Cabernet franc


There’s a movement afoot to make rosé wines darker, more substantial, more complex — and more expensive. I say Fie to these efforts to transform what is essentially delightful, charming and evanescent, representing both the languor and the vitality of Summer, into something serious and weighty. An example of what I believe a rosé wine should be is the Baudry-Dutour Cuvée Marie-Justine 2014, from the Chinon appellation of France’s Loire Valley. Made completely from cabernet franc grapes, this lovely rosé offers a pale shimmering salmon-peach hue and delicate aromas of strawberries and raspberries permeated by notes of wild berries, dried thyme, rose hips and heather, all sketched in a rather dry meadowy palette. The wine is finely sculpted by bright acidity and flint-like minerality, lending it a slightly saline-seashell crispness and dryness, though it’s quite tasty with juicy yet subdued red fruit flavors; the ethereal finish is both taut and a bit talc-like in texture. What more could you ask for in a rosé? 12.5 percent alcohol. I happily drank a glass of this wine for lunch yesterday with an omelet stuffed with cherry tomatoes, radicchio and a bit of diced Vidalia onion; it would be splendidly appropriate with fried chicken, deviled eggs and other picnic fare or a rabbit and duck terrine. Excellent. About $20, a local purchase.

William Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.

Let’s be honest. Rosé wines should not be too serious, thought-provoking or complicated. Their raison d’etre is delight and evanescence, the way that a quick cooling breeze brings delight and relief on a hot afternoon. On the other hand, occasionally I taste — or greedily consume — a rosé of such startling freshness, such intense loveliness and layered pleasure that it transcends mere prettiness and joy and attains a level of perfection and provocation, as a scent-laden gloaming works upon our senses, memories and imaginations. Such a one is the Ehlers “Sylviane” Cabernet Franc Rosé 2014, from the St. Helena AVA of the Napa Valley. This is, frankly, about the most beautiful rose I have encountered in my life of writing about wine. The estate is run on biodynamic principles and is certified organic; the grapes derive from portions of the vineyard dedicated to making rosé, so this one is not an afterthought. It sees no oak, only stainless steel. The color is a radiant light fuchsia-sunset hue; aromas of raspberries and watermelon are woven with rose petal and woodsy notes, with touches of flint, dried thyme and balsam. A few moments in the glass bring up hints of strawberries and a sort of Necco wafer dustiness. The wine slides across the palate in a lively (but not crisp), sleek, lithe flow that propels flavors of wild berry compote and citrus rind through to a delicate, elegant finish. More time, more sniffing and swirling encourage the unfurling of an extraordinary core of lilac, talcum powder and Evening in Paris perfume; it’s hypnotic and tantalizing. 12.9 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2016. We had this last night with a Spanish omelet with potatoes, sausage and parsley. Exceptional. About $28.

A sample for review.

By “all over the map,” I don’t mean that every sub-AVA of the Napa Valley is represented in this post, seventh in a series. True, Mount Veeder is here and Howell Mountain and Rutherford, but what I actually refer to is the technical and stylistic map upon which these examples of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon play their part. Seven of these wines are from 2012, one each from 2011 and 2010. The alcohol levels range from a mild 14.2 percent to a soaring and unmanageable 15.7. The use of oak barrels for aging varies enormously. The intention of the wines feels vastly different, with some wineries going whole-hog for the opulent and super-ripe, others tracking more toward the structured and elegant. In this panoply of approaches, do we discern a Napa Valley style? It’s difficult to say. To my mind — and my palate — the Sequoia Grove, Robert Mondavi and S.R. Tonella 2012s and the Napa Vintage 2011 adhere to a kind of general Napa-ness in their balance of fruit, tannin, acidity and mineral qualities and their pleasing herbal qualities, texture and depth. The other five feel more anomalous, marred by high alcohol or strenuous deployment of oak barrels. Of course no one would want Napa Valley to be homogenous nor its many wineries to operate on identical practices. We celebrate the place and the individuality together. These wines were samples for review.

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Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. There really are towering sequoias — I guess that’s redundant — at Sequoia Grove Winery; one feels rather dwarfish in their company. The winery, founded in 1979, occupies salubrious geography in the Rutherford appellation, in the heart of Napa Valley. President and director of winemaking Mike Trujillo has been at Sequoia Grove since the early 1980s, was appointed assistant winemaker in 1998 and in 2001 took the position he has now. Winemaker is Molly Hill. The winery is owned by its national distributor, Kobrand Corp. Sequoia Grove, while making a variety of wines, focuses on chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, and it’s to the latter that we turn today.

The blend for the Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is 77 percent cabernet sauvignon, 11 percent cabernet franc, 10 percent merlot and 1 percent each petit verdot and malbec, meaning that it employs, even if only in dollops, all five of the classic Bordeaux grape varieties. The wine aged 20 months in barrels, 60 percent French oak, 40 percent American oak. The color is opaque ruby with a tinge of magenta at the rim; the aroma profile begins with dusty leather and graphite and unfolds notes of ripe black currants and plums with a hint of blueberry, all permeated by cloves and allspice and a background of walnut shell and wheatmeal; top-notes are wild and slightly exotic. This is a dense, chewy and dry cabernet that coats the palate with dusty, velvety tannins; it’s loamy and rooty, a bit granitic, and yet bright acidity keeps it lively and boldly ripe and slightly fleshy and roasted black and blue fruit flavors make it delicious. Still, it could use a year or two to meld. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’24. Beautifully crafted and balanced. Excellent. About $38.
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Flora Springs Winery and Vineyard Trilogy 2012, Napa Valley. Trilogy is the flagship wine for Flora Springs. The winery was founded in 1978 on the site of an abandoned 19th Century “ghost winery” by Jerry and Flora Komes, though the real work of establishing the facility and vineyards went to their children John Komes and his wife Carrie and Julie Garvey and her husband Pat Garvey; now the third generation is poised to take command. Winemaker is Paul Steinauer. I generally enjoy the wine of Flora Springs and last year made the Chardonnay 2012 and the Soliloquy Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Wines of the Week. I have a quibble, however, with the Trilogy 2012.

The blend is 82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent each merlot, malbec and petite verdot. The wine aged 22 months in French oak barrels, 60 percent new, 40 percent one-year-old. The color is dark but vivid ruby-magenta with an opaque center. The bouquet — indeed the entire package — is centered to an obtrusive degree on the graphite, smoke and charcoal-tinged character of oak. You know how I feel about these matters; if a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, there’s too much oak! Bright glimmers of ripe and spicy black currants, cherries and raspberries emerge, with notes of lavender and licorice and undertones of loam and aged fruitcake, and the wine certainly offers an almost rapturously supple and lithe texture, verging on plush but balanced by clean acidity, dusty tannins and a slightly chiseled granitic structure, but the oak kills it for me. 14.2 percent alcohol. Perhaps a few years in bottle will tame it; try from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’24. Very Good+. About $75.
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Napa Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. Sean Piper grew up in Napa Valley, and after a career in the Coast Guard, he returned to, first, start Wine Consumer Magazine and, now, establish his own wine label, Napa Vintage. The initial outing is sourced from Howell Mountain and is an example of a successful cabernet sauvignon produced in a chilly rainy year. The wine is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon, aged 20 months in all new French oak barrels. The color is inky ruby-purple, and the whole package reflects the intensity and concentration available from mountain-grown fruit, with its attendant notes of walnut shell and dried porcini, classic touches of cedar and rosemary (with the herb’s hint of resiny earthiness) and burgeoning elements of black currants and plums highlighted by a hint of pomegranate; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of cloves and allspice, with the latter’s touch of exotic astringency. This is, no surprise, quite dry, replete with densely buttressed tannins, and thoroughly oaked, yet well-balanced and integrated. All these elements are wrapped around a fervent core of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 414 cases. The Napa Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 seems to me to be a model of an upper-altitude Napa cabernet, displaying its rooted firmness and supple flexibility in fine style. Drink now with a medium rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $42.
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S.R. Tonella Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Rutherford, Napa Valley. There’s little doubt that Napa Valley’s Rutherford Bench is one of the most advantageous pieces of earth on which to grow cabernet sauvignon grapes. Lying at the heart of the Napa Valley, west of Highway 29 and bordered (approximately) on the north by Zinfandel Lane, just above the town of Rutherford, and on the south by Oakville Grade, just below the town of Oakville, this area backs up to the foothills of the Mayacamas range in the west. The soil on this alluvial fan is well-drained gravelly loam. André Tchelistcheff, famed winemaker for Beaulieu Vineyards and guiding spirit of its George de Latour Private Reserve, called wines from the bench “dusty,” a term now accepted, perhaps too easily, as “Rutherford dust.” The cabernet wines that originate from the area undeniably often display a dry, dusty granitic aspect but not so uniformly as to make that characteristic applicable in every instance.

Steve Tonella’s heritage goes back a century in Rutherford. His great-uncle, Joseph Ponti, came from Italy to San Francisco after the earthquake in 1906, traveled up to Napa Valley, and became superintendent and winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyards, founded in 1900. Ponti’s nephew, Louis Tonella, joined Ponti at BV when he was 17. From his uncle, Louis Tonella inherited vineyards in the Rutherford area to which his son, Raymond Tonella, added purchased acreage. The Neibaum-Tonella Vineyard in Rutherford is the winery’s estate vineyard; Morisoli-Borges, owned by Mike Morisoli, a fourth-generation grower, lies at the heart of the Rutherford Bench. From these sources, Steve Tonella makes his cabernet-based wine.

There’s five percent merlot in the S.R. Tonella Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012; the wine aged 28 months in French oak, 75 percent new barrels. The color is opaque ruby-magenta; the wine is deep in its dimensions, intense and concentrated, full-bodied and flush with dense, dusty, lithic tannins. Aromas of walnut-shell, dried porcini, loam and graphite yield little space to hints of ripe black currants and black cherries that carry classic notes of cedar, tobacco and mocha. It’s a cool yet savory and spicy cabernet wrapped around a tight core of bitter chocolate and lavender buoyed by vibrant acidity; the finish, not surprisingly, is focused, dynamic and granitic. 14.4 percent alcohol. Despite it’s size and substance, the S.R. Tonella Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 feels well-balanced, filled with energy and personality. Fewer than 500 cases were made. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent potential. About $74.
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Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. Robert Mondavi wasn’t the first person to think that the Napa Valley was capable of producing world-class cabernet sauvignon wines, but after he founded his winery in 1966, he brought the full force of his conviction, enthusiasm and larger-than-life personality to the task. Barrels of ink and puncheons of pixels have been spilled in outlining and commenting on the history of Robert Mondavi — the man, the family and the winery — so I will forgo that endeavor for this post. The winery continues to turn out excellent products under the ownership of Constellation (since late in 2004) and the tutelage of winemaker Genevieve Janssens, though I’ll say that this admittedly well-made cabernet felt almost too typical of its place and intention; it could have used a bit more individuality. On the other hand, it’s not a single vineyard or sub-appellation cabernet, so perhaps we should all just enjoy it.

The wine employs all five of the “classic” Bordeaux red wine varieties: 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent cabernet franc, 4 percent merlot and 1 percent each petit verdot and malbec. Thirty percent of the grapes came from the famous To Kalon vineyard in the Oakville AVA, with 14 percent derived from Mondavi’s Wappo Hill vineyard in the Stags Leap District, with the rest, I assume, grown in other estate or nearby vineyards; the intention obviously was to create a “Napa Valley” style cabernet sauvignon without reference to a particular sub-AVA. The wine aged a very sensible 16 months in French oak, only 15 percent new barrels. The color is a rich dark ruby with a magenta tinge; aromas of cassis and black cherry are permeated by notes of cedar, tobacco and dried thyme, with deeper hints of lead pencil, briers and brambles and loamy graphite. Tannins are dry, a bit earthy and leathery, firm yet unobtrusive; fleet acidity keeps the wine energetic and thirst-quenching; a subtle oak influence shows up in the wine’s supple, lithe texture and in a wafting of exotic spice.The sense of balance and integration is well-nigh perfect. Alcohol content is the now New World average of 14.5 percent. What’s not to like? Drink now through 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $29.
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Petar Kirilov made 50 cases of his Kukeri Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, aging it 36 months — yes, My Readers, three years — in French oak. Come now, sir, this is not Brunello di Montalcino, but Kirilov believes in oak, so oak it is, and the inky dark wine wears its oak on its sleeve. Aromas of cedar, tobacco and dried rosemary are drenched with notes of walnut shell, dried porcini, leather and loam, with all the attendant resinous, foresty, underbrushy elements we would expect. Fruit? Yes, there are glimmers. Acidity? Oh, sleek and dynamic. I still wouldn’t touch this wine, though, for five more years. The 2011 is the current release, made in 79 cases. 14.5 percent alcohol. Rating? Anybody’s guess, but time will be the ultimate judge, as it is in all matters concerning these sublunary precincts. About $79.
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Jamieson Ranch Double Lariat Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. Jamieson Ranch Vineyards is the southernmost winery in the Napa Valley. Formerly known as Kirkland Ranch Winery and Reata Vineyard, the company changed its name to Jamieson Ranch in 2013. The history of the property is tangled, involving dubious business decisions going back to the late 1990s and bankruptcy filings, but it is owned now by Madison Vineyard Holdings of Greenwood Village, Colorado, a company involved in myriad enterprises including high-end art storage in New York. Jamieson Ranch produces about 35,000 cases annually under its eponymous label, retaining the Reata name for some pinot noirs and chardonnays, and uses the Light Horse brand for inexpensive products. Winemaker is the Chilean Juan Jose Verdina.

About 2/3s of the grapes for this wine went through “flash détente,” a process much used in Europe, South America and Australia but fairly new to California. Before fermentation, grapes are heated to about 180 degrees and then sent to a vacuum chamber where they are cooled and the grape skins burst from the inside. The result — don’t ask me how — is better extraction of skin tannins and anthocyanins, the phenolic compounds responsible for the color of red grapes. That’s the simplified version, believe me, and doesn’t begin to approach the complications inherent in the process or the opportunities for manipulation they present.

The blend for the Jamieson Ranch Double Lariat Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is 86.5 percent cabernet sauvignon, 9 percent merlot, 4.5 percent — surprise! — petite sirah. The wine aged 18 months in French oak barrels, amount of new oak not specified. A dark ruby-purple color is fresh and vibrant; aromas of ripe and spicy black currants, raspberries and plums are wreathed with notes of leather and lavender and a touch of graphite. Slightly dusty and granite-tinged tannins are well-integrated in a lithe texture that’s animated by bright acidity, while black fruit flavors are deep and rich; the finish brings in the oak influence. 14.8 percent alcohol. A well-made and enjoyable but not compelling cabernet sauvignon. Drink now through 2019 to ’22. Very Good+. About $40.
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Priest Ranch Somerston Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley.

Perhaps it’s the 14.9 percent alcohol, but I found this cabernet to be inchoate and unbalanced. It’s 100 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, aged 22 months in French oak, 35 percent new, 65 percent neutral, a regimen with which I fully agree. It displays a dark ruby-mulberry hue and all the austere elements of wheatmeal, walnut shell and dried porcini mushrooms over loam, dusty tannins and a startlingly high yet hollowed-out level of acidity. On the other hand, the black and blue fruit flavors are not only very ripe but sweet and jammy, making, altogether, for a package that does not cohere. Perhaps a few years in bottle will calm the wine down, but I’m not hopeful. Not recommended. About $48.
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Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. The story begins in 1977, with Ray Signorello’s purchase of 100 acres on the Silverado Trail in eastern Napa Valley. Originally intending to grow grapes to sell to other wineries, the emphasis shifted to making wine in 1985. Ray Senior died in 1998, and Ray Signorello Jr. operates the estate now. He is listed as proprietor/winemaker and Pierre Bierbent as winemaker/vineyard manager. This is a luxury wine estate, with packaging and prices to match its aspirations.

A touch of cabernet franc — 6.5 percent — completes what is otherwise all cabernet sauvignon in this large-framed and fairly lumbering wine. Fermented with native yeast, yes, that’s nice; aged 21 months in French oak. all new barrels, okey-dokey, but 15.7 percent alcohol? Please! The color is motor-oil-opaque with a purple-violet rim; it’s a vivaciously ripe wine, with sweet scents and succulent notes of cassis, black raspberry jam, brandied cherries, fruitcake and a hint of zinfandel-like blueberry tart. By contrast, potent tannins and truckloads of dusty graphite define a structure that becomes formidably dry and austere, leading to a feeling that the wine is at war with itself; imbalance and lack of integration personified. Give it a few years if you so desire, but don’t invite me when you eventually open a bottle. Not recommended. About $90.

What’s disheartening about this wine is that I rated the Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (the last I tasted) as Excellent and named it as one of my “50 Great Wines of 2012.” It came in at 14.7 percent alcohol. The cabernet under review today feels as if it had been given different marching orders.
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Most of us, including people in the wine industry, can have no idea what it feels like to own an estate where grapes have been grown since 1273. That privilege belongs to the establishment Marco Felluga — now run by fifth generation Roberto Falluga — which purchased the 250-acre Russiz Superiore property — half planted to vines — in 1967. The part of the world of which I write here is Collio, in the Friuli region of Italy, far in the northeast, an area influenced by the warmth of the Adriatic Sea, 12 miles away, and the coolness of the nearby Alps. Friuli and the northeast generally are white wine territory, but red wine is also produced, and our Wine of the Week is one of those. The Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Cabernet Franc 2012, Collio, offers a deep black-ruby hue with a vibrant violet rim; it’s all a bit thermonuclear. The wine is 100 percent cabernet franc, and it aged 12 months in small oak casks, a device that lends it lovely suppleness and a subtle spicy background, but nothing obtrusive. This feels, in fact, like classic Loire Valley cab franc, with its seamless amalgam of cedar and tobacco, plums, blueberries and raspberries permeated by notes of black olives, loam and oolong tea; hints of cloves and sandalwood emerge after a few moments in the glass. The wine is robust, dense, almost chewy yet never heavy or overbearing, being, rather, sleek and chiseled in texture. Black fruit flavors are supported by clean acidity, mildly dusty tannins and an undercurrent of earthy graphite minerality. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18 with hearty braised meat dishes, full-flavored pastas, grilled pork chops or steaks. Excellent. About $28.

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

A brief entry into Weekend Wines Notes today, featuring a pair of whites from South Africa and a pair of tasty reds from wineries in Lodi. This is the 11th post of 2015 on this blog and the 1500th post since December 2006.
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First, two white wines from the Bellingham estate in South Africa, founded in 1693, making it old by any standards.

Bellingham “The Bernard Series” Grenache Blanc Viognier 2013, Paarl Region. 14% alc. 75% grenache blanc, 25% viognier. Pale gold color; very spare, fresh and clean; notes of orange zest, jasmine and spiced pear; bees’ wax, dusty thyme and rosemary; a few moments in the glass bring in beguiling hints of crushed violets, lemon balm and crystallized ginger; crisp and lively but with a paradoxical air of summery languor; a bit savory and saline; lovely stone fruit flavors imbued with limestone, almond skin and grapefruit rind. Irresistible. Excellent. About $22.

Bellingham “The Bernard Series” Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2013, Coastal Region. 14.3% alc. 100% chenin blanc from vines averaging 43 years old. Brilliant medium gold hue; peach and guava with touches of hay, lanolin, cloves; boldly ripe, generous, with notes of honey and loam, lime peel and lemongrass; sumptuous in the mouth but riven by bright acidity and slightly detectable spicy oak, particularly on the finish; beautifully layered and balanced but admits some floridness and flamboyance in its make-up. Excellent. About $22.

Imported by Pacific Highway Wine and Spirits, Petaluma, Calif. The bottle image is one vintage behind.
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And two delicious reds from wineries in Lodi.

Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc 2012, North Coast. 14.4% alc. 100% cabernet franc. Medium ruby color; pungent, spicy, a little feral; black and red currants and plums with a touch of blueberry and a hint of black olive and thyme; clean, lively acidity and moderately dense but supple tannins provide structure; it’s quite dry but delectably drinkable. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $27.

Estate Crush Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault 2012, Lodi. 100% cinsault grapes from a vineyard planted in 1886, among the very oldest in California. 100 cases. Brilliant medium ruby color; red cherries and currants, hints of cloves and leather; touch of wild berry; slight herbal note; mild tannins but penetrating graphite minerality; vibrant acidity; spare, lithe and close to elegant. Now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $26.
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The wines of Bordeaux that receive all the attention and hype and that command high prices at retail and auction probably number fewer than 150. The estates that produce these august wines are located primarily in the Left Bank communes of Margaux, Pauillac, St-Julien, St-Estephe, Graves and Pessac-Leognan and the Right Bank communes of St-Emilion and Pomerol. The region of Bordeaux, however, has many more appellations than these celebrated areas — 54 altogether — and something like 8,000 chateaux or estates, though those concepts may be applied rather loosely and in terms of actual architecture range from palatial to humble. The point is that while you may have to pay hundreds of dollars or in the four figures to acquire a bottle of wine from a top-rated chateau, plenty of options exist for enjoyable, drinkable authentic wines available at reasonable prices. Let’s consider two examples from 2011, each of which would be worth buying by the case to serve as your house red wine. These wines were samples for review.
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Many estates in Bordeaux carry the name “Bellevue,” either by itself or in a hyphenated arrangement with another name. This particular Chateau Bellevue 2011 falls under the Bordeaux Superieur designation and is owned by Vicomte Bruno de Ponton d’Amecourt, whose family acquired the 17th Century property in 1973. The wine is a blend of 60 percent merlot, 30 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent malbec. The color is dark ruby; aromas of black currants and cherries with a tinge of blueberry are permeated by notes of cedar and cloves and an undertone of graphite; a few moments in the glass bring up touches of coffee and tobacco. This is a quite tasty and drinkable wine, its dry character and ripe, spicy black fruit flavors animated by vibrant acidity; moderately rustic tannins lend structure (and grow more prominent the minutes elapse). 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2017 to 19. Very Good+. About $15 to $19.
Imported by Esprit du Vin, Port Washington, N.Y.
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Chateau d’Aiguilhe — the name means “needle” and refers to a nearby rocky outcropping — lies in the commune of Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux, designated as such in 2009, east of the city of Bordeaux on the bank of the Dordogne river. The ancient estate, whose chateau dates back to the 13th Century, was purchased in 1993 by Comte Stephan von Neipperg, whose family also owns the important properties of La Mondotte, Clos de l’Oratoire, Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere and Chateau Peyreau in St-Emilion and the Sauternes estate Chateau Guiraud. The grape proportion at Chateau d’Aiguilhe 2011 is 80 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet franc. The effort here is toward balance and elegance; the color is dark ruby; the bouquet features ripe cassis and black raspberry scents infused with cedar, loam and dried thyme and a tantalizing hint of black olive. The wine is firm and supple on the palate, with a lithe muscular feeling supported by mildly dusty tannins and bright acidity. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $22 to $29.
Importer unknown.
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No, not the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County but the historic Santa Rita estate in Chile. Or estates, because the winery, founded in 1880 by Domingo Fernandez in the Maipo Valley, just south of Santiago, owns vineyards in most of the narrow country’s prime grape-growing areas. Its age makes Santa Rita one of Chile’s most venerable wineries, but it really began producing important wines after it was purchased, in 1980, by Ricardo Claro, owner of the diversified Grupo Claro. (He died in 2008.) Winemaker is Andrés Ilabaca. There’s little argument with the notion that Chile’s most prominent red grapes are cabernet sauvignon and carménère, the latter long thought to be merlot until extensive DNA testing in the 1990s proved that most of the country’s merlot was actually carmenere, Bordeaux’s forgotten grape. Santa Rita treats both varieties with the respect they deserve, though what is lacking, as is the case with much of Chile’s red wines, are grace and elegance, qualities sacrificed for structure and power. Still, these red wines from Santa Rita merit attention for their highly individual approach and for their dauntless longevity. They are imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla. These wines were samples for review.
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The color of the Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Carménère 2008, Colchagua Valley, Chile, is opaque, dark ruby; distinct aromas of mint, tomato skin and black olive are given exotic sway by notes of cinnamon bark and sandalwood, all at the service of heady and intensely ripe, spiced and macerated blackberries, black cherries and blueberries; quite a performance there. This wild and winsome character, however, translates on the palate to a dense chewy texture and a structure freighted with dry grainy tannins that coat the mouth and lip-smacking acidity. Fruit is an afterthought that requires another couple of years to find eloquent expression, though I would not hesitate to recommend this wine with steaks, full-flavored and hearty braised dishes and rich pastas. Made from 70-year-old vines, the wine aged 10 months in French oak casks. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $20.
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The previous wine aged in oak casks, a word that implies larger barrels — though the terminology is vague — than the term “barrel” itself, which generally means the French 59-gallon barrique. The Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Maipo Valley, Chile, aged 12 months in those smaller barrels, lending the wine a spicy nature and a supple quality. The color is dark ruby; the bouquet is piquant and woodsy, with notes of mint and moss, heather and heath, along with spiced and macerated black and red currants and cherries; in the mouth, the wine is tightly-knit, dense with silken tannins, quite dry and a little austere, though if you stick with it long enough, it softens a bit in the glass and becomes more approachable. As with the previous wine, if you’re going to one of those giant meat-fests with fire-roasted beef, pigs, lambs and goats that prevail in the Southern Hemisphere, you can pop the cork on this baby. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to 2022. Very Good+. About $20.
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I like the idea behind the Santa Rita Triple C Red Wine 2008, Maipo Valley, Chile. The point is that in consists of three grape varieties that begin with the letter “C”: cabernet franc (65 percent); cabernet sauvignon (30 percent); carménère (5 percent). The possibilities are endless; Triple P, for example, with petit verdot, petite sirah and pinot noir. Or, to go white, Triple M, with marsanne, melon de bourgogne and muscat of Alexandria. Well, ha ha, enough levity, because the “C” blend of this wine works to its advantage. The color is dark ruby, opaque, almost smoldering, at the center; a highly individual bouquet features notes of cedar and tobacco, black olives and oolong tea, hints of thyme and bell pepper, and elements of macerated and slightly roasted blackberries, blueberries and black currants, with a back-tone of eucalyptus; it’s all rather dream-like and unforgettable. The wine is fresh and clean in the mouth, energized by blazing acidity and characterized by a huge structure of massive dry, grainy tannins and scintillating graphite minerality; not a lot of room for spicy black and blue fruit flavors, but they manage to endure the onslaught of size and austerity and persist in announcing their presence. 14.5 percent alcohol. I would love to pair this wine with a medium-rare, dry-aged rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Or let it rest for a couple of years and drink through 2020 to 2024. Excellent (potential). About $40.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ I’ll say at the outset that the Santa Rita Pehuén Carménère 2007, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile, is one of the best wines made from this variety that I have encountered. (It’s 95 percent carménère, 5 percent cabernet sauvignon.) The color is dark ruby with a subtle magenta cast; the complex bouquet offers a seamless layering of mint and eucalyptus, loam and graphite, cedar, tobacco and rosemary (with the latter’s hint of piny resinous quality), cloves and sandalwood and, finally, depths of black and red currants, cherries and plums. In the mouth, well, expect truckloads of dusty, palate-coating tannins granitic minerality and palate-cleansing acidity, along with brushings of briers, brambles, undergrowth and dried porcini. This is, in other words, at seven years old, still largely about structure; give it until 2016 or ’17 and drink through 2020 to 2024 or so. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Excellent (potential). About $70.
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No holds are barred in California, unlike in the Old World, where government agencies determine where grapes can be grown and what grapes go into certain wines. Many wines, of course, are famous for their combinations of grapes, like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which may contain any ratio of up to 13 grapes, red and white, or Bordeaux, where winemakers fashion cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc (primarily) into some of the world’s most elegant, powerful and best-known red wines. No such customs or regulations abide in the Golden State, and today we look at five wines that offer some unusual blends of grapes, some more successfully than others. The trick is to create a blend that delivers distinctive, if not original, qualities rather than something than comes out smelling and tasting like a generic “red wine.” These wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Bonny Doon Vineyards A Proper Claret 2013, California. 13.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 46%, merlot 17%, tannat 15%, petit verdot 13%, syrah 8%, petite sirah 1%, the point being that this is a very improper claret — Bordeaux red wine — indeed. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; solid, tannic, fills the mouth with briers, brambles and underbrush but builds layers of cloves and allspice, cedar, ancho chili, then undertones of dusty black currants, raspberries and plums; no molly-coddle here, intense and concentrated, lip-smacking acidity; dense, chewy; needs a medium rare strip steak or a great joint of venison. Now through 2018 to 2020. Loads of personality. Very Good+. About $16, a Real Bargain.
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Casey Flat Ranch Estate Red Wine 2012, Capay Valley, Yolo County. 14.8% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 56%, syrah 30%, cabernet franc 13% viognier 1%. Dense ruby-purple; cassis, black cherries and raspberries; hints of menthol, violets, hedge and heather, then graphite and underbrush, leather and mocha; bushy and brushy but succulent, balanced, integrated; a touch of the iodine-and-iron complex (sounds like a vitamin) under delicious black fruit flavors with a note of blue; wild berry notes, licorice and lavender lend some elevation to a wine of true class, distinction and character. Now through 2020 to ’22 with steaks and braised meats. Excellent. About $45.
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Gnarly Head Limited Release Authentic Black 2012, Lodi. (Delicato Family Vineyards) 14.5% alc. Petite sirah-based blend. A limited edition wine for Fall. The problem with the Gnarly Head wines is that they’re not gnarly enough. One of the purplest and most opaque wines I have ever seen; very ripe, spicy, grapy, gamy; plummy and jammy with sweetish blackberry, blueberry and currant scents and flavors, plush and velvety, “soft in the middle,” as Paul Simon says; quite juicy, smoky, a little loamy; comes across as unfocused and inauthentic. Good+. About $12.
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Juxtapoz Red Wine Blend 2012, North Coast. (Delicato Family Vineyards) 15% alc. Syrah 55%, zinfandel 23%, petite sirah 9%, malbec 6%, cabernet sauvignon 4%, “other reds” 3%. Dark ruby with an opaque center; first impression is of woody spices and walnut shell, then ripe black currants, cherries and plums, hints of plum skin, cedar and black olive; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of slightly caramelized fennel; scrunchy tannins and bright acidity make a fairly robust wine; you feel the alcoholic heat a bit on the finish; takes an hour or so for this to come together, and it finally convinced me that it worked. Cheesy label, though. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $25.
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Renwood Clarion Red Wine 2012, Amador County. 15% alc. 25% each zinfandel, petite sirah, syrah and marsanne; that’s right, one-quarter of this wine is from white grapes. Dark ruby purple color; a deep spicy wine, bursting with notes of blackberries, black currants and blueberries permeated by violets, lavender, potpourri and graphite; sleek, supple and integrated and manages not to be overwhelmed by the alcohol content; picks up hints of cloves, walnut shell, briers and brambles through a wildly fruity but earthy, mineral-packed finish. Tasty and intriguing. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $20.
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I think I’ll name my next rock group “Eclectic Plethora,” but be that as it may, today I offer again a bunch of rosé wines, from various regions of France and California, in hopes of convincing My Readers not to abandon rosés simply because Labor Day has come and gone. While the most delicate rosés may be most appropriate in High Summer, even they can serve a purpose throughout the rest of the year. More robust and versatile rosés can be consumed with a variety of foods, and by “robust” I don’t mean blockbusters a few shades less stalwart than cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel, I just mean rosés that deliver a bit more body and fruit than the most delicate. As is my habit in these “Weekend Wine Notes,” I don’t include reams of technical, historical or geographical information, much as that sort of data makes our hearts go pitty-pat, because the intention here is to offer quick and incisive reviews that will pique your interest and tempt your palate. Unless otherwise indicated, these were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Chateau de Campuget “Tradition de Campuget” Rosé 2013, Costières de Nîmes. 13% alc. 70% syrah, 30% grenache (according to the label); 50% syrah, 50 % grenache blanc (according to the press release). Pale onion skin color; delicate hints of strawberries and watermelon, ephemeral notes of dried herbs and dusty-flint minerality; quite dry, crisp and spare; a flush of floral nuance. The most ethereal of this group of rosé wines, yet bound by tensile strength. Very Good+. About $10, a Great Bargain.
Dreyfus, Ashby, New York.
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Laurent Miquel “Pere et Fils” Cinsault Syrah 2013, Pays d’Oc. 12.5% alc. 80% cinsault, 20% syrah. The palest flush of pink imaginable; raspberry, red currants, celery seed, dried thyme; clean and crisp, a resonant note of limestone minerality; the cinsault lends a vibrant spine of keen acidity. Simple style but enjoyable, especially at the price. Very Good. About $11.
Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York.
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Domaine Les Aphillanthes Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône. 13% alc. Cinsault, grenache, counoise, mourvèdre. Slightly ruddy copper-salmon color; raspberries and strawberries, hints of peach and melon; slightly herbal; very dry and crisp with tides of flint and limestone minerality and vibrant acidity; appealing texture, clean and elegant. Excellent. About $14, representing Good Value.
Peter Weygandt Selection, Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, Penn.
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Domaine de Mourchon “Loubié” Rosé 2013, Seguret, Côtes du Rhône Villages. 12.5% alc. 60% grenache, 40% syrah. Entrancing pale salmon-peach color; very clean and fresh, with notes of raspberries and red cherries, a hint of melon; an earthy touch of raspiness and cherry stems; almost a shimmer of limestone minerality and crisp acidity, yet with a lovely enfolding texture; finish offers hints of cloves and dried thyme. Exemplary balance and tone. Excellent. About $16 to $18.
Cynthia Hurley French Wines, West Newton, Mass.
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Chateau d’Aqueria 2012, Tavel. 14% alc. 50% grenache, 12% each syrah, cinsault and clairette, 8% mourvèdre, 5% boueboulenc, 1% picpoul. Ruddy salmon-peach color; the ripest and fleshiest of these rosé wines; spiced and macerated strawberries and raspberries, notes of cloves and cardamom, dusty dried field herbs (garrigue); fairly robust and vigorous; quite dry, almost austere, but juicy with spice and limestone-inflected red fruit flavors. The 2013 version of this wine in on the market, but I was sent 2012 as a sample, so drink up. Very Good+. About $18.
Kobrand Corp., Purchase, N.Y.
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McCay Cellars Rosé 2013, Lodi. 12.5% alc. Primarily old vine carignane with some grenache. 253 cases. Lovely peach-salmon color; subdued peach, melon and strawberry aromas, hints of red currants and pomegranate and a note of rose petal; subtle, clean, refreshing but with incisive acidity and considerable limestone minerality, a dusty brambly element as complement to a texture that’s both supple and spare. Beautifully done. Excellent. About $18.
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Baudry-Dutour “Cuvee Marie Justine” Chinon 2013, Val de Loire. 12.5 % alc. 100% cabernet franc. Very pale onion skin hue; delicate and slightly dusty hints of strawberries and red currants; notes of dried herbs and spice, just a touch of a floral component, violets or lilacs; crisp and lively acidity, an animated element of limestone minerality; cool, clean and refreshing but revealing a scant bit of loamy earthiness on the finish. beautifully knit. Very Good+. About $20, my purchase.
William Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.
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Tablas Creek Vineyard Patelin de Tablas Rosé 2013, Paso Robles. 14.1% alc. 73% grenache, 22% mourvèdre, 5% counoise. 1,540 cases. Classic pale onion-skin hue; smoke, dust, damp flint and limestone; dried currants and raspberries, deeply earthy and minerally; hints of melon and mulberry; a beguiling combination of opulence and austerity, hitting all the right notes of balance and intrigue. Excellent. About $22, my purchase.
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Copain Wines “Tous Ensemble” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley. 12.7% alc. 100% pinot noir. 1,435 cases. Pale salmon-copper color; raspberry, melon, sour cherry, very pure and fresh; provocative acidity and scintillating limestone minerality keep it brisk and breezy; lovely balance between chiseled spareness and lush elegance. One of California’s best rosés. Excellent. About $24, my purchase.
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I was privileged to be the only writer at an all-day tasting of the wines of Renaissance Vineyard and Winery last month, along with Darrell Corti, the esteemed retailer in Sacramento whose knowledge of the state’s wine industry and memory for wines and vintages is phenomenal; winemakers and owners of other properties in Sierra Foothills; and personnel from RVW. The occasion was a comprehensive look at the library wines in the cellar. When Oklahoma oilman Greg Holman became president of RVW in 2011 (he was already president of its parent entity, the Fellowship of Friends), he found back rooms in the winery that held bottles going back to the 1980s, ranging in size from half-bottles to double and triple magnums, not only of the cabernet sauvignon-based wines for which Renaissance is known but Rhone-style wines and dessert wines made from riesling, semillon and sauvignon blanc. The day of the tasting, Holman walked me through these storage areas; it was astonishing to see boxes and boxes of well-aged wines still on hand, but as Holman said, it was never RVW’s business plan to make a profit, if such a practice can be called a plan.

The question for the winery is what to do with this trove. The purpose of the tasting was to determine the quality of the wines and to have a discussion about their fate. (More about that later.)

Renaissance became noted, under the tutelage of Gideon Beinstock, winemaker there since 1994, for its hands-off approach that produced wines of admirable spareness and elegance, low alcohol, an almost fanatic resistance to new oak and an unheard of delay in releasing wines, as in sometimes 10 or 12 years after harvest. The winery and vineyard occupy a large estate on land purchased by the Fellowship of Friends in 1971; the group is controversial in its beliefs or at least its former leadership and founder Robert Earl Burton, and as a business entity (separate from but owned by the Fellowship) Renaissance has had to shake off the perception that the Fellowship is a cult.

The inspiration for creating a vineyard came from German-born Karl Werner, the founding winemaker at Callaway Vineyards, way south in Temecula. Under his guidance, members of the Fellowship chiseled terraces from the steep slopes at altitudes of 1700 to 2300 feet and drilled 150,000 holes to plant vines. The first harvest, in 1979, took 20 minutes and produced one barrel of cabernet sauvignon. Werner died in 1988, and his wife, Diana, took over winemaking duties. When Beinstock became winemaker early in ’94, he turned the winery away from its former goals of deep extraction and heavy, densely tannic wines to minimal manipulation, gentle extraction, no yeast inoculation and, gradually, to organic methods in the vineyards. Due to Beinstock’s efforts, Renaissance has produced a series of remarkable, authentic and largely age-worthy wines (in minute quantities) that are like nothing else in a California besotted by super-ripeness, toasty new oak and sweet alcohol.

Beinstock left the winery in May 2011 to concentrate on his own project, Clos Saron. Present winemaker is RVW’s former vineyard manager Edward Schulter, also a principal in the Grant Eddie winery. I will have more to say about Clos Saron and Grant Eddie in subsequent posts.
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The Estate Cabernets:

>2012. 85% cabernet sauvignon, with merlot, petit verdot, cabernet franc the remainder. Deep purple, very young, spicy, vigorous; steeply tannic, packed with graphite and dusty oak, bright acidity. Needs four to six years.

>2005. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 19% merlot, 3% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot, 1% syrah. Dark ruby; ripe but tightly wound, very spicy, cloves and caraway; bastions of tannin and oak. Needs five to seven years.

>2002, the current release. 87% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot, 2% petit verdot, 1% syrah. Dark ruby color; still young, highly structured, with leathery tannins and mineral-laced oak, but encouraging notes of plum and cherry compote. Give it three or four more years.

>1999. (Blend not available.) Dark ruby-garnet; a touch musty and vegetal? A second bottle was fresher and cleaner; while dense, chewy and tannic, it felt like the embodiment of vineyard, geography and fruit, earthy, scintillating, almost elegant, but not exactly drinkable yet. Three or four years.

>1994. Gideon Beinstock’s first cabernet as winemaker. (Blend not available.) Dark ruby-garnet hue; still tannic, solid, tight and well-knit; muscle and sinew, lithe and deeply spicy, glittering minerality, vibrant and resonant. Needs three to five years aging. Terrific potential.

>1993. 90 percent cabenrnet sauvignon, 9% merlot, 1% cabernet franc. Dark ruby-garnet color; woody spice, as cloves and sandalwood; dusty graphite; spiced and macerated currants and plums; a little leafy, notes of cedar and dried rosemary, a little resiny; oolong tea and leather; still tannic. A favorite of this flight. Now through 2020 to 2025.

>1991. (Blend not available.) The first of this group that feels immediately drinkable; soft, mellow, tannin and acid for backbone and flesh; notes of bell pepper and ancho chile; black and red fruit both ripe and dried; elements of dried spice and flowers; black tea and orange zest. Almost lovely. Now through 2018 to 2022.

The next series, 1986, ’84 and ’83, were made by Karl Werner and are 100 percent cabernet sauvignon.

>Reserve 1986. Dark ruby-garnet color; remarkably youthful, vigorous and lively; but very dry, austere, deeply rooty, the essence of wood, iron, iodine and earth. Drink through 2020 to 2026.

>1984 Reserve. This was released before the ’83. Dark ruby-garnet hue; quite dry, lively, dense and chewy but with beautifully shaped structure and fruit and possessing a sense of completeness and confidence. Now through 2020 to 2024. Another favorite; my second encounter with this wine.

>1983. Coming around now; still very dry, dense, tannic and austere but with flavors of stewed fruit compote, notes of resin and almond skin, briers and leather, allspice and dried rosemary. Now through 2018 or ’19 through 2023.
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Premier Cuvee, Vin de Terroir, Claret Prestige with some Estate for Comparison:

>Claret Prestige 2012. 40% petit verdot, 27% cabernet sauvignon, 31% cabernet franc, 2% merlot. Very dark ruby-purple; drenched with currant-cherry-plum fruit and baking spices; graphite and lead pencil, cedar and thyme; spiced and macerated; plenty of vibrant acidity and dusty tannins. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2027 or ’30.

>Claret Prestige 2002. 41% merlot, 40% cabernet sauvignon, 11% syrah, 7% petit verdot, 1% sauvignon blanc (yes). Leaping back a decade, here’s a Claret Prestige that offers lovely, almost ineffable spicy black and red fruit scents and flavors but a huge, dense dusty structure and scorching tannins. Don’t touch until 2018 or ’20 and then give it another 10 years.

>Premier Cuvee 1997. 79% cabernet sauvignon 13% merlot 6% cabernet franc. Dark ruby color; rich, warm and spicy, notes of black cherry, fruit cake, graphite, dried thyme and black olive; still quite tannic with lots of woody spice, yet oddly attractive and drinkable. Best, though, from 2017 or ’20 through 2027 to 2030.

>Vin de Terroir 1997. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Opaque ruby-purple hue; very dark, dense, dusty, chewy, minerally, oaky, tannic and needs another decade (or at least five years) to soften its grip.

>Claret Prestige 1997. (Poured from a magnum.) 43% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 12% cabernet franc, 6% syrah, 6% sangiovese (yes), 3% malbec. Very backward, very dry and tannic, but paradoxically, after 15 or 20 minutes, it opens quite nicely, relaxes a bit, unfurls hints of fruit, spice, even a floral note. 2017 through 2025 to ’30.

>Estate 1997. 91% cabernet sauvignon, 7% merlot, 2% cabernet franc. Opaque ruby-purple with a garnet rim; reticent, almost truculent, spicy but tight, dry, austere; leafy and autumnal. Might as well wait until 2017.

>Premier Cuvee 1995. 76% cabernet sauvignon, 24% merlot. (Poured from a double magnum.) 76% cabernet sauvignon, 24% merlot. Opaque ruby-purple with a garnet rim; cedar, cigar and tobacco, dried rosemary and pine resin, graphite, leather and briers; bouquet unfolds seductively but this is a big, tannic austere wine, nonetheless with great potential. Try 2017 or ’20 through 2028 to ’30.

>Vin de Terroir 1995. 100% cabernet sauvignon. (Poured from a double magnum.) Don’t touch this until 2020.

>Claret Prestige 1995. 53% cabernet sauvignon, 37% merlot, 10 cabernet franc. Don’t touch until 2018 to ’20 or even 2025.

>Estate 1995. 86% cabernet sauvignon, 14% merlot. Very solid, dark, dense; dusty, tannic; graphite and granitic minerality, leather, briers, yet finally rich, warm and spicy, close to seductive and with sleek, elegant structure. Try 2020 through 2030.
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