of the Great Wine Bargains from the previous year, except that, instead of offering you 25 examples, as I usually do, I provide 30, because there are so many excellent inexpensive wines available. The prices here range from $11 to $20. and while I realize that for some people even $18 to $20 stretches what they want to pay for a bottle of wine, I believe that you will find something on this roster fit for most every taste and pocket book. This is a gratifyingly diverse group of wines, and for the first time I welcome products from Brazil, Greece and Hungary to the line-up. Many of these examples are wines to buy by the case and keep around for a year for drinking daily, though, honestly, the point of most of these wines is not to make old bones. The primary theme is: Drink Up and Enjoy. Sensibly, of course, and in moderation.
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aia
Aia Vecchia Vermentino 2015, Toscana Maremma, Italy. Very Good+. About $12.

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alpha
Alpha Estate Turtles Vineyard Malagouzia 2015, Florina, Macedonia, Greece. 100 percent malagouzia grapes. Excellent. About $18.

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ascevi-cerou-friulano-label
Ascevi Luwa Ronco Superiore Ceròu 2014, Friuli Isonza, Italy. 100% tocai friulano grapes. Production was 500 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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furmint
Béres Tokaji Furmint 2014, Szaraz, Hungary. 100 percent furmint grapes. Excellent. About $19.

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15_VinGris_Domestic_750
Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris de Cigare 2015, Central Coast. 44 percent grenache grapes, 20 percent grenache blanc, 13 carignane, 10 mourvèdre, 7 cinsaut and 6 roussanne. Excellent. About $18.

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colome-torrontes
Colomé Torrontés 2015, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina. Excellent. About $15.
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grf140_nv_lbl
Garofoli Serra del Conte 2014, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico, Italy. Excellent. About $11.

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duret
Domaine Pierre Duret Quincy 2014, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent sauvignon blanc. Excellent. About $14.

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duas
Esporão Duas Castas 2014, Alentejano, Portugal. 60 percent arinto grapes and 40 percent gouveio, Excellent. About $14.

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csm_pinot_grigio_2005_riserva_7895065a86
Marco Felluga “Mongris” Pinot Grigio 2015, Collio, Italy. Excellent. About $18.
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illahe
Illahe Viognier 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $17.

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Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages 2014. Excellent. About $14.
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2014_lff_tempranillo
Lee Family Farm Temprnillo 2014, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 53 cases produced. Excellent. About $20.

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lidio
Lidio Carraro Agnus Tannat 2014, Serra Guacha, Brazil. Very Good+. About $12.
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msi_rose_dei_masi_btl
Masi Rosa dei Masi 2015, Rosato della Venezia, Italy. 100 percent refosco grapes. Excellent. About $15.

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gemma-rose
Masciarelle Villa Gemma 2015, Cerasuola d’Abruzzo Rose, Italy. 100 percent montepulciano d’Aruzzo grapes. Excellent. About $15.

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francois-montand-brut
Francois Montand Brut Blanc de Blancs nv, Jura, France. Very Good+. About $14.
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Morgan Albarino 2015, Monterey County. 375 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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m-cb
M de Mulonnière Chenin Blanc 2015, Anjou, Loire Valley, France. Excellent. About $15.
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forster
Weingut Eugen Müller Forster Mariengarten Riesling Kabinett 2013, Pfalz, Germany. Excellent. About $19.

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armador-sauvignon-blanc-2013-bottle
Odfjell Vineyards Armador Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $14.

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pedroncelli
Pedroncelli Winery Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2015, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $12,

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puyanche-blanc-sec
Chateau Puyanché 2014, Francs Cote de Bordeaux Blanc. 75% sauvignon blanc, 25% semillon. Excellent. About $15.

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rc-temp-2013-ft
Real Compania de Vinos Tempranillo 2012, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain. Very Good+. About $12.
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selvapiana
Selvapiana Chianti Rufina 2013, Toscana, Italy. 95 percent sangiovese grapes with five percent canaiolo, colorino and malvasia nera. Excellent. About $17.
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schneider
Georg Albrecht Schneider Niersteiner Paterberg Riesling Kabinett 2013, Rheinhessen, Germany. Excellent. About $15.

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serres-rioja
Carlos Serres Crianza 1012, Rioja, Spain. 85 percent tempranillo, 15 percent garnacha. Very Good+. About $12.
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traminpinotgrigionvlabel_1013-1
Cantina Tramin Pinot Grigio 2015, Sudtirol-Alto Adige, Italy. Excellent. About $16.

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cava
Vilarnau Brut Reserve Cava, nv. Traditional blend of 50 percent macabeo grapes, 35 percent parellada and 15 percent xarel-lo. Very Good+. About $13.
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vr-label-13-red4_front
Vina Robles Red4 2013, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 41 percent petite sirah, 40 percent syrah, 10 percent mourvedre, 9 percent grenache. Excellent. About $17.
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Just because the country is held firm in the grip of a Polar Vortex or Siberian Express or, as we like to say, “a damned freaking cold deep 3774bernardus-griva-vineyard-sauvignonfreeze,” doesn’t mean that My Readers should eschew white wines. I mean, we’re still eating such fare as seafood risottos and seafood soups and we still need a better-than-decent quaff to sip while cooking. Here’s today’s candidate, the Bernardus Winery Griva Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Arroyo Seco, a spiffy, spanking-fresh sauvignon blanc that we drank last night with a Filipino chicken and rice stew called lugaw. While Bernardus is in Carmel, the grapes for this sauvignon blanc come from a vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA, in Monterey County’s Salinas Valley. Made in stainless steel but with a dollop of oak-aged semillon, the wine offers a delicate pale gold hue and entrancing aromas of lime peel, tangerine and orange blossom, fig, talc and camellia. It’s quite dry but juicy with citrus and stone-fruit flavors that are slightly leafy and grassy and energized by bright acidity and a limestone element that burgeons from mid-palate back through the finish furnished with heather and grapefruit rind. Delicious and fun to drink. The alcohol level is an exceedingly comfortable 12.8 percent.Winemaker was Dean DeKorth. Drink now through 2017. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review from the local distributor.

Dan Morgan Lee and his wife Donna founded Morgan Winery in 1982, the first production being 2,000 cases of chardonnay from Monterey County. In the intervening 34 years, the winery has grown exponentially, while the roster of wines and labels has expanded, decreased, altered radically and undergone intense focus. Morgan, centered in Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands, specializes in chardonnay and pinot noir, both at the AVA and single-vineyard levels, but also produces notable sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, riesling and syrah. A more personal project is Lee Family Farm, launched in 2005 and specializing in Spanish and Portuguese grape varieties. Except for the AVA-based wines, most of these products are made in limited quantities, though all are priced fairly. Today we look at the Morgan Albarino 2015 and the Lee Family Farm Tempranillo 2014. Winemaker for Morgan is Sam Smith.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Morgan Albarino 2015, Monterey, fermented in stainless steel and then aged a brief five morgan_label_albarino_2015_frontmonths in French oak, a scant 10 percent new barrels. The result is a fresh, crisp and lively wine whose medium straw-gold hue leads to abundantly floral aromas of acacia, jasmine and lilac, with hints of spiced pear and lemon balm. This is a lustrous albarino offering a lithe and supple texture that embodies a sort of Platonic juicy peach and pear element bolstered by an almost prodigious amount of damp limestone and flint minerality and a keen acid edge. It’s quite dry, a bit spare through the finish, yet seductively attractive. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 with seafood risottos, roasted fish or with tapas. Production was 375 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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The Lee Family Farm Tempranillo 2014, Arroyo Seco, is a beautiful, vibrant expression of the 2014_lff_tempranillogrape. The Arroyo Seco AVA lies in central Monterey County; it’s a roughly triangular shaped region whose longer, slightly curved angle fits against the eastern foothills of the coastal range. Arroyo Seco is cooled by the breeze from Monterey Bay which brings in morning fog. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. The color is inky ruby-purple; aromas of ripe blackberries and plums are touched with notes of blueberry and pomegranate, cloves and just a hint of vanilla and hints of violets and rose petals. Animated by bright acidity, the wine is fleet on the palate yet distinguished by pleasing weight and heft; black fruit flavors reveal a slightly roasted, sun-baked quality. with a bit of fruitcake in the background. Moderate tannins are brushy and velvety, picking up high-toned rigor and dusty graphite on the way to the finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Certainly one of the best tempranillo wines made in California, alas, in only 53 cases. Drink through 2019 or ’20 with steaks and chops or braised shanks of various kinds. Excellent. About $20.
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Do I have to defend the right or necessity to drink rosé wines all year around? Do I have to man the barricades, go to the wall, belly up to the bar to convince nay-sayers that a shimmering, scintillating, beautiful rosé wine — dry, vibrant, fruity, subtle: not sweet — is appropriate in every month and season? If I have to do that, then my case may be hopeless, as far as the die-hard opposition goes, but those who have followed this blog for a considerable period will require no further persuasion, gentle or not. A clean dry rosé may serve as a refreshing aperitif in December as well as June, and few wines go better with fried chicken, for example, or various terrines or the egg-based dishes that front the sideboard for big family breakfasts during the upcoming holidays. Thanksgiving dinner itself is a good test for rosé wines. No, friends, do not neglect the rosé genre, from which I offer 10 models today. The Weekend Wine Notes eschew detailed technical, historical and geographical data (which we all adore) for the sake of incisive reviews ripped, almost, from the very pages of my notebooks, though arranged in more shapely fashion. These eclectic wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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billa haut
Bila-Haut Rosé 2014, Pays d’Oc (from M. Chapoutier). NA% alc. Grenache and cinsault. Pale copper-salmon hue; orange zest, strawberries and raspberries; a pleasing heft of limestone minerality with cutting acidity; juicy and thirst-quenching, but dry as sun-baked stones; a finish delicately etched with chalk and dried thyme. Very Good+. About $14.
An R. Shack Selection, HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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blair rose
Blair Vineyards Delfina’s Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Arroyo Seco. 13.3% alc. 117 cases. Bright peach-copper color; ripe strawberries macerated with cloves, raspberries, hints of tomato skin and pomegranate; paradoxically and deftly fleshy and juicy while being quite crisp and dry and tightly tuned with limestone and flint. A superior rosé. Excellent. About $22.
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14_VinGris_Domestic_750
Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2014, Central Coast. 13% alc. 35% grenache, 18% mourvedre, 16% grenache blanc, 12.5% roussanne, 8% carignane, 8% cinsault, 1.5% marsanne, 1% counoise. Very pale onion skin hue with a topaz glow; quite delicate, almost fragile; dried strawberries and raspberries with a touch of peach and hints of lavender and orange rind; gently dusty and minerally, like rain-water drying on a warm stone; a note of sage in the finish. Elegantly ravishing. Excellent. About $18.
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bridge lane
Bridge Lane Rosé 2014, New York State (from Lieb Cellars). 11.9% alc. Cabernet franc 63%, merlot 21%, pinot blanc 8%, riesling 5%, gewurztraminer 3%. Ethereal pale peach-copper color; delicate notes of peach, strawberry and raspberry with a touch of watermelon and spiced pear; a hint of minerality subtle as a river-stone polished with talc; incisive acidity for liveliness; develops more floral elements as the moments pass: lavender, rose petal, violets, all beautifully knit. Excellent. About $18.
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heintz rose
Charles Heintz Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Beautiful salmon scale-light copper hue; blood orange, tomato skin, strawberries and raspberries, hints of violets and lilac, a note of cloves and damp limestone; red fruit on the palate with an undertone of peach; quite dry and crisp, lithe on the palate, but with appealing red fruit character and an element of stone-fruit and chalk-flint minerality. A gorgeous rosé. Excellent. About $19.
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cornerstone corallina
Cornerstone Stepping Stone Corallina Rosé 2014, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. 100% syrah. Very pretty pink coral color; strawberries and raspberries, hint of pomegranate and a fascinating note of spiced tea and apple peel compote; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of tomato aspic and red currants; full-bodied for a rose, with a texture that would be almost lush save for the bristling acidity that keeps the whole package energized. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $18.
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Crossbarn Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast (from Paul Hobbs). 12.5% alc. Pale copper-salmon color; intriguing musky-spicy note, crossbarn roselike rose hips, camellias, pomegranate, cloves and sandalwood macerated together; strawberries and orange rind; hints of pink grapefruit and peach; lively and crisp, with a chalk and flint edge to the supple texture; gains a fleshy and florid character on the finish. Very Good+. About $18
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loomis air
Loomis Family “Air” Rosé Wine 2013, Napa Valley. 12% alc. 41% grenache 36% mourvedre 13% counoise 10% syrah. 125 cases. Light copper-salmon hue; dried strawberries and raspberries, notes of lavender and red cherry; hints of watermelon and cloves; incisive acidity and limestone minerality bolster juicy red fruit flavors and an elegant and supple texture that retains a crisp chiseled character; a fillip of grapefruit rind and lemongrass provide interest on the finish. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $18.
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cipressato
Santa Cristina Cipresseto Rosato 2014, Toscano IGT. 11% alc. Sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah. (An Antinori brand since 1946.) Light pink-peach color; delicately floral and spicy, notes of raspberries and red currants and a hint of dried thyme and heather; clean acidity and limestone minerality offer gentle ballast for tasty but spare red fruit flavors. Very Good+. About $14.
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stinson rose
Stinson Vineyards Rosé 2014, Monticello, Va. 13% alc. 100% mouvèdre. 175 cases. Classic onion skin hue with a tinge of darker copper; pink grapefruit, rose petals, cloves; raspberries and strawberries delicately strung on a line of limestone minerality and bright acidity; from mid-palate back notes of cranberry, pomegranate and grapefruit rind leading to a tart finish; lovely balance and integrity. Excellent. About $19.
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The name of Wente perhaps has been around so long that it does not conjure cries of joy in American wine consumers, but we have to remember that the family was pioneering in many ways. Now run by the fourth and fifth generations, Wente Vineyards traces its beginning to 1883, when German immigrant C.H. Wente purchased 47 acres in Livermore Valley, in Alameda County east of San Francisco Bay, and planted grapes in the gravelly soil. Wente Bros., as the winery was called, released the first varietally-labeled sauvignon blanc wine (1933) and chardonnay (1936) in California and the first late-harvest riesling affected by Botrytis cinerea, the “noble rot,” in 1969. The family was also among the first to explore planting vines in Monterey County, where it now has substantial holdings. Altogether, Wente owns about 3,000 acres of estate vineyards. A history going back 132 years practically guarantees variations in production and quality and perhaps some confusion in direction — the 1970s and ’80s were not easy decades — but the Wente family absorbed those depredations over the years and now seems to be operating at the top of their scale. Winemaker is fifth-generation Karl Wente, pictured here. The estate also is a leader in sustainable vineyard, winery and company practices. The Wente Clone, originating with Ernest Wente in 1912, provides the basis for many of the best chardonnays made in California.

Let’s look, then, at currently released chardonnays from this ever-evolving winery. These wines were samples for review.
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The family’s entry-level model is the Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay 2013, Livermore Valley — now part of the San Francisco Bay AVA, established in 1999 and amended in 2006. The wine is carefully made. Fifty percent of the grapes are barrel-fermented in a mixture of French, American and Eastern European oak, after fermentation aging for seven months. The other 50 percent is fermented in stainless steel tanks; half of that amount rests on the lees for seven months and half is racked off clean. What’s the result? The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of pineapple and grapefruit with a touch of mango open to notes of cloves and toasted hazelnuts and a hint of quince jam. These elements segue seamlessly onto the palate, where the wine displays brisk acidity, fresh and ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors and a modest amount of limestone minerality, all set into a well-balanced and appealing texture; a bit of spicy oak emerges on the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Is it great? No, but it is very appealing and satisfying,and you could sell the hell out of this chardonnay in wine-by-the-glass programs in bars and restaurants. And look at the price. Very Good+. About $15, representing Real Value.
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How small is the production for the winery’s “Small Lot” label? For the Wente Small Lot “Unoaked” Eric’s Chardonnay 2014, Livermore Valley, the production was 1,100 cases; that’s fairly small. The wine is made completely in stainless steel tanks. This is a fresh, clean and bright chardonnay, sporting a pale straw color and attractive aromas of ripe and spicy pineapple and grapefruit buoyed by notes of green apple, spiced pear, jasmine and honeysuckle. Every element is in its place here: lively acidity and limestone minerality, a pleasing texture and structure, balanced between crispness and suppleness, and all feeling a little too correct and by-the-numbers, especially for the price. 13.4 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $28.

On the other hand, I found in the white wine fridge this wine’s version from 2012, and it’s a winner. Again, this wine saw no oak and no malolactic fermentation. A year or two burnished the effect, leaving this rendition richer, spicier and nuttier, but gently pronounced, and with wonderful purity and intensity on the palate, with a glow of citrus and stone-fruit flavors and an almost talc-like texture riven by arrow-straight acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. If you find a retail source for the Wente Eric’s Chardonnay 2012, snap it up and drink through 2016. 13.7 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.
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The Wente Single Vineyard Riva Ranch Chardonnay 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County, offers a pale but sort of star-bright gold hue and subdued but enticing aromas of ripe and spicy pineapple-grapefruit permeated by notes of mango, almond skin, jasmine and lilac. This wine was 90 percent barrel-fermented in new and second-year French and American oak and aged eight months; 10 percent was treated in stainless steel. This is certainly a reticent oak regimen, but from mid-palate back you feel the whisper and then the clamor of that wood resonate through the lush cushiony texture and into the spice-drenched, slightly creamy finish. I would say that this chardonnay needs another year to find its balance and core principles. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $22.
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We don’t drink much merlot in our house because generally merlot wines made in California (and elsewhere in the world except for St. Emilion and Pomerol) tend to be rather uninteresting cadet cabernets. Here, thankfully, is an exception, a 100 percent merlot that displays not only integrity but marked individuality. McIntyre Vineyards lies in Monterey Country’s Santa Lucia Highlands, a growing area occupying terraces in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Range well-known for chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah. The narrow 12-mile-long region looks across the Salinas Valley to Chalone and the awesome rock formation called The Pinnacles. The McIntyre Kimberly Vineyard Merlot 2012 comes not from Santa Lucia Highlands, however, but from Arroyo Seco, an AVA just to the south. The 81-acre Kimberly Vineyard, planted entirely to merlot, occupies a site near the confluence of the Arroyo Seco and Salinas Rivers on an alluvial fan at the foot of the Santa Lucia Mountains, just beyond the influence of the intense Salinas Valley winds, creating a micro-climate much warmer than the surrounding terrain, that is, more suited to merlot than pinot noir. The McIntyre Kimberly Vineyard Merlot 2012 offers an opaque dark ruby hue with a riveting violet-magenta rim that’s almost nuclear; this is a blue-fruit wine — blueberry, blue plum, mulberry — packed with granite and graphite, briers and brambles that allow for notes of lavender, mint and loganberry tart. It is, make no mistake, a powerful, intense and concentrated wine that practically resonates in the glass with energy and dynamism. (The vineyard, by the way, is certified sustainable.) Acidity is profound; the finish is steep and lithic. Still, for all the emphasis on structure, this merlot, deeply committed to its place on earth, delivers myriad pleasures, especially, as we drank the bottle last night, with pork chops marinated in olive oil, soy sauce, lime juice, a mix of black and Szechuan pepper and smoked paprika. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 333 cases. Drink now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $22, representing Great Value.

A sample for review.

I have used Wordsworth’s lines so often — “The world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” — that I won’t allude to them on this occasion but merely issue an apology and assert that sometimes I just can’t keep up with tasting and writing. In fact, this post is probably the first in a series of “mea culpa” catch-up entries that I will issue over the next few weeks — if I have time. Ha-ha! These wines, a miscellaneous dozen from California, 11 red, one white, were all samples for review.
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Amapola Creek Monte Rosso Vineyard “Vinas Antiguas” Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley. Winemaker Dick Arrowood mixed 5 percent petite sirah to this zinfandel derived from one of Sonoma County’s legendary vineyards, where the zinfandel vines are 118 years old. The wine aged 15 months in a combination of new and used French and American oak barrels. Generally, I have been a fan of Arrowood’s efforts at Amapola Creek, rating everything I have tasted either Excellent or Exceptional. The exception, however, will be this example, because the heat and sweetness from 15.5 percent alcohol tip the wine off balance and render it into a clunky blockbuster. That’s a shame, because such details as its melange of ripe and spicy black currants and blueberries, cloves, sandalwood and smoked fennel and a chiseled granitic quality would have been gratifying in a different package. Production was 310 cases. Not recommended. About $42.
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Amici Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. There’s an aspect of darkness about this (nonetheless) winsome pinot noir: a dark ruby color; a certain dark shading in its spicy elements of cloves and sandalwood; the smokiness of its black cherry scents and flavors hinting at currants and raspberries; the earthiness of its brier-brambly structure. The lovely texture, though, is all warm satin, while bright acidity keeps it lively and quaffable. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Production was 1,300 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Vineyards Le Cigare Blanc reserve 2011, Arroyo Seco. The blend for this highly aromatic wine is 62 percent grenache blanc and 38 percent roussanne, from the Beeswax Vineyard; the grapes were fermented together in stainless steel and aged in five-gallon glass carboys, also called demijohns or bonbonnes, of the sort typically employed in home brewing and winemaking. The color is very pale gold, and it seems to shimmer in the glass. All of the lemon kingdom has assembled here in its guises of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd, highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, lanolin, lilac and camellia. It’s a savory and saline wine, spare, lean and supple and quite dry yet generous with its citrus flavors that delve a bit into stone-fruit. The entire package is animated by crystalline acidity and crackling limestone minerality. Alcohol content is a pleasing 12.5 percent. Production was 480 cases. Excellent. About $54.
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Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles. The wine is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent merlot and 9 percent petit verdot that spent 19 months in French oak barrels, 80 percent new. The color is very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; seductive aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black cherries and raspberries are permeated by notes of graphite, cedar and tobacco and a hint of rosemary’s brash resiny quality; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of black olive and loam. This is a solid, tannic, granitic-based wine, spare and dusty and quite dry but with plenty of ripe black and blue fruit flavors; fairly rock-ribbed presently, it needs a lot of air to unfurl its attractions. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $56.
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Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. This pinot noir, which aged 15 months in 41 percent new French oak barrels, originated from an area of the Sonoma Coast region recently designated as the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. Don’t be surprised if in the coming years we see more segments of the vast Sonoma Coast fragmented into smaller AVAs; Petaluma Gap, anyone? The color is a beguiling medium ruby hue, though that limpidity is belied by the wine’s sense of power and muscularity; this is intensely spicy, bursting with ripe and macerated black cherry and plum fruit, while a few minutes in the glass bring up pungent notes of old leather and pomegranate. It’s a fairly dense and chewy wine, displaying incisive graphite minerality and acidity that I can only call flaring and buoyant. Quite a performance on pinot noir’s dark side. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Davies Vineyards Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Here’s a pinot that’s a bit more to my taste than the Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 mentioned above, at least in terms of style. This spend 15 months in French oak, 22 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby, and the first impression is of the earth, with rooty and loamy aspects under briers and brambles; then come black and red cherries and currents segueing to dusty plums, smoky sassafras and exotic spices like sandalwood and cloves. Within this sensual panoply expands a core of nuance — lavender, violets, a bare hint of beet-root — and clean bright acidity. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011. Sonoma Coast. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry tinge. I would say that this pinot noir displays glorious purity, intensity and clarity, but “glorious” implies an emphatic nature that I want to avoid; let’s say, instead, that it’s perfect and adorable in the expression of those qualities. Aromas of red and black cherries and currants are imbued with notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras, rose petals and violets, with undertones of briers, brambles and loam, all amounting to a seamless marriage of elegance and power. The texture is supremely satiny, rolling across the palate like liquid money, but the wine’s ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors are buoyed by slightly leathery tannins and back-notes of polished oak, the whole effect enlivened by fleet acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
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Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Gina Gallo employed grapes from the family’s Olson Ranch Vineyard to craft this well-made but not compelling pinot noir that aged eight months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color shades from dark to medium ruby at the rim; aromas of black cherries and cranberries, smoke and loam, cloves and pomegranate characterize the attractive bouquet, while on the palate the wine is satiny smooth and supple; a few minutes in the glass bring out pretty floral elements. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $35.
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Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. The “mother clone” of this wine is a vineyard planted to zinfandel vines since 1904; some of those grapes are included here. Other parts of the vineyard represent the second generation of vines cloned from the original plants, all blended here with six percent petite sirah grapes. The wine aged 11 months in American oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; pungent aromas of black currants, blackberries and blueberries feel warm and spicy but with edges of graphite, briers and brambles. Bright acidity brings liveliness to dense dusty tannins and a slightly chiseled granitic minerality that testifies to the wine’s origin in an old hillside vineyard; however, black fruit flavors are equally bright and faceted, gradually opening to touches of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Sanctuary Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. This is a beautiful pinot noir in every sense, from its lovely transparent medium ruby-cherry hue, to its bouquet permeated by notes of spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries, with hints of rhubarb and cranberry, tobacco leaf and cigarette paper, to its subtle undertones of loam and moss and brambles, to its seductive satiny texture. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 841 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Silverado Vineyards Mt George Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. This classically balanced and structured wine is a blend of 77% merlot, 19% cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec, 1% petit verdot. (Yeah, that’s 101 percent.) The color is very dark ruby-purple, verily, verging even unto motor-oil black; it’s quite pungent, unleashing penetrating aromas of ripe, meaty and fleshy black cherries and raspberries bursting with notes of cassis and black olives, bell pepper and tobacco. Chiseled and polished graphite rules the day, with hints of iodine and saline qualities, earth and loam; the texture is supple, lithe, dense and chewy, yet somehow refined and elegant, never forgetting its obligation to beautiful but not showy black and red fruit flavors. 14.9 percent alcohol. A terrific, finely-honed and tuned merlot that displays great character. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.
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Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley. The blend here is 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5
percent each petit verdot and merlot and 2 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 24 months in 60 percent new oak barrels, mostly French with a small portion of American oak from the Appalachians. A dark ruby hue transcends inky purple; the bouquet is clean and fresh, very cherry-berry with some raspberries and their sense of faint raspiness, briers and brambles in the background, with an intensifying element of violets, lavender and potpourri. This panoply of sensual pleasures doesn’t quite prepare your palate for the rush of dusty tannins, the wheatmeal and walnut-shell austerity, the espresso and graphite elements that characterize the wine’s passage through the mouth. Still, coming back to it in an hour or so reveals its expression of a more approachable side, so give it a chance. A nicely manageable 13.5% alcohol. Production was 983 cases. Excellent potential, 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. About $48.
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Unbate your breath, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” entry, this edition for 2014. I posted to BiggerThanYourHead 135 times in 2014 and reviewed 582 wines. These 50 Great Wines represent 8.6 percent of the wines I reviewed last year. How do I choose the 50 wines for this honor? First, any wine that I rated Exceptional automatically gets a berth in the roster. After that, the selection process involves going back over every post, looking at the reviews of the wines that received an Excellent rating, reading the notes again and looking for the words or phrases signifying that I felt a wine was exciting, provocative, intriguing, highly individual. You can be sure that this list probably isn’t definitive; how could such a selection of wines be? I cut from the field many wines that could easily have been included, but the limit is 50 and they had to be sacrificed. Even as I clicked on the “Publish” button on WordPress I thought, “Oh no, how could I leave out ……?”

Going through these wines, many of My Readers may cry “Foul!” because some of them were produced in severely limited quantities, but that’s often the case with great wines. Think of the situation as a challenge wherein you face a sort of scavenger hunt in tracking such wines down. Some of these wines were made by well-known winemakers for prominent wineries or estates; others are far more obscure, but I enjoy bringing attention to young, small, family-owned and -operated properties that otherwise might not receive the exposure they deserve. The usual suspect grapes are included, of course — chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir — but you will also find on this list proponents of trousseau gris and grenache gris, carignane and cinsault, crafted by brave pioneers of the unusual, even rare grapes. With one exception — the Dolce 2005 — these products are the current releases from their wineries, or close to it. I think all of them were samples for review or were tasted at the property. I hope this list of 50 Great Wines inspires you to look for the ones that capture your interest and to try wines you never encountered before. Prices, by the way, range from about $22 to $120. Coming in a few days will be my annual list of 25 Great Bargain Wines $20 and Under.
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Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma Valley. With 7 percent petit verdot. 1,475 cases. Exceptional. About $70.
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Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Elevation 950 Feet Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $75.
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Animo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. With 17 percent petit verdot. From Michael Mondavi. Excellent. About $85.
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d’Arenberg The Other Side Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 96-year-old vines. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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d’Arenberg Tyche’s Mustard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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Battenfeld Spanier Mölsheim Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen, Germany. Exceptional. About $23.
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Blair Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 481 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 55% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 19% picpoul. 1,965 cases. Exceptional. About $28.
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Bonny Doon Cuvée R Grenache 2012, Monterey County. 593 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $28.
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Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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Cenyth 2009, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 47% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 8% petit verdot, 7% malbec. The debut release from this collaboration between Julia Jackson, daughter of the late Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke, and Helene Seillan, daughter of Pierre Seillan, winemaker of Verité. Exceptional. About $60.
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Chêne Bleu Aliot 2010, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, France. 65 percent roussanne, 30 percent grenache blanc, 5 percent marsanne and some smidgeon of viognier. Exceptional. About $85.
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Clos Saron Out of the Blue, 2013, Sierra Foothills. 90 percent cinsault, 5 percent syrah, 5 percent graciano. (The cinsault vines planted in 1885.) 170 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 10% merlot. 470 cases. Exceptional. About $80.
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Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. 361 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Dolce 2005, Napa Valley. 90 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc. A majestic dessert wine. Exceptional. About $85 for a half-bottle.
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Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer 2012, Alto Adige, Italy. Exceptional. About $32.
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The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 261 cases. Exceptional. About $33.
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FEL Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $38.
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Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 200 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Gallegos Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 250 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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Idlewild Grenache Gris 2013, Mendocino County. 230 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Inama Vigneto du Lot 2011, Soave Classico, Italy. Excellent. About $30.
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Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas. Excellent. About $40.
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J. Christopher Wines Lumière Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 756 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. With nine percent malbec. Exceptional. About $90.
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Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
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McCay Cellars Carignane 2011, Lodi, 218 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2010, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. This proprietary wine is a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 18 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot and 4 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $100.
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Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. With 3 percent petit verdot, 1 percent each malbec and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $100.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 230 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 588 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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La Pitchoune Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 279 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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Pittnauer Rosenberg St. Laurent 2010, Burgenland, Austria. Excellent. About $27.
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Quinta do Vallado 20 Years Old Tawny Porto. 83 cases. Exceptional. About $80 for a 500-milliliter bottle..
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Respite Reichel Vineyard Indulgence 2010, Alexander valley, Sonoma County. A proprietary blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent malbec and 13 percent cabernet franc. 77 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2010. Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 429 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,302 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Steven Kent Winery Merrellie Chardonnay 2012, Livermore Valley. 504 cases. Excellent. About $34.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Valley. 266 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 170 cases. Exceptional. About $65.
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Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2009, Sonoma Coast. 123 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris 2012, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley. 25 cases. Exceptional. About $25.
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VML Blanc de Noirs 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.
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Volta Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $60.
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Wakefield St. Andrews Single Vineyard Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Clare Valley, Australia. 250 cases imported. Excellent. About $60.
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Weltner Rödelseer Küchenmeister Trocken Sylvaner 2012, Franken, Germany. Excellent. About $27.
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Well, thank goodness all that Thanksgiving hubbub is over and the attendant brouhaha about what wine to drink with the turkey and dressing and sweet potatoes and so on, so now we can focus just on wines to drink because we like them. Here are brief reviews of 12 such wines that should appeal to many tastes and pocketbooks. Prices range from $15 to $56; there are three white wines and nine reds, including a couple of sangiovese blends and a pair of white Rhône renditions from California, as well as a variety of other types of wines and grape varieties. As usual with these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew technical, historical and geographical data for the sake of offering incisive notices designed to pique your interest and whet the palate, after which you may choose to wet your palate. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy! (In moderation, of course.)
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Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2011, Tuscany, Italy.13.5% alc. 70% sangiovese, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 10% canaiolo. Dark ruby-purple hue; raspberry, mulberry and blueberry, notes of potpourri, dried herbs and orange peel; a bit of stiff tannin from the cabernet, but handily a tasty and drinkable quaff with requisite acidity for vigor. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.
MW Imports, White Plains, N.Y.
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Bordòn Reserva 2008, Rioja, Spain. 13.5% alc. 80% tempranillo, 15% garnacha, 5% mazuela. Medium ruby color; mint, pine and iodine, macerated and slightly stewed red and black currants and cherries; violets, lavender, pot pourri, cloves and sandalwood; very dry, autumnal with hints of mushrooms and moss, nicely rounded currant and plum flavors, vivid acidity; a lovely expression of the grape. Now through 2016 to ’18 with roasted game birds. Very Good +. About $15, a Real Bargain.
Imported by Vision Wine & Spirits, Secaucus, N.J.
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Jacopo Biondi Santi Braccale 2010, Toscano. 13.5% alc. 80% sangiovese, 20% merlot. Medium ruby color; raspberries and red currants, orange zest and black tea, hints of briers and brambles, touches of graphite, violets, blueberries and cloves, intriguing complexity for the price; plenty of dry tannins and brisk acidity for structure, fairly spare on the plate, but pleasing texture and liveliness; flavors of dried red and black fruit; earthy finish. Now through 2016 or ’17 with grilled or braised meat, hearty pasta dishes. Very Good+. About $19, marking Good Value.
Imported by Vision Wine & Spirits, Secaucus, N.J.
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Clayhouse Estate Grenache Blanc Viognier 2013, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. 70% grenache blanc, 30% viognier. Production was 650 bottles, so Worth a Search. Pale gold color; crystalline freshness, clarity and liveliness; jasmine and acacia, yellow plums, quince and ginger; beautifully balanced and integrated, exquisite elegance and spareness; saline and savory, though, with bracing acidity running through a pleasing talc-like texture; backnotes of almond blossom and dried thyme; a supple, lithe limestone-packed finish. Now through the end of 2015. Excellent. About $23.
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Les Trois Couronnes 2011, Gigondas, Rhône Valley, France. 14.5% alc. 70% grenache, 20% syrah, 10% mourvèdre. Dark ruby-violet color; lovely, enchanting bouquet of black olives, thyme, graphite, moss and mushrooms, opening to plums and black currants, pepper, leather and lavender; a bit of wet-dog funkiness aligns with dusty, supple tannins and beautifully integrated oak and acidity; rich, spicy black fruit flavors with a hint of blueberry; undertones of loam, underbrush, black licorice; spice-and-mineral-packed finish. Drink now through 2017 to ’19. Great with beef braised in red wine. Excellent. About $23.
Imported by OWS Cellars Selections, North Miami, Fla.
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Paul Dolan Zinfandel 2012, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Certified organic. Transparent ruby with a magenta rim; notes of strawberry, raspberry and blueberry with a nice raspy touch and hints of briers and brambles, black pepper, bitter chocolate and walnut shell; ripe and spicy raspberry and cherry flavors, a bit meaty and fleshy, but increasingly bound with dusty tannins and graphite minerality, all enlivened by generous acidity. Not a blockbuster but plenty of stuffing. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 55% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 19% picpoul. 1,965 cases. Very pale gold hue; green apple, peach and spiced pear; lemon balm, ginger and quince; wonderful tension and resolution of texture and structure; taut acidity, dense and almost voluptuous yet spare, tensile and vibrant with crystalline limestone minerality; seamless melding of lightly spiced and macerated citrus and stone-fruit flavors; feels alive on the palate, engaging and compelling. Now through 2016 or ’17. Exceptional. About $28.
The winery website has not caught up with the current vintage.
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Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 14.1% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. Dark to medium ruby-mulberry color; black cherry and raspberry scents and flavors with plenty of tannic “rasp” and underlying notes of briers, brambles and loam; cloves, a hint of rhubarb, a touch of cherry cola; all enlivened by pert acidity. A minor key with major dimension. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $30.
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von Hövel “R” Spatlese Dry Riesling 2012, Mosel, Germany. 11% alc. 100% riesling. Very pale gold color; peach, pear and lychee; hints of honeysuckle, grapefruit and lime zest; a chiseled and faceted wine, benefiting from incisive acidity and scintillating limestone and flint elements; tremendous, indeed inescapable resonance and presence, yet elegant, delicate and almost ethereal; long penetrating spice and mineral-inflected finish. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $34.
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Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 81% cabernet sauvignon, 9% cabernet franc, 8% merlot, 1% each petit verdot and malbec. Deep ruby with a magenta tinge; cedar and thyme, hint of black olive; quite spicy and macerated black currants and plums with a hint of black and red cherry; lithe, supple, muscular and sleek; dense but soft and finely sifted tannins adorned with slightly toasty oak, a scintillating graphite element and vibrant acidity; long spicy, granitic finish. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
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Bonny Doon Cuvee R Grenache 2012, Monterey County. 14.9% alc. 100% grenache grapes. 593 cases. (Available to the winery’s DEWN Club members.) Dark reddish-cherry hue; dusty, spicy red and black cherries, with a curranty note and hint of raspberry; some cherry stem and pit pertness and raspiness; cloves and sandalwood, with a tide of plum skin and loam; the finely-knit and sanded tannins build as the minutes pass; clean, vibrant acidity lends energy and litheness. Terrific grenache. Drink now through 2016. Excellent. About $48.
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Plumpjack Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. (!) 91% merlot, 8% malbec, 1% cabernet sauvignon. Vivid dark ruby color; intense and concentrated aromas of cassis, black raspberry and plum; notes of cloves and sandalwood with a tinge of pomegranate and red cherry; a hint of toasty oak; sinewy and supple, almost muscular; deep black fruit flavors imbued with lavender and bitter chocolate and honed by finely-milled tannins, graphite minerality and keen acidity; a substantial merlot, not quite monumental because of its innate balance and elegance; through some miracle, you don’t feel the heat or sweetness of high alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22, Excellent. About $56.
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