California


Sarah’s Vineyard traces its history to the late 1970s, when Marilyn Clark and John Otterman 13-pinotnoir-estate-thumbnailbought a 10-acre property in the Santa Clara Valley, about 30 miles south of Santa Cruz. They produced their first wines in 1983. They sold the winery to polymath Tim Slater in 2001. The estate occupies 28 acres in the cool climate “Mt. Madonna” district of the southern Santa Cruz Mountains. I cannot offer details about winemaking and the oak regimen for this Chardonnay 2014 and Pinot Noir 2014 because the winery website is several vintages behind on information. I will say that if you love pinot noir, this one is Worth a Search.

These wines were samples for review.
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The color of the Sarah’s Vineyard Estate Chardonnay 2014, Santa Clara Valley, is bright medium gold, and, in fact, that adjective “bright” applies to every aspect of this slightly too florid chardonnay. It’s a bold and spicy wine, golden with baked pineapple and grapefruit flavors elevated by notes of cloves, quince and ginger and touched with a hint of wood smoke and dried mountain herbs. Bright acidity provides an even keel for the richness of the macerated stone-fruit flavors emboldened by a limestone and oak structure that burgeons through the drying finish. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 198 cases. I would give this chardonnay another year in bottle to achieve balance and integration. Very Good+. About $32.
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I have no such caveats about the Sarah’s Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Clara Valley. The color is perfect, a medium ruby hue shading to a transparent garnet rim; aromas of rhubarb and sassafras, black and red cherries and plums, cloves and sandalwood are beautifully balanced and integrated, as is, in truth, every element of the wine. While it’s ripe and delicious, even tending toward succulent, on the palate, this pinot noir pulls up loamy and briery qualities, along with foresty touches of moss and dry leaves, all of which animate a texture that’s both satiny and a little muscular. My final note was , “Lordy, how beautiful!” 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Production was 415 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Before Sonoma Mountain was approved as an American Viticultural Area in 1985, Patrick Campbell was producing excellent cabernet sauvignon wines from a vineyard 2,000 feet up the mountainside. lg_12_cp_beauty_webAfter 30 vintages, Campbell sold the winery and vineyards in 2011 to a group led by Bettina Sichel; Campbell still works as a consultant with a team that includes winemaker Randall Watkins and legendary California grower Phil Coturri and winemaker David Ramey. As is the case with many wineries, Laurel Glen offers several levels of products to make its wines more accessible, the instance here being its Counterpoint label. The Laurel Glen Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Sonoma Mountain, is a blend of 90 percent cabernet and 10 percent merlot, sourced primarily from the winery’s organic estate vineyard as well as fruit from two other vineyards in the AVA. The wine aged 16 months in French oak (and a bit of American oak), 40 percent new barrels. The color is very dark ruby-magenta, basically opaque at the center; ravishing aromas of ripe and spicy black currants, cherries and blueberries shift to graphite and ink, iodine and iron that admit notes of lavender and licorice, loam and leather. Readers, you could eat it with a spoon. You feel the dense chewy structure on the palate, the bold, dust-inflected, finely-grained tannins; the bright and lively acidity; the suppleness of burnished oak; also, thank goodness, the deliciousness of black fruit flavors swathed in cloves, allspice and bittersweet chocolate, all driving toward a sturdy, mineral-packed finish. 14.4 percent alcohol. This is a beautifully crafted and balanced cabernet seemingly influenced by its slightly austere mountain roots, for drinking tonight with a medium rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, or through 2024. Excellent. About $40.

A sample for review. The bottle image is two vintages behind the wine reviewed here.

Trying to be a good sport about this Merlot Month thing, so here’s a dependable example from PrintNapa Valley. The Flora Springs Merlot 2014, Napa Valley, derives from sustainable cultivated vineyards in Napa valley generally and from the St. Helena and Rutherford sub-AVAs. The wine aged 16 months in new and used French oak barrels. The color is a very dark ruby-purple that hews closely to the concept of ebony; those looking for a sensuous and seductive bouquet need look no farther than these aromas of rich and ripe black currants, cherries and plums infused with notes of cedar and mint, iodine and thyme, lavished with hints of licorice, lavender and violets and exotic woody spices. Lip-smacking acidity plows through the succulent black fruit flavors — abetted by a strain of blueberry — and long, lithe dusty tannins provide ballast and balance, all given freight by a load of penetrating graphite that gives the finish a slightly hard edge. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’22 with steaks and chops, braised short ribs and veal or lamb shanks. Winemaker was Paul Steinauer. Excellent. About $30.

A sample for review.

A perfect choice with last night’s pizza that featured pork shoulder barbecue as the meat, the qupe-central-coast-syrah-nv-800px1Qupé Syrah 2013, Central Coast, is a feisty red with spicy red and black fruit flavors and a vibrant structure. A bare two percent to the 98 percent syrah contains dollops of grenache, mourvèdre and tempranillo grapes; the wine aged 18 months in neutral French oak barrels. For the total geek, the wine is comprised 63 percent of grapes from cool vineyards in Santa Barbara County and Edna Valley (in San Luis Obispo County) and 37 percent from warmer vineyards in Paso Robles (also in SLO County), resulting in a pleasing sense of tension and balance in what is essentially a very appealing and palatable wine. The color is a glowing medium ruby hue; aromas of black and red currants and cherries are permeated with notes of dried thyme, leather and black olives, with a few moments in the glass bringing in hints of tobacco leaf, iodine and mint. All of these qualities segue seamlessly and deliciously into the mouth, where bright acidity gives the wine a keen edge that cuts through dusty, graphite infused tannins. The alcohol content is a moderate 13.5 percent. Drink now through 2018 with chops and burgers and hearty pastas and pizzas. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.

A sample for review.

Here’s another selection for International Merlot Month. The Ca’ Momi Winery is owned by the cm_merlotfacelabel_black_lrsame people who own the Ca’ Momi restaurants in Napa Valley, so perhaps it’s fitting that this wine — the Ca’ Momi Merlot 2014, Napa Valley — is as wildly exuberant as Italian cuisine can be. I would be interested in knowing what the oak regimen for this wine was, but rarely have I visited a winery website so disinclined to reveal actual information about the winemaking process, even in its trade pages. Be that as it may, the wine displays a very dark ruby hue, even unto an opaque, almost black center. It’s a deep, dynamic merlot that offers scents and flavors of spice-infused black currants, cherries and plums — there’s a touch of fruitcake — with top-notes of blueberry and pomegranate. Dusty graphite comes into play and a strain of damp loam that opens to granitic tannins harboring vibrant acidity for liveliness on the palate. After 30 minutes or so, the black fruit unfurls elements of cedar and tobacco, dried rosemary and thyme, and the flavors feel somewhat macerated and roasted; the structure builds through a feral, iodine-and-mint and mineral-packed finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink this through 2019 to ’21 with steaks and chops, hearty pizza and pasta dishes or dry, mature cheeses. Excellent. About $20.

A sample for review.

As far as white wines are concerned, Spring and Summer tend to be the domains of bright, light, delicate wines that go down easy as aperitifs while we’re sitting out on the porch or patio or lounging in a bosky dell on a frolicsome picnic. Nothing wrong with those scenarios at all. Now that the weather is in transition, however, when there’s a touch of chilly, rainy uncertainty in the air and our thoughts are sliding toward more substantial fare than cucumber and watercress sandwiches — no crusts, please! — the logical choice would be white wines with a bit more heft, flavor and savor. The 10 examples under review today provide those qualities in diverse ways, because they are, naturally, diverse wines. Grapes include sauvignon blanc, riesling, roussanne and marsanne, vermentino, verdicchio and trebbiano. Some of the wines saw no oak while others received extended barrel aging. Their points of origin range from various spots in Italy and several regions in California, from Alsace in France to Pfalz in Germany. Above all, and I cannot emphasize this note too strenuously, every one of these wines was a joy to drink, first because they are so different each to each, and second because in their eloquent variations they reflect integrity of intentions in the vineyard and the winery, an integrity dedicated to the expressiveness of a location and grape varieties. Each wine mentioned here made me feel as if I were sipping liquid gold.
Unless otherwise noted, these wines were samples for review.
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The pale gold Arrow&Branch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, performs that gratifying task of balancing the utmost in a delicate, elegant character with a vivacious, appealing personality. Aromas of pea shoot, heather, cucumber and lime peel are infused with damp limestone and flint, roasted lemon and lemon balm and a hint of raspberry leaf. The wine is bright and crisp, dense but paradoxically ethereal, and it opens to touches of almond skin and pear skin, waxy white flowers and a hint of the wildly exotic and tropical. All of these exuberant elements are handily restrained by brisk acidity and the mild spicy/woodsy aura of a touch of French oak. 14.1 percent alcohol. A truly beautiful sauvignon blanc, made by Jennifer Williams, for consuming through 2018 or ’19. Exceptional. About $35.
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The color of the Domaine Barmès-Buecher “Hengst” Riesling Grand Cru 2012, Alsace, is a slightly brassy medium gold hue of intense purity; the bouquet unfurls multiple layers of nuance as Platonic ripeness invests aromas of peach and quince touched with hints of lychee, musk-melon and apricot nectar, yielding to apples, green tea and lemongrass and an intriguing, lingering note of petrol. The wine is moderately sweet at entry but segues to dryness as it flows across the palate, reaching a finish that feels profoundly minerally with elements of iodine-washed limestone and flint. Between those points, a lithe silky texture is emboldened by vibrant acidity, a strain of savory, woodsy spices and macerated stone-fruit flavors. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $36.
Imported by Petit Pois/Sussex Wine Merchants, Moorestown, N.J.
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Hungarians are justly proud of their indigenous grape, furmint. Tasting through a few furmintexamples recently, I was impressed by the grape’s versatility and its capacity for making wines that are seemingly light-filled and weightless in affect yet layered in complexity of detail and dimension. The Béres Tokaji Furmint 2014, Szaraz, displays a light golden-yellow hue and subtle aromas of ripe lemons, apples and pears; a few moments in the glass unveil notes of straw, heather, thyme and peach. A particular sense of balance between the sweet ripeness of the stone-fruit flavors and the dry, bright acid and mineral structure creates an immensely satisfying effect, the entire package driving leisurely to a limestone and flint-packed finish. 13 percent alcohol. The sort of wine that makes you happy to drink. Now through 2018 or ’19. Winemaker was János Jarecsni. Excellent. About $19, representing Good Value.
Imported by New Wines of Hungary,
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What a beauty this is! The Weingut Eugen Müller Forster Mariengarten Riesling Kabinett, forster2013, Pfalz, is a wild, meadowy, golden, sleek and crystalline riesling whose very pale straw hue almost shimmers in the glass; notes of peaches, lime peel and lychee feel a little slate-y and loamy, though there’s nothing earth-bound about the wine’s delicacy and elegance. A few moments in the glass bring in hints of green apples and cloves, while a sweet entry retains a modest claim of a fairly dry, limestone-etched finish. 9.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $19, a local purchase and Real Value.
A Terry Theise Estate Selection, Skurnik Wines, New York.
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Rosemary Cakebread made only 180 cases of her Gallica Albarino 2015, Calaveras County, so you should call the winery right now and try to reserve a few bottles. The grapes derive from the Rorick Heritage Vineyard, located at about 2,000 feet elevation in the Sierra Foothills; the wine — including a touch of muscat blanc — aged nine months in stainless steel tanks and neutral French oak barrels. A pale yellow-gold hue presages aromas of yellow plums and pears, figs, acacia and heather that evolve to a slightly leafy, grassy quality. What a joyful, lively, expressive personality this wine offers; the texture is supple, suave and elegant, all elements defined by balance and seamlessness yet edging to wild, spicy, savory qualities in the chiseled finish. 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $36.
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The Garofoli “Podium” 2013, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore, podiumincorporates no oak in its making and is all the better for it. Produced in Italy’s Marche region by a family that has been making wine since 1871, this 100 percent verdicchio offers a pure medium gold hue and ravishing aromas of tangerine and peach, jasmine and almond skin and — how else to say it? — rain on Spring flowers, yes, it’s that incredibly fresh and appealing. It’s also, somewhat paradoxically, quite dry and spare though warm, spicy and a bit earthy, enlivened by keen acidity and a scintillating quality of limestone and flint minerality. Again, it’s a wine that feels very satisfying to drink. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa Calif.
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My reaction on seeing that this white wine aged 22 months in new French oak barriques was a big “Uh-oh.” I mean, friends, that’s a whole heap of new wood influence. However, in the trebbianoMasciarelli Marina Cveti? Trebbiano Riserva 2013, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, the eponymous winemaker manages to pull off a remarkable feat. The opening salvo is an attractive bright medium straw gold color; then come notes of candied tangerine and grapefruit peel, ginger and quince, cloves and a sort of light rain on dusty stones effect; after a few moments, the wine unfolds hints of lemon balm and roasted lemon, lilac and lavender. Yes, it’s pretty heady stuff. On the palate, this Trebbiano Riserva ’13 feels vital and vibrant, rich and succulent with spiced and slightly baked peach and apricot flavors, though its opulence is held in check by chiming acidity and a resonant chiseled limestone element. You feel the oak in the wine’s framework and foundation but as a supporting factor that lends shape and suppleness rather than as a dominant element. 14 percent alcohol. Quite an achievement for drinking through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $43.
Imported by Masciarelli Wine Co., Weymouth, Mass.
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E&J Gallo acquired distribution rights to the venerable family-operated Soave producer Pieropan in March 2015, adding it to Allegrini and Poggio al Tesoro in the company’s Luxury Wine Group. The Pieropan Soave Classico 2015 is a blend of 85 percent garganega grapes and 15 percent trebbiano di Soave, derived from certified organic vineyards. The wine saw no oak but fermented and matured in glass-line cement tanks. The color is pale yellow-gold; aromas of roasted lemons and spiced pears are bright, clean and fresh and permeated by notes of almond blossom, acacia and grapefruit rind. The wine delivers amazing heft and presence for the price category, yet it remains deft and light on its feet; brilliant acidity keeps it lively on the palate, while a saline limestone quality lends depth and poignancy. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
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Steve Hall made the Troon Vineyard Longue Carabine 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern troon-carabineOregon, by co-fermenting different lots of marsanne, viognier, vermentino and roussanne grapes, with slim dollops apparently (depending on what infomation you read) of sauvignon blanc and early muscat. The final proportions of the blend are 38.5 percent vermentino, 33 percent viognier, 27 marsanne and 1.5 roussanne; information as to oak aging, type of oak and length of time is not available. The wine is seriously complex and intriguing. The color is pale straw-gold; the whole effect is spare, high-toned and elegant, with hints of baked peaches and pears, hints of grapefruit, fennel and celery leaf, bee’s-wax, lanolin and flowering heather, all robed in a tremendous acid-and-mineral structure that creates a sense of vital dynamism. above depths of dusty, flinty loam. These elements take time to blossom, the wine being fairly reticent at first. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 163 cases. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $34.
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The Two Shepherds Catie’s Corner Viognier 2014, Russian River Valley, offers a 2-shepspale straw-gold hue and beguiling, compelling aromas of jasmine and gardenia, peach and pear, bee’s-wax and lanolin over hints of lime peel and grapefruit pith; the wine sees only neutral French oak, a device that lends shape and suppleness to the structure without incurring undue wood influence. Riveting acidity and a remarkable shapeliness and heft in the texture give the wine tremendous personality and eloquence. Time in the glass bring in notes of heather and thyme, roasted lemon and sage, lemon balm and sour melon, all elements engaged in a remarkably poised feat of crystalline tension and resolution. 13.3 percent alcohol. Brilliant wine-making from William Allen. Now through 2018 or ’19. Production was 75 cases, so go online now. Exceptional. About $26.
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For some reason, October is International Merlot Month. No one asks me about these matters, but a whole month devoted to a grape variety seems excessive. Most grapes only get one day named in their honor, like National Alicante Bouschet Day or International Pinotage Day. Some marketing 2013-merlot-edit1people got together, however, and launched the concept, so I’ll play along to the extent of using some merlots as Wines of the Day this month. First is the Ehlers Estate Merlot 2013, St. Helena, Napa Valley, a blend of 95 percent merlot and 5 percent cabernet franc, derived from 100 percent certified organic vineyards. The color is opaque black-ruby breaking to a vivid violet rim. This wine exudes confidence and elan; it just smells wealthy. Aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black currants, cherries and plums are permeated by a strain of intense graphite and lavender borne on penetrating granitic minerality. The wine is mouth-filling yet spare and sculpted; though its black fruit flavors are full-blown, ripe and spicy, the wine does not feel succulent or velvety, and in fact it rests on a foundation of dusty, almost shaggy (but not rustic) tannins and bright, vital acidity. It’s a fleet and darksome merlot whose elements of polished and finely sifted oak and deep, chiseled mineral qualities distinguish it for grip, elegance and style. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Kevin Morrisey. Drink now through 2020 to ’23 with a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill; roasted venison with huckleberry (or some such) sauce; braised short ribs; you get the idea. Excellent. About $55.

A sample for review.

I’m about to do that thing, you know, the thing where I recommend a wine you probably can’t find because it’s a limited release from a tiny winery that produces only a few hundred cases merisiannually. Sorry, but I want to bring attention to Merisi Wines, the kind of place that I love to write about. It’s a husband and wife operation of Mandy Heldt Donovan — she’s the winemaker — and Nick Donovan, whose purpose is to take grapes from excellent vineyards and craft well-made wines. Today’s selection is the Merisi Wines Denner Vineyard Petite Sirah 2013, carrying a Lake County designation, the AVA just north of Napa County. The wine is fermented with natural yeast and aged 21 months in oak, 50 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a vivid magenta rim; aromas of deeply spicy and woodsy black raspberries, currants and plums are highlighted by notes of black pepper, lavender and leather, with pervasive graphite in the background. The wine drives across the palate, propelled by bright acidity and chiseled granitic minerality; tannins are shaggy, dusty and velvety, saved from opulence by the wine’s innate spareness and reticence. A few moments in the glass bring in hints of violets, bittersweet chocolate and dry, slightly astringent (and exotic) spices like cloves and allspice. The finish is generous, shapely and rather elegant, considering the grape. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20 with full-flavored, big-hearted fare: pork tenderloin, braised short ribs, pork chops. Production was 100 cases. Excellent. About $35.

A sample for review.

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.

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