California


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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What more is there to say after “delightful and charming”? These are wines designed to provide your weekend — or the whole week, for that matter — with pleasure, deliciousness and elegance. We range widely in this post: Greece, Germany, Oregon, California, Long Island, Mendoza and Chablis. All single-variety wines, their grapes include assyrtiko, indigenous to the island of Santinori; pinot gris, not that common in the Rhineland; riesling and sauvignon blanc; gruner veltliner and pinot blanc; semillon and chardonnay. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I largely eschew technical, historical and geographical data for the sake of quick, incisive reviews meant to pique your interest and whet your palate. With one exception, the wines were samples for review. Enjoy! (In moderation, of course.)
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argyros
Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2015, Santinori, Greece. 14% alc. This one will make you wish you were sitting in a little cafe looking out at the wine-dark Aegean Sea. It sees 20 percent French oak and was made from 150-year-old ungrafted vines. Very pale straw hue; dusty, dry marsh and seashore grasses and herbs; roasted lemon and faint spiced peach; quite ethereal and summery but displaying bracing acidity, notes of limestone-seashell minerality and an aura of yellow meadow flowers. Very Good+. About $25.
Athenee Importers and Distributors, Hempstead, N.Y.
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binz
Weingut Binz Nackenheimer Pinot Gris Kabinett 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany. 12% alc. Bright straw-gold color; jasmine and camellia, preserved lemon and lemon balm, lime peel and pear skin; a hint of mango-like tropical character; crisp and tart, taut with vibrant acidity, very dry yet ripe and juicy on the palate; long, lean, lithe finish. Truly delightful and lots of personality. Excellent. About $14, marking Great Value.
Winesellers Ltd, Niles, Illinois.
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brooks riesling
Brooks Riesling 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold; a direct hit of petrol and rubber eraser, followed by notes of heather and meadow, peach and lychee, with burgeoning hints of jasmine and quince and, after a few moments, ginger beer; limestone minerality offers a tremendous presence for a sense of dimension, without diminishing such fine details as bay leaf and nuances of mango and guava; the whole enterprise feels etched with bright, dry acidity. Just great. Excellent. About $20, representing Wonderful Value.
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2016SauvBlanc
Freemark Abbey Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa Valley. 13.4% alc. Very pale straw-gold color; notes of lime peel, grapefruit, lemongrass and spiced pear, highlighted by hints of pea-shoots, hay and heather and undertones of sunny, leafy figs; really lively, vibrant, super drinkable, yet spare, dry, lithe, nothing flamboyant or over-done; a finish chiseled from limestone and flint but wreathed in lilac. Excellent. About $24.
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Illahe Estate Gruner Veltliner 2016, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. 650 cases. Very pale straw-gold; classic ILLAHEHEADER_famowned notes of hay, lilac and pine, with roasted lemons and yellow plums, a hint of lime peel and peach; very crisp, lively and engaging, with clean acidity and crystalline minerality cutting through a juicy, talc-like texture; terrific personality and appeal. Excellent. About $17.
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2013ReservePinotBlanc300x300 (1)
Lieb Cellars Reserve Pinot Blanc 2015, North Fork of Long Island. 11.9% alc. And this one will make you wish you were sitting on a terrace in the Hamptons, gazing out at the cerulean Atlantic. Very very pale, almost invisible in the glass; notably clean, fresh and spare, quite crisp and vibrant, with delicate strains of peach and spiced pear, rose petals and candied lime peel and a tremendous volume of limestone minerality; slightly herbal and resinous finish. Lovely character. Excellent. About $22.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Medium green-gold hue; sunny, leafy figs Santos_SM_NV_labeland guava, apple skin and lightly baked pear; a haze of smoke and jasmine; quite clean, spare and elegant, with a beguiling texture that balances moderate lushness of fruit with zinging acidity and flint-graphite minerality, though that aspect emerges on the finish. Wholly delightful and pleasingly complex for the price. Excellent. About $16, marking Good Value.
Global Vineyards, Berkeley, Calif.
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Christian Simon Petit Chablis 2014, Chablis, France. 12% alc. Drinking beautifully at about two and a half years old. Pale straw-gold; shimmers with steel and limestone and a snap of gunflint, lustrous with lightly spiced lemon and apple; a texture both dense and powdery, lithe and supple; warms to subtle floral notes; lovely shape and resonance. Excellent. About $22, a local purchase.
Matinicus Wines, Beverley Hills, Fla.
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I launched the “Whither Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon” series in October 2014 as a way of focusing on cabernet-based wines from one the the world’s best places for the grape’s production into fine wine. Or not so fine, depending on one’s point of view about over-strict oak regimen, super-ripe, jammy fruit and alcohol levels that soar to 15 percent and beyond, characteristics that occur too often. But cabernet-based wines are made not only in other regions of California but all around the world. We look today at a baker’s dozen — the superstitious way of saying “13” — of non-Napa Valley examples, mainly from Alexander Valley in Sonoma County and from various spots in Chile. Some of these wines stuck me as being classic in proportion and balance, while a few leaned toward exaggeration; none, however, seemed beyond the pale, and most of the ratings are Excellent. With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
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The powerful and seductive Cadaretta Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Columbia Valley, Washington, is a blend of 89 percent cabernet, 6 percent petit verdot and 5 percent merlot that aged 20 months in French oak, 90 percent new barrels. That’s a lot of oak by my lights, yet the wine displays very agreeable personality and character. The color is inky ruby with a slightly lighter purple rim; a dynamic wafting of iodine and iron, mint and blackberries and currants, briers and brambles, walnut shell and forest floor surges from the glass; the wine is propelled by bright acidity and granitic minerality that feels chiseled and honed, bolstered by plush, dusty, graphite-infused tannins while still offering delicious notes of ripe and spicy black fruit flavors. The essence is balance and integration of all elements. 14.8 percent alcohol. Now — with steak — through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $50.
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Cliff Creek Cab Sauv 2012
The 100 percent varietal Cliff Creek Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Southern Oregon, sees 20 months in oak, 95 percent French barrels, five percent American. The color is deep ruby shading to a lighter magenta rim; the initial impression is of its herbal nature in the form of cedar, sage and dried thyme, followed by ripe and spicy black currants and blueberries infused with lavender and graphite. Dusty, velvety tannins flow across the palate in a sleek tide, while bright black and blue fruit flavors are buoyed by vibrant acidity; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of smoked walnuts, walnut shell, loam and bittersweet chocolate, all wrapped in chiseled granitic minerality. 13.6 percent alcohol. Lots of personality. Drink through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $27, a local purchase at $26.
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In every vintage that I have tried, Domus Aurea is consistently one of the best cabernet-based wines made in Chile. The Domus Aurea 2012, Upper Maipo Valley, is a blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent merlot and 4 percent petit verdot that aged 12 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is dark, radiant ruby shading to a magenta rim; the bouquet is a finely-milled welter of black currants, iodine and graphite, licorice and lavender, cedar and tobacco, with a tinge of slightly resinous rosemary and sage and burgeoning notes of black raspberry and cherry. The wine combines sleekness and litheness of texture with a chiseled edge of graphite minerality and bright acidity to keep it lively and alluring; ripe and spicy black fruit flavors are delicious, yet subdued to the power and energy of granitic minerality and keenly etched tannins. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2026 to ’30, Excellent. About $65.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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Concha y Toro’s flagship red wine always packs plenty of character into the glass. Don Melchor Puente Alto Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon don melchor 132013, Puente Alto, Chile, is 91 percent cabernet sauvignon and 9 percent cabernet franc, aged 15 months in French oak. From its opaque purple-black hue to its structural elements of walnut shell and graphite, flint and iodine, its dense, chewy dusty tannins, it’s a wine that needs a few years in the cellar. However, it blossoms beautifully with notes of black currants and raspberries, cedar and tobacco, mint and ground coriander and beguiling hints of lavender and crushed violets, and it balloons in size and scope as the moments pass, becoming, it feels, more sizable, denser, a bit shaggier in its combination of tannic, oak and minerality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Quite a performance for trying from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 or ’33. Excellent. About $120, though often discounted on the internet to $100 or so.
Imported by Excelsior Wines, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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The Dry Creek Vineyards The Mariner Meritage 2013, Dry Creek Valley, is a blend of 54 percent cabernet sauvignon, 24 percent merlot, 10 petit verdot, 8 malbec and 4 cabernet franc; the wine aged 20 months in French and Hungarian oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color, if one can call such an impenetrable hue a color, is opaque ruby-black; this is all about structural elements presently, offering a welter of iodine, iron and graphite, walnut shell and cedar, rosemary and leather, couched in a dignified and authoritative fashion. It’s quite dry and displays a deep expression of lavender, bittersweet chocolate and mocha, loam and underbrush, with glimmers of slightly resinous black fruit scents and flavors shining darkly through. The embodiment of intensity and concentration; try from 2018 or ’19 through 2028 to ’30. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent potential. About $45.
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Tasting through a group of cabernet-based wines at home one afternoon, the Enzo Bianchi Red Wine 2012, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina, Enzo_Label clearly stood out as the best. It’s a blend of 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent petit verdot and 7 percent malbec, aged 10 months in 100 percent new oak barrels (80 percent French, 20 percent American) and a further two years in bottle. While there’s no denying that this is a large-framed cabernet, broad and deep in scope and dimension, it’s surprisingly light on its feet and never overwhelms the palate with oak and tannin. Oh, sure, it offers a youthful inky ruby-purple color and a whole spectrum of iodine-iron-graphite rock-robbed minerality and dusty, slightly austere tannins, but it’s also quite attractive with its scents and flavors of spiced and marinated black currants and cherries that carry hints of blueberry tart and violets. Yes, it’s very dry, and the finish remains rather demanding in its tannic and mineral nature, but overall, this is a deftly balanced and integrated red wine. 14.1 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 to ’34. Excellent. About $55.
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The Jordan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley, represents a shift toward more French oak and more new oak than in previous vintages. Every one of the winery’s cabernets since the first in 1976 has been made by Rob Davis — a remarkable record for California — so he is certainly in a position to know the wine and the grape sources in 2013-Jordan-Alexander-Valley-Cabernet-Sauvignon-Label-WebThumbdepth and detail. The blend here is a carefully calibrated combination of 75.5 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15.5 percent merlot, 7 percent petit verdot, 1.5 percent malbec and 0.5 percent cabernet franc. The oak regimen? Twelve months at 83 percent French and 17 percent American, 43 percent new barrels, predominantly new French. How does that scale compare to recent vintages (to get all geeky about this issue). In 2012: 69 percent French, 31 percent American, 41 percent new; in 2011: 73 percent French, 27 percent American, 37 percent new; in 2010: 74 percent French, 26 percent American, 39 percent new. So, yes, this current vintage does lean more heavily on French oak barrels; the question is, how much difference does that factor make in the wine? I’ll say this right now: Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is the tightest and most unapproachable cabernet from the winery that I have tasted, founded on an oak and tannin structure that feels both vertical and horizontal. It also exudes an undeniable aura of majesty and dignity. The color is an intense dark ruby-black; initially the wine is characterized by an essence of iodine and iron, sage and loam, slightly resinous rosemary, violets and mocha, all ground in some granitic pestle; as for fruit, that aspect takes 45 minutes to an hour to assert itself, after which the wine gently opens and becomes a bit warmer and spicier, though still operating under the wood-tannin-mineral cloak of darkness. 13.8 percent alcohol. Is this change a reasonable development in the 37-year history of the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon? From my perspective, what the 2013 gains in power and structure it loses in elegance and alluring nuance, always the hallmarks of these wines in the past. Try from 2018 to ’20 through 2030 to ’33. Very Good+ for now, with Excellent potential once it becomes more balanced and integrated. About $55.

I’ll add that Jordan fields what is hands-down the most informative, detailed and accessible website of any winery I have encountered in California.
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Essentially, the Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Maipo Valley, Chile, is Concha y Toro’s next-to-top-tier line of wines, more affordable than the Don Melchor mentioned above but still considered by the winery as part of its Fine Wines division. This one spent 16 months in French oak barrels and is a blend of 92 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent cabernet franc and 1 percent each merlot and syrah. The color is very dark ruby with a slightly lighter rim; aromas of black currants, cherries and raspberries are infused with dusty graphite and loam, given high tones of black olive and bell pepper, all sliding on a faintly leafy herbaceous note. Ripe and spicy black fruit flavors are couched in vivid acidity, dense and velvety tannins and granitic minerality, adding up to a fairly rigorous treatment of the wine. 14 percent alcohol. Drink from 2018 through 2024, or open tonight with a medium rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the flames. Very Good+. About $26.
Excelsior Wines, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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The Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, is undoubtedly well-made, yet it’s so typically Californian that I wish it took a few risks, went a bit higher and lower in tone and effect. That said, I think anyone who cottons to the style would like it. The wine aged 20 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. It presents a ruby hue so dark that it’s almost opaque, though shading to a lighter magenta rim; aromas of cedar and fresh rosemary, ripe black currants and cherries are touched with notes of lavender and mocha, graphite and violets. On the palate, this cabernet wine delivers plush velvety tannins for texture, brisk acidity for lithe liveliness, and elements of iodine and iron that bolster the somewhat austere finish. 14.4 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2026 to ’28. Very Good+. About $50.
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stone street cab 12
The not-quite-100 percent-varietal Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Alexander Valley — there’s 5 percent mixed merlot and malbec — aged a decent 17 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The vineyard from which it derives ranges from 400 to 2,400 feet, providing a spectrum of drainage, exposure and elevation that lent the grapes a full complement of detail and dimension. A very dark even unto black-ruby-purple hue, the wine offers a classic mountain-style array of sage and bay leaf, tobacco and loam, dried rosemary and a tinge of pine resin; these elements bolster notes of deeply spiced and macerated black currants, cherries and plums thoroughly permeated by dense, furry chewy tannins that coat the palate with a kind of velvet-iron-filings texture. The finish is long and chiseled and packed with granitic minerality, none of which prevents the wine from being surprisingly drinkable. Try through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $45.
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Stonestreet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley, despite a sensible oak regimen — 18 months French oak, 37 percent new barrels — feels dominated by toasty wood from beginning to end. The color is black-purple with a glowing magenta rim, and, to be sure, there’s plenty here that indicates the wine’s fairly classic status, with its spiced and macerated black currants and cherries with a hint of baked plums, its notes of cedar, tobacco and sage, its structural elements of briers and brambles, forest floor and moderately dusty tannins; still, the smoke, charcoal, walnut shell and graphite character pulls a veil of toasty oak over the whole proceedings, and, for my palate, becomes obtrusive. Perhaps two or three years will even it out. Very Good+. About $45.
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2012-Henrys-Blend
Trione Vineyards and Winery Geyserville Ranch Henry’s Blend 2012, Alexander Valley, is a Bordeaux-style blend — with a California emphasis — that combines 35 percent cabernet sauvignon, 34 percent merlot, 13 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot, and 5 percent malbec, aged 18 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The concept of a “Bordeaux-style blend” is a bit of an idealization, of course, because very few red wines from Bordeaux employ what used to be thought of as the five “classic” Bordeaux red grapes; malbec doesn’t even enter the picture. This is a cool, inky, chiseled wine that features a dark ruby-purple hue and aromas of ripe black currants, plums and blueberries permeated by notes of cedar, tobacco and graphite, dust and loam, iodine and iron; dense, sleek and chewy, this wine displays huge reserves of acid, austere tannins and granitic minerality, all the while offering delicious black fruit flavors (with a tinge of black olive and roasted fennel) and a nicely balanced tide of burnished oak. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $54.
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Trione Block Twenty One Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Alexander Valley, is predominantly cabernet sauvignon — 85 percent — Trione-2012-Cabernet-Sauvignonwith 9 percent merlot and 2 percent each cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec in the blend; it aged 18 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is impenetrable ruby from stem to stern; the bouquet offers an enticing melange seething with notes of cedar, violets and lavender, loam and smoke, tobacco and cigarette paper, with hints of graphite and intense, concentrated black fruit. The wine is more succulent on the palate, its ripe, spicy black currant and cherry flavors rich and beguiling, but the effect is tempered by the presence of immense, dusty, granitic tannins that produce an austere, aloof finish. 14.4 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2029 to ’32. Excellent potential. About $67.
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The Lioco Sativa Carignan 2014, Mendocino County, is the kind of wine that pushes all the right buttons for me. Made from 70-year-old, liocohead-pruned, dry-farmed vines at elevations that range from 2,200 to 2,400 feet atop Pine Mountain, and seeing only neutral oak for nine months, the wine is a unique yet entirely authentic expression of the carignan grape. The color is an intriguing dark ruby-purple that shades to a magenta rim; aromas of tar and violets, sage and heather, spiced and macerated black currants and blueberries are woven with notes of graphite, lavender and mocha and hints of wild red berries. It’s a robust wine, dense and meaty but not opulent or overpowering; rather, it toes a fine line of texture and structure that gives it impressive heft along with an almost elegant fleetness. Oh, yes, it sports dusty, graphite-edged tannins and vivid acidity, but those essential factors are at the service of red and blue fruit flavors that feel ripe, spicy and deeply savory, with a background of balsam, black olives and loam. 13.4 percent alcohol. Needs a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, or similar red-blooded fare. Drink through 2020 or ’21. Production was 650 cases. Winemaker was John Raytek. Excellent. About $30, a local purchase at $32.

The winery website indicates that the version of this wine from 2015 is available.

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