California


Ah, Summer — sea-coast and mountains, or perhaps just lazy weekend afternoons in your own backyard or on a patio or porch or balcony. Wherever you find yourself, you’ll need a glass of a cool, engaging, pretty wine to enjoy with picnic fare or appetizers or just to sip while contemplating all the goodness that life offers. I mean, cripes, we need that now! These Weekend Wine Notes are a bit fuller than usual because this post started off last week as a stand-alone piece but took too long. So now, here it is. All wines mentioned today were samples for review. All rate “Excellent,” even the cheap ones, so there are some real bargains here. Enjoy! And take care of yourselves, please.
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Ascevi Luwa Ronco Superiore Ceròu 2014, Friuli Isonza, Italy. 12.5% alc. 100% tocai friulano Ascevi-CEROU-Friulano-labelgrapes. The color is pale gold; collectively, in scent and flavor, the wine conjures a sense of mountain heather and valley meadows, of seaside and hillside; pears, almonds and peaches dominate, along with jasmine and honeysuckle, while a hint of honey leavens the savory-saline quality, though the wine is, as they say, bone-dry. Limestone-seashell minerality adds vividness to the wine’s crystalline clarity and chiming acidity, all borne on a lithe, alluring texture. This rates a big “Wow!” Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Production was 500 cases. Excellent. About $18, marking Great Value.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
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Colome Torrontes
Colomé Torrontés 2015, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina. 13.5% alc. 100% torrontés grapes. Derived from vineyards above 5,000 feet, this pale gold torrontes shimmers with notes of jasmine, lilac and talc, brambly pear and lychee, bee’s-wax and lanolin, then opening to hints of roasted lemon, sage and bay leaf. Crisp and lively on the palate, propelled by tart and taut acidity, the wine features a lovely, lithe, supple texture and a finish that’s suave with a sunny-leafy-figgy character and a deeper tone of grapefruit bitterness. This wonderful complexity on perhaps the best torrontés wine I have tasted has nothing to do with oak. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $15, a Remarkable Bargain.
Imported by The Hess Collection Winery, Napa Calif.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Wilson Ranch Dry Chenin Blanc 2015, Clarksburg. 13% alc. The Clarksburg AVA 2015_Chenin_Blanc_label_rgb
includes portions of Sacramento County, Solano County and Yolo County in the Sacramento Valley. The color is very pale straw-gold; notes of hay and heather, pear and jasmine and an intriguing strain of a dusty garrigue-like meadowy quality lend this wine a distinct summery aspect. Hints of gooseberry and brambly currants, quince and ginger complete the lithe, spare, vibrant package. Always a favorite in our house. Excellent. About $13, representing Terrific value.
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FEL Pinot Gris 2015, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14% alc. A pale gold hue for a wine thatPinot-Gris-Anderson-Valley feels golden; notes of ripe pears and peaches are cloaked in dusty, graphite mineral elements and wreathed with jasmine and lilac; a few moments in the glass produce hints of green apple, gunflint, quince and ginger and fresh-mown hay; tremendous minerality and acidity give this wine unexpected grip and power, aspects that do not, however, subtract from its delicate, leafy, lacy qualities. It seems to glow with sunlight from within. The wine fermented in a 900-gallon French oak tank (30%), small neutral French oak barrels (30%) and stainless steel tanks (40%). Produxction was 1,322 cases. Drink through 2019 to 2020. Excellent. About $25.
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Garofoli Serra del Conte 2014, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico. 12% alc. The DOC is in the province of Ancona in Italy’s Marches region, close to the Adriatic sea. The color is pale straw; notes of hay and dry grass, spiced pear and peach and fleshy white flowers like gardenias and camellias distinguish the utterly beguiling bouquet, which opens to exotic hints of powdered cloves and coriander. The texture is silken, lithe and supple, driven by crystalline acidity and a lacy limestone mineral quality, all supporting stone-fruit flavors heightened by a note of grapefruit bitterness on the finish. Excellent. About $11 — no kidding! — so Buy It by the Case Right Now.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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stinson
Stinson Vineyards Rosé 2015, Monticello, Virginia. 12.5% alc. 100% mourvèdre grapes. Production was 150 cases. A rose wine of extreme delicacy and elegance, this model offers a pale salmon-peach hue and transporting hints of orange zest and ripe strawberries, melon and sour cherry, with high notes of rose petals and violets. There’s enough limestone minerality and a touch of loamy earthiness in this rosé that resists being merely charming, while its quite dry texture leads to a spice and dried herb finish. Excellent. About $21.
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Le-Rosse
Tommasi Le Rosse Pinot Grigio 2015, delle Venezia, Italy. 12% alc. This superior pinot grigio starts with a pale gold hue and then offers beguiling notes of jasmine and honeysuckle, peach and pear, dried thyme and lightly smoked almonds, adding a small flourish of greengage and melon on the finish. It’s quite dry, bracing in its savory and saline qualities and animated by a whip-lash of flint and bright acidity. Delectable, with a slightly serious edge and real character. Excellent. About $17, Good Value.
Imported by Vintus LLC, Pleasantville, N.Y.
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troon
Troon Vineyard Vermentino Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon. 12.5% alc. 80% vermentino, 20% sauvignon blanc. Production was 167 cases. The color is a shimmering pale straw hue; notes of roasted lemons and spiced pears burgeon from the glass, attended by hints of greengage and yellow flowers, dried thyme, heather and meadow grass. The wine displays real grip for a white wine that’s not chardonnay or riesling and reveals remarkable detail and dimension in its permeable layers of dusty limestone and flint minerality, its dense and lithe texture and its nuances of spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors, all energized by vivid acidity. Quite a performance. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $24.
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Two Shepherds Fanucchi Vineyard Trousseau Gris 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 2014TrousseauGrisfrontWinemaker William Allen ferments the white grapes (using native yeast) on the skins for the first five days, imparting a pale copper-smoky topaz hue, and after fermentation ages the wine eight months in neutral oak barrels. Neither a white wine nor a red or rose, this intriguing effort offers notes of spiced pear, Rainier cherries and yellow plums with a ping of red currant at the core; like a rosé from Provence, this wine embodies that ineffable yet characteristic aspect of dusty-damp roof tiles, yet unlike any rosé it features hints of savory and slightly bitter almond skin and a saline line of marsh grass. The finish is almost sherry-like. Another memorable performance. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 125 cases. Drink through 2018. Excellent. About $28.
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quivira elusive
If you’re grilling leg of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary, here’s a wine for you. The Quivira Elusive 2013, from Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley, is a southern Rhône-style blend of 49 percent syrah grapes, 27 percent mourvèdre, 18 percent grenache and 6 percent counoise. The wine aged in large French barrels, called foudres that hold 600 and 900 gallons; compare that figure to the 59 gallons in the typical French barrique. The point is that the larger the barrel, the smaller the ratio of wine directly exposed to wood and the less penetrating (or at least more gentle) is the wood influence. The color is vibrant dark ruby-magenta; it’s a deep, raspy, briery-brambly wine that delivers black and red cherry scents and flavors, slightly spiced and macerated and imbued with notes of blue plums and blueberries, leather and lavender, dried thyme and sage. Quivira Elusive 2013 is a shapely wine, replete on the palate and almost lavish with dusty, velvety tannins and bright acidity for liveliness and energy. It draws out a line of finely spun graphite and granitic minerality in a finish packed with tantalizing dried spices and flowers. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 612 cases. Winemaker was Hugh Chappelle. Drink through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $36.

A sample for review. This post marks number 1,750 on BTYH.

If you owned a winery in a region recently granted status as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) by the generous folks at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), how would you go about capturing the hearts and minds of wine consumers? Would you start by establishing a solid reputation as a producer of reliable wines, wines that even punch above their weight, in the range of, say, $18 to $30? Or would you attempt to capture the elite spender’s attention by releasing the Mercedes and Porsche models of your line, the wines that cost $50 to $175? My recommendation would be to take the first route to consumers’ approval and their wallets, but a group of wineries in the Coombsville AVA chose the second alternative, sending out the top dogs for review. Coombsville was granted AVA status in December 2011.
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All producers and winemakers want their wines to be unique, and one way they see to achieving that special status is an emphasis on a specific place. That drive is the primary motivation, in this country, for petitioning the TTB to grant official status as an American Viticultural Area to increasingly smaller regions within larger AVAs. The thinking goes that if, for instance, Napa Valley, however illustrious its history may be, seems a bit broad and uninteresting as a designation, how much better to mention on a label that one’s wine derives from Oakville District or Howell Mountain, important splinters within the Napa Valley AVA. Vineyard owners, winery owners and winemakers hire consultants, geologists and climatologists to determine the individual qualities and values of a proposed AVA, often working for years to secure approval. In 2014, for example, the Paso Robles AVA, itself a delineated region within the larger San Luis Obispo AVA, was divided into 11 sub-AVAs all at once, on the assumption that consumers will harken to the call of Paso Robles Willow Creek AVA or Santa Margarita Ranch AVA on wine labels.

Coombsville is the most recent (and the 16th) sub-AVA granted in Napa Valley. It lies east of the burgeoning city of Napa, bordered on the west by the Napa River, on the east by the Vaca Range, on the north my Mount George and runs south to Imola Avenue. This newish AVA encompasses 11,075 acres, of which something like 1,400 acres are planted to vines. Located in the southern Napa Valley, Coombsville comes under the influence of San Pablo Bay and its cooling maritime nature, being, actually, the coolest AVA in Napa Valley except for Carneros. The unique feature of the Coombsville AVA — named for Natham Coombs, who founded the town of Napa in 1848 — is a vast caldera, an ancient horseshoe-shaped ridge that is the result of a collapsed volcano. The volcanic ash and debris left from this geologic event created a soil suited for the nurture of grapevines and the necessary stressing of their roots. In addition, alluvial flows from Mount George contributed to the rocky-volcanic quality of the soil.

I received six samples for review from wineries in the Coombsville AVA, and while several struck me as classic Napa Valley, compounded of distinct mineral-black fruit-sleek tannin elements, others felt too emphatic, over-determined and unbalanced. I also thought that some of these prices smacked of delusions of grandeur. Lemme see what you can do at $25, please, before you send me the bottle that carries a $175 tariff. I omit, unfortunately, a great deal of technical information I would typically include in these reviews because the websites of most of these wineries seem not just reticent but downright secretive. Come on, people, the point of a website is to deliver information.

Map from winemag.com.
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cairdean
Cairdean Acquaintance Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coombsville, Napa Valley. The color shades from dark ruby at the center to medium ruby at the rim; it’s a highly structured wine now, with a bouquet characterized by elements of toast, dust and graphite, charcoal, cedar and tobacco, rosemary, lavender and licorice and a core of iodine and iron. The segue onto the palate produces similar results, with the glimmering addition of intense and concentrated blue and black fruit — blueberries and blue plums, black currents and cherries — drenched in granitic tannins. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 224 cases. Try from 2018-’20 through 2028-’32. Very Good+ for now. About $84.
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Covert Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coombsville, Napa Valley. Signaling a wine of deep extraction, the color here is opaque ruby shading to glowing purple-magenta at the rim; the bouquet delivers powerful snootfuls of iodine and graphite, with notes of charcoal, cedar and lavender, black currants and baked plums touched with mint, mocha and fruitcake in an array of structural and esthetic effects. Not surprisingly, the wine is quite dry, characterized by a vibrant arrow of graphite minerality and resonant, lip-smacking acidity that serve to animate black and blue fruit flavors encased in depth-charge tannins, both dusty and succulent. A lingering finish pulls in elements of smoke, tobacco, cigarette paper and iron. 14.9 percent alcohol. 356 cases produced. Drink from 2018 or 2020 through 2030 or ’32. Excellent. About $175.
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Maroon Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coombsville, Napa Valley. This wine spent 30 months in French oak, though we are not informed of the percentage of new barrels. It is, in any case, a strapping example of dynamic structure, cloaking its modicum of rich, jammy black and red fruit scents and flavors, all spiced, macerated and roasted, with blueberry undertones, in a panoply of large-framed, dusty and gritty tannins that seethe with charcoal, cold ashes and foresty funk. 14.4 percent alcohol. Nowhere near drinkable now, try from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’34. Production was 1,340 cases. Very Good+, for now. About $80.
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scalon cab
Scalon Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Coombsville, Napa Valley. The color of this 100 percent cabernet wine is very dark ruby-purple; it aged 20 months in all new French oak barrels. Penetrating aromas of ripe blackberries and and black currants carry hints of blueberry jam, graphite and lavender, rosemary and cedar, black olives and braised fennel; a few minutes in the glass unleash elements of iodine and iron. On the palate, this cabernet sauvignon is lively and vibrant, lent dynamism by vivid acidity and a keen mineral edge that bolsters a dense, dusty, chewy texture and velvety but rigorous tannins. 13.8 percent alcohol. 235 cases produced. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $85.
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scalon priorityScalon Cellars Priority Red Wine 2012, Napa Valley. This very limited edition wine is a blend of 51 percent cabernet sauvignon, 40 percent cabernet franc and nine percent merlot; it aged 20 months in French oak barrels. It starts with a dark ruby-purple hue and opens with aromas of ripe and slightly roasted black cherries and plums infused with cassis and cloves; the wine is quite woodsy and foresty, with undertones of briers and brambles, graphite and lavender. It’s very dry, even a bit austere, yet imbued with jammy and spicy black fruit flavors, leaning altogether, with its shaggy tannins, toward a rustic presentation. The least coherent of this group, the wine needs more balance and integration. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 50 cases. To give it chance to cohere, try from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 to ’32. Very Good+. About $50.
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silver stag
Silver Stag Parsley Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; the chief feature of the bouquet is ripe black currant and black raspberry scents permeated by notes of cedar and tobacco, iodine, iron and loam; it’s a lively and energetic cabernet but dense with a towering structure of austere oak and dusty tannins, still, somehow, managing to be rich and jammy on the palate. A few minutes in the glass bring in hints of lavender, bitter chocolate and graphite. 14.4 percent alcohol. Give this a few years to find better balance. Very Good+. About $90.
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O.K., not a totally A to Z line, but the roster for today’s Weekend Wine Notes runs from albariño to zinfandel, with several alphabetical stops between those points, nine of them including a couple of real bargains, though all represent good value. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew the plethora of technical, historical, geographical and personnel data that we dote upon so dearly for the sake of quick and incisive reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy!

With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
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Arios Albariño 2014, Rias Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. Pale pale straw-gold hue; roasted lemons and ariospears, dried thyme and heather, white flowers and a touch of flint; very dry, scintillating with pert acidity and a brisk limestone element; lovely lemon and peach flavors, lightly glossed with cloves and honey. Super attractive and eminently drinkable. Very Good+. About $15.
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FEL Wines Chardonnay 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; FEL-Logo_850x500roasted lemon, lemon drop, pineapple and grapefruit; beguiling notes of jasmine and gardenia, quince and ginger, with flint in the background; marked purity and intensity, vibrant and resonant with keen acidity and limestone and chalk minerality, yet seductive in its supple, talc-like texture that laves the palate; ripe citrus flavors with a touch of baked stone-fruit; a beautifully shaped, high-minded and crystalline chardonnay, for drinking through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $28.
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Vento di Mare Nerello Mascalese 2013, Terre Siciliane. 13% alc. Deep ruby-purple; robust and CMYK basehearty, featuring intense aromas of violets and lavender, dark spicy cherries, with something of cherry skin and pit pungency and bitterness; plums and currants; leafy, woodsy notes of cedar and dried rosemary, with the latter’s characteristic resinous nature; shaggy tannins, dense and chewy; penetrating acidity and granitic minerality. Perfect for full-flavored pizzas and pasta dishes, burgers with bacon and cheddar cheese, grilled pork chops with a Southwestern rub; you get the idea. Very Good+. About $12, so Buy It by the Case.
Imported by Middleton Family Wines, Shandon, Calif.
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Giesen The Brothers Pinot Noir 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand. 14.5% alc. 500 cases imported. Medium transparent ruby color; ferrous and sanguinary, with notes of iodine and mint, pomegranate and cranberry, baked cherries and raspberries; deep and warm, spicy and savory; a definite foresty element animated by fleet acidity; fairly tannic for a pinot noir, dusty and almost velvety, but reigned in by sleek elegance; polished oak stays in the background, giving the wine shape and suppleness. Drink through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $30.
Imported by Constellation Brands, Gonzales, Calif.
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2012PastoralRouge
Two Shepherds Pastoral Rouge 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 45% grenache, 30% mourvedre, 25% syrah. Production was 200 cases. Medium ruby hue shading to garnet; smoked plums, bruised raspberries and a touch of blueberry, hints of red licorice, leather and loam; slightly spicy and tea-like, meaning black tea; lithe and expressive on the palate, very clean, a bit chiseled in its graphite-tinged minerality and lightly dusted tannins that take on more heft through the finish; a southern Rhône-style blend that’s elevating and balletic rather than dense and earth-bound; “pastoral,” indeed, in its irresistible, meadowy appeal to life and eating and drinking al fresco. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $36.
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La Domitienne Rosé 2015, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France. 12.5% alc. 50% each cinsault and grenache. Pale la_domitienne_rose_GWP_2015_label-no-guidescopper-onion skin color; delicate and slightly leafy strawberry and raspberry scents and flavors, though it’s a wild and bosky rosé, suave and fairly robust, savory and saline, dry and flinty, and lively in its bright acidity. A real thirst-quencher, with surprising complexity for the price. Very Good+. About $10, a Raving Bargain.
Imported by Guarachi Wine Partners, Woodland, Calif.
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Star Lane Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County. NA% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; star-like clarity of grapefruit, lime peel and papaya, with spiced pear and hints of lemongrass and lilac; bright acidity paired with clean limestone-flint minerality, yet a fairly earthy sauvignon blanc, with seeming connections to the loamy soil from which it sprang. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $22.
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Illahe
Illahe Viognier 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; jasmine and gardenia, pears and green apples, hints of lanolin and bee’s-wax; very dry, spare, but with a ravishing silken texture and flavors of lightly spiced and macerated pear and peach; crystalline acidity and a hint of a limestone edge, leading to a touch of grapefruit on the finish. Really lovely. Excellent. About $17. (A local purchase at $20.)
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Dry Creek Vineyards Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2014, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 78% zinfandel, 20 2014_Heritage_label_rgbpercent petite sirah, 1% each primitivo and carignan. Dark ruby; blackberries, currents and plums, notes of cloves and black pepper, orange rind and oolong tea; quite dry, an evocative woodsy zinfandel, seething with briers and brambles, a hint of damp leaves, supported by dusty, graphite-tinged tannins and lip-smacking acidity; a supple, spice-laden finish. gratifyingly balanced and layered for drinking through 2019 or 2020. Excellent. About $22.
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I have long been a fan of the pinor noir wines from Pfendler Vineyards, a small producer located in the Petaluma Gap area of the Sonoma Coast AVA. I rated the 2010 and 2012 Exceptional and the 2013 Excellent; all appeared on the list of “50 Great Wines” of the appropriate review year. Oddly, though, the only chardonnay I have written about from Pfendler is the 2010. Here is that mention, in the Weekend Wine post for March 22, 2013:

Pfendler Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Medium straw-gold color; bold and rich but not creamy or tropical; well-integrated flavors of pineapple and grapefruit infused with ginger and quince and a hint of peach; very dry but really lovely, elevating and balletic; oak comes through from mid-palate back, yet the whole package reflects a hands-off approach; final touch of jasmine and roasted hazelnuts. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.

The key to the wine seems to be a sense of risk — “bold and rich,” “oak comes through from mid-palate back” — combined with an effort toward elegance and balance. I wish I could say the same for the version under review today.
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I don’t know if the oak regimen at Pfendler changed recently; the winery’s website is still on pfendler chard2013. It seems to me that winemaker Greg Bjornstad has always favored a hands-off approach, though the Pfendler Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, exhibits a strangely marked presence of wood. The color is bright medium straw-gold, and the initial aromas consist of attractive notes of green apple, grapefruit and pineapple tinged with fresh coconut and lemongrass. A few minutes in the glass, however, bring in touches of oak-influenced toffee and burnt-match, and on the palate the wine displays a stridently spicy character that leads to an astringent finish. No balance or elegance here. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Not recommended. About $38.
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No such worries about the Pfendler Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, an exemplar from beginning to pfendler pinotend. The color is an entrancing transparent medium cranberry-mulberry hue shading to an invisible rim; I could read my handwritten notes through this wine. It’s a bosky pinot noir that offers notes of foresty herbs and flowers, briers, brambles and loam, all to support scents and flavors of ripe and dried black cherries with currant and plum undertones; as the moments pass, this wine develops hints of cloves and rhubarb, lilac and rose petals. Bright acidity cuts a swath through a super-satiny texture, serving as counterpoint to elements of graphite and mildly dusty tannins; plenty of lithe, supple structure here, but not at the expense of generous fruit flavors or a mineral-flecked finish. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22 with roasted chicken, pork tenderloin, rabbit and duck terrine. Excellent. About $45.
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These wines were samples for review.

Indigenous-Cemetery-20141
The sort of zinfandel I dote upon is one that expresses, either forthrightly or eloquently, the character of the grape without the hyperbole of over-ripeness, strident spicy qualities, tough tannins and the fatal sweet heatedness of high alcohol. We often find those kinds of zinfandels in Lodi, where the wines typically soar above 15 percent alcohol, but a model much more balanced is the Oak Farm Vineyards “Indigenous” Cemetery Vineyard Zinfandel 2014, Lodi, which clocks in at a mild and sensible 13.5 percent alcohol. The color is deep ruby with a glowing magenta rim; aromas of ripe blackberries and black currants are highlighted by notes of blueberries, cloves, briers and brambles and touches of fruitcake and iodine. Dusty tannins display a honed graphite edge, and indeed this zinfandel, while being warm and spicy and tasty with its black and blue fruit flavors, exudes the coolness of chiseled limestone, wrapped around an animated core of vibrant acidity and hints of lavender, leather and loam. Drink now through 2019 to ’21 with steaks or burgers, grilled pork chops, chili, hearty pastas and pizzas. Production was 361 cases. Excellent. About $32.

A sample for review.

The Rodney Strong Vineyards Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma County, was fermented and then aged 12 months in new and used French oak barrels, except for three percent; that dollop went chalk hill chardinto stainless steel. Whatever the effect of wood and stainless steel on the wine was, it’s a chardonnay of lovely balance and integration that offers surprising depth and dimension for the price. The color is palest gold; aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, lime peel, quince and pear assert themselves with crystalline purity and intensity, adding, as moments pass, layers of limestone and flint minerality. The wine flows across the palate in a winsome blend of moderate lushness and pert acidity, poised between elegance and energy; ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors are imbued with notes of cloves, limestone and heather, the latter tone opening to a authoritative finish that brings in a slightly earthy quality and a tinge of grapefruit bitterness. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemakers were Rick Sayre and Justin Seidenfeld. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. You could sell the hell out of this chardonnay in bar and restaurant by-the-glass programs. Excellent. About $22, representing Good Value.

A sample for review.

The history of Byron Vineyards and Winery is as Byzantine as any of the wineries in a state where convoluted narratives of origins, founders, failures, buy-outs, consolidation and recovery SBCare common. It’s too easy to say that Byron Ken Brown founded his winery in the eastern reaches of Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley in 1984. We have to go back to 1964, when Uriel Nielson planted the first commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County, in an area considered too cool to grow grapes. Brown, the first winemaker at Zaca Mesa (for six vintages), purchased the Nielson Vineyard in 1989, and it became his estate vineyard. The people at Robert Mondavi Winery were impressed by the quality of Byron’s wines — mostly chardonnay and pinot noir — with the result that Mondavi bought the winery in 1990, retaining Ken Brown as winemaker. Such was the new owner’s faith in Byron’s potential that in 1995, Mondavi financed the creation of a technically advanced 32,000-square-foot winery.

O.K., now, when Constellation bought Robert Mondavi Winery in 2004 for $1 billion, the giant drinks company signaled that it would divest itself of Mondavi’s individual winery properties, selling Byron to Legacy Estates Group, founded in 2000 by brothers Calvin and Dev Sidhu. Legacy had purchased Freemark Abbey in 2001 and followed with Arrowood and Byron in 2005, purchased for $40 million from Constellation. Eight months later, Legacy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Waiting in the wings was Jess Jackson, founder of Kendall-Jackson and owner, with his wife Barbara Banke, of Jackson Family Wines. He acquired Legacy for $97 million, and it’s with Jackson Family Wines that Freemark Abbey, Arrowood and Byron remain. Byron, not coincidentally, lies next to JFW’s Cambria Estate, and Byron winemaker Jonathan Nagy produces pinot noir from Cambria’s Julia’s Vineyard (see review below). Nagy came to Byron in 2001 as assistant winemaker and became director of winemaking there in 2003.

The four pinot noirs under review today from single vineyards in Santa Maria Valley. Byron also makes pinot noir and chardonnay from vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, southeast of Santa Maria in the Santa Ynez Valley. While this quartet offers differing quotients of detail and dimension, the wines feature a similarity of seductive fruity, floral and spicy bouquets; dense enveloping textures; and loamy, slightly granitic earthiness and minerality.

These wines were samples for review. Map of Santa Barbara County AVAs from sbcountywines.com.
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At about 1,750 cases, the Byron Winery Nielson Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria ECM306808Valley, offers by far the largest production of these four single-vineyard wines. The south-facing vineyard lies 18 miles from the coast, some 500 to 800 feet above sea level, on benchland overlooking the Santa Maria River. The site contains a mixture of alluvial, decomposing rock and older soils that have washed down from the foothills to the north. Nielson is the warmest of Byron’s vineyards in the valley, though still quite cool. The wine aged approximately 16 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels.

The color is a beautiful medium ruby shading to transparent magenta; aromas of ripe black cherries, raspberries and plums are permeated by hints of cloves, sassafras and rhubarb, with high notes of rose petals and lilac. This is a sultry and satiny pinot noir, deeply spicy and almost luxuriously textured, though cut by vivid acidity and a tinge of slightly dusty tannins. The black fruit flavors are bolstered by an intense core of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate, while a few minutes in the glass bring out elements of mint and talc. 14.5 percent alcohol. Lovely dimension and detail. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.
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ECM306917
Planted in 1974, the well-known Sierra Madre Vineyard, the coolest of Byron’s Santa Maria Valley sites, sits 10 miles from the Pacific at about 215 feet elevation. The environment is the sort of poor, sandy-loamy soil that forces vines to search deeply for water and nutrients. No pain, no gain, n’est-ce pas? The Byron Sierra Madre Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley, aged about 16 months in French oak, 31 percent new barrels.

The color is a beguiling medium transparent ruby-mulberry hue; it’s a dark and slightly brooding pinot noir, pungent with cloves, sassafras and beetroot, smoky black cherries, and notes of violets, lavender and graphite. On the palate, it feels burnished, polished and sleek, flowing across the tongue in a sensuous satiny fashion, though it develops a serious loamy-musky-graphite element that speaks of profound depths and roots in the earth. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 225 cases. Now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $45.
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Julia’s Vineyard encompasses some of the oldest pinot noir vines in Santa Barbara County, having been planted in 1970 and 1971. The location is two miles west of the Nielson Vineyard, situated at 500 feet elevation and running east-west. The soil is poor sandy limestone, requiring hard work on the part of the vines. The Byron Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley, aged about 16 months in French oak, 39 percent new barrels. An entrancing transparent medium ruby hue shades to an invisible rim; you would be hard-pressed not to love this bouquet that seethes with smoky black cherries and currants imbued with hints of cedar and cloves, sage, rose petals and lilac, flint and graphite and revealing poignant notes of rhubarb and pomegranate. Totally seductive in its lovely weight and viscosity, uttering beguiling in its nuance and detail (and spicy black fruit flavors tinged with blue), this pinot noir does not neglect the structural elements of clean, bright acidity or an almost subliminal tannic edge etched with flint-like minerality. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 115 cases. Prodigiously satisfying. Now through 2021 through 2024. Excellent. About $45.
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ECM306918
The Byron Monument Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley, is composed of grapes chosen from the best blocks of the winery’s estate Nielson Vineyard. The wine aged about 16 months in French oak, 78 percent new barrels. A transparent medium ruby hue shades to an ephemeral magenta rim; aromas of black cherries steeped in oolong tea, notes of rhubarb and cola, cloves, an aura like clean linens snapping in an urgent breeze, fresh and dried fruit and flowers — all contribute to a wonderfully layered and appealing bouquet. The wine is dark and spicy on the palate, woodsy and loamy, dense and chewy, yet it displays ineffable delicacy and elegance despite its size and presence. It’s vivid and vital, a pinot noir whose languid satiny drape on the tongue belies its energy and elan. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 120 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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From the winery’s warmest vineyard (above Calistoga) and from a warm year, the Grgich Hills ZN12-FRONT_750Estate Zinfandel 2012, Napa Valley, tips the scale at 15.5 percent alcohol, a factor that accounts for the wine’s sizeable presence on the palate without sending it into the over-ripe, cloying camp. The zinfandel grapes were fermented with two percent petite sirah, all certified organic; the wine aged 15 months in large French oak casks, so there’s very little wood influence (and no new oak vanilla), more a sense of shaping the wine’s suppleness and depth. The color is a pleasing medium ruby hue, not dark or extracted; aromas of plums, black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of black pepper, tar and oolong tea, with deeper hints of cloves, boysenberry and blackberry jam. It’s a very dry zinfandel, framed by dusty tannins and buoyant acidity over fathoms of briery-brambly elements and chiseled graphite minerality; the spicy black fruit flavors, tinged with blue, make a delicious melange with the wine’s suave structure. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with grilled steaks and pork chops or similar hearty meaty fare. Excellent. About $36.

A sample for review.

Inexorably we drift from Spring into Summer, so in honor of this transitional state I offer a dozen savory, zesty white wines. The grapes range from the familiar — sauvignon blanc, riesling — to the unfamiliar and exotic — grillo, gouveio, while the geography takes us all over the place. Prices rise from about $12 to $28, giving space for some real bargains and great values. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew all technical, historical, geological and personal data — as interesting as those items may be — for the sake of quick and incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebook, and designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Unless otherwise noted, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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haberle_label
Alois Lagerder Haberle Pinot Blanc 2013, Südtirol Alto Adige, Italy. 13% alc. Production was 1,125 cases. Very pale straw hue; ripe, spice, macerated and lightly roasted stone-fruit with a halo of white flowers; notes of dried thyme and fennel; lithe and supple texture, offering vivid acid cut and limestone dimensions of structure; very dry but juicy with peach, pear and yellow plum flavors; real personality and character. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $23.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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erste-neue
Erste + Neue Pinot Grigio 2015, Alto-Adige. 14% alc. Pale gold color; very appealing, with notes of green apple, pear and lemon balm, heather and meadow grass; heady and floral; lovely silken texture; quite dry, with pert acidity and shimmering limestone minerality; nothing complicated, just altogether irresistible. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $16.
Imported by T Edward Wines, New York.
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assobio
Esporao Assobio 2014, Douro, Portugal. 13% alc. 40% viosinho grapes, 30% gouveio, 20% verdelho, 10% arinto. Pale straw color; pear and acacia, heather and thyme; a bracing aura of sea-breeze and salt-marsh; very dry, with pert acidity, layers of damp flint and shale minerality; an exotic spicy-herbal flare; lean and supple. Now through 2017 to ’18. Very Good+. About $14, marking Great Value.
Imported by Aidil Wines, New York.
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semillon
Esporao Private Selection Semillon 2013, Alentejano, Portugal. 14% alc. Medium gold hue; elevating aromas of quince and ginger, spiced pear, lemon oil and orange rind; slightly honeyed in aspect but quite dry and spare; a fragile infusion of tropical fruit and flowers with a hint of fig; lovely silky texture, moderately lush but honed by limestone. Now through 2018. Excellent. About $28.
Impoted by Aidil Wines, New York.
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Gewurz
Lazy Creek Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.2% alc. Production was, alas, only 65 cases. Pale straw color; classic notes of lychee, pear, jasmine and rubber eraser, with hints of cloves and ginger; lithe texture, with crystalline clarity, acidity and limestone drive, great vibrancy and appeal; the limestone-flint minerality builds through the dynamic finish; grapefruit finish with a touch of bracing bitterness. A terrific example of the grape. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $22.
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Matetic EQ Coastal Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. Pale straw color; Matetic EQ Coastal SB 14 Ftgrapefruit, lilac, greengage; celery seed and fennel with back-notes of lime peel, quince and ginger; crisp and lively, with riveting acidity and a plangent limestone element; a lithe, almost sinewy texture with depths of fruit, spice and minerality bolstering a scintillating, transparent finish. Now through 2017. Excellent. About $20.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa Calif. The label image is one vintage behind.
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puyanche-blanc-sec
Chateau Puyanché Franc 2014, Cote de Bordeaux Blanc. 75% sauvignon blanc, 25% semillon. Pale straw-gold hue; assertive notes of dill and celery seed, caraway and lime peel, with pink grapefruit and ethereal back-notes of melon and apple skin; just a lovely wine in every way: slightly powdery texture, stone-fruit and citrus scents and flavors, bright acidity and limestone minerality; sleek, chiseled finish. Now through 2018. Excellent. About $15, a Real Bargain.
Imported by Twins America. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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plotzner
St. Pauls Plotzner Weissburgunder 2015, Südtirol Alto Adige. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw color; spice pear and roasted lemon, hay and autumn meadows, chalk and flint; a little earthy, as if its toes were still in the vineyard; clean and incisive acidity and chiseled limestone minerality. An exhilarating pinot blanc for drinking through 2019 to ’20. Excellent. About $20.
Importer N/A.
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Tascate Buonora 2014, Sicilia. 12% alc. 100% carricante grapes. Pale straw-gold hue; a rich, Stampagolden wine, with spiced pears and yellow plums, sage and thyme, green tea, quince and acacia; scintillating limestone and flint minerality; sea-salt and meadow; spicy and savory. A great deal of charm. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $20.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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blanc
Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc 2013, Russian River Valley. 12.9% alc. Roussanne 50%, marsanne 25%, viognier 13%, grenache blanc 6%, grenache gris 6%. Production was 100 cases. Pale straw-gold hue; peach, pear and quince, bee’s-wax, dried thyme and sage; apple skin and pear nectar; lilac and acacia; yellow plums and a bare hint of mango; all these elements inextricably encompassed in a package that feels irrevocably vital, vibrant, real, bound to the earth yet ethereally delicate and delicious. An extraordinary wine. Exceptional. About $30.
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grillo
Vento di Mare Grillo 2014, Terre Siciliana IGT. 12.5% alc. Made from organic grillo grapes. Pale straw-gold hue; savory and saline, with yellow plum and roasted lemon scents and flavors, notes of heather, dried thyme and sea-grass, clean-cut acidity and limestone minerality and a chalk-flinty element that increases through the herb-and-spice laden finish. Drink up. Very Good+. About $12, an Amazing Bargain.
Imported by Middleton Family Wines, Shandon, Calif.
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wakefield riesling
Wakefield Riesling 2015, Clare Valley, Australia. 12% alc. Pale straw gold color; peach and pear, lychee and jasmine, with a hint of zesty grapefruit and its pith; very dry, with a burgeoning limestone and chalk element, all wrapped in delightful vitality. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $17.
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