California


For the 18th entry in this series about chardonnay and pinot noir wines, mainly from California but occasionally from elsewhere, I offer 15 reviews that mention wines whose geographical origins range from Anderson Valley and Mendocino Ridge in the north, in Mendocino County, to Santa Maria Valley in the south, in Santa Barbara County. Some threads of the grapes’ innate characters run through the wines — certain central and peripheral fruit scents and flavors, certain spice notions, some earthy, minerally qualities — with differences among the wines derived from radical and inevitable variations in climate, elevation, exposure and soil type, the elements that comprise terroir. The issue of oak is involved, of course, with winemakers making decisions about how long to age their wines in wood and what percentage of new oak barrels to use. I prefer wines with a light oak (or no oak) thumbprint, so I’m pleased to say that none of these wines — 13 pinots, 2 chardonnays — is swamped by an overbearing oak influence. The wines considered today are all pretty terrific, a few more terrificker than the others, but I promise you would not turn any of them down. The order is alphabetical.

These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform you by ruling of the Federal Trade Commission.
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The first vintage from this celebrated vineyard for the winery, the Black Kite Cellars bk-pinotGap’s Crown Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, displays a dark ruby-magenta hue and riveting scents of cranberry and pomegranate, black cherries and raspberries, sassafras and sandalwood, all strung on a line of rooty, loamy elements and graphite minerality. This is a remarkably clean, fresh and bright pinot noir yet also dusty, musky and bosky — three of the Seven Dwarves — and burgeoning with deeply spiced black and red berry flavors. It’s sleek and smooth, animated by brisk acidity and founded on layers of moderate tannins flecked with notes of iodine and iron. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 273 cases. Drink now through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $55.
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The pale gold Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia bk-chardHighlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, and I would say that regimen was just right, because this is a chardonnay of righteous and star-like purity and intensity. Notes of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are infused with hints of cloves, almond skin and toasted hazelnuts; a few minutes in the glass bring out elements of lilac and jasmine and lustrous limestone minerality. On the palate, this chardonnay adds a bit of peach to the citrus flavors, all enclosed by a talc-like texture riven by bright acidity and lacy, etched layers of flint and damp stones; the whole package feels impeccable, beguiling and authoritative in tone, presence and character. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to 2024. Production was 212 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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The Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Carneros, aged 14 months in French oak, 60 donum-estate-grown-carneros-pinot-noir-napa-county-usa-10332775percent new barrels. The color is dense, dark ruby; aromas of black and red currants, cherries and plums are deeply imbued with notes of cloves, nutmeg, allspice and sandalwood, together exuding hints of the exotic astringency of woody Asian spices. In the nose and on the palate, the fruit feels slightly brandied, as in a macedoine, and also a bit ripe, fleshy and roasted. The complexity of the nuances and layers is heady and seductive. Super satiny in texture, suave and supple, this pinot noir partakes of leather and loam, pomegranate and beetroot, buoyed by lively acidity yet rather brooding through the finish. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink through 2020 through 2023. Winemaker was Dan Fishman. Excellent. About $72.
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The Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, aged in French oak, 70 percent new barrels, number of months undetermined. The color is a transparent medium ruby-magenta hue; the wine is reticent and slow to yield its character, though it opens to reserves of intense and concentrated black cherries, raspberries and plums infused by cloves and bittersweet chocolate, brambles and underbrush, iodine and loam. A few moments in the glass reveal notes of lavender and violets. This pinot noir is dense, almost chewy and feels pretty damned rigorous in its tannic-mineral nature. Try from 2018 through 2024 or ’25. Production was 890 cases. Excellent (potential). About $72.
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Mendocino Ridge is one of the rare vineyard regions in the world in which the geographical components are not contiguous, the only such AVA in the United States. Instead, this AVA runs along a series of mountain peaks above 1,200 feet elevation. While the total area encompasses about 262,000 acres, actual vines amount to 237 acres, divided among 17 vineyards. The Ferrari-Carano Sky High Ranch Pinot Noir 2014, Mendocino Ridge, offers a dark ruby hue shading to a lighter magenta rim; aromas and flavors tend toward the more shadowed, exotic and spicy side of the grape, replete with sassafras, cloves, sandalwood and lavender in a foundation of ripe, dusky black cherries and currants and a dash of pomegranate. The texture is satiny with a sensuous drape on the palate, though enlivened by buoyant acidity. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 42 percent new barrels. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020. Excellent. About $52.
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Another example from this vineyard in Sonoma County’s Petaluma Gap, the Gary Farrell Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, aged 14 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. Offering a transparent medium ruby hue shading to mulberry, the wine delivers intense aromas of black cherries and raspberries coated with talc and loam and opening after a few moments in the glass to notes of melon and sour cherry, cloves and pomegranate, sassafras and sandalwood; the wine is dense and supple on the palate, lively and engaging in its acidity and finely balanced between ripe succulent black fruit flavors, brooding tannins and graphite minerality. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Theresa Heredia. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Production was 495 cases. Excellent. About $70.
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The J Vineyards and Winery Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, is the best bottling of the winery’s “regular” pinot noir that I have tasted in years. Winemaker is Nicole Hitchcock. The wine aged nine months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is an entrancing medium ruby flushed with magenta; aromas of red and black cherries and currants, with infusions of sour cherry and cherry pit, are imbued with briery-brambly elements and exotic notes of smoke, sassafras and sandalwood; a few moments in the glass bring out hints of leather and tobacco. This is a bright and feral pinot noir, deep, savory and super-satiny in texture; it’s quite dry but packed with the sweet ripeness of red and black fruit married to the rigor of dusty, graphite-slicked tannins and undertones of loam, roots and branches. 14.3 percent alcohol. A terrific balance of the ethereal and the earthy. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. E & J Gallo purchased J Vineyards and Winery in March 2015. Excellent. About $40.
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The Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, aged 11 months in French oak, 29 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby fading to a transparent magenta rim; this is a deep, spicy, minerally and powerful expression of the pinot noir grape, loaded with elements of black plums and cherries, pomegranate and cranberry, white pepper, cloves and sassafras. It’s dense, sleek, supple and satiny on the palate, brimming with dark ripe fruit and burgeoning with briery-brambly qualities marked by leather and forest floor, cedar and tobacco and a touch of dried sage and thyme. While the wine could, from my lights, use more grace and finesse, it’s a good example of pinot noir in its more muscular guise. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $32.
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Lazy Creek Vineyards in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, is owned by Don and Rhonda Carano, owners of the better-known and much larger Farrari-Carano winery in Sonoma County. Winemaker for Lazy Creek is Christy Ackerman. The Middleridge Ranch vineyard lies at 1,200 to 1,400 elevation. The Lazy Creek Middleridge Ranch Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, aged 10 months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; intense and concentrated aromas of black cherries and plums are infused with notes of cloves and sassafras, rhubarb and sandalwood, rose petals and violets, altogether forming an exotic and seductive aura. Exquisite balance between succulence and a velvety texture, on the one hand, and a spare effect based on vital, lively acidity and a bracing brambly-branchy element on the other, lends the wine an exciting sense of tension and resolution. The finish brings up dry leathery tannins and hints of black cherries cloaked in bittersweet chocolate. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 418 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
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The AVA is one of those intricate ones, a small “valley,” characterized primarily by cool macphail-logoclimate and fog, nestled at the southwestern border of a larger “valley” that lies within the broad Sonoma County AVA (American Viticultural Area). The MacPhail Sundawg Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, aged 16 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. The beguiling color is transparent medium ruby shading to an ethereal mulberry rim; this is a dark, spicy smoky pinot noir — I immediately thought of it served with seared duck breast, braised fennel and turnips — that features ripe and slightly macerated, roasted black and red cherries and plums permeated by notes of sassafras and rhubarb. The wine flows like satin drapery over the palate, where it feels animated by bright acidity and shadowed by elements of briers, brambles and forest floor, lending an autumnal cast to the proceedings, and lightly sanded and dusted tannins. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink now through 2019 through ’22. Excellent. About $49.
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The Three Sticks Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Maria Valley, aged 3-bien-nacido10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby from center to slightly faded rim; the bouquet is intensely floral, opening to notes of red and black cherries, pomegranate and cranberry and displaying discreet tones of loam, cloves and rhubarb, with earthy briers and brambles in the background. The texture is quite sleek and satiny but not voluptuous, and despite juicy black and red fruit flavors, the wine is dry and a little foresty. A few minutes in the glass bring in hints of rose petals and sandalwood, mocha, leather and graphite, lending a slightly exotic air to the whole delicious enterprise. 13.9 percent alcohol. Lovely allure and complexity. Production was 243 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
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The Three Sticks “The James” Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, aged 10 months 3-jamesin French oak, 35 percent new barrels. It begins with an enchanting transparent medium ruby-magenta hue that fades to an invisible rim; at first it feels like all spices, with notes of cloves and sassafras, but it quickly unfurls black cherries and raspberries permeated by rose petals and lilac, smoke and graphite. This is a supremely satiny and mouth-filling pinot noir of sweetly succulent black fruit flavors nestled in a lip-smacking texture and dusty velvety tannins. Sounds too opulent? Fortunately, the whole package is propelled by penetrating acidity that keeps it honest and on an even keel. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 547 cases. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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The Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Valley, 3-originfermented in concrete eggs and aged 10 months in stainless steel tanks; yes, there is great wine without oak! The color is a mild gold hue; classic aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are infused with notes of lilac and fennel, quince and ginger, all animated by a snap of gunflint. This chardonnay is vibrant and resonant on the palate, enlivened by bright acidity that cuts a swath through an appealing dusty, talc-like texture; citrus flavors open to a touch of peach and green tea. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 398 cases, and I wish I had a few of them. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $48.
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Bob Cabral, now at Three Sticks, made these wines. Don’t look for them or any of the — let’s say it — legendary Williams Selyem single-vineyard chardonnays and pinot noirs in stores; they’re sold only by allocation through the winery’s mailing list.

The Williams Selyems Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, derived from two of ws-rrvthe winery’s estate vineyards plus the well-known Bacigalupe Vineyard. It aged 11 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby hue shading to a delicate magenta rim; macerated black and red cherries, currants and plums are sifted with extravagant notes of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood, pomegranate and leather, lavender and violets; I defy anyone not to be mesmerized by these seductive aromas. Fortunately, on the palate, this pinot noir reveals more rigor in the form of bright acidity that plows a furrow through a dusty, satiny texture and sleek tannins imbued with graphite and shale. A few minutes in the glass bring out touches of lilac, red licorice and mint and more earth and loam. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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The Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River ws-westside-roadValley, is an autumnal, feral, foresty pinot noir that follows an amazing evolution in the glass. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 62 percent new barrels, and while that may seem like — as it does to me — a lot of oak influence for pinot noir, these grapes soaked up that wood and turned it into remarkable shapeliness, suppleness and subtlety. The color is a not quite transparent medium ruby-mulberry hue; the wine takes a little time to open from its initial state of earthy, loamy layers that feel a bit funky to woody spices like cloves, allspice and sandalwood, unfurling then its bounty of macerated and lightly stewed red and black cherries and raspberries imbued with notes of sour cherry and melon, briers and brambles. The sense of presence and heft is impressive, as is the sleek, suave texture, the lively acidity and the slightly dusty, graphite-ridden tannins. Give this wine an hour or more to allow its mint-eucalyptus-iodine character to emerge, its notes of resiny rosemary and pine, its layers of damp flint. I would call this pinot noir a monument except that it delivers its ultimate qualities with elegance and finesse. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink through 2025 to 2030. Exceptional.
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Say that it’s a beautiful day, with mild temperature, bright sun and a lightly wafting breeze. You made a piece of cheese toast for lunch, intending to sit on the back porch, catching up on ls_morgan_cotes_du_crows_2014_frontthe newspapers while dogs snore around your feet. What to drink? Readers, I opened a bottle of the Morgan Winery Cotes du Crow’s 2014, a blend of 53 percent grenache grapes and 47 percent syrah from Monterey County, and, by golly, it made me happy. The wine is given gentle treatment in the winery, aging for 10 months in French oak, only 12 percent new barrels. Nothing heavy or ponderous here; all is fluid, fluent and expressive. The color is a moderate ruby-purple with a magenta tinge at the rim; a burst of ripe and intense raspberries, black currants and plums is followed by notes of violets and rose petals, cranberry and tapenade, with hints of wild fennel and celery seed, and I mean that in the best sense, as lending a touch of herbal intrigue to the wine. On the palate, this blend is juicy and smoky, tasting of slightly roasted black and blue fruit that gives it a distinct savory, autumnal quality; the wine gains depth as the moments pass, and the subtle, supple tannins gain a measure of rigor that builds to a finish packed with leather and loam, iodine and iron. Still, this wine, lively and invigorating, feels light-hearted, blithe and balletic. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19 with braised meat dishes, hearty pizzas and pasta preparations, burgers and, of course, my World-Famous Cheese Toast. Excellent. About — ready for this? — $18, representing Great Value.

A sample for review.

Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley is named for 19th Century settler Cyrus Alexander, who lends his given name, in turn, to the flagship red wine from Alexander Valley Vineyards. The winery CYRUS_2012_bottlegoes back to 1962, when Maggie and Harry Wetzel purchased a large portion of a homestead built by Cyrus Alexander. They planted grapes the following year and produced their first cabernet sauvignon in 1968, as a private project. By 1975, however, the family had built a small winery, and matters took off from there. Alexander Valley Vineyards is operated now by the third generation; winemaker is Kevin Hall. The Cyrus 2012, Alexander valley, is a blend of 76 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent merlot, 7 cabernet franc, 3 petit verdot and 2 malbec. It aged a total of 24 months in French oak barrels, 12 months before blending and 12 months after. The color is dark ruby-purple from core to rim; loads of graphite, iodine and iron encompass a pinpoint focus on black currant, black cherry and blueberry scents and flavors that unfold notes of plum pudding and red velvet cake, lavender, licorice and bittersweet chocolate. If all of these factors sound like a confusion of aims and a tendency toward sweetness, that’s not at all what I mean. Yes, the wine gushes with ripeness, but it also is governed by dense, dusty tannins, swingeing acidity and a rigorous granitic mineral element. Some moments in the glass bring in hints of dried rosemary and sage (with the slightly resinous character of those herbs) as well as a tantalizing tinge of wild berries and meadow flowers. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2022 to ’25 with steaks, pork chops, venison and braised meat dishes. Excellent. About $65.

A sample for review.

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I wrote last week about eight sauvignon blanc wines from Napa Valley. Here’s one from Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, that ought not to be missed. Half of the Trione Winery River Road Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Russian River Valley, aged four months in neutral French oak barrels — meaning used many times before — lending the wine subtlety, shape and suppleness without detonating a blatant woody influence. The color is shimmering pale gold; first come notes of lime and grapefruit, heather and lemongrass, followed by hints of lilac, talc and tangerine. On the palate, this sauvigvov blanc is sleek and chiseled, tart and sassy, powered by bright acidity and flush with limestone minerality that generates a burst of graphite and flint. Flavors tend toward leafy figs and yellow plums, permeated by ripe citrus and stone-fruit, all flowing to a finish packed with savory spice and a touch of grapefruit bitterness and every element etched with delicacy and elegance. Alcohol content is an eminently sensible 13.3 percent. Winemaker was Scot Covington. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $23.

A sample for review.

My Wine of the Day back on November 19, 2015, was the Chateau Montelena Riesling 2014, Potter Valley. That wine went on to be included in my list of “50 Great Wines of 2015.” Why would I montelena rieslingfeature, only nine months later, the version of this riesling from 2015? Because it illustrates how perfectly consistent and well-made the wine is; it certainly can claim its place among the best rieslings produced in California. The Chateau Montelena Riesling 2015, Potter Valley, which aged six months in a combination of stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels, exhibits a pale but radiant gold hue and immediately appealing notes of lemon balm, quince and ginger, with hints of lychee, peach and pear and an upper register of lilac and jasmine. On the palate, the wine is lively and vivid, offering an extraordinary texture and body like dusty graphite, talc and loam cut by riveting acidity and a bright limestone element. The balance here, the poise among all elements is exciting, racy, a little risky, yet it also delivers a pleasing and paradoxical softness, a cloud-like suspension of ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors. 13 percent alcohol. We drank this bottle last night with dinner: swordfish marinated in lemon juice and olive oil, maresh and urfa peppers and smoked hot paprika; a mash of Yukon Gold potatoes and one sweet potato; and green peas cooked in riesling and mint, all pretty damned perfect. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

Back in July, I used as a Wine of the Day the Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, follow the link here for the review, a selection that could, of course, have fit right in with this group of eight sauvignon blanc wines, also from Napa valley. Based on these models and others I tasted over the past few years, I would say that the world-famous wine region should be as well-known for this white grape variety as for the red cabernet sauvignon, of which it happens to be a parent (along with cabernet franc). Today I offer brief reviews of six sauvignon blanc wines from 2015 and two from 2014. The ratings divide into one Exceptional, six Excellent and one Very Good+. Scoring aside, however, this was a satisfying and exciting group of wines to taste, and I encourage my readers to stock up on such wines or order them in restaurants. These reviews are quick and incisive, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks and simply fleshed out to complete a full profile of each wine. Typically in the Weekend Wine Notes I eschew technical information, but for two of these selections I include a bit of data that I found interesting. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Acumen Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. 14.45 alc. Very pale gold; leafy and grassy, celery seed and caraway; lime peel and grapefruit, with undercurrents of limestone and flint; a few minutes in the glass bring in intriguing notes of preserved lemon and lemon balm; a suave saugivnon blanc with plenty of verve and energy, a pleasing texture balanced between softness and crispness and a fluid spice-and-limestone infused finish. Super attractive. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $30.
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Cliff Lede Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Pale gold color; interesting regimen in the winery: 52% French mainly neutral oak barrels, 42% stainless steel tanks, and 6% concrete eggs, no malolactic fermentation; elegant yet assertive in character, with hints of lemon rind and curd, jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and ginger; undertones of sunny, leafy figs, heather and meadow flowers, and a bell-note of currant at the center; an absolutely lovely texture poised between a soft, slightly powdery effect and the propulsion of vivid acidity and flint-chalk minerality. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $25.
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Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2015, St. Helena, Napa Valley. NA% alc. Very very pale straw-gold hue; so attractive and appealing in body and presentation and feeling quite deliberately and thoughtfully wrought; roasted lemon and lemon balm, tangerine and honeydew, heather and flowery meadows; pert acidity and burgeoning limestone minerality lend an almost glittering quality to the palate; a soft, powdery texture that’s still lithe and supple; citrus and stone-fruit flavors — notes of grapefruit and peach, with a hint of greengage — are slightly leafy and grassy, all devolving to a delicate, elegant finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $28.
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Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Very pale gold hue; the most tropical of this selection, with notes of mango and passion fruit and touches of lime peel, peach and nectarine; a sleek and lively sauvignon blanc that unfolds a soft sfumato effect heightened by a saline and savory character, poised over layers of limestone and chalk minerality. Starts simple and direct and builds to surprising complexity; the wine aged 9 months in a combination of concrete and stainless steel tanks, French oak barrels and stainless steel drums. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $25.
Label date is one vintage behind.
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Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. Pale gold color; lime peel, nectarine, talc and lilac; hints of celery seed and fennel, lychee and almond skin; some moments in the glass bring in elements of roasted lemon, ginger and quince and penetrating notes of gunflint and graphite; lively and vital on the palate, with a lovely talc-like texture riven by bright acidity and a scintillating limestone quality; stone-fruit flavors are slightly leafy, with a touch of fig in the background; a long, lithe, minerally finish. Really beautiful tone, presence and balance. Now through 2019 to 2020. Exceptional. About $25, a Bargain at the Price.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Pale gold color; generously woven notes of mango and pear, lilac and lemongrass, lemon balm and lemon curd, all wrapped around an intense core of leafiness and heather, fig and graphite; a whisper of oak adds hints of woodsy spice; very dry, with a fleet arrow of acidity and a scintillating limestone character; penetrating personality and august character in a perfectly balanced package. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $31.
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Priest Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Pale gold hue; very pleasing effect of lime peel, grapefruit and gooseberry, fennel and celery seed, talc and jasmine and leafy fig; jazzy and snappy, the most New Zealandish of these sauvignon blancs, but more subdued than those models can be; very dry, clean and bright, lithe and fluent, and overall very appealing. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $22.
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Whitehall Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale gold; subtle and nuanced, with hints of peach and mango, celery seed, lemongrass and spiced pear; a little airing unfurls notes of graphite and gunflint, lilac and celery leaf and a touch of ripe yellow plum; quite dry, sleek and polished, lithe and supple, animated by keen acidity and avid limestone minerality; lovely presence and weight. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $22.
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Here’s a wine that delves into the heart and soul of Sonoma County’s history and essence as a Acorn-2013-Heritage-Vines-Zinfandel-rgb-72dpivineyard and winemaking region. The Acorn Heritage Vines Alegría Vineyards Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley, derives from a vineyard planted in 1890. Some of those remaining vines contributed to a wine that, following old tradition, is a field blend of a wide variety of grapes planted side by side and randomly interspersed. The proportions for this wine are 78 percent zinfandel, 12 percent alicante bouschet, eight percent petite sirah and a whopping two percent mix of carignane, trousseau, sangiovese, petit bouschet, negrette, syrah, black muscat, cinsault and grenache. The wine aged 12 months in 54 percent French oak, 41 percent American and five percent Hungarian, with a total of 39 percent new barrels. While this zinfandel blend is robust and wild, it’s never hyperbolic or extravagant, feeling perfectly balanced in all aspects from beginning to end. The color is dark ruby with a lighter magenta rim; aromas of plums, blackberries and currants offer a hint of blueberries, fruitcake and bittersweet chocolate, all wrapped around an intense core lavender, licorice and dusty dried herbs. These elements segue seamlessly to the palate, where the wine delivers beautiful tone and presence, subtle complexity and a texture buoyed by moderately dense, dusty brushy tannins and animated by bright acidity. The ripe black fruit flavors are boldly spicy and a little plush, though always subdued to the wine’s deliberate acid-oak-tannin-and-mineral structure. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 548 cases. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

It’s not often that a wine writer or blogger gets to use the word “delightful” in reference to a chardonnay — which too often in California come across as heavy and dour — but I’m here to ChardFrnttell you that the Toad Hollow Unoaked “Francine’s Selection” Chardonnay 2015, Mendocino County, is as delightful as chardonnay gets. Though designated Mendocino County, the wine includes grapes from Monterey (12 percent) and Sonoma (10 percent). It’s made completely in stainless steel, and for 2015 malolactic fermentation was reduced to 80 percent, resulting in a wine even more clean, fresh and crisp than usual. The color is bright medium gold; aromas of green apples and pears, with backnotes of pineapple and grapefruit, are lightly spiced and delicately threaded with a leafy, sunny floral element tending toward jasmine and honeysuckle. This chardonnay is dry, but juicy with ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors supported by decisive acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. 13.9 percent alcohol. No, this won’t challenge any of the world’s great chardonnay wines for preeminence, but for sitting out on the porch or patio, for taking along on a picnic, you can’t beat it. Very Good+. About $15, representing Real Value.

A sample for review.

The Amici Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, serves as an exemplar of the manner in which a perfectly balanced wine may embody a slight edge of risk, making it exciting as well as amicisatisfying. The wine aged 11 months in French Oak, 30 percent new barrels; winemaker was Tony Biagi. The color is an entrancing transparent medium ruby hue shading through magenta to an invisible rim. This pinot noir begins with pure raspberry and cherry aromas permeated by notes of sour cherry, melon and cherry pit, with hints of sassafras and sandalwood, pomegranate and cranberry and tinges of briers, brambles and loam. Readers, if you don’t find that bouquet irresistible, you are dead to the better things in life. The texture is superbly satiny, lithe and supple, though a shift occurs on the palate from the openness and sensual appeal of its aromas to the dark side of pinot noir spice and fruit, to the foresty and autumnal. A spine of graphite supports bright acidity that cuts a path, while slightly dusty tannins forge into the finish freighted with nuances of cloves, allspice and wild berry flavors. A few moments in the glass bring out elements of leather and lilac. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 2,770 cases. Drink now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $35.

A sample for review.

One sniff of the Michael David Petite Petit 2014 tells you that it could only have been made in California. Well, O.K., perhaps in South Australia. Anyway, it’s a wine that brims with the sort PetitePetitFrontof full-bore, pedal to the metal, motorcycle boots in hot tar, dark, feral plummy-jamminess that you could even narrow the scope down from generally California to specifically Lodi. Right now, My Readers are thinking, “Whoa, F.K., this is exactly the sort of wine that you deplore!” It’s true, mes amis, that I prefer wines that balance elegance and power, that reveal themselves through hints, nods and nuances, but when you’re sitting down to a trencher of chili or a platter of barbecue ribs, you can toss subtlety out the window. It’s a clever concept, though I don’t know if the name or the concept came first. A unique blend of 85 percent petite sirah and 15 percent petit verdot, the Michael David Petite Petit 2014 offers an opaque yet radiant ebony hue shading to thermonuclear purple at the rim; aromas of supernaturally-ripe blackberries and blueberries unfurl an intense core of lavender and violets, leather and loam, all bolstered by a tremendous dusty graphite element, and all factors replicated on the palate, where the wine is, not surprisingly, defined by dense, dusty, chewy tannins, incisive acidity and slash ‘n’ burn granitic minerality. For all that, the wine is lively, engaging and — paradoxically — rather light-hearted. It is certainly drenched in juicy, spicy black and blue fruit flavors. Also unexpectedly, the alcohol content is only 14.5 percent, I say “only” as compared to the 15 percent and higher commonly seen in red wines from Lodi. Drink now through 2018, maybe ’19, though freshness and immediacy are essential to this wine’s enjoyment. Excellent. About $18.

A sample for review.

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