Cabernet sauvignon


The point of bottling wines made from similar grapes from separate vineyards or regions is that those entities, because of differences, sometimes minute, sometimes pronounced, among geography, geology, soil and microclimate — terroir, friends, terroir’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout — will produce wines that reflect those differences in their individual characteristics. Such a premise is the whole basis, as much moral and philosophical as practical, of the wine industry in Burgundy, for example, with its myriad tiny vineyards each classified and codified in a (basically) three-tier scheme of theoretical quality. Such, too, is the premise of the five wines from Pine Ridge Vineyards that we look at today. Four of these wines are from the Napa Valley sub-appellations of Rutherford, Oakville, Howell Mountain and Stags Leap, bearing, inherently, the promise of distinguishing regional qualities.

Pine Ridge was founded in 1978 by Gary Andrus and a group of investors on the Silverado Trail in what would become the Stags Leap District. The winery made its name with various bottlings of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, though its biggest seller is an inexpensive and perennially popular chenin blanc-viognier blanc blend; every winery should have a product that pays the rent, so to speak. Pine Ridge and its sister winery in Oregon, Archery Summit, are owned by the Crimson Wine Group, also owners of Chamisal Vineyards, Seghesio Vineyards and Double Canyon, in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills.

Pine Ridge’s general manager and winemaker Michael Beaulac came on board in 2009, moving from St. Supery, where he made a string of superb sauvignon blancs and cabernets; assistant winemaker is Jason Ledbetter.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 is a blend of 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent malbec, 7 percent petit verdot, 4 percent merlot and 1 lonely percent cabernet franc; it aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 60 percent new. The grapes derived from Pine Ridge’s three estate vineyards in the Rutherford appellation, totaling 61 acres. The color is deep ruby-purple; the bouquet is a heady amalgam of graphite and lavender, bittersweet chocolate, ripe nut intense and concentrated black currants and black cherries, all wound with smoky allure. Tannins feel like an inescapable mesh of infinitesimal fineness and finesse, though composed of dusty velvet and iron. The wine coats the mouth with elements of granite and shale-like minerality, earth and loam and succulent black and blue fruit flavors, succulent but nothing like opulent or sumptuous; all the qualities conspire here to keep the wine substantial but elegant. Dust, earth and loam? Perhaps this is evidence of the famous yet elusive “Rutherford dust” for which the district is noted. The finish is long and packed with spice, minerals and, ultimately, layers of brambly-foresty qualities, becoming a little demanding but not austere. 14.3 percent alcohol. Best from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $80.
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Oakville is only two miles south of Rutherford on Hwy. 29 –the drive is under five minutes; geographically, the shape of Oakville is slightly flatter and a bit broader, as it reaches from the slope of the Vacas range in the east to Mayacamas range in the west. The Pine Ridge Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, 96 percent cabernet and 4 percent petit verdot, offers more fruit and slate and slightly woody spices — sandalwood, cloves, allspice — than its stablemate from Rutherford, though it displays similar dusty, granite-flecked and mouth-coating tannins; the black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors for “Oakville” are also a little more macerated, fleshy and meaty. This is definitely the most herbal of this quintet of cabernets, a characteristic I miss in most examples produced in California; here we have hints of cedar and thyme and and a high-note of bay leaf. The wine is undoubtedly dense and chewy, and the mineral elements of graphite and granite surge forward from mid-palate back through the surprisingly smooth (and smoky) finish. This cabernet aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 55 percent new. 14.1 percent alcohol. Best from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $80.
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Pioneered by Randy Dunn, who released his first cabernet from the 1979 vintage, and established by the federal government in 1983, Howell Mountain was the first sub-appellation in the Napa Valley. Most vineyards in this AVA north of St. Helena and east of Calistoga are planted at altitudes of 1,400- to 2,200-feet above sea-level. The Pine Ridge Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 reflects its mountain origin in its power structure and its brambly-briery, loamy and flinty character; the wine is 100 percent cabernet and aged 18 months in 50 percent new French oak barrels. Squinching tannins are drenched in dusty graphite-and-shale-like minerality that dominates the wine from front to back and top to bottom, and that dimension of minerality and the leathery-foresty nature of the tannins build austerity into the finish. The whole effect is of ink and obsidian, opaque and impenetrable. Fruit? Yes, but tightly furled now; enormous potential but try 2015 or ’16 through 2024 to ’29. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $90.
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Stags Leap District — no apostrophe — was approved as an AVA in 1989. Grapegrowing commenced in this hilly area east of Yountville athwart the Silverado Trail in the 1870s. Pine Ridge owns four vineyards in the district: the 47-acre Pine Ridge Estate Vineyard, the steepest; Locked Horns Vineyard (6 acres) and Cornerstone Vineyard (7 acres); and the particularly rocky 9-acre Circle Hill Vineyard; all contribute grapes to the Pine Ridge Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, a 100 percent varietal wine that defines what we think of as largeness in a wine; it’s broad and deep, with roots that seem to extend down into the soil and strata of the vineyards and with an emphasis on an impeccable and pretty damned unassailable (yet beautifully balance) structure of acidity, tannin, oak and a prominent mineral element; the wine aged 18 months in 65 percent new French barrels. The color is deep purple, nigh unto black; the bouquet delivers whiffs of classic cedar and lead pencil and cigar box wrapped around very intense and concentrated black fruit scents and a stab of flint that’s like a sharp exhalation. In the mouth, the Pine Ridge Stags Leap 09 is dense and chewy, gritty and grainy and yet — there’s always an “and yet” when one talks about complicated wines — the wine’s poise and integration, however “big” is it, are lovely. 14.1 percent alcohol. best from 2014 or ’16 through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $85.
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The idea behind Fortis, whose composition changes every year, seems to be a sort of ideal of Napa Valleyness rather than the expression of a more narrow AVA or vineyards within an AVA, as is the case with the other Pine Ridge wines mentioned in this post. And there’s not a thing wrong with that scheme; many wines that come from this valley that’s legendary for cabernet sauvgnon operate on the same principle. The question is: What is the platonic ideal for a Napa Valley wine? For the Pine Ridge Fortis 2009, it’s this: A 100 percent cabernet wine — a varietal tradition that goes back to the origins of the Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de La Tour Private Reserve in the 1930s — that balances power, dynamism and multi-faceted dimension with integration, elegance and finesse. For 09, Fortis is a blend of 52 percent Rutherford grapes with 48 percent Stags Leap, in other words, the western valley floor but backing up to the Mayacamas slopes combined with the rocky hillsides on the eastern side of the valley. The wine is sturdy, robust, cleanly focused, smooth and velvety yet dusty, deeply imbued with flint-and-graphite minerality; and it’s rich with black currant and black cherry flavors steeped in spicy oak — 60 percent new French barrels, 18 months — and grainy tannins, yet, paradoxically, while the finish retains a rather Olympian distance, there’s nothing austere to violate the wine’s essential poise. 14.1 percent alcohol. best from 2014 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $150.
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Weekend Wine Sips and it’s only Friday afternoon. If you live in the Northeast, you probably won’t be able to get to a liquor and wine store tonight — two feet of snow? 50- to 75-mph winds? — but for the rest of the country, time’s a-wasting! There’s one wine in this post that I strongly do not recommend, otherwise these range from pleasant to impressive to memorable. Six eclectic white wines and four reds today, ranging in price from about $13 to $25, with a couple that merit ranking as Bargains and Values. As usual, little in the way of historical, geographical or technical detail; instead I offer quick reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. These were all samples for review, and the order is alphabetical.
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Angelini Sangiovese 2008, Colli Pesaresi, Marche, Italy. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; lovely warm sangiovese nose of dried red currants, cloves, black tea and orange zest; pert acidity, an element of graphite-like minerality and a rather lean structure contribute to a sense of spareness and angularity, though the wine never loses its charm and appeal. Drink through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $16.
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Brancaia “Tre” 2010, Toscana, Italy. …% alc. 80% sangiovese, 20% merlot and cabernet sauvignon, from three estates, hence “Tre.” Deep ruby color; intense and concentrated; dried red and blue fruit, dried flowers (lavender and potpourri), dried spices like cloves and allspice; hints of thyme, rosemary with its slightly resiny quality, earthy and slate-like minerality; black tea and black olives; the oak comes out on the finish a bit obviously, but lots of personality. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.
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Edna Valley Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Central Coast, California. (Owned by Gallo since 2011) 13.9% alc. Very pale straw color; scintillating bouquet of lime peel, lemongrass, kiwi, tarragon and grapefruit; segues smoothly to the palate, enhanced by rousing acidity and a keen limestone edge. Now through the end of 2013. Totally attractive. Very Good+. About $15.
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Franz Keller “Schwarzer Adler” Pinot Blanc 2010, Baden, Germany. 13% alc. Pale straw-gold color; pear and peach with a trace of lychee and spicy backnotes; very crisp, lively and flinty; vibrant acidity, taut, clean, fresh; touch of limestone-laced earthiness to buoy the ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors; svelte, elegant, lots of authority yet charming. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
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Hooker Betsy’s Vineyard “Home Pitch” Syrah 2010, Knights Valley, Sonoma County, California. 14% alc. Deep ruby color with a magenta rim; robust, intense and concentrated, roasted and fleshy, smoke and ash, damp mossy earth and leather; ripe blackberry and black currant scents and flavors with notes of wild raspberry and plums; a little nutty and toasty; builds power as it goes, accumulating layers of graphite, licorice, bitter chocolate, briers and brambles. Pretty darned classic. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $24.
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Poliziano Lohsa 2010, Morellino di Scansano, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. Unusual blend of 80% cabernet sauvignon and 20% alicante, petit verdot and carignano (carignane). Dark ruby color; black currants and plums, touch of red cherry, deeply imbued with spice and brambly elements, notes of oolong tea, mushrooms and sour cherry; neatly balanced rusticity with pleasing poise and integration; slightly shaggy tannins abound. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Santiago Ruiz 2011, Rias Baixas, Spain. 13% alc. 70% albariño, 15% loureiro, 10% caiño, 5% treixadura and godello. Pale straw color; spanking fresh and clean as new ironed sheets, with a savory, bracing sea-salt, sea-breeze exhilaration as well as a stony and steely backbone; thyme and mint, peach, kumquat and quince, touch of bay leaf; deftly handled texture halfway between prettily lush and bony spare; very polished sense of heft and presence. Now through the end of 2013. Excellent. About $17, a True Bargain.
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Treana 2010, Central Coast, California. 14.5% alc. (Hope Family Wines) 50% each marsanne and viognier. Again and again, I try to like this wine but cannot. Two grapes that are capable of lovely finesse and ardent dimension are treated in such manner that the wine comes out brassy, over-ripe and florid, stridently spicy, candied and over-blown. Oh, and way too oaky. I know that people love this wine, but I don’t recommend it. About $23.
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Wente Riverbank Riesling 2011, Arroyo Seco, Monterey, California. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; a very appealing riesling at the right price; a touch of sweetness in the entry tones down to just off-dry across the palate; jasmine, lychee, pear and a hint of ripe peach; a little fleshy but good acidity; a hint of grapefruit on the finish. Now through Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $13, representing Real Value.
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William Hill Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, California. 14.5% alc. (Gallo acquired William Hill from Beam Wine Estates in 2007.) Pale gold color; a generous and expansive version of the grape, fresh and vibrant with enticing personality and authority; dry, crisp and bright, with moderately ripe pineapple and grapefruit flavors barely touched by mango and jasmine and what people like to describe as “a kiss of oak”; nothing bold or brassy here, just clean balance and integration and, through the finish, a hug of limestone minerality. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $25.
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Bring in the roller of big cigars, the pigs in blankets, the barbecue brisket nachos with black beans and jalapenos; bring in the slow-cooked ribs slathered with tangy sauce, the cheeseburger sliders and short-rib quesadillas, the fried chicken and the firehouse chili. For, lo, tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday, and who gives a flip who’s playing and where, because the party and the food are the name of the game. And while I know that many of you out there will be downing your favorite beer with the rich, bountiful, caloric Super Bowl-type party food, allow me to recommend some Kick-Ass Bad Boy red wines that will serve you equally well. We draw on Argentina and Chile, Australia and France’s Loire Valley and several points through California. Not much in the way of technical, historical and geographical data here; just incisive reviews meant to whet your palates and perhaps your football-addled imaginations. Snap that ball, Froggie, and plow for the uprights! Or whatever.

These wines were samples for review.
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MontGras Quatro 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. 40% cabernet sauvignon, 35% carmenere, 15% malbec, 10% syrah. Dark ruby, almost opaque; piercing shale and graphite minerality; ashes and currants say the bells of St. Lawrence, with dried thyme, cedar and tobacco; jubilant acidity and rollicking tannins with deep roots; not forgetting intense and concentrated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; multitude of layers and unfoldings though keeps something hidden that feels slightly perverse, definitely a Dark Knight of a wine. Excellent. About $14, an Incredible Value; Buy a Case.
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Gascon Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. Dark ruby color; deeply saturated black currants and plums, very spicy and earthy, yet clean and fresh; a tense core of lavender and potpourri, bitter chocolate and cocoa powder; dusty, chewy tannins; a surprising touch of blueberry tart and fruitcake. Very Good+ and Very Good Value. About $15.
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Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby color; clean, sleek but robust; deeply spicy and flavorful; black fruit galore borne by a tide of blueberry with hints of rosemary, cedar and tobacco; stalwart tannins fit the mix with burly yet beneficent insistence. Always a solid performer. Very Good+. About $16, representing Great Value.
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Nuna Bonarda Reserva 2010, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby color; tar, lavender and licorice, intensely ripe and spicy black currants, plums and mulberries; touches of fruitcake and plum pudding; polished and seductive yet very dry, densely tannic, resonant, a little brooding even, full-bodied, rustic. Very Good+. About $17.
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Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley, Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color shading to medium ruby at the rim; pure and intense, a furnace of shiraz, huge presence of smoke and ash and the symmetry of a chiseled monument; very concentrated but deeply spicy blackberry and black currant scents and flavors; chewy, dusty, muscular yet with an element of fleetness and light. Through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $18, a Fantastic Bargain.
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Tower 15 Petite Sirah 2010, Paso Robles. 14.9% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; robust, rough-hewn, vibrant acidity and chock-a-block tannins, wild berries, black plums, blackberries and blueberries; backnotes of cloves and licorice, coiled potpourri; a little exotic but with characteristic earth-bound, graphite elements. Sadly only 167 cases, so Worth a Search. Very Good+. About $18.50.
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Morgan Winery Syrah 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.6% alc. Deep purple-mulberry color; smacky tannins, whiplash acidity; smoke, ash, leather, edgy graphite; oh, yes, juicy and spicy red and black cherries and plums with hints of blueberries and mulberries; earth, briers, wet dog, the whole syrah kit ‘n’ kaboodle. Lots of personality. Excellent. About $20.
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Catherine et Pierre Breton La Dilettante 2010, Bourgueil, Loire Valley, France. 12% alc. 100% cabernet franc. Light ruby-cranberry color; lithe and wiry, scintillating acidity and flint-like minerality; briers and brambles, thyme and black olives, hints of coffee and tobacco; black currants and blueberries; slightly shaggy tannins. A scrappy little wine despite its deceptive lightness. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $25.
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The Federalist Dueling Pistols 2009, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 15% alc. 50% syrah, 50% zinfandel. No, this wine is not dedicated to the NRA; the name is based on the fatal duel fought by Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Dark ruby-purple color; inky, ashy, slinky; deep. rich with very ripe spicy black fruit scents and flavors yet taking the cool course of dominant flint and shale-like minerality; cigar box, tobacco, thyme; the zinfandel and syrah don’t so much duel here as kiss and make up. A real mouthful of wine. Excellent. About $36.
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Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. How old are those “Century Vines”? The vineyard was planted before 1877, so we’re talking at least 136 years old. Dark ruby shading to magenta; deep, spicy, ripe and roasted, a little earthy/funky; blackberry and blueberry with a touch of mulberry but none of that sissy, jammy boysenberry stuff; leather, briers and brambles, burgeoning tannins yet a serene air that’s appropriate for the venerable age of the vineyard. Now through 2149; just kidding! Make that 2019. Excellent. About $40.
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Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-purple; stalwart and vigorous; smoke, ash and graphite with a charcoal edge; defines dense and chewy and full-bodied, but not ponderous or weighty; very intense and concentrated black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors (touch of mocha); dry but ripe and juicy; heaps of depth and dimension; a big but well-modulated wine. Excellent. About $45.
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Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, McLaren Vale. 14.5% alc. Sorta sexy, sorta beastly, but you won’t hate yourself in the morning for hooking up. Dark ruby-mulberry color, close to black; smooth and mellow yet somehow voluminous, with a tang of acidity and a distinct faceted charcoal/granitic character; very spicy, slightly macerated and roasted black currants and plums; clenched tannins give you a soft wallop in the finish. Excellent. About $45.
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This second edition of Weekend Wine Sips for 2013 offers seven red wines from California. There’s cabernet sauvignon, of course and a couple of pinot noirs from the Sonoma Coast appellation and also a great merlot and a seductive grenache. Prices range from $22 to $65, and I have few quibbles about any of the wines. I offer little in the way of technical, historical or geographical information in this series of brief reviews, other than alcohol content and the make-up or blend of grapes in each wine; if a wine is limited in production, I mention the number of cases that were made. These wines were samples for review.
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Tower 15 “The Swell” 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. The Tower 15 label is a venture of The Pali Wine Co., noted for pinot noir. 14.8% alc. 31% cabernet sauvignon, 28% malbec, 27% merlot, 14% petit verdot. Dark ruby color; clean, fresh, spicy, wildly berryish and very appealing; black currants and plums with hints of blueberry and mulberry; dusty graphite, a bit earthy and loamy; pliant and lithe, close to sexy; the finish rather more serious with influx of walnut-shell and forest-like austerity. 707 cases. Very Good+. About $22.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 13.9% alc. 100% pinot noir. Jeeze, what a sweetheart of a pinot noir! Medium ruby-mulberry color; black cherry, sour cherry candy, rhubarb and cola with notes of rose petal and watermelon; flows across the palate with beguiling heft and drape and deft delicacy; still, though, plenty of earth and loam, hints of underlying briers and brambles; then overtones of pomegranate and sandalwood. Just lovely. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $25.
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Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Primarily cabernet sauvignon with dollops of syrah and petit verdot. A lovely cabernet; dark ruby-purple color; ripe, fleshy black and blue fruit scents and flavors; classic notes of cedar, black olive, truffles and oolong tea with hints of loam and violets; supple, dense and chewy, slightly dusty tannins and graphite-like mineral elements; spicy oak lends support; long, complex, fully-formed finish. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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Gundlach-Bunschu Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 100% pinot noir. Dark ruby-magenta color; deep, rich, succulent; black cherries and plums, notes of rhubarb, cola and cloves and a hint of sassafras; lovely satiny texture; quite spicy, lipsmacking acidity and a slight drying effect through the finish from oak and gentle tannins. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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Chamisal Vineyards Grenache 2009, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. 14.8% alc. With 10% syrah. Medium ruby-magenta color; attractive, soft fruity spicy bouquet; plums, red currants and cranberries, cloves and Red Hots, spiced apple; earthy and minerally, moderate tannins and oak beautifully balanced and integrated; opens to briery and slightly mossy elements on the finish. An evocative rendition of the grape. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $38.
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Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2008, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Certified biodynamic. 100% merlot. Dark ruby color, hint of magenta at the rim; black currants and blueberries with a touch of mulberry, notes of cedar and tobacco; earthy and flinty, tremendous presence and resonance, clean, intense and pure; a faceted and chiseled merlot, with tannins that feel as if they’ve been turned on a lathe; dense, sleek, polished and elegant but with an untamed edge. An impressive and expressive merlot. Excellent. About $42.
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Hawk & Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Red Hills, Lake County. 14.8% alc. Certified biodynamic. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Deep, pure, vivid and vibrant, totally attractive; ripe, smoky and fleshy red and black currants and mulberries, hint of black cherries; very spicy and lively, practically glitters with granite and graphite and resonates with bright acidity; dense and chewy and thoroughly grounded but exhilarating in its balletic wildness and elevation. Quite a performance. 1,350 cases. Now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $65.
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Not really with Mark Bittman, ha-ha, but from his new publication, The Food Matters Cookbook (Simon & Schuster, $35), which we have pledged to cook from through the month of January, starting last week. Here’s a report on what we have prepared so far and the wines we tried with the dishes. The wines were samples for review.
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The first recipe we tried from this inventive and thoughtful cookbook was the Pasta with Smoky Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Bacon, to which LL added broccolini to get something green in there. This is a breeze to make, occupying about an hour, “largely unattended,” as cookbook writers say, and absolutely savory and delicious. Bittman recommends wholewheat pasta; we used penne rigate made from farro, a grain the name of which always makes me feel as if I’m standing in a field in Denmark under a sky laden with rushing gray clouds while a brisk sea-wind tosses the heads of numberless wildflowers.

Anyway, we have been drinking quite a bit of wine made from the albariño grape recently. Though not quite as versatile as riesling, which we tend to chose over other white grapes, albariño offers plenty of charm and distinctive qualities; it’s a signature grape of Spain’s Rias Baixas region, in the extreme northwest, right above Portugal by the Atlantic Ocean. The Zios Albariño 2011, Riax Baixas, from the 6,000-case Pazos de Lusco winery, is a perfect example of what the grape delivers. Made all in stainless steel, the wine shimmers with a pale straw-gold color; it’s clean, fresh and bracing, showing blade-like acidity for intense crispness and liveliness and a combination of spicy, savory and salty that’s very appealing. Notes of roasted lemon, grapefruit and spiced pears are highlighted by hints of dried thyme and rosemary; the wine is dry, spare, lean and lithe, yet supple in texture, and it gains subtle depth and layering as the moments pass. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2013. Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.

Imported by Opici Wines, Glen Rock, N.J.
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Next, the Miso Soup with Bok Choy, Soba Noodles and Broiled Fish, a dish so easy to prepare that you’re surprised how delicious it turns out. We used salmon for the fish, though it could just about anything that stands up to broiling.

So you’re thinking, “Ah ha, we know FK. He’ll choose a riesling to drink with this Asian-themed soup!” Yes, you know me well, but to confound expectation, even my own, I slipped a bottle of the Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, from the white wine fridge, and it fit with the dish like fine silver spoons in a felt-lined drawer. As is traditional at this venerable winery, which has been run completely on biodynamic principles since 1996, winemaker Ivo Jeramaz gave the Chardonnay ’10 moderate exposure to new oak (40 percent new, 60 percent neutral; 10 months aging) and did not put it through malolactic fermentation. The result is a wine that allows its grapes to speak for themselves in terms of expressive tone, texture and presence. The color is mild straw-gold with faint green highlights; heady aromas of lemon and lemon balm, yellow plums and camellias and back-notes of lime peel and limestone waft from the glass. This chardonnay resonates with crystalline clarity, purity and intensity, yet its overall raison d’etre is balance and harmony; one marvels at how a wine of such brightness and elevation can be grounded in elements of clean earth and limestone minerality and possess a texture that’s both fleet in acidity and talc-like in density. More than just a successful chardonnay, it’s an epitome. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Exceptional. About $42.
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Finally in this trio of dishes is the most unusual we tried so far: Ma-Ma’s Pasta “Milanese.” Good thing for the quotation marks, because this “Milanese” has about as much to do with the classic preparation — veal escalopes pounded thin, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and sauteed in butter — as Madonna has to do with, you know, the Madonna. But never mind, this seemingly strange sauce — onion, garlic, bell pepper, sardines, tomatoes, cauliflower, raisins and pecans — is actually quite tasty, with a cannily blended panoply of flavors and sensations. Despite the sardines, which cook away to richness and depth, this is definitely a red wine item.

Something based on grenache would have been appropriate, like the vivid, spicy Chamisal Grenache 2009, Edna Valley, that I had with a cheese toast lunch recently, but instead I pulled out the Steven Kent Folkendt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Livermore Valley. (I wrote about the complicated history of the Mirassou family and its winery and vineyards and the La Rochelle and Steven Kent labels here.) This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon, aged in 100 percent new French oak barrels for 24 months, with an alcohol content of 14.6 percent. Expecting something like an aggressive blockbuster, right? No, friends, the Steven Kent Folkendt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ’09 is a model of how the right grapes can soak up that oak and turn it into a eature of spicy, supple resonance and understated yet persistent support. The color is dark ruby shading to magenta at the rim; the bouquet of ripe, slightly smoky black currants, black cherries and plums is permeated by notes of lavender and violets, bitter chocolate and a powerful graphite element that emerges from the background. This cabernet is characterized by superb balance, tone and bearing, though that graphite-like mineral quality intensifies as the moments pass and silky, dusty tannins burgeon into dimension from mid-palate through the finish, which delivers (after 45 minutes or an hour) a healthy dose of brambly, walnut-shell austerity. Improbably, this seemed perfect with Ma-Ma’s Pasta “Milanese.” Production was 82 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $65.
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So, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” in the edition for 2012. Why 50? It’s a nice comfortable round number, but it also makes me work hard to determine those 50 great selections.

I reviewed 642 wines on this blog in 2012, so 50 choices represent only 7.78 percent of the wines I reviewed. Wines that I rated as “Exceptional” automatically make the cut. In 2012, I ranked 16 wines “Exceptional,” or only 2.5 percent of all the wines I reviewed. How did I ascertain the other 34 wines? That’s where the task got difficult. I read all the reviews of wines that I rated “Excellent” and wrote down the names of 68 that seemed promising, but of course that was already way too many wines; I had to eliminate half of that list. I went back through the reviews and looked for significant words or phrases like “an exciting wine” or “a beautiful expression of its grapes” or “epitomizes my favorite style” or “I flat-out loved this wine,” terms that would set a wine apart from others in similar genres or price ranges, even though they too were rated “Excellent.” By exercising such intricate weighing and measuring, by parsing and adjusting, by, frankly, making some sacrifices, I came to the list of wines included here, but I’ll admit that as I went over this post again and again, checking spelling and diacritical markings and illustrations, there were omissions that I regretted. You get to a point, however, where you can’t keep second-guessing yourself.

Notice that I don’t title this post “50 Greatest Wines” or “50 Best Wines.” That would be folly, just as I think it’s folly when the slick wine publications select one wine — out of 15,000 — as the best of the year. The wines honored in this post are, simply, 50 great wines, determined by my taste and palate, that I encountered and reviewed in 2012. Some of them are expensive; some are hard to find. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, though, at how many of them are under $40 or even in the $20 range; the price of a wine can be immaterial to its quality, and I mean that in both the positive and the negative aspects. Where I know the case limitation, I make note. With wines that are, for example, chardonnay or pinot noir, you can count on them being 100 percent varietal; in other cases, I mention the blend or make-up of the wine if I think it’s necessary.

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”
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Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
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Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
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Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
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Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
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M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
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M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
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Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
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Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
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Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
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Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
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Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
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Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
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Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
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Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
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La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
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Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
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Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
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Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
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Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.
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Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
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Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
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Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
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Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
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Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
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Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
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St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
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Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
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Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
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Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.
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Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
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Nothing thrilling today, you’re not going to get goose-bumps, but a roster of primarily well-made solid red wines that should make for an enjoyable and possibly interesting experience, especially with the robust fare we tend to partake of now that the Northern Hemisphere rolls toward winter. No tech info, no winery or estate or family histories, no geographical particulars, no humorous asides; just quick notes intended to pique your curiosity. If you want to twist my arm — ouch! — I would say that the real go-to wines today are the Zaco Tempranillo 2010 and The Spur Red Wine 2010.
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Ergo Tempranillo 2010, Rioja, Spain. From Bodegas Martin Codax. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby with a magenta cast; ripe and fleshy with dried spices and dried fruit, touch of fruitcake; black cherries and plums with touches of licorice, cloves and leather; slightly resinous like pine and rosemary. Pleasant but one-dimensional. Very Good. About $12.
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Buried Cane “Roughout” Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.1% alc. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 23% merlot, 2% syrah. Deep ruby color with trace of garnet flushing the rim; bright, clean and fresh, immediately appealing with a real lift; quite dense and chewy, with black cherries and currants, hints of cedar and thyme, tobacco and lead pencil and a backnote of black olive; dusty tannins and a medium length spicy finish. Very Good+. About $15.
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Clayhouse Caberbet Sauvignon 2009, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.5% alc. 80% cabernet sauvignon, 20% petit verdot. Medium ruby color; smooth, spicy, fruity; smoke and tobacco, spiced and macerated black cherries and currants; pleasing heft and texture, moderately packed-in tannins and graphite-like minerality; burgeoning spice and lively acidity; solid finish. Very Good+. About $15.
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Vina Zaco Tempranillo 2010, Rioja, Spain. 14% alc. Bright medium ruby color; wood and spice and woody spices; plums, black currants, leather; a wine to chew on in every sense; tannins coat the palate; an intense and concentrated core of graphite, bitter chocolate and lavender; a finish packed with spice and dusty, earthy minerals. Cries out for big steaming bowl of lamb stew. Very Good+. About $15.
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The Spur Red Wine 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. From Murrieta’s Well. 14.5% alc. 48% cabernet sauvignon, 24% petit verdot, 23% malbec, 5% petite sirah. Very attractive, almost-Bordeaux-style red blend. Black cherries and plums, very spicy with seething graphite and bitter chocolate qualities, and a backwash of some red fruit (and hint of lavender); vibrant acidity keeps it lively, while slightly earthy, velvety tannins lend depth and texture. A great steak, meatloaf or burger wine. Excellent. About $25.
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Heller Estate Cachagua Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. All organic. 81% cabernet sauvignon, 11% merlot, 8% malbec. Deep ruby color; plums, currants, mint, thyme and cedar; quite spicy, a little fleshy and macerated; quite intense earthy-dusty-graphite element with plush tannins and a hint of lightly sanded wood; dark black fruit flavors; a long spice-and-tannin-laden finish. Now through 2017 to ’19. Very Good+. About $28.
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Reata Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Radiant medium ruby color; cola, cloves and rhubarb, black cherries and plums; slightly earthy and loamy, a touch of woody spices and slightly buffed tannins; brings up an intriguing note of dried herbs; smooth, supple, nicely integrated but thins out through the finish. Now to 2014. Very Good+. About $30.
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Heller Estate Pinot Noir 2009, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. All organic. If you take the Jura region as the model instead of Burgundy, you’ll get the drift of this interpretation of the grape. Medium ruby-color with a slight garnet rim; mint, rhubarb and pomegranate; hints of fruitcake and tomato skin; dried cherries and melon; cloves, touch of brown sugar (though the wine is dry) with a slight graphite-charcoal edge; more delicate and elegant (and slightly eccentric) than powerful. Now through 2014 or ’15. Made for roasted game birds. Excellent. About $48.
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I think I first wrote about the wines of Renaissance Vineyards and Winery in 2001, when I mentioned in what was then my weekly newspaper column (distributed nationally by the Scripps Howard News Service until 2004) the Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1993 and, under the winery’s second label, the Da Vinci Late Harvest Riesling 1987. In the succeeding 11 years, I have reviewed numerous wines from the small producer in the remote North Yuba appellation of the Sierra Foothills north of Sacramento. 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 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, for the past few years, has worked on a side project, that is, his own winery Clos Saron. He is no longer winemaker at Renaissance, and I would say, Alas that such is the case, except that I don’t know the circumstances of his departure. I do wonder what the direction will be for Renaissance without him.

What I offer today are notes on three of Beinstock’s red wines, the Claret Prestige Red Wine 2001 and 1997, the Renaissance Premier Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, and, a piece of history, the Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon 1984, one of the last wines made by Karl Werner. Yes, a small amount of the latter wine is still available, and I urge those who are fascinated by the history of the California wine industry or who are looking for a unique and quite wonderful wine to track it down.

These wines were samples for review. Image of Gideon Beinstock from mobile.indievinos.com.
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The Renaissance Claret Prestige Red Wine 2001, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba, is a combination of 29 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent merlot, 19 percent malbec and nine percent each syrah, cabernet franc and petit verdot, a sort of classic Bordeaux blend except for the presence of the syrah. The wine aged 25 months in what is described as “old oak 225L barrels (American and French),” exemplifying Beinstock’s typical avoidance of new oak. The color is radiant medium ruby shading to lighter ruby at the rim. At eleven years old — and the wine was released just two years ago — this Claret Prestige is ripe and spicy and buoyant, with notes of macerated red and black currants and cherries profoundly framed by gripping acidity and graphite-etched tannins in a package so complete, so well-balanced that it feels timeless. A whisper of black olive and dill adds detail to the expansive depth and breath of the wine’s structure and replete yet spare flavors, though the whole feeling of the wine is deftness and lightness. A true marriage of elegance and power. 12.6 percent alcohol. Production was 128 cases. Now through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $65.
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The Renaissance Premier Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba, at 15 years old, is, in four words: Not. Ready. To. Drink. A blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15 percent merlot and six percent cabernet franc, the wine aged 27 months in American, French and German oak barrels. It was bottled in March 2000 and released in September 2010. This Renaissance Premier Cuvee 1997 features towering (but not astringent) tannins; stunning (but not sharp) acidity; forceful (but not overwhelming) granitic and graphite-like mineral elements; and glimmers of ripe, fleshy, spicy and slightly roasted flavors of red and black currants and mulberries. For all this and despite its forthright rigorous character, the wine feels fresh and invigorating, but I wouldn’t touch it until 2015 or ’16, and it’s a cinch to go the long haul, say 2027 to ’30. Alcohol content is 13 percent. 370 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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For 1997, the Renaissance Claret Prestige, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba, is a blend of 43 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent merlot, 12 percent cabernet franc, 6 percent each syrah and sangiovese and 3 percent malbec; the wine aged 27 months is “old oak 225L barrels (French, American and German).” Benefiting from fine weather, the vintage was excellent overall in California, with potentially long-lived cabernet-based wines of exceptional quality; certainly this Claret Prestige and the preceding Premier Cuvee exhibit the deep and profound structure of true vins de garde. The color is dark ruby at the center with a slightly lighter rim; it takes some coaxing, but after a few minutes a ripe, fleshy bouquet emerges, shot with notes of macerated and smoky black cherries and raspberries with touches of black currants, dried fruit, potpourri and sandalwood. Gripping acidity animates the package, while pretty darned hard, unyielding tannins — dusty and granitic — lend deep support through an engaged through fairly austere finish. 12.6 percent alcohol. Production was 430 cases. As with the previous wine, try from 2015 or ’17 through 2027 to ’30. Excellent. About $55.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Now for the treat. Only 54 cases remain of the approximately 1,200 cases that Karl Werner made of the Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon 1984, North Yuba; Werner was the estate’s founding winemaker. This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon that aged — are you ready? — 34 months in new German oak barrels; that’s right, German oak. At 28 years old, there’s not a thing either fragile or sharp or diminished about this wine, which feels like a finely sifted amalgam of every essential element a cabernet sauvignon should possess but in a barely perceptible autumnal mode. It fills the mouth with a packed yet supple sensation of dried red and black fruit, potpourri and pomander, woody spices like cloves and sandalwood, soft powdery tannins, still lively acidity and bass notes of underbrush and graphite. Truly lovely. 13.5 percent alcohol. I wouldn’t be surprised if this wine drinks well for another decade. Excellent. About $65.
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… or something like that. The Trim Edge and Fuse project represents a sideline for Napa Valley’s Signorello Estate winery, whose Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 I reviewed last week. Trim, Edge and Fuse, predominantly cabernet sauvignon, represent interesting variations on the theme of the grape treated for prices raging from cheap ($12) to moderate ($20) to moderately expensive ($28) while retaining an identifiable linking character, which is to say, polished and voluminously fruity yet intelligently structured. Interestingly, each wine contains some syrah. Grapes are sourced — that is, purchased — from the North Coast counties and, for Fuse, from Napa Valley. Alcohol levels are kept at a tolerable 13.8 percent. As you can see from the striking labels, these are stylish packages and stylish wines, but they don’t feel fraught or mannered.

These wines were samples for review.
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Trim Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, California, is a blend of 83 percent cabernet, 9 percent merlot and 8 percent syrah. The color is dark ruby-purple with a magenta-violet rim. The exotic bouquet teems with notes of smoke and lavender, cloves and sandalwood, cedar and dried thyme, blackberries and black currants and a hint of black olive. Flavors are pure black currants and black raspberries circumscribed by a distinct contour of spice, smoke, dried flowers and graphite and are supported by velvety (but not opulent) tannins and a backbone of bright acidity. A real crowd-pleaser. Very Good+. About $12, a Great Value. In fact, I would say that Trim ’10 is one of the best cabernet sauvignon wines priced under $15 made in California.
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The black-clad Edge Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, North Coast, like the hipster of this trio, is all smoke and charcoal and cool graphite, while sporting an opaque ruby-purple haircut, I mean color, and intense and concentrated scents and flavors of deeply spiced and macerated black currants, cherries and raspberries. To 86 percent cabernet sauvignon is blended 9 percent syrah and 5 percent merlot. Though it’s more velvet glove than iron fist, the wine offers enough tannic, acid and oak foundation and framing to keep it on the straight and narrow path. It’s a real mouthful of dark savory supple cabernet that would be terrific with braised short ribs or lamb shanks. Very Good+. About $20.
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We would hope, if not expect, that the most expensive of these three wines and the one that derives from the most specific appellation — though amorphous enough — would display the most intensity and concentration and the most character. Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley, does not disappoint in those aspects. Here, we get substantially more syrah — 15 percent — blended with 82 percent cabernet and only 3 percent merlot. This is indeed the biggest of these cousins, the sturdiest, the most dense and chewy, the earthiest, the most rigorous in its licorice and bittersweet chocolate-licked blaze of black and blue fruit scents and flavors. Drink now with a steak or give it a year. Excellent. About $28.
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All right, after consulting with my board of directors and executive committee and conducting a straw pool among undecided voters in swinging states, I decided to change the name of the “Friday Wine Sips” project to “Weekend Wine Sips,” mainly because I more often post this entry on Saturday or even Sunday than on Friday. At least I don’t have to feel guilty, which for me is a blessing since I would confess to the assassination of the Queen of Romania if pressed to do so; whew, don’t have to worry about that for a while. Anyway, today we have red wines that range from lighthearted to impressive, from drink-right-now to wait-a-few-years. We touch Argentina, Italy, France and California; we have organic wines; we have blends and 100 percent varietal. What we don’t have are reams of technical and historical information, the purpose of these Friday Wine Sips, oops, Weekend Wine Sips being to provide lightning quick appraisals designed to strike to the heart of the wine. These were samples for review or tasted at trade events. Ratings vary from a sad “Good Only” to “Excellent.”
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Cavicchioli Lambrusco Dolce, nv, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. 7.5% alc. Startling bright cherry-mulberry color; mildly effervescent; pure cherry and raspberry, sweet and quite ripe initially but vibrant acidity dries the wine from mid-palate back, without subtracting from its dark juiciness; intriguing contrast and balance between the ripeness of the red fruit and the hints of spice and slightly earthy minerality; avoids the Kool-Aid® aspects of so many lambruscos. Quite charming and you’d be surprised how well it goes with savory food. Very Good. About $9, a Great Price.
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Cecchi Chianti Classico 2009, Tuscany, Italy. 13% alc. 90% sangiovese, 10% colorino Toscano. Rough and rustic, shaggy tannins, leans toward the anonymous, generic side of sangiovese. Should be better. Good only. About $13.
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Bonterra Merlot 2010, Mendocino County. 13.6% alc. Certified organic. “With added touches of petite sirah, syrah and carignane.” Dark purple with a lighter ruby-magenta rim; smoke, black currants and blueberries; quite dense and chewy with dusty tannins; barest hint of black olives and cedar; bright acidity, earthy finish where you feel the oak. Very Good. About $16.
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Bonterra Zinfandel 2010, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Certified organic. With “a little petite sirah.” Beautiful ruby-magenta color; nice mouthful of wine but could be cabernet or merlot; what are the distinguishing characteristics, except for a bit of ripe, berryish vitality? Good+. About $16.
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Wild Horse Merlot 2010, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. With 5% malbec, 2% cabernet sauvignon and 4% “other red.” Dark ruby color; black currants and plums, lavender and roasted fennel, cedar, black tea and loam; firm yet supple structure, sustaining acidity, almost succulent but balanced by slightly grainy tannins; no great depth but an attractive individual rendition. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $19.
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Wild Horse Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. With 1% syrah. Dark purple shading to medium ruby rim; cedar and tobacco, mint and eucalyptus, spicy black currants and plums; smooth, velvety, slightly dense and chewy; backnotes of oak and dusty tannins; clean, lively finish. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $20.
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Chakona Estate Selection Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple, close to opaque at the center; a strapping wine, deep and broad; formidable structure balances grainy tannins, spicy oak and vibrant acidity for a complete package — purposeful and dynamic — that doesn’t entirely conceal lovely character and breeding. Now (with grilled meat) or from 2014 to 2018. Excellent. About $25.
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Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zinfandel. Deep ruby-purple color; fresh, bright and fruit, spicy and savory; not a blockbuster but immediately drinkable; black currants, plums and blueberries with hints of briers and brambles, tar and graphite; pulls up squinchy, mouth-coating tannins and adds some mineral-fueled power through the finish. Now through 2014. Production was 212 cases. Very Good+. About $25.
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Artezin Zinfandel 2010, Dry Creek Valley. 14.8% alc. With 3% petite sirah and 1% syrah. Dark ruby-purple; deep, rich and spicy; blackberries and plums with a hint of boysenberry and blueberry tart; a few moments in the glass bring up touches of fig paste, tapenade and soy sauce; very dry, with well-knit tannins and integrated, spicy oak; black and blue fruit a little fleshy; a strain of earthy, graphite-laden minerality dominates the vibrant and slightly austere finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 360 cases. Excellent.
About $25, representing Great Value.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.1% alc. 58% merlot, 22% cabernet sauvignon, 18% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot. From Margerum Wine Company. Consumed at a restaurant, later tasted at a trade event. Dark ruby color; seductive bouquet of black cherries and currants, touch of plums and black mulberries, deeply spicy and savory; lavender, violets, graphite; black olive and thyme; deep foundation of dusty, lithic tannins and smoky oak, coats the mouth and laves the palate with ripe and velvety black and blue fruit flavors that never get blatant or slushy; firm, gripping hand of vital acidity cuts a swath. Frankly delicious. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Hecht & Bannier Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2009, Languedoc, France. 14.5% alc. 55% grenache, 25% syrah, 15% mourvèdre, 5% carignan. Dark ruby with a lighter ruby rim; meaty and fleshy red and black currants, wildly spiced and macerated, over hints of roses and violets; vibrant, lively, engaging yet deeply imbued with dense dusty tannins and a powerful earthy, graphite-like mineral character; smoke, brambles, touch of moss through the finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $26.
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Marziano Abbona Barbera d’Alba Rinaldi 2010, Piedmont, Italy. 14.5% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Dark ruby color; dried spices and flowers, lavender and potpourri, hint of pomander, red and black fruit scents and flavors; deeply foresty and earthy, brushy and briery tannins, precisely balances succulence with a strict regimen of acidity and granitic minerality. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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