California


So, what is “pet-nat”? Besides being a cute nickname. These of-the-moment sparkling wines, the darlings of astute somms — pétillant-naturel in French — exist at the basic level of making sparkling wine, less complicated than the méthode champenoise, more rustic in effect, yet often delicious and appealing. An added factor is that they seem the epitome of naturalness in winemaking. Simply stated: Wine is bottled before fermentation is complete, so that fermentation continues in the bottle (because of the residual sugar) and carbon dioxide forms: i.e, bubbles. The result is a light sparkling wine, often but not always slightly sweet, that tends to leave sediment as a mark of its down-to-earth character.

Today, we look at two examples of single-vineyard pét-nat sparklers from Onward Wines, fashioned in small quantities by winemaker Faith Armstrong Foster. These examples are bone-dry, spare and subtle, not as robust or complex as Champagne yet delivering very satisfying character of their own, with an unmistakable quality of authenticity and integrity.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Onward Wines Sparkling Rose of Pinot Noir 2016, Redwood Valley, offers a pale coral-onion skin hue and delicate scents of blood orange and watermelon, sea foam and heather; mild effervescence keeps the wine gently but persistently animated. Traces of fresh, yeasty bread and lime peel highlight the nose and the palate, where lithe acidity drives through notes of dried red currants and the slight bitterness of grapefruit rind, all of these elements expressed with spare elegance, lovely balance and a touch of reticence. 12.1 percent alcohol. Production was 174 cases. Excellent. About $30.

Redwood Valley is a small American Viticultural Area (AVA), approved in 1996, in northern Mendocino County.
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The color of the Onward Wines Sparkling Malvasia Bianca 2016, Suisun Valley, is pale platinum blond, a Jean Harlow hue, made lively by a steady stream of tiny bubbles; it’s made 100 percent from malvasia bianca grapes, which lend the wine notes of green apple, apple peel, almond skin and a slightly foxy greenness. This is very dry, almost austere, but delivers fresh and ripe touches of lemongrass and melon, cinnamon toast and orange blossom, energized by bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. 12.6 percent alcohol Production was 350 cases. Excellent. About $24.

Suisun Valley, approved as an AVA in 1982, lies east of Napa Valley in Solano County, bounded by Howell Mountain on the west and the Vaca Range on the east.
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I’ll say right here, at the beginning of this post, that the result of tasting a short roster of chardonnay and pinot noir wines from the acclaimed Patz & Hall Wines was a conclusion too common in this series: I loved the pinot noirs, abhorred the chardonnays. The former I found exciting, multi-layered and slightly unpredictable, replete with pinot noir character yet each creating its own sense of detail and dimension. The chardonnays were entirely too predictable in the line of the dominant California style: too ripe and sweet with baked fruit qualities, too spicy, too oaky and intrinsically unbalanced. Those who disagree with me about these chardonnays and consider them and others like them some sort of epitome are, I know, manifold, and they are entitled to their opinion. The factors involved and of most importance for this blog are my nose and palate, and I can do naught else but follow their dictates.

Donald Patz and James Hall, who met while working for Flora Springs Winery, founded their enterprise, with their partners, in 1988. The winery owns no vineyards but makes wine on long-term contracts from highly acclaimed vineyards, primarily in Sonoma County. They sold the company to Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in April 2016.

These wines were samples for review.
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The color of the Patz & Hall Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, is dark ruby fading to a transparent and then ethereal magenta rim. The wine aged in 40 percent new French oak barrels. This is a pure, bright, intriguing pinot noir, whose scents of red, black and blue fruit compote are spiked with notes of beetroot and rose petals, sandalwood and lavender; the wine is lithe, lean and supple on the palate, taut and spicy, and a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of wood smoke and autumn leaves, along with hints of pomegranate and cranberry. This is a cuvee blended from a roster of top Sonoma Coast vineyards, including Chenoweth, Dutton and Gap’s Crown. 14.2 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $48.
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The Patz & Hall Jenkins Ranch Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, aged in 50 percent new French oak barrels. The color is a beautiful dark mulberry shading to a lighter magenta rim; concentrated aromas of black cherries, currants and plums feel dredged in dried baking spices and hints of rose petals and sassafras, fig and braised fennel. The wine displays a loamy, untamed character, framed by moderately dusty tannins and a burnished, slightly sanded texture, through which bright acidity cuts a swath; macerated and lightly roasted red and black fruit flavors open notes of smoke and damp ash, leading to a finish both generous and chiseled. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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The chardonnays in question are the Patz & Hall Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast ($40); Patz & Hall Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley ($44); Patz & Hall Alder Springs Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Mendocino ($60). These are bold and assertive wines in every respect: super-ripe fruit with baked apple and roasted pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors, dense textures, no-holds-barred spiciness and drenching oak. I understand that many critics and consumers adore chardonnays fashioned in this manner, but I find them to be ruinous to the potential purity and crystalline clarity of which the chardonnay grape is wonderfully capable. The Alder Springs I found to be particularly egregious in its stiff and drying oak influence. If these rich, glossy and exaggerated examples mark your favorite style of chardonnay, go for them by all means. For me and my palate, I find them unpleasant, strident and undrinkable, either on their own or with food.
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A passel of sauvignon blanc wines today, most from California, but one from New York, a pair from Chile and one from New Zealand are included. With three exceptions, these are from vintage 2016. Prices range from about $14 to $50, and a number of real bargains can be found. As is typical with the Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew most technical, historical, geological/geographical and personnel data for the sake of quick and incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks and designed to pique your interest and stimulate the palate. Enjoy! And always consume in moderation.

These wines were samples for review.
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Amici Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 1,700 cases. Pale straw-gold hue; grapefruit and lime peel, fennel and pea-shoot, touch of pear; highlights of grass, hay and dried thyme; balances silky talc-like texture with bright crispness and liveliness; lilac and limestone, with a slightly bracing grapefruit finish. Lovely stuff. Excellent. About $25.
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Bridge Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, New York State. 12.9% alc. 1,100 cases. Second label of Lieb Cellars. Fresh as a daisy and clean as a whistle; lime peel, lilac, grapefruit and flint, and a touch of melon; a delicate sauvignon blanc of wisps and hints, with bright, lively acidity. Nothing profound, tasty for beach or patio parties. Drink up. Very Good. About $16. Also available in 3-liter boxes and 20-liter kegs, so party down.
Image from pullthatcork.com.
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Concha y Toro Ribera del Rapel Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13% alc. Light straw-gold with a faint green cast; very bright, fresh and clean, with pert notes of lime zest and gooseberry, lemongrass and fennel, spearmint and jasmine; a fairly individual sauvignon blanc, lean, lithe and chiseled, with heaps of limestone and damp flint minerality, but also generous and expansive; the finish features more spice and dried herbal elements. Excellent. About $17, marking Good Value.
Excelsior Wine Company, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 14.5% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; a honed and faceted sauvignon blanc that gleams like crystal; dominated by sassy gooseberry, lime peel, grapefruit and fennel qualities, opening to notes of tangerine and intriguing hints of white pepper and paper whites; zesty acidity and a well-tuned limestone element give it class and vibrancy. Excellent. About $20.
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Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 13.2% alc. Very pale straw color; lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit, etched with some astringent mountainside blossoms and herbs; like biting into a fresh Granny Smith apple but also meadowy and heathery; crisp as new currency, lively and electric; spare, lean and lithe, with a wafting of lilac and almond blossom and a finish layered with grapefruit pith, limestone and almond skin. Very impressive. Exceptional. About $32.
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Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Yountville, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lime peel, lemongrass, gooseberry; pea-shoot, spiced pear, tarragon, grapefruit rind and pith, the latter especially from mid-palate back through a slightly bitter finish; texture poised excitingly between soft lushness and lithe crispness; bright acidity plows a furrow through burgeoning limestone minerality; entrancing body and presence; the considerable oak brought to the making of this wine is supple and subtle, a shaping but not dominating force. Consistently one of the best sauvignon blancs made in Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25, a True Bargain.
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Illumination Sauvignon Blanc 2015, 58% Napa County, 42% Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. With 13% semillon grapes. From Huneeus Vintners. Pale gold in hue; clean, fresh, leafy and spicy, slightly honeyed, with a note of bee’s-wax; fig, roasted lemon and fennel, lemongrass, chalk and flint; quite crisp and lively, slightly raspy and bitter with grapefruit pith; very dry, scintillating acidity and limestone minerality. Excellent. About $50.
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Kunde Family Winery Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma Valley. 13.8% alc. Pale straw-gold; spiced pear, lemongrass and lime peel; slightly herbal and grassy, with a lovely greenness, like celery and fennel; honeysuckle and jasmine with a note of damp hay; very crisp and vibrant, slightly earthy, with flint-like minerality and a touch of seashell salinity on the finish. Excellent. About $17, marking Great Value.
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Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold with faint green highlights; a green and leafy sauvignon blanc, notable for its lemon balm and fig character, its pert notes of lime peel, lemongrass and grapefruit, with a background of fennel and licorice, limestone and preserved lemon; a pleasing talc-like texture riven by bristling, lip-smacking acidity. Excellent. About $20.
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Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma County. 13.6% alc. With 4% semillon grapes. Very pale gold hue; lime and tangerine, fennel and lemon drop, with hints of lemon balm and jasmine, ginger and thyme; quite dry and tart, like a distillation of damp limestone and flint electrified by bright acidity. Very attractive. Very Good+. About $15.
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Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. With 7% semillon. Medium straw-gold color; Granny Smith apples and Key limes, pink grapefruit and white pepper; broader dimension than its stablemate mentioned above but also more subdued and elegant; soft and more supple but still quite crisp and taut, with a dry powdery texture; heaps of limestone minerality from mid-palate back. Excellent. About $20.
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Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2016, North Canterbury, New Zealand. 14.1% alc. Pale gold; lime zest and green bean, grapefruit and pea-shoot, gooseberry and roasted fennel, with penetrating notes of iodine and seashell; a pert, tart and sassy sauvignon blanc that tickles the palate with an herbal edge and bright acidity; a bracing, saline finish. Rich with nuance and not exaggerated. Excellent. About $16, a Great Bargain.
Imported by Mt Beautiful USA, Benecia, Calif. The label image is one vintage behind.
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Pedroncelli East Side Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw-gold; lime zest, peach and grapefruit, with a tropical note of guava; a bit green and leafy; hints of jasmine and lemongrass with a limestone background; snappy acidity, real pizzazz; quite dry but juicy and engaging, heaps of limestone and flint from mid-palate back through a finish that brings in fennel and lavender. Very Good+. About $17.
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Shooting Star Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Lake County. 13.5% alc. The second label of Steele Wines. Very very pale, almost colorless; lemongrass, lime peel, grapefruit; heather, thyme and flint; quite crisp and vibrant and offering surprising density and texture for the price. Quite enjoyable. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.
The bottle image is one vintage behind.
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Terrunyo Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13% alc. From Concha y Toro. Shimmering pale gold color; pure celery seed and celery leaf, pea-shoot, lime peel and grapefruit; caraway seed and fennel; crisp and lively, with a supple, lithe structure bolstered by vibrant limestone minerality. Real personality and character. Excellent. About $26.
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Robert Mondavi Winery established a reputation for the sauvignon blanc grape soon after the charismatic and innovative Robert Mondavi broke away from his family and established his own winery in 1966. Long a neglected grape in California, used for blending generic proprietary white wines or badly made on its own, sauvignon blanc became in his hands a fresh, grassy, appealing wine that bore a made-up French name on the label, “Fumé Blanc,” a nod to the Pouilly-Fumé appellation in the eastern Loire Valley, where sauvignon blanc reigns supreme. The result was a marketing triumph. In fact, some wineries in California still maintain a theoretical distinction between sauvignon blanc wines, supposedly made in the fashion of white Bordeaux, and fumé blanc wines, fashioned in the Loire Valley manner, if such distinctions can practically be made.

Today I look at three fumé blanc wines from Robert Mondavi. While I give out two Excellent ratings here and one Very Good+, my caveat is that the winery seems to make a fetish of French oak barrels and of employing every possible winemaking technique to shape a sauvignon blanc in a particular image rather than — especially in the instances of the Oakville 2014 and Reserve 2014, made from the almost hallowed To Kalon Vineyard — allowing the character of the vineyard to achieve eloquent expression. One feels, again particularly for the Reserve ’14, that the wines were poked and prodded and minutely examined rather than being allowed a natural development. Still, two Excellent ratings out of three ain’t bad. I especially liked the basic Fumé Blanc 2015, which at about $20 rates as a distinct bargain.

Director of winemaking for Robert Mondavi is Genevieve Janssens.

These wines were samples for review.
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The winery’s basic product in this iteration is the Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, a blend of 96 percent sauvignon blanc grapes and 4 percent semillon. The grapes derived from a Wappo Hill vineyard in Stags Leap District (70 percent); from Mondavi’s famed To Kalon Vineyard (13 percent), with the balance from Napa Carneros. Eighty-five percent of the juice was barrel-fermented — the rest in stainless steel — and then aged five months in French oak barrels on the lees, hand-stirred twice a month. This is a smoky sauvignon blanc, truly fume, that offers a very pale straw-gold color and entrancing aromas of roasted lemons and lemon balm, lime peel, pea shoot and lilac. The texture is silky, talc-like but balanced by bright acidity and the burgeoning edge of limestone minerality, all in support of pert and tart flavors of guava, greengage, lemon and heather, the latter for a subtly grassy touch; spicy oak stays at the filigreed periphery. 14.5 percent alcohol. One of my favorite sauvignon blanc wines of the year. Drink now through 2019 or 2020. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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The Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2014, Oakville District, contains 21 percent semillon grapes, a factor that lends the wine notes of honeydew melon and fig and a particular sunny-leafy aspect that I associate with the variety. Ninety-one percent of the wine fermented in French oak and then aged on the lees for eight months, undergoing regular bâtonnage (hand-stirring); only eight percent of the oak was new barrels. Grapes for this wine derived from the renowned To Kalon Vineyard that surrounds the winery in Oakville. The color is pale gold; besides the features I already mentioned, the wine teems with hints of lime peel and lemongrass, crushed gravel, verbena and fennel, hay and heather. Vivid acidity and scintillating limestone minerality provide the balance between fruit and oak, which indeed as the moments pass becomes a dominating aspect of the wine: dry, spicy and burnished, a bit more powerful than I would like. Still, this sense of tension and resolution in texture and structure gives the wine its exciting quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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Strangely, or sadly, my least favorite of this trio of sauvignon blancs is the Robert Mondavi To Kalon Reserve Fumé Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. The amount of new oak increased to 42 percent, the aging to nine months, from the previous example; a small difference one might think, but enough to make this wine feel burdened by its wood regimen rather than enhanced, at least from mid-palate back through the finish. There’s a bare two percent semillon. The grapes came from the To Kalon Vineyard, half from Robert’s Block, first planted in 1960. A small portion of the fruit was fermented in cement egg-shaped containers and was added to the final blend. Of course the wine was barrel-fermented and hand-stirred in barrel. The color is very pale straw-gold; aromas of lime peel and celery leaf, lemongrass and preserved lemon are woven with notes of spiced pear, tangerine and just a hint of fig, all abetted by a snap of gunflint and graphite. The wine offers a texture almost dense in its fluid materiality, though it’s lightened and heightened by vibrant acidity and a sense of lithe energy. That oak, though, develops from a subtle haze to a formidably drying factor in the mouth, powering over all other aspects to become the wine’s raison d’etre. Through all the technique exercised in the winery, does the character of the vineyard shine through? It just feels all too handled. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $52.
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We recognize that the kings of Napa Valley are cabernet sauvignon and merlot, while the queens are chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, but the storied region is home to a spectrum of interesting and intriguing grapes, especially in the white category. Think, for example, of the rieslings produced by Smith-Madrone, Trefethen and Stony Hill. Perhaps an improbable grape for the region is the Rhone variety grenache blanc, yet here is our Wine of the Day, the Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc 2016, Napa Valley, made all in stainless steel from grapes grown on the Somerston Estate at an elevation of 1,250 feet in the Vaca Range that defines the area’s eastern boundary. This is one of the palest wines I have encountered, its hue as ineffable and pure as water; distinct aromas of lemon balm, peach and spiced pear are woven with notes of straw and heather, while after a few minutes in the glass hints of dried honey, jasmine and bees’-wax emerge. The wine is clean, precise and dry on the palate, crisp and vibrant yet offering lovely balance between litheness and a soft, almost talc-like texture; it’s the sort of contrast that makes a wine exciting to drink. Flavors of roasted lemon, peach and melon are inextricably melded with bright acidity and a burgeoning element of limestone minerality; the finish is bracing in its marsh grass-sea breeze austerity and seashell salinity. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19 with seafood risottos, seared salmon or swordfish or as a scintillating aperitif. Production was 1,271 cases. Winemaker was Craig Becker. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

I don’t often feature chardonnays made in California in the Wine of the Day series because basically it’s difficult to find examples that aren’t overblown with strident spice, rampant tropical fruit and strenuous oak. When I find one that matches my idea of what chardonnay should be, however, I will man the barricades for it. Such a one is the Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley. David Ramey is one of the busiest people in the Golden State’s wine industry, overseeing his own roster of mainly single-vineyard chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and syrah under his primary label, but also managing a recently launched second label, Sidebar, as well as consulting for a wide range of top producers. It requires a pinpoint sense of attention to detail to be able to carry off such a spectrum of activity and responsibility. The Ramey Chardonnay 2014, RRV, falls under the winery’s Appellation series that features wines made from grapes derived from vineyards including several that Ramey uses for his single-vineyard bottlings. The wine fermented by natural yeasts and underwent full malolactic and bâtonnage, that is, stirring of the lees while in barrel; it aged 12 months in French oak, only 13 percent new barrels, so the wood influence is almost subliminal, a subtle shaping. The color is pale straw-gold; the whole package feels like a fine sifting of fruit, spice, oak and minerals, animated by bright, persistent acidity. Scents of apple peel, pineapple and grapefruit open to smoky notes of roasted lemon, cloves and lemon balm, over layers of slightly dusty limestone. Notably clean and dry, this is one lithe and chiseled chardonnay that features ripe, spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors washed by a texture that’s like pulverized flint; the sense of deftness combined with heft is remarkably gratifying on the palate. 14.5 percent alcohol. At close to three years old, this chardonnay is drinking beautifully and will continue to do so through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.

A sample for review.

Here’s a beautiful pinot noir for lovers of the style that toes a line between lush and lovely, on one hand, and sinewy and dynamic, on the other. What I’m saying is that the FEL Pinot Noir 2015, Anderson Valley (in Mendocino County), strikes a perfect balance in nose and palate in terms of the elegant, the ethereal, and the powerful. The wine, made by Ryan Hodgins, aged 16 months in French oak, 34 percent new barrels. The color is an alluring dark ruby that shades to an utterly transparent magenta rim; ripe and spicy black and red cherries and currants are permeated by notes of cloves and sassafras, rhubarb and cranberry, while a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of lilac and rose petals and subtle undertones of loam and oolong tea. Lip-smacking density is riven by persistent acidity that enlivens flavors of black and blue fruit leaning toward plum and mulberry, all set in a compelling, lithe, satiny texture; a tide of slightly dusty, velvety tannins brings a sense of framing and foundation that joins with a wisp of oak and all that dark, spicy fruit compote for a succulent finish. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’21 with a roasted chicken, seared duck magret, pork tenderloin. Anderson Valley’s FEL Wines is an adjunct of Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa Valley. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review.

Not that I would expect any of My Readers to purchase these 12 wines collectively, even if they could be assembled, but in these models we see some of the best of what Napa Valley can be. These cabernet-based wines share a sense of vigor and rigor, of abundance and luxury married to earthy, brooding qualities that never descend to truculence. Some of the high quality of this group derives from the years, 2013 and 2014 being two and three of a trio of fine vintages. Equally important is the treatment of the grapes and the wines in the winery; it feels almost miraculous that whatever the widely diverse nature of the oak regimens practiced and new oak barrels applied, none of these feel unduly influenced by wood. It’s true that I tend to approve of the more sinewy, reticent style of cabernet sauvignon (see Stony Hill, below), but I try to keep to keep my receptors open even for the more florid, succulent models.

These wines were samples for review.
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Amici Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, is composed of 80 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent cabernet franc, 4 percent petit verdot and 2 percent each merlot and malbec, thereby touching all of what used be be called the five classic Bordeaux red grapes, though in truth there’s very little malbec in Bordeaux nowadays — it emigrated to South America — and not a lot of petit verdot. The wine aged 22 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels; the grapes derived 60 percent from vineyards on the valley floor, 40 percent from mountain vineyards. The color is dense ruby-magenta with a mulberry rim; the glass teems with notes of walnut shell, briers and brambles, graphite and loam, cedar, tobacco and dried rosemary, tending, after a few minutes in the glass, to exotic hints of espresso and bittersweet chocolate, cloves and sandalwood, and finally admitting a slightly meaty and fleshy element of intense and concentrated black currants, cherries and plums. Yes, there’s a lot going on here, but all these aspects are balanced with pinpoint precision and integration. If satin could be woven from iron filings, well, there’s a metaphor for this wine’s dense, mineral-inflected structure, yet it presents a real mouthful of juicy, spicy black fruit and berries propelled by vibrant acidity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
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The Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Calistoga, is a blend of 86 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent merlot and a 1 percent smidgen of cabernet franc; the wine aged 16 months in French and Eastern European oak — usually being Slovenian or Hungarian — 27 percent new barrels, a completely rational oak regimen. The color is a typical dark ruby shading to a purple edge; classic notes of cedar and tobacco, dried thyme and rosemary are woven with ripe and spicy black currants, cherries and plums (with a surprising blueberry undertone) and hints of mocha and oolong tea, loam, walnut shell and graphite. This complex layering continues on the palate, where you feel the sway of the earth and the power of surging acid that lend the wine grounding and energy; flavors of ripe and spicy black and blue fruit are bolstered by forceful dusty, graphite-inflected tannins and a background of subtle, supple oak. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2024 to ’30. Excellent. About $58.
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If ever a wine qualified as a theoretical “First Growth” of Napa Valley cabernet-based wines, the Chateau Montelena “The Montelena Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon would be one of them. For 2013, the fine-tuned blend of the winery’s top cabernet is 97 percent cabernet sauvignon, with 1.5 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot; the wine aged two years in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color, if you can call it that, is opaque purple-black with a vivid magenta rim; the wine is, as you might expect, a cauldron of graphite, iodine and iron that seethes with loam, briers and brambles, with spiced, macerated and roasted black currants and plums. These elements segue seamlessly onto the palate, where they feel wrapped around an intense core of crushed lavender and violets, licorice and bittersweet chocolate, with a helping of more graphite. Dusty, velvety tannins reach far into the depths, where they meet bastions of supple, subtle oak and streams of vibrant acidity; the wine tends toward Olympian austerity through the formidable finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Matt Crafton. A wine of this character and costing this much entails a sense of responsibility on its owner, so don’t treat this one frivolously; cellar until 2019 to ’21 and consume through 2033 to ’35. Exceptional. About $160 (a bottle).
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The Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, from Huneeus Wines, draws cabernet grapes mainly from the Rutherford and Coombsville AVAs, with smaller portions from Yountville, Mount Veeder and Atlas Peak, making this wine a representative of a general Napa Valley notion. It aged 19 months in French oak barrels. The color is opaque ruby-purple shading to a glowing magenta rim; the aromas radiate sweet Asian spices, graphite and iodine, infusing fruit that feels like a macedoine of black currants, cherries and plums infused by lavender and violets, rosemary and cedar and grilled bread. The wine is heady and voluminous, offering perfect weight, heft and balance; it flows across the palate in a resonant tide of lip-smacking acid and tannin, flint and granitic minerality; it’s very dry, and you feel the burgeoning elements of walnut shell and forest floor in the depth, while on the surface, notes of lilac and loam appear. 14.8 percent alcohol. Drinkable now, with a steak, or try from 2019 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $55.
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Flora Springs Trilogy Red Wine 2014, Napa Valley, is a blend of 86 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent malbec and 6 percent petit verdot; the wine aged 22 months in 85 percent French oak, 15 percent American oak. The color is dense dark ruby; the nose is very ripe, spicy and intense, with black currant and cherry scents deeply imbued by a whole, old wooden box of dried spices and grilled herbs and penetrating notes of iodine and iron. The wine is quite dry, and the entire enterprise leans to, even rushes toward, austerity from mid-palate back. No problem with that, of course, just give it time, but Trilogy 2014 at this point feels like a four-square house from the 1910s in a good neighborhood, solidly-built on a firm foundation but pretty much unexciting. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2029 to ’32. Very Good+, with Excellent potential. About $80.
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The Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent merlot, 4.5 percent petit verdot and 2.5 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 21 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels. This feels like totally classic Napa Valley cabernet, from its intense, glowing dark ruby shade; to its notes of cassis and spiced and macerated plums permeated by briers, brambles and forest floor over a deep layer of loam, graphite and granitic minerality; to its tight core of lilac and lavender, bittersweet chocolate and ancho chili. It’s a very dry wine, yet delivering luscious black and blue fruit and berry flavors girt by a framework of dusty, earthy tannins and bright acidity; the finish is long, a little untamed, both rigorous and luxuriant. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 or ’32. Excellent. About $72.
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The Robert Mondavi Maestro 2014, Napa Valley, is an operatic wine that extends its range from bass to baritone through tenor and even allows some alto notes with scarcely a pause for breath; a great deal of crescendo, not much diminuendo. This is the second vintage; I did not try the 2013. The wine is a blend of 73 percent cabernet sauvignon, 23 percent cabernet franc and 2 percent each merlot and petit verdot, aged 21 months in French oak, 28 percent new barrels. The grapes derived from Mondavi’s estate vineyards, Wappo Hill in Stags Leap District and To Kalon in Oakville. The fathomless hue is purple black with a bright magenta rim; the bouquet offers an abundance of rich, spicy black and blue fruit and berries permeated by iodine and graphite, violets, lavender and bittersweet chocolate; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of smoke, roasted fennel and ancho chili, briers, brambles and walnut shell. This is a juicy, sizable, dense, sleek and suave red wine, framed by dry but velvety tannins, subtly spicy oak and a rising tide of loam and gravel minerality that tends toward austerity in the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Best from 2018 or ’19 through 2025 to ’29. Excellent. About $50.
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The 100 percent varietal Stewart Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, aged 22 months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels. The color is intense ruby-purple with a delicate, transparent magenta rim; boy, this delivers a real snootful and mouthful of iodine, graphite and iron, barely tempered by resonant and pretty damned luscious flavors of black currants, cherries and mulberries. For all that, though, plush and dusty tannins coat the mouth, and while the wine is succulent without being gooshy, it offers real rigor in its broad effects and true character in its depths, both powerful and chaste. 14.5 percent alcohol. Do not touch until 2019 or ’20, and allow it to develop through 2028 to ’30. On the other hand, decant it tonight and give it plenty of air and a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Production was 1,436 cases. Excellent potential. About $75.
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The 100 percent varietal Stewart Cellars Beckstoffer Las Piedes Vineyard “Nomad” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, aged 22 months in French oak, 85 percent new barrels. The abyss in your glass is inky purple-black that allows a glowing, nuclear violet rim; the extraordinary, provocative, intensely perfumed bouquet wreathes strands of walnut shell, iodine, crushed blueberries, currants and violets with smoke from the smoldering spice box and hints of macerated and slightly roasted black and blue fruit, fruitcake and loam. As if that panoply were not enough, the wine is as dense as a velvet blanket, framed by mineral-drenched tannins and creamy oak (that wisely stays in the background), and enlivened by resonant acidity that seems to pluck all the bass and baritone strings of dark, spicy fruit and healthy vigor; the finish is very dry, sleek, chiseled and rigorous. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Blair Guthrie. Production was 180 cases. Your children may be enjoying this wine, fully developed or in gentle decline, between 2035 and 2040. A stunning achievement. Exceptional. About $175 (a bottle).
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The grapes for the Stony Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Spring Mountain District, grew in vineyards that average 1,550 feet elevation, and indeed there’s something of mountain rootiness and stoniness about the wine, which aged 18 months in French oak, only 20 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby fading to a garnet rim; aromas of black currants and cherries are permeated by graphite and wood-smoke, with unfurling hints of cedar and tobacco, dried thyme and rosemary (with the latter’s slightly astringent resiny quality), briers and brambles; a few moments in the glass bring out touches of blueberry. It’s a wine that feels warm in its spicy nature of fruitcake and slightly roasted berries, yet also cool in its bright acidity and scintillating granitic mineral character. Tannins like an antique velvet gown are dense, dusty and chewy and extend their reach through a long graphite- and flint-laden finish. Lovely balance and integration in a young but perfectly drinkable cabernet, though you could defer the pleasure from 2025 to 2028. 14 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Mike Chelini. Excellent. About $70.
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The Yount Ridge Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, contains 97 percent cabernet sauvignon, with mere nods toward 2.5 percent malbec and .5 percent merlot, grown in a certified organic vineyard in the Oakville District AVA. Winemaker is Cecilia Welch. The color is very dark, almost impenetrable ruby; it’s a dense, supple and sinewy cabernet, packed with dusty graphite, iodine and iron; a new minutes in the glass expose notes of lavender, ancho chile, cassis, cedar and rosemary; a very dry cabernet that delivers a huge presence and weight on the palate, this has deep roots in the earth, as well as swingeing acidity and a finish that feels chiseled from granite and flint. This needs some time to become more well-knit, say 2018 through 2025 to ’28. Production was 500 cases. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $96.

Don’t confuse Yount Ridge Cellars with Young Ridge Winery, also in Napa Valley.
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The percentages for the Yount Ridge Cellars Proprietary Red Blend 2014, Napa Valley, are 66 percent cabernet sauvignon, 24 percent merlot and 10 percent malbec. An opaque ruby-purple hue shades to a vivid purple-magenta rim; the wine is quite intense and concentrated, unfurling multiple layers with some airing: cassis and black cherry, lavender and licorice, violets and plums; notes of cedar, rosemary and black olive. It’s a dense and chewy wine that offers significant weight and heft, feeling sifted with dust and graphite and slightly exotic elements of sandalwood and incense. This is a lovely and expressive red wine but with an earthy background, none of which prevents it from being warm, spicy and appealing; the finish brings in touches of leather, briers and brambles and granitic tannins. A surprisingly drinkable yet seemingly ageless Napa Valley red that offers both pleasure and abundant character. Production was 500 cases. Now through 2025 to ’30; it’s not really ageless, of course. Excellent. About $98.
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It’s not easy to produce an inexpensive pinot noir, one that expresses real varietal character in an easy-to-drink package, but Toad Hollow Vineyards seems to succeed every year with its offering from Monterey County. Don’t look to the bright and totally transparent ruby-cranberry hued Toad Hollow Pinot Noir 2016, Monterey County, for great depth and dimension. Find satisfaction and pleasure, instead, in its scents of smoky and slightly fleshy red and black cherries imbued with cloves, rhubarb and mulberries; its super satiny and supple texture; its sleek, fine-boned structure; and its delicious and darkly-spiced flavors of black cherries and currants animated by clean acidity and, from mid-palate back, a nicely chiseled mineral quality that gains some heft as the moments pass. 14.2 percent alcohol. This pinot noir would sell like crazy in wine-by-the-glass programs at bars and restaurants. Now through 2019. Very Good+. About $17, representing Real Value.

A sample for review.

Sonoma-based Siduri Wines specializes in an array of single-vineyard pinot noirs from the range of West Coast regions. Winemaker and founder (in 1994) Adam Lee also produces pinot in broader appellation bottlings, which are the wines represented in today’s post, from Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County), Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County) and Yamhill-Carlton in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The wines are finished unfined and unfiltered and topped with screw-caps for ease of opening. Lee and his wife and fellow-winemaker Dianna Novy Lee sold the winery to Jackson Family Wines in January 2015, though he remains as winemaker. These wines, which I found extremely pleasurable, were samples for review.
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The Siduri Wines Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, derives from some of the appellation’s most distinguished vineyards, including Rosella’s, Garys’, Pisoni and Soberanes. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The robe is a warm, rich medium ruby, shading to a slightly lighter rim; this is a dark, earthy, spicy, loamy pinot noir, bursting with notes of black cherry and plum compote etched with hints of cloves and beetroot, cranberry and graphite. It flows with lovely weight and heft on the palate, though keen acidity cuts a swath and lends the wine excitement and refreshing qualities. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $35.
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The regimen for the Siduri Wines Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County, was 16 months in French oak, but only 10 percent new barrels. The wine offers a beautiful totally transparent ruby hue, you could read a magazine through it, and lovely, limpid notes of spiced and macerated black and red cherries and pomegranate, sandalwood and loam, cloves and rhubarb; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of beetroot and blueberry. This pinot is the most succulent, the most dense and satiny of the trio under review here, a tad dusty and freighted with velvety tannins, yet paradoxically elegant and ethereal. 14.2 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $35.
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We move up to Oregon’s Willamette Valley for the Siduri Pinot Noir 2015, Yamhill-Carlton District, a wine that rested in French oak, 30 percent new barrels, for 16 months. The color is a fairly transparent medium ruby that shades to an almost invisible magenta rim; the wine is an entrancing blend of ripe black and blue fruit, dried herbs and flowers and exotic spices, so call it cherries and plums, sage, heather and violets, sandalwood and cloves. For all its sensual appeal, there’s some rigor to the wine’s structure, a strain of graphite-briery-foresty character that lifts both texture and depth to the fore. 14.2 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $36.
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