California


California’s Lodi AVA was approved in 1986, but grapegrowing and winemaking in the area, straight east from San Francisco (and southeast of Sacramento) at the north extreme of the San Joaquin Valley, go back to the middle of the 19th Century. Zinfandel is the grape especially associated with Lodi, home to a remarkable collection of “old vine” vineyards planted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The AVA was expanded in 2002 to the south and west. Lodi is divided into seven sub-appellations, and if you have not heard of most of these rest easy, because I had not heard of them either: Alta Mesa (which I have seen on labels from Lee Family Farms); Borden Ranch; Clements Hills; Cosumnes River; Jahant; Mokelumne River; and Sloughhouse. Interestingly, these sub-appellations, the subject of a five-year investigation and evaluation process, were approved by the federal government at once, in August 2006.

As most wine regions are wont to do, Lodi is busily promoting itself and its “subs” as viable entities. One of the steps is the establishment of the Lodi Native Project, this year focusing on the Mokelumne River AVA. This area is characterized by an alluvial fan of sandy, well-drained soils and is a bit cooler than the other six sub-appellations. The idea is that six winemakers would take grapes from old vineyards, ranging from 1958 back to 1901, and make their wines using similar traditional and non-interventionist techniques, including naturally occurring yeasts; no new oak barrels or oak chips, dust or innerstaves; no acid manipulation; no addition of tannin, water or concentrate products; no must concentration or extraction measures; no filtering or fining. Obviously, the idea is to allow the vineyards themselves, their terroir, to be expressed through the wine. Indeed, we have six quite different zinfandels here, some lighter and more elegant and balanced, others treading the path of more density, floridness and higher alcohol. Though I prefer the former to the latter, the project is a fascinating glimpse into the history of a region and the styles of wine that individual vineyards can produce.

The package of six wines is available for $180 online at LodiNative.com or, if you’re in the area, at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center.

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Lodi Native The Century Block Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne River. Fields Family Wines, Ryan Sherman, winemaker. Three acres, planted in 1905. 14 percent alcohol. (Sherman said in a private communication that the alcohol content on this wine is closer to 13.8 percent.) Medium ruby color; red and black currants, red and black cherries; briers and brambles, lightly dusted graphite; flavors in the mouth lean more toward blackberry and raspberry, hints of fruitcake, black tea and orange zest; dense and chewy yet sleek; borne by dusty, slightly leathery tannins and bright acidity; well-knit, polished, lithic finish. Beautifully-fashioned and poised zinfandel. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent.
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Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne River. St. Amant Winery, Stuart Spencer, winemaker. 8.3 acres, planted in 1901. 14.5 percent alcohol. Radiant medium ruby hue; slightly fleshy and meaty, very spicy, smoke and ash, graphite; notes of roasted plums and cherries, potpourri, loam; after a few minutes, raspberries and blueberry tart; very dry, slightly grainy, raspy tannins; you feel the wood, not as new wood but as a supple shaping influence with hints of rosemary and tobacco; dry, fairly austere finish. A high-toned zinfandel, rather grave and dignified. Try from 2015 through 2018 or ’19. Excellent.
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Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne. M2 Wines, Layne Montgomery, winemaker. 14.5 percent alcohol. Grapes from the oldest part of the vineyard, planted in 1916. Intense dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; bright, fruity, very spicy; rhubarb and blueberry. notes of macerated black currants and plums, and more cherry comes up gradually; a rich, warm, spicy mouthful of zinfandel; very dry, and you feel the robust tannins from mid-palate back, though the balance is resolved in perfect equilibrium; the 14.5 percent alcohol feels just right for this wine, a pivot, in a way, the gyroscope that keeps the even keel. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent.
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Lodi Native Trulux Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne. McCay Cellars, Michael J. McCay, winemaker. 14.6 percent alcohol. Vineyard planted in the 1940s. Dark ruby-purple color; deep, intense and concentrated, very spicy, earthy and loamy; a big mouthful of blackberries, blueberries and pomegranate, cloves and allspice, an element of fruitcake and oolong tea, and paradoxically, a sort of smoky cigarette paper fragility; still, beyond that nuance, this is a large-framed, dry, robustly tannic zinfandel, vibrant and resonant, that wears its oaken heart on its sleeve. Now through 2017 or ’19. Excellent, with slight reservations.
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Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne. Maley Brothers Vineyard, Chad Joseph, winemaker. 14.9 percent alcohol. 21 acres, planted in 1958, which seems like a youngster compared to some of these other vineyards. Dark ruby-purple color; ripe, rich and spicy; blueberry and boysenberry, slightly caramelized plums and rhubrab; fruitcake, soft and macerated raspberries; very dense and chewy, packed with baking spice, dusty graphite and black and blue fruit flavors; lots of tannic power, even rather austere in the area of structure but also a little jammy; fortunately a clean line of bright acidity keeps it honest. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+.
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Lodi Native Noma Ranch Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumna. Macchia Wines, Tim Holdener, winemaker. 15.8 percent alcohol. 15 acres, planted in early 1900s. Opaque dark ruby-purple color; the ripest and fleshiest of these zinfandels, boysenberry, loganberry and tart raspberry, heaps of earthy briers and brambles; fruitcake and plum jam; very dry, on the finish reveals alcoholic heat and sweetness which on my palate throws the wine off-balance. Now — if this is yer cuppa tea — through 2016 or ’17. Very Good.
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I wrote about Kathleen’s Inman’s wines produced under the Inman Family Wines label last year in October; check out that post for information about the history of the winery and Inman’s philosophy. Suffice to say that in this second entry in my “Pinot and Chardonnay” series, I offer a pair of wines that strike, to my palate, the perfect notes of balance and integration, purity and intensity, power and elegance. These wines were samples for review.
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The Inman Family Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, is not made from estate vines but from grapes purchased from the Pratt-Irwin Lane Vineyard. Native yeast was employed. The wine matures 40 percent in new French oak and 60 percent in small stainless steel barrels, both portions going through malolactic fermentation. The color is pale gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, jasmine and acacia, limestone and flint. The whole package is characterized by perfect tone and balance, with its spare and elegant qualities poised against scintillating limestone minerality and bright acidity. The kind of chardonnay that makes me happy to drink chardonnay. 11.6 percent alcohol; you read that correctly. Drink now through 2016. Production was 493 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Allow me to say right here that 21 months in oak seems like doom to pinot noir to me, but the Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley, displays, as I said about its stablemate mentioned above, perfect tone and balance of all elements, while retaining, as Kathleen Inman’s pinot noirs tend to do, something wild and exotic. The color is dark to medium ruby-magenta; beguiling and ineffable scents of cranberry, pomegranate and rhubarb are permeated by heartier, earthier notes of briers, brambles and loam, while after a few moments in the glass a whiff of intense black cherry and cloves comes out. On the palate, the wine is warm and spicy, with a wonderfully satiny drape to the texture that’s bolstered by straight-arrow acidity, a hint of graphite minerality and moderate yet certainly present tannins. Another minute or two of swirling and sipping produces touches of rose petals, lilac and sandalwood. Criminy, what a beautiful pinot noir! 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 517 cases. Drink through 2017 to ’19 with roasted chicken, veal or seared duck. Excellent. About $68.
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Need I say more? Half-a-dozen very attractive, lively, spicy and savory — some more spicy than savory, some more savory than spicy — white wines designed to quench the thirst, caress and engage the palate, and accompany all sorts of the imaginative cuisine you’re so good at creating — or, you know, a package of fish sticks from the freezer (the only form of seafood we ate when I was a child). Anyway, quick reviews here, meant to tease your interest and whet your taste-buds. All were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Villa Robles Huerhuero Albarino 2013, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; jasmine and clover, roasted lemons and lemon balm,
cloves and ginger; very dry and crisp with zingy acidity but delivering a pleasing almost talc-like texture; tangerine with a note of peach and pine; juicy, saline, savory, mouth-watering. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $18, online and tasting-room only.
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Rocca Sveva Castelerino 2012, Soave Superiore Classico, Italy. 13% alc. Very pale gold color; quite fresh and clean; pineapple, mango, lemongrass, almond blossom, lime peel, but with a spareness and savory quality married to slight astringency; lively, spicy, slightly dusty limestone effect. Now through 2015 to ’16. Very Good+. About $20.
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Jean Ginglinger Cuvee George Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. 12.5% alc. Bright medium gold color; crisp, clean, lean, blade-like but filled with notes of lychee and slightly over-ripe peaches and tangerines and hints of lime peel and little white flowers; chiseled, incisive limestone minerality and scintillating acidity; brings in touches of cloves, flint and loam on the finish. Quite a performance. Now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.
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MacMurray Estate Vineyards Pinot Gris 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. This Gallo label was formerly known as MacMurray Ranch. Pale gold hue; citrus and stone-fruit, spare and lean; cloves, quince and ginger; dry but juicy with a very attractive mouth-feel; bright acidity and limestone/flint minerality; a dry, spicy, slightly austere finish; fine-grained complexity on the palate. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $20.
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Cadaretta SBS 2012, Columbia Valley, Washington. 70% sauvignon blanc, 30% semillon. Very pale gold hue; melon and lime peel, lemongrass and fig, slightly grassy and hay-like, herbal in the thyme sense, musky and dusky; tantalizing hints of lavender and lilac; crisp and lively but silky smooth texture; savory, mouth-filling but limpid with crystalline purity and intensity and a limestone finish. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $23.
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Mar de Frades Albarino 2012, Rias Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. You can’t miss the cobalt-blue bottle. Pale straw-gold color; decisively saline and savory, thrilling vitality; roasted lemon and spiced pear; intensely floral with notes of jasmine, almond blossom and some wild fragrance; very dry, with a citrus tang, clean acidity and heaps of vivid limestone minerality. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $25.
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I started this post as a way of commemorating my 30th anniversary in wine-writing, reached, as My Regular Readers know — bless your little pointy heads and may your tribes increase — early in July. Initially, the concept was “Fifty Great Wines,” but I decided that choosing 50 “great” wines from 30 years of tasting would be an impossible and probably just stupid and futile task. In three decades, I tasted thousands and thousands and more thousands of wines — you writers know how it is — so choosing the 50 “greatest” from this immense group would be a Sisyphian exercise.

Then I realized that what would be more significant anyway would be 50 wines that, as the title states, shaped my palate, the wines that shook me to the core, that shifted my perspective about how wine is made and its various effects, that achieved a level of purity and intensity that befit the divine; the wines, in short, that were not only definitive but created me as a writer. Yes, just that. So I spent the past few weeks combing through dozens of old notebooks, through the electronic archives of the newspaper for which I wrote a weekly column for 20 years and of course through the pages of this blog.

Now let’s be frank about some issues. As a wine reviewer, I am dependent on the practice of samples provided by producers, importers, marketers and (to a lesser extent) local distributors; I depend on the occasional trade tasting, lunch with a touring winemaker, on sponsored travel to wine regions in this country and abroad. You will not, therefore, see a list that emphasizes the great wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy, though some are included, more Burgundy than Bordeaux, because I have few opportunities to encounter such wines. Perhaps, however, you will discover here wines that you had forgotten or overlooked; certainly there will be surprises. To those of my wine-writing/blogging/tasting friends who might say, “Cripes, FK, I can’t believe you didn’t put [whatever legendary fabuloso wine] on this list!” I can only reply, “I never had the chance to taste that wine and if you want to send me a bottle, I’ll be grateful but not humbled.” This is about my experience as an individual, as, you might say, a palate.

I benefited early on from the generosity of two people in Memphis, the restaurateur-wine collector John Grisanti and a figure important in wholesale, retail and wine education, Shields Hood. Many of the wines they offered me, exposed me to and sent in my direction truly changed my life and made me what I am today.
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1. Simi Pinot Noir 1974, Alexander Valley. Purchased at a local store, tasted at home March 1984 and still, at least in memory, one of the greatest California pinots I ever encountered.

2. Mercurey Clos des Myglands 1971, Faiveley. Tasted at John Grisanti’s private cellar, September 16, 1984. As in “Ah, so that’s what Burgundy is all about.”

3. Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Perignon 1976, Champagne. At a wholesaler’s tasting, with Shields Hood, September 17, 1984.

4. Chateau St. Jean Late Harvest Johannesburg Riesling 1978, Belle Terre Vineyards, Alexander Valley. Last week of September, 1984.

5. Chateau La Grange 1926, St Julien Third Growth, Bordeaux. At a special wine dinner at the long-departed American Harvest Restaurant in Germantown, east of Memphis, October 1984. As in, “Ah, so this is what an aged Bordeaux wine is all about.” I love the label.

6. Simi Reserve Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Alexander Valley. My then father-in-law bought a case of this wine at $16 a bottle. High-living in those days. At 10 years old, it was perfect, expressive, eloquent. This was at Christmas dinner, 1984.

7. Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 1971, Grivelet. At John Grisanti’s cellar, June 9, 1985, a great afternoon.

8. Sonoma Vineyards Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 1976, Sonoma County. July 27 and 28, 1985. Fine balance, harmony and integration, a sense of confidence and authority expressed with elegance and restraint. This winery was not renamed for its founder Rodney Strong until after he sold it in 1984.

9. Chateau Latour 1982, Pauillac, Bordeaux. Definitive for the vintage and the chateau; tasted at a trade event in Memphis sometime in 1985; tasted again in New York, October 1991.

10. Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon 1980, Napa Valley. Purchased at Sherry-Lehmann in NYC, for $20.50(!); consumed with Easter dinner in Memphis, April 1986.

11. Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 1977, Alexander Valley. At a tasting in Memphis of Silver Oak cabernets, sometime in 1986.

12. Chateau Haut-Brion 1937, Graves, Bordeaux. At a tasting with collectors in Memphis in 1987; this 50-year-old wine was, incredibly and from a dismal decade in Bordeaux, even better than the fabulous ’59 and ’66.

13. Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1949, Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France. One of a mixed case of wonderful wines I received for annotating a cellar, drunk at a dinner in the Fall of 1988. At 39 years old, one of the best wines I have ever tasted.

14. Beaune Clos des Ursules 1952, Louis Jadot. At lunch with Gagey pere et fils at the maison in Beaune, March 1990. When I mentioned this to a friend back in the U.S., he said, “Oh, yeah, they pull out that wine for all the Americans.” No matter.

15. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru 1983. Tasted in New York, October 1991.

16. Gaja Barbaresco 1955, Piedmont, Italy. Made by Angelo Gaja’s father, tasted in New York, October 1991.

17. Chateau Beychevelle 1928, St. Julien Fourth Growth, Bordeaux. At a large tasting of multiple vintages of Chateau Branaire-Ducru and Chateau Beychevelle going back to 1893, with collector Marvin Overton and British writer Clive Coates, in Nashville. This ’28 was even better than the examples from the god-like years of ’47, ’45 and ’29; just writing that sentence made me feel like Michael Broadbent.

18. Freemark Abbey 1978, Napa Valley. At a vertical tasting in Chicago, January 1993.

19. Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Napa Valley. I bought six half-bottles of this splendid perfectly aged cabernet from a FedEx pilot who was divesting his cellar and served them at a dinner party in 1996.

20. Chalone Chardonnay 1981, Monterey. A revelation at almost 15 years old; I bought this and some other California chardonnays from the late ’70s and early ’80s out of a cellar that had been kept at 40 to 45 degrees; tasted with LL and a friend at Cafe Society in Memphis, May 1996.

21. Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 1998, Clare Valley, Australia. Tasted at the property, October 1998, very young, filled with power and otherworldly grace.

22. Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir 1997, Gippsland, Australia. Tasted in Melbourne, October 1998; they’re not shy with oak at Bass Phillip, but this was a thrilling monument to pinot noir purity and intensity.

23. Clos Apalta 1996, Rapel Valley, Chile, 95 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet sauvignon. The initial release, tasted at the hacienda of Don Pepe Rabat, who owned the oldest merlot vineyard in Chile, with Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle and Michel Rolland, April 1998.

24. Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses Premier Cru 1998, Domaine G. Roumier. From the barrel at the property, December 7, 1999, my birthday. The earth seemed to open under my feet.

25. Chateau Petrus 1998, Pomerol, Bordeaux. Barrel sample at the property, December 1999. One of the most profound wines I have ever experienced.

26. Robert Mondavi To Kalon 1 Block Fume Blanc 2000, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

27. Robert Mondavi Marjorie’s Sunrise Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

28. Sineann Reed and Reynolds Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Tasted at the International Pinot Noir Conference, McMinnville, August 2002.

29. Nicolas Joly Clos de la Bergerie 1999, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. New York, at La Caravelle, January 2003, with the line-up of Joly’s wines.

30. Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1966, South Australia. At a comprehensive tasting of this iconic wine, 1996 back to 1955, at Spago in L.A., April 2003.

31. Chateau d’Epiré 1964, Savennières Moelleux, Loire Valley, France. At a dinner associated with the Loire Valley Wine Fair, February 2004.

32. Domaine de la Pepière Clos des Briords 1986, Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Loire Valley, France. At the estate with proprietor Marc Ollivier, one of the great tasting experiences of my life, February 2004.

33. Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2001. Tasted in New York, June 2004.

34. Tres Sabores Zinfandel 2003, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Tasted in New York, March 2006.

35. Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut 1996, Champagne, France. Tasted in New York, September 2006; fabulous but not nearly ready to drink.

36. Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets Premier Cru 2004, Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

37. Corton Grand Cru 2002, Domaine Comte Senard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

38. Chateau Montelena The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa Valley. New York, September 2007.

39. Porter-Bass Chardonnay 2004, Russian River Valley. New York, September 2007.

40. Pommard Les Epenots Premier Cru 2004, Dominique Laurent. New York, September 2007.

41. Phifer Pavit Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley. Sample for review, tasted at home October 2008. The best first-release cabernet I ever encountered.

42. Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Napa valley. Sample for review, tasted at home December 2008.

43. Heyl zu Herrnsheim Niersteiner Pettenheim Riesling Spätlese halbtrocken 1991, Rheingau, Germany. At the estate, July, 2009.

44. Quinta da Roameira Vintage Porto 2007. In Douro Valley, August 2009, at a comprehensive tasting of the 2007 ports at Niepoort.

45. Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Tasted in Piedmont, January, 2010, with winemaker Giorgio Lavagna and a ragtag gaggle of American bloggers.

46 & 47. Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec 2007, Mendoza, & Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Chardonnay 2006, Mendoza. Tasted at the property — the chardonnay with lunch — October 2010.

48. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 1998. Purchased locally and consumed on New Year’s Eve 2010, with Imperial Osetra caviar from Petrossian.

49. Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenerg Riesling Beerenauslese 2004, Pfalz, Germany. A sample for review, tasted December 2011.

50. Müllen Kinheimen Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2002, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. Tasted with Lyle Fass in New York, December 2013.

Well, I already see a couple of wines that I should have included in this roster — Chateau d’Yquem 1975, Sauternes, for example — but 50 is a good wholesome round number with an air of closure about it, so let’s leave it alone. And for the future? The process of learning, having our minds changed, our ideas and consciousness expanded never ends. Perhaps there will be candidates for this list from 2014, among them the Clos Saron Stone Soup Vineyard Syrah 2011, Sierra Foothills, made by Gideon Beinstock, and, oddly enough, the Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas, made by Dan Gatlin. We’ll see how I feel in another 30 years.

One of the seemingly natural pairs in terms of wine type, grapes and geography is chardonnay and pinot noir. Doubtless such a perception stems from the conjunction of chardonnay and pinot noir in their Ur-home, their cradle, their altar, in Burgundy’s Cote d’Or. It’s the terroir, stupid, a small narrow stretch of low, southeast-facing hills upon which nature, climate and geology have, with mindless yet carefully calibrated precision, wrought exactly the gradations, exposure, drainage, top soil and under-girding layers, wind and weather — the latter being the wild card — to produce some of the world’s legendary vineyards and finest, rarest wines. It’s not surprising, then, that growers and winemakers in other regions of the world consistently seek to emulate that pairing of these grapes.

No place else is Burgundy, of course, so no area can hope to duplicate exactly the terroir or the conditions that prevail there. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, for example, the pinot noir grape performs beautifully among those verdant hills and dales, while chardonnay — not that there’s not good chardonnay — is gradually giving over to pinot blanc, pinot gris and riesling. Many regions in California are amenable to chardonnay and pinot noir: Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Carneros, Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Maria Valley and other smaller and more isolated areas produce splendid examples of each. It’s not surprising that large producers include both types of wines in their rosters or that small-scale wineries sometimes specialize in just the two.

Today’s post inaugurates a series in which I will be looking at the chardonnay and pinot noir wines of producers in California, sometimes individually, occasionally in groups. There’s a good chance that My Readers have not heard of Gallegos Wines. The close-knit family released its first wines only last year, but its roots in Napa Valley — figuratively and literally — go back three generations. The wine industry in California could not exist without the labor of the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who work in the vineyards and wineries, plant and then tend the vines and grapes through all stages of growth. Increasingly, many of those workers with ties to the land and the industry are starting to make wine too, enough that there’s now a Mexican-American winemakers organization.

Ignacio Gallegos came to California from Michoacan in the 1940s and settled in St. Helena, in Napa Valley, in the mid-1950s. His son, Ignacio II, and grandsons, Eric and Ignacio III, worked in vineyard management and gained the renown that enabled them in 2007 to finally establish their own vineyard management company. Having worked in many of the valley’s finest vineyards, having their own company and with Eric and Ignacio III completing college and courses in viticulture and winemaking, it seemed inevitable that the family would draw on these resources and the grapes from the Rancho de Gallegos estate in the Rutherford bench area, owned by Ignacio II’s brother Maurilio. Gallegos Family Wines produces about 1,000 cases; in addition to the chardonnay and pinot noir reviewed here, there’s a sauvignon blanc, with merlot, petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon coming soon.

These wines were samples for review. Image of Eric, Ignacio II and Ignacio III by Tom Stockwell for the Napa Valley Register.
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The Boekenoogen Vineyard is one of my favorite vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands, and the family that owns and farms the land produces terrific wine from it. The Gallegos Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, is a reflection of the greatness of that land. The color is a limpid medium ruby with mulberry undertones; this is exquisite, evanescent, transformational pinot noir that features slightly fleshy aromas of red currants and cherries flecked with mulberries, violets and rose petals, cloves, allspice and sassafras, and notes of rhubarb with briers and brambles for an earthy element; all amounting to perhaps the most alluring and definitive bouquet on a pinot noir that I have encountered this year. The division of oak is 25 percent new French barrels and 75 percent neutral, though I was not informed about the length of aging; I venture to say not excessive, because the oak influence here is subliminal, a subtle and supple shaping force. The texture is delightfully sleek and satiny, supporting smoky black and red cherry and currant flavors that take on a bit of loam and leathery earthiness through the finish; well-knit and integrated tannins round off the package. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Production was 250 cases. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $42.
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The Charmer Vineyard, owned by Ed Beard Jr. and located in the heart of the Yountville AVA, was planted by Ignacio Gallegos and his brothers more than 30 years ago, so they know it well. They produced 125 cases of the Gallegos Charmer Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Yountville, Napa Valley, a wine that sees only 25 percent new French oak barrels and underwent 25 percent malolactic, the natural chemical transformation that turns sharp malic acid into milder and creamier lactic acid; the result is a chardonnay that retains bright acidity and is not a creamy-butter bomb, while maintaining a lithe, supple almost talc-like texture. The color is pale gold; no denying the richness, in aromas and flavors, the slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit with top-notes of jasmine, mango and cloves, but elements of flint and damp gravel and a crisp exhilarating character keep it honest and true. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $29.
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First, I apologize to the people at Dolce Wines, a sister winery to Far Niente, Nickel & Nickel and EnRoute, for holding on to these samples for so long before tasting and writing about them, but I wanted to see how a few years in the fridge would affect them. The examples in question are Dolce 2007, 06, 05 and 04, dessert wines in half-bottles, and what they reveal across four years is a remarkable and gratifying consistency in tone, structure, flavor profile and balance. Differences? Of course, and I will discuss those variations in more detail further in this post.

The partners in Far Niente conceived of the project — a small winery devoted to a single dessert wine — in 1985; the first vintage introduced commercially was 1989, released in 1992. The production of dessert wine depends on geographical and climatic conditions — foggy, with a subtle balance between warm and cool — suitable for the inoculation of the botrytis mold, the “noble rot,” that can attack grapes, suck out the moisture and reduce them to concentrated sugar bombs. This invasion occurs grape by grape, not cluster by cluster, so harvesting a vineyard affected by botrytis can take several weeks and many passes through the rows. Because of the vagaries of weather, botrytis doesn’t occur every year or it may happen in a scattered and spotty fashion, so those vintages do not result in wine. The practice is tedious, time-consuming and expensive, and great attention must be paid to detail in the vineyard and winery. The 20-acre Dolce vineyard is in Coombsville, east of Napa city, at the base of the Vaca Mountains, in an area where fog often lingers until midday, encouraging the growth of the homely but beneficial mold. The Dolce dessert wines evince a great deal of power, typically built on a base of super-ripe and seemingly roasted peaches and apricots and building other aspects of detail and dimension as the vintage dictates; their grace comes from what feels like fathomless acidity and limestone minerality that offers exquisite balance to the immense ripeness and richness. These are world-class dessert wines.
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Dolce 2007, Napa Valley. This blend of 82 percent semillon grapes and 18 percent sauvignon blanc aged 31 months in all-new French oak barrels. The residual sugar is 12.5 percent. Color is medium gold with a faint green highlight; I could smell the roasted peaches and apricots when I poured the wine into the glass. What other elements? Creme brulee, hazelnuts and almond skin, hints of mango and papaya, notes of mandarin orange and pineapple. This is, in other words, a very sweet wine, in the mouth viscous and satiny, spiced and macerated, rich, honeyed and buttery, yet electrified by vibrant — I almost wrote “violent” — acidity, so the whole musky, dusky package resonates with liveliness and frank appeal. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Drink now through 2025 to 2027. Excellent. About $85 a half-bottle.
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Dolce 2006, Napa Valley. For 2006, Dolce contains the most sauvignon blanc of this quartet, 20 percent against 80 percent semillon. It aged 31 months in all-new French oak barrels. Residual sugar is 13 percent, the highest of this group. The color is radiant medium gold; the bouquet is pungently smoky, ripe with creamy honeyed peaches and apricots enlivened with cloves and sandalwood, hints of coconut and pain perdu. It’s smooth as silk on the palate, round, dense and viscous, with undertones of orange marmalade, preserved lemon, lime peel and cinnamon toast; clean acidity ramps up the vibrancy and resonance, creating a finish that’s almost dry and bursting with limestone minerality. Alcohol content is 13.8 percent. Drink now through 2026 to 2030. Excellent. About $85 a half-bottle.
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The word for Dolce 2005, Napa Valley, is “otherworldly.” The blend is 90 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc; again the oak regimen is 31 months, all-new French oak barrels; the residual sugar is 12 percent. King Midas would envy this golden richness, but this example of the wine is not only rich and ripe but elegant, almost delicate; that’s a paradoxical quality, though, because this elegance and sense of delicacy encompass sumptuous notes of roasted peaches and apricots, caramelized mango, pineapple upsidedown cake, exotic spices, all wrapped in a creamy, honeyed texture that manages to be both sophisticated and feral. The lithe, supple finish, charged with vivid acidity and scintillating limestone minerality, is the driest of this group. Alcohol content is 13.8 percent. Drink now through 2025 to 2030. Exceptional. About $85 a half-bottle.
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It’s interesting that Dolce 2004, Napa Valley, embodies the highest alcohol level of this quartet — 14.1 percent — and, logically, the lowest residual sugar at 10.8 percent; a notion of sauvignon blanc that’s almost subliminal, at 1 percent; and the least time in the typical all-new French oak barrels, 28 months, still a considerable span, of course. The color is pure shimmering gold; aromas of peach tart and apple turnover, deeply caramelized citrus and stone fruit, feel elevating and balletic, yet this is the earthiest of these wines, the one most imbued with limestone and flint minerality, all a shade darker in smoke and the redolence of toasted Asian spices. Still, it’s rich and ripe — slightly over-ripe — and, as is essential, brightened by an arrow of rigorous acidity that aims straight for the dry, uplifting finish. Drink now through 2020 to 2024. Excellent. About $85 for a half-bottle.
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Just six weeks ago I made the Flora Springs Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley the Wine of the Week, and, darn it, I can’t help but put the Flora Springs Soliloquy Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Oakville, in the same spot today. The grapes derive from a two-block proprietary vineyard in Napa Valley’s Oakville District AVA, and, in fact, the vineyard receives more prominent display on the label than the grape variety does. Is that device helpful to consumers? Probably not, but it makes for a very elegant and typographically balanced label, one that matches the balance and elegance of the wine. Thoughtful work by winemaker Paul Steinauer puts the wine through seven months in a combination of concrete and stainless steel tanks, oak barrels and steel drums, the result being a sauvignon blanc of unusually appealing texture, subtlety and suppleness, as well as being fresh and crisp. The color is very pale gold, almost invisible; aromas of apple peel and lime peel are woven with lemon balm and lemongrass and back-notes of celery seed, hay, fennel and thyme. Brisk acidity energizes what is otherwise a sleek and suave sauvignon blanc that encompasses stone-fruit and citrus flavors enmeshed with hints of cloves, freshly-mown grass and pink grapefruit. The finish engages the palate with a touch of grapefruit bitterness and an unexpected feral tang. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 as a delightful aperitif or with grilled or roasted salmon or swordfish. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

Today’s notes feature eight rosé wines, four from France, three from California and one from the state of Virginia. In style they range from ephemeral to fairly robust. I have to take shots at a couple of these examples, but those are the breaks in the realm of wine reviewing. No attempt at technical, historical, geographical or personal information here (you know, the stuff I really dote on); instead, the intent is to pique your interest and whet your palate. Except for the Calera Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2013, these were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Chateau de Berne Terres de Berne Rosé 2013, Côtes de Provence, France. 13% alc. 50% each grenache and cinsault. Very pale onion skin hue, almost shimmers; light kisses of strawberry, peach and orange rind, hints of dried thyme; bone-dry, crisp and vibrant, loads of scintillating limestone minerality. Really well-made and enjoyable but packaged in an annoying over-designed bottle that’s too tall to fit on a refrigerator shelf. Excellent. About $20.
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Bila-Haut Rosé 2013, Pays d’Oc, France. 13.5% alc. Cinsault and grenache. (From M. Chapoutier) Pretty copper-salmon color; orange zest and raspberries, dusty minerals, notes of rose petals and lavender; quite dry, with limestone austerity, a fairly earthy, rustic style of rose, not in the elegant or delicate fashion. Very Good. About $13.
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Calera Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2013, Central Coast. 14.7% alc. 466 cases. Bright copper-peach color; think of this as a cadet pinot noir in the form of a rosé; currants and plums, raspberry with a bit of briery rasp; notes of smoke and dried Provencal herbs, hints of pomegranate and orange zest; very clean, fresh and vibrant with a damp limestone foundation. Excellent. About $17.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 13% alc. 92 cases. Light but bright copper-salmon-topaz hue; strawberries and red currants, both fresh and dried, blood orange, note of pomegranate; lovely, lithe and supple but energized by brisk acidity; floral element burgeons and blossoms in the glass, as in rose petals and camellias; very dry, delicate, ethereal yet with a real bedrock of limestone minerality; a touch earthier than the version of 2012. Excellent. About $25.
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Domaine de la Mordorée “La Dame Rousse” 2013, Tavel, France. 14.5% alc. 60% grenache, 10% each cinsault, syrah and mourvèdre, 5% each bourboulenc and clairette. Brilliant strawberry-copper color; strawberries, raspberries and red currants with a touch of peach; very dry and fairly robust for rosé; notes of dried herbs and summer flowers, dominant component of limestone and flint, almost tannic in effect, but overall high-toned and elegant. Excellent. About $30.
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Notorious Pink 2013, Vin de France. Alc% NA. 100% grenache. (Domaine la Colombette) Better to call this one Innocuous Pink. Carries delicacy to the point of attenuation; very pale onion skin color; faintest tinge of strawberry, bare hint of orange zest and limestone; fairly neutral all the way round. Comes in an upscale frosted bottle, woo-hoo. Good. About $20.
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Stinson Vineyards Rosé 2013, Virginia, USA. 12% alc. 100 percent mourvèdre. 120 cases. Ruddy onion skin hue; fresh strawberries and raspberries with cloves and slightly dusty graphite in the back; notes of orange pekoe tea and dried red currants; a little fleshy and floral; bright acidity and a mild limestone-like finish. Very Good+. About $18.
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Robert Turner Wines Mosaic Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14% alc. With 15% cabernet franc. 25 cases. Pale copper-onion skin color; musky and dusky melon, raspberry and strawberry with notes of pomegranate and rhubarb; finely-knit texture, delicate, elegant, lively, with a honed limestone finish. Excellent. About $22.
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…might be called the Isabel Mondavi Deep Rosé Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, and in case any of you winemakers out there are thinking, “What a great name! I think I’ll use ‘deep rose’ for my label,” there’s a little trademark symbol that protects the name from other use. Anyway, this is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon, from vineyards in the Altas Peak, Rutherford and Howell Mountain AVAs, made all in stainless steel after a long cool fermentation. The color is an entrancing medium ruby-magenta hue, a little darker and richer than the color of most rosé wines. The impressions are fresh and grapey, with notes of red currants and raspberries and a lift of just-cut Braeburn apple; hints of cranberry and rhubarb linger in the background. The freshness, bright berryish qualities and element of earthiness remind me of Beaujolais-Villages, particularly in the bouquet, but in body and dark spicy red and blue fruit flavors it feels like what in Bordeaux is called clairette, a wine that’s darker and exhibits slightly more heft than a Bordeaux rosé but is lighter than a “regular” cuvée. The combination of freshness, elegance and substance makes the Isabel Mondavi Deep Rosé 2013 a versatile match with all sorts of summertime fare. Alcohol level is a sane and manageable 13.2 percent. Winemaker for the Isabel Mondavi label is Rob Mondavi Jr. Drink now into 2015. Excellent. About $20.

A sample for review.

Gewurztraminer might not be as off-putting to so many people if its name were changed to Steve or Samantha, but there it is, a grape that can be made into one of the most beautiful wines in the world with a name that is almost unpronounceable. So be it. Gewurztraminer thrives in Alsace, where France nestles uneasily against Germany, and to some extent in the northeastern Italian region of Alto Adige, in the Tyrol Alps just south of Austria. There are outposts in other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, and also in the states of Oregon and California, and it’s to the latter that we turn for today’s Wine of the Week, the Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2013, Sonoma Coast. The vineyard lies at a fairly low elevation in the southwestern foothills of the Mayacamas range. Ninety percent of this clean, fresh, crisp wine was made in stainless steel, the rest in neutral oak barrels. The color is very pale gold; aromas of rose petals, lychee and spiced pear are highlighted by notes of white pepper, peach and lime peel, all subtly and delicately woven. Acidity is essential to the success of gewurztraminer — as in any wine, truly — to balance the potentially overpowering floral and fruity elements, and this example has acidity in spades, a factor that contributes to its appealing liveliness and its deft poise. Citrus and stone-fruit meld seamlessly in the mouth, while the spicy, limestone-laced finish brings in a hint of grapefruit pith bitterness, savory, astringent and exciting. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’22 with — I know this is the cliche — moderately spicy Thai or Vietnamese cuisine, with grilled shrimp or mussels, with seafood risotto. Excellent. About $22.50.

A sample for review.

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