Cabernet franc


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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Wine has been made in the state of Virginia since about 1607, beating the Spanish missions in California by some 160 years. The early English colonists produced wine — or “wine” — from indigenous grapes. It was Thomas Jefferson, perhaps American’s first wine connoisseur, who famously brought vinifera grapes from France and planted them (unsuccessfully) at Monticello. The climate seems iffy; Virginia is, of course, The South, and the growing season is hot and humid. Such factors as fungal diseases don’t discourage the truly dedicated, however, because if people are determined to grow cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay grapes where it might seem inappropriate, they’re just gol-darn gonna do it. Many traditional vinifera, i.e., European grapes are cultivated in Virginia, though many wineries also rely on native or hybrid grapes. I have heard and read that in some of these regions and AVAs such white grapes as viognier and petit manseng perform surprisingly well, but I have not tried these wines.

The state is organized into nine regions and seven official American Viticultural Areas — AVAs — with such colorful names as Rocky Knob and Northern Neck George Washington’s Birthplace. According to the very helpful virginiawine.org, there are 248 wineries in the state. Virginia is the country’s fifth largest wine-grape producer and fifth in the number of wineries. How many people outside of Virginia have tasted wines from the Blue Ridge State? Not many, I would guess. In fact, until recently, I had not tried a single wine from Virginia, and that’s when Stinson Vineyards, a small producer in the Blue Ridge Mountains sent me a few bottles.

How small is the operation? The estate encompasses 12 acres, of which five are in vines. In a winery converted from an old three-car garage, father and daughter Scott and Rachel Stinson make minute quantities of wines that follow, they say, a French model, particularly of Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. Stinson’s historical feature is Piedmont House, seen in the evocative image to the right, built in 1796 and expanded in the 1840s.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Stinson Mourvèdre Rosé 2012, Monticello, was my favorite of these three wines. The color is classic pale copper-salmon; the wine is quite fragrant and evocative, offering hints of apple and gardenia, melon and dried red currants. It has that Provençal thing going on: dusty roof tiles, a hint of dried rosemary, warm rocks, zinging acidity, with final hints of raspberries and limestone, all delicately knit in a pleasing slightly lush texture. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 220 cases. Drink through Summer 2014. Very Good+. About $17.
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The bright gold color of the Stinson Chardonnay 2012, Monticello, seems like a pretty good indication of the ripeness of its pineapple and grapefruit flavors, though perhaps I’m being metaphorical. In any case, this is a very ripe, slightly smoky chardonnay whose fruit feels rather roasted and candied, with a spicy overlay and a hint of ripe fruit sweetness — peach and lemon balm — from mid-palate back through the finish. Still, for the price, you get a lot of burnish and style, though I would prefer more restraint. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 200 cases. Now through 2016. Very Good. About $22.
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The Stinson Cabernet Franc 2012, Virginia, offers a luminous medium ruby color and attractive aromas of blueberries, black currants and plums, highlighted by notes of cloves and dried thyme; bright acidity enlivens tasty black and blue fruit flavors set into a moderately tannic structure. 12.8 percent alcohol. Production was 100 cases. This is a truly delicious and drinkable wine, but its relationship to what the cabernet franc grape does best is fleeting. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $23.
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At least in my neck o’ the woods, we’re entering a transitional season between Winter and Spring. The temperature is gradually rising, the wind is occasionally blustery, and the sky is flecked with white, long-tailed clouds. Late nights and early mornings are chilly. Here’s an inexpensive red wine, then, to match the food you might be preparing to placate this state of things. If you live in the Northeast, where the sky still rather gratuitously dispenses heaps of snow, this would be fine for a hearty home-cooked meal, the family seated — as I picture the scene — around a long hand-hewn wood table in a warm kitchen facing steaming bowls of beef stew. The product in question is the Calcu Cabernet Franc 2011, from Chile’s Colchagua Valley. The wine is made completely from cabernet franc grapes and matures mainly in stainless steel tanks with a smaller portion in used French oak barrels. The grape speaks for itself in a dark mulberry-magenta hue and with notes of smoke and wood shavings, lead pencil, cedar and dried thyme and gradually emerging elements of black currants, cherries and blueberries; a few moments in the glass bring out hints of black olives and lavender. There’s no denying that this is a robust and rustic red wine, dense and dusty, a little chunky, deeply spicy and flavorful but not slavishly clinging to ripeness; revel in the stalwart tannic and graphite tinged structure and the vibrant acidity that compels you to take another sip. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Very Good+. About $14, representing Good Value.

Imported by Global Vineyards, Berkeley, Calif. A sample for review.

So, tomorrow’s the Big Day, a Super Bowl with lots of spindly Roman numerals, and manly men and their womanly women with gather in front of giant television screens, as once our distant ancestors gathered around protective campfires, to watch the display of sportsmanship, athletic skill, mayhem and commercials. And, of course, chow down on all sorts of food that we understand is super-comforting but super-bad for us. I cast no aspersions; I merely offer a few red wines to match with the hearty, deeply sauced and cheesy, rib-sticking, finger-lickin’ fare. These wines display varying levels of power and bumptiousness but not overwhelmingly tannins; that’s not the idea. Rather, the idea is to stand up to some deeply flavorful snacks and entrees with which most people think they are obligated to drink beer, but it’s not so. I provide here brief reviews designed to capture the personality of each wine with a minimum of technical, historical and geographical folderol. With the exception of the Sean Thackrey Sirius 2010, which I purchased online, these wines were samples for review. By the way, I recommend opening most of these examples about the time that Renee Fleming launches into “The Star-Spangled Banner”; they’ll be ready to drink by half-time.
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XYZin Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, California. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby color; plums and fruitcake, black cherries, blueberries, note of lightly candied pomegranate around the circumference; a highly developed floral-fruity-spicy profile; very dry, dense and chewy, freighted with dusty, slightly woody and leathery tannins, but robust and lively in a well-balanced and tasty way; not a blockbuster and all the more authentic for it. Now through 2015. Chicken wings, pigs in blankets, baby-back ribs. Very Good+. About $16.
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Vina Robles “Red” 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County, California. 14.5% alc. Blend of syrah, petite sirah, grenache, mourvedre; winery does not specify percentages. Dark ruby color, almost opaque at the center; intense and concentrated; black cherries and plums, oolong tea, a little tarry and infused with elements of briers and brambles, gravel and graphite; dry grainy tannins, vibrant acidity (I thought that my note said “anxiety,” but I knew that wasn’t right); long spice-packed finish. A dense yet boisterous red for pizza and chili. Very Good+. About $17.
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Bonny Doon Contra Old Vine Field Blend 2011, Contra Costa County, California. 13.5% alc. A blend of 56% carignane grapes, 28% mourvedre, 9% grenache, 6% syrah, 1% zinfandel. Dark ruby color, tinge of magenta; robust and rustic, heaping helpings of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plums with notes of pomegranate and mulberry and hints of lavender and pomander; graphite-brushed tannins make it moderately dense, while pert acidity keeps it lively. Cries out of cheeseburger sliders and barbecue ribs. Very Good+. About $18.
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Paolo Manzone Ardi 2012, Langhe Rosso, Piedmont, Italy. 13/5% alc. 60% dolcetto d’Alba, 40% barbera d’Alba. Production was 300 cases; ok, so you can’t actually buy this, but I would make it my house red if I could. Brilliant medium ruby color; black cherry and plum, dried spice and potpourri, rose petal and lilac, but, no, it’s not a sissy wine; taut acidity and deep black and red fruit flavors; dry underbrushy tannins, lithe, almost muscular texture, graphite minerality flexes its muscles; sleek, stylish, delicious. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $18.
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Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2010, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. 85% sangiovese grapes, 15% colorino, canaiolo, merlot. Dark ruby color, lighter magenta rim; dried black cherries and currants, smoke, cloves, tar and black tea; dried spice and flowers, foresty with dried moss, briers and brambles, really lovely complexity; plush with dusty tannins, lively with vivacious acidity; terrific presence and personality. Now through 2016 or ’17. Venison tacos, pork tenderloin. Excellent. About $26.
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Allegrini + Renacer Enamore 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 15% alc. 45% malbec, 40% cabernet sauvignon, 10% bonarda, 5% cabernet franc. This wine is a collaboration between the important producer of Valpolicella, in Italy’s Veneto region, and the Argentine estate where the wine is made, but in the dried grape fashion of Amarone. It’s really something. Dark ruby color with a deep magenta rim; tons of grip, dense, chewy, earthy, but sleek, lithe and supple, surprisingly generous and expansive; black fruit, dried herbs, plums, hint of leather; earthy and minerally but clean and appealing; a large-framed, durable wine, dynamic and drinkable, now through 2019 to ’21. With any animal roasted in a pit you crazy guys dug in the backyard just for this occasion. Excellent. About $26.
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Sean Thackrey Sirius Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County, California. 15.1% alc. Opaque as motor oil, with a violet sheen; blackberries and blueberry tart, hints of lavender, potpourri, bitter chocolate and pomegranate; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of spiced plums and fruitcake; ripe, dense, chewy, dusty but not o’ermastered by tannin, actually rather velvety, exercises its own seductions; alert acidity, depths of graphite minerality. Now through 2018 to 2020. Chili with bison, venison, wild boar. Excellent. About $40.
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d’Arenberg The Ironstone Pressings GSM 2009, McLaren Vale, South Australia. 14.5% alc. Production was 300 cases (sorry). 67% grenache, 26% shiraz, 7% mourvedre. Radiant medium ruby color; “ironstone” is right, mates, yet this is a beautifully balanced and integrated wine with real panache and tone; plums and black currants, hint of red and black cherries; dust, graphite, leather, slightly gritty grainy tannins; earth and briers, granitic minerality but a core of bitter chocolate, violets and lavender. Carnitas, chorizo quesadillas, barbecue brisket. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $65.
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“50 Great Wines of [The Year]” is a post I look forward to, even though its production is fraught with anxiety. “Fraught with anxiety!” you exclaim. “FK, you get to taste and write about terrific wines all year long! This task should be easy!” Look, my apostrophe-addicted friend, I started with a list of 76 potentially great wines and had to eliminate 26 of them. It was painful; it hurt my brain and my spirit. Even now, going back over this post just before I click the PUBLISH button, I am wracked by indecision and regret. On the other hand, life is about choices, n’est-ce pas, and we all have to knuckle down and make those choices, difficult as the job may be.

I reviewed 624 wines in 2013, compared to, for some reason, 642 in 2012, though I suppose 18 wines is not statistically significant in that range. Or perhaps it is; I’m not a statistician. Out of 642 wines in 2012, I rated 18 wines Exceptional. In 2013, out of 624 wines, I rated 28 as Exceptional. Did I taste that many better wines in 2013, or am I getting soft as I near my 30th anniversary as a wine writer? How did I choose, for “50 Great Wines of 2013,” the 22 examples to add to the 28 rated Exceptional? By reading again every review I wrote over the past year, by weighing the description and the language, by revisiting my memory of the wine, by looking for wines that possessed that indescribable quality of charisma, that combination of personality and character that distinguish a great wine. I could expand this post to 60 or 70 or 75 wines, but I’ll leave it as is. Suffice to say that these “50 Great Wines of 2013″ could include others, but for now, I’m sticking with these.
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Artesa Vineyards & Winery Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
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Adelsheim Ribbon Springs Vineyard Auxerrois 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
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Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 400 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $24.
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Belle-Pente Winery Belle-Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 785 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Black Kite Cellars Rivers Turn Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $52.

Image from princeofpinot.com.
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Boekenoogen Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $35.
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Brooks “Ara” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
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Calera Wine Company Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Mount Harlan, San Benito County. 398 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
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Capitain-Gagnerot Bourgogne “Les Gueulottes” 2009, Hautes Côtes de Beaune. 100 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $27.
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Catena Zapata Adrianna Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2009, Napa Valley. Cabernet sauvignon 69 percent, merlot 15 percent, cabernet franc 10 percent, petit verdot 6 percent. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $450.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $80.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Alchimiste Estate Premier Cru Extra Brut Rosé (non-vintage), Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $175.
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Domaine de Bernardins 2009, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Excellent. About $25 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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Domaine Carneros Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003. Exceptional. About $100.
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Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $65.
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Domus Aurea 2009, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. Cabernet sauvignon 85 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 5 percent, petit verdot 2 percent. Exceptional. About $60.
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Drouhin Vaudon Montmains Premier Cru 2910, Chablis, France. 200 cases imported. Exceptional. About $39.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 391 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 291 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast. 100 percent pinot noir. 95 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Elyse Naggiar Vineyard L’Ingénue 2011, Sierra Foothills. Roussanne 52 percent, marsanne 32 percent, viognier 11 percent, grenache blanc 5 percent. 416 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Rosé Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot meunier 58 percent, pinot noir 39 percent, chardonnay 3 percent. Excellent. About $55 to $65.
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Frankland Estate Netley Road Vineyard Riesling 2012, Frankland River, Western Australia. Exceptional. About $28.50.
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Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $60.
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Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $42.
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Halter Ranch Block 22 Syrah 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. With 13 percent grenache and 11 percent tannat. 175 cases. Excellent. About $36.
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Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 308 cases. Exceptional. About $68.
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J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Pinot noir 49 percent, chardonnay 49 percent, pinot meunier 2 percent. 500 cases. exceptional. About $90.
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Kay Brothers Amery Vineyard Block 6 Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. Exceptional. About $66.
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La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 259 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $75.
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La Rochelle McIntyre Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 112 cases. Rose of the Year. Excellent. About $24.
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L’Aventure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 425 cases. Exceptional. About $85 (winery only).
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Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $60.
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Morgan Winery Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 375 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $53.
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Penner-Ash Riesling 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $23.
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Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $85.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $60.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, Carneros. Exceptional. About $60.
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Rombauer Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $34.
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Renaissance Vineyards and Winery Granite Crown 2005, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. Syrah 60 percent, cabernet sauvignon 30 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 2 percent, petit verdot 1 percent. 74 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2010, Napa Valley. 50 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
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Shirvington Shiraz 2009, McLaren Vale, Australia. Excellent. About $70.
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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 463 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Smith-Madrone Riesling 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $27.
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Steven Kent Winery Ghielmetti Vineyard “Small-Lot” Cabernet Franc 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. 48 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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Tablas Creek Vin de Paille “Quinressence” 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 100 percent roussanne dessert wine. 100 cases. Exceptional. About $85 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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Robert Turner is one of those people who qualify, as so many in California do, for the description “former [fill in the blank] turned winemaker,” in his case the long previous occupation being dentistry, with a practice in Palo Alto. He was in a wine club, got interested first in how wine was made and then in making wine, took courses at Davis, did some apprenticing and voila! he has a “winery,” in a rented space, where he produces tiny quantities of thoughtfully conceived and extremely well-made wines; ultimate goal is about 500 cases annually. A couple of days ago, at a local wholesaler’s trade tasting, I tried two vintages of his cabernet franc, the 2011 and 2010, and was more than intrigued by their quality; I was knocked out. The grapes derive from the Stoney Springs Vineyard in St. Helena. Robert Turner products are available at a handful of retail stores and restaurants in a handful of states. My recommendation is to go to the winery’s website — robertturnerwines.com — and order a few bottles directly. Here’s a link to my review on this blog of the Robert Turner Chardonnay 2011.
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The Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2011, Napa Valley, includes 10 percent merlot and 5 percent petit verdot. The wine aged for three or four months in new French oak barrels and then went into two- and three-year old French oak for a total of 12 months. The color is a strikingly vivid deep ruby-magenta hue; equally striking is the bouquet of pure and intense graphite and black raspberries, with notes of mulberries and red currants, violets and rose petals and a powerful undertone of tar and loam. The wine is very dry but vibrant with acidity, scintillating in its chiseled granitic minerality, spare and elegant in its moderately tannic structure yet offering deliciously ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Production was a minuscule 45 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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The Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2010, Napa Valley, is 100 percent cabernet franc; it aged 16 months in two-year-old French oak barrels. Every element here resembles the aromatic, flavor and textural profiles of its younger sibling of 2011 except that this example includes hints of bell pepper and black olives, cedar and tobacco leaf and profound impressions of briers and brambles and underbrush amid very dry and slightly dusty graphite-freighted tannins. At almost three years old, the wine is stunning in its freshness and sense of immediacy and authority, though it carries that authority lightly, almost elegantly, though the finish. NA% alcohol. Production was 50 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Exceptional. About $35.
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