California


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

I’ll add that Jordan fields what is hands-down the most informative, detailed and accessible website of any winery I have encountered in California.
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2010_Marques_CS_NV
Essentially, the Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Maipo Valley, Chile, is Concha y Toro’s next-to-top-tier line of wines, more affordable than the Don Melchor mentioned above but still considered by the winery as part of its Fine Wines division. This one spent 16 months in French oak barrels and is a blend of 92 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent cabernet franc and 1 percent each merlot and syrah. The color is very dark ruby with a slightly lighter rim; aromas of black currants, cherries and raspberries are infused with dusty graphite and loam, given high tones of black olive and bell pepper, all sliding on a faintly leafy herbaceous note. Ripe and spicy black fruit flavors are couched in vivid acidity, dense and velvety tannins and granitic minerality, adding up to a fairly rigorous treatment of the wine. 14 percent alcohol. Drink from 2018 through 2024, or open tonight with a medium rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the flames. Very Good+. About $26.
Excelsior Wines, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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SLCS Lg Thumb
The Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, is undoubtedly well-made, yet it’s so typically Californian that I wish it took a few risks, went a bit higher and lower in tone and effect. That said, I think anyone who cottons to the style would like it. The wine aged 20 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. It presents a ruby hue so dark that it’s almost opaque, though shading to a lighter magenta rim; aromas of cedar and fresh rosemary, ripe black currants and cherries are touched with notes of lavender and mocha, graphite and violets. On the palate, this cabernet wine delivers plush velvety tannins for texture, brisk acidity for lithe liveliness, and elements of iodine and iron that bolster the somewhat austere finish. 14.4 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2026 to ’28. Very Good+. About $50.
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stone street cab 12
The not-quite-100 percent-varietal Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Alexander Valley — there’s 5 percent mixed merlot and malbec — aged a decent 17 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The vineyard from which it derives ranges from 400 to 2,400 feet, providing a spectrum of drainage, exposure and elevation that lent the grapes a full complement of detail and dimension. A very dark even unto black-ruby-purple hue, the wine offers a classic mountain-style array of sage and bay leaf, tobacco and loam, dried rosemary and a tinge of pine resin; these elements bolster notes of deeply spiced and macerated black currants, cherries and plums thoroughly permeated by dense, furry chewy tannins that coat the palate with a kind of velvet-iron-filings texture. The finish is long and chiseled and packed with granitic minerality, none of which prevents the wine from being surprisingly drinkable. Try through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $45.
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ECM320629
Stonestreet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley, despite a sensible oak regimen — 18 months French oak, 37 percent new barrels — feels dominated by toasty wood from beginning to end. The color is black-purple with a glowing magenta rim, and, to be sure, there’s plenty here that indicates the wine’s fairly classic status, with its spiced and macerated black currants and cherries with a hint of baked plums, its notes of cedar, tobacco and sage, its structural elements of briers and brambles, forest floor and moderately dusty tannins; still, the smoke, charcoal, walnut shell and graphite character pulls a veil of toasty oak over the whole proceedings, and, for my palate, becomes obtrusive. Perhaps two or three years will even it out. Very Good+. About $45.
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2012-Henrys-Blend
Trione Vineyards and Winery Geyserville Ranch Henry’s Blend 2012, Alexander Valley, is a Bordeaux-style blend — with a California emphasis — that combines 35 percent cabernet sauvignon, 34 percent merlot, 13 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot, and 5 percent malbec, aged 18 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The concept of a “Bordeaux-style blend” is a bit of an idealization, of course, because very few red wines from Bordeaux employ what used to be thought of as the five “classic” Bordeaux red grapes; malbec doesn’t even enter the picture. This is a cool, inky, chiseled wine that features a dark ruby-purple hue and aromas of ripe black currants, plums and blueberries permeated by notes of cedar, tobacco and graphite, dust and loam, iodine and iron; dense, sleek and chewy, this wine displays huge reserves of acid, austere tannins and granitic minerality, all the while offering delicious black fruit flavors (with a tinge of black olive and roasted fennel) and a nicely balanced tide of burnished oak. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $54.
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Trione Block Twenty One Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Alexander Valley, is predominantly cabernet sauvignon — 85 percent — Trione-2012-Cabernet-Sauvignonwith 9 percent merlot and 2 percent each cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec in the blend; it aged 18 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is impenetrable ruby from stem to stern; the bouquet offers an enticing melange seething with notes of cedar, violets and lavender, loam and smoke, tobacco and cigarette paper, with hints of graphite and intense, concentrated black fruit. The wine is more succulent on the palate, its ripe, spicy black currant and cherry flavors rich and beguiling, but the effect is tempered by the presence of immense, dusty, granitic tannins that produce an austere, aloof finish. 14.4 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2029 to ’32. Excellent potential. About $67.
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The Lioco Sativa Carignan 2014, Mendocino County, is the kind of wine that pushes all the right buttons for me. Made from 70-year-old, liocohead-pruned, dry-farmed vines at elevations that range from 2,200 to 2,400 feet atop Pine Mountain, and seeing only neutral oak for nine months, the wine is a unique yet entirely authentic expression of the carignan grape. The color is an intriguing dark ruby-purple that shades to a magenta rim; aromas of tar and violets, sage and heather, spiced and macerated black currants and blueberries are woven with notes of graphite, lavender and mocha and hints of wild red berries. It’s a robust wine, dense and meaty but not opulent or overpowering; rather, it toes a fine line of texture and structure that gives it impressive heft along with an almost elegant fleetness. Oh, yes, it sports dusty, graphite-edged tannins and vivid acidity, but those essential factors are at the service of red and blue fruit flavors that feel ripe, spicy and deeply savory, with a background of balsam, black olives and loam. 13.4 percent alcohol. Needs a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, or similar red-blooded fare. Drink through 2020 or ’21. Production was 650 cases. Winemaker was John Raytek. Excellent. About $30, a local purchase at $32.

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

This survey of 12 rosé wines began as a Weekend Wine Notes post, but here it is, Wednesday, hardy the weekend at all, so I’m keeping the usual Weekend Wine Notes format but dropping that designation. We touch many styles of rosé wine amid this roster as well as many far-flung geographical regions. The grapes involved are also of broad variety, including merlot, pinot noir, tempranillo, grenache, syrah and even cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. While a few of these rosés could tolerate aging beyond this calendar year, all are really intended for immediate appeal and consumption, whether your choice of venue is the porch, the patio, by poolside or on a picnic or just standing around the kitchen while someone prepares a light Spring or Summer meal. Prices range from about $10 to $28, so nothing outlandlish. The point is to enjoy, while consuming in moderation, of course. These wines were samples for review.
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Ang_rose_2016_web
Angeline Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, California. 12.5% alc. A lovely pink-melon-coral hue; notes of slightly candied strawberry and raspberry with a hint of pomegranate; a kind of chalk-warm, dusty roof-tiles minerality; just a touch of dried herbs. Simple, direct and tasty; a crowd-pleaser for sure. Very Good. About $13.
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Les+vignes+de+Bila-Haut+Rosé+2015+HB+WINE
Domaine Bila-Haut Les Vignes Rosé 2016, Pays d’Oc. 13% alc. 78% grenache, 14% cinsault, 8% syrah. Lovely pale pink hue with a slight coral cast; very delicate notes of strawberry and blood orange, cloves and seashell; undertones of red currants, meadow flowers and heather, buoyed on a lithe crisp texture that’s silky smooth and a chiseled foundation of chalk and flint; the finish brings in a touch of peach. One could happily drink this throughout the Summer. Excellent. About $15, marking Great Value.
Sera Wine Imports, New York.
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Bridge Lane Rosé 2016, New York State. A label from Long Island’s Lieb Cellars. 11.9% alc. 49% cabernet franc, 29% merlot, 16% malbec, 4% pinot noir, 2% petit verdot. Very pale onion skin hue; quite dry and spare, with nuances of strawberry and melon, peach and pink grapefruit; crisp acidity keeps it lively and appealing, over an undercurrent of clean limestone minerality. Very Good. About $18. Also available in 3-liter boxes and 20-liter kegs, so party on, rascals.
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campuget
Chateau de Campuget Tradition Rosé 2016, Costières de Nîmes. 13% alc. 70% syrah, 30% grenache. Very pale copper-onion skin hue; delicately touched with red currants and raspberries, a hint of orange zest and rose petals; quite dry but pleasingly ripe, slightly stony, like warm roof tiles, brisk acidity for crispness and animation, grapefruit and limestone finish. Very Good+. A Steal at about $10.
Imported by Dreyfus & Ashby, New York.
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grgich rose
Grgich Hills Estate Rosé 2016, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. The first rosé from this venerable winery. 45% merlot, 31% cabernet sauvignon, 9% cabernet franc, 6% petit verdot, to which Bordeaux grape varieties are blended 8% zinfandel and 1% gewurztraminer. A riveting deep salmon-magenta hue; strawberry, tomato skin, rose petals and raspberry leaf; spicy and savory, with lip-smacking crystalline acidity and an intriguing warm brick-damp dust sense of minerality; blood orange, Earl Gray tea and heather dominate from mid-palate through the finish. A terrific and highly individual initial effort. Excellent. About $25.
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illahe rose
Illahe Vineyards Tempranillo Rosé 2016, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12% alc. 500 cases. Very very pale onion skin hue; very clean and dry, crisp and spare; delicate, indeed, ephemeral notes of strawberry and raspberry, something citrus, like orange rind and lime peel; notes of pomegranate and rhubarb; quite sleek and subtle, propelled by crisp acidity and a chiseled limestone-flint edge. Very Good+. About $17.
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P0004970_Maculan_Costadolio_Rosato
Maculan Costadolio 2016, Breganza Rosato. 12.5% alc. 100% merlot. Production was 1,000 cases. Pale coral-onion skin hue; very spare and delicate, animated by spanking-clean acidity; hints of dried red raspberries and currants, with a note of melon and dried herbs; a little brushy and heather-ish; crisp limestone and flint minerality, slightly saline finish. Super attractive without being pushy. Very Good+. About $15.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection for Winebow Inc., New York
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Martin Ray Winery Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley. 13.2% alc. Very pale copper-salmon color; strawberry, raspberry and orange rind; a brushing of dried thyme, a light touch of dust and graphite; ripe and tasty but spare and reticent; attractive lithe supple texture. Very Good+. About $25.
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Stewart Cellars Rosé 2016, Sonoma Mountain. 13.5% alc. 100% pinot noir. Very pale watermelon pink; really delicate and ethereal notes of Stewart_Logo (1)raspberry, rose petal, pink grapefruit and blood orange; undertones of watermelon, cloves and Earl Gray tea; quite dry, spare yet, paradoxically and delightfully, lush on the palate, animated by crisp acidity and dusty seashell minerality; elegant, charming, beautifully structured. A superior rosé. Excellent. About $28.
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Summer-in-Bottle-Rose-2016_9094
Wölffer Estate Summer in a Bottle Rosé Table Wine 2016, Long Island, N.Y. 12.2% alc. A unique blend of 54% merlot, 24% chardonnay, 11% cabernet franc, 6% gewürztraminer, 4% riesling and 1% vignoles. Onion skin hue with a light copper tinge; sprightly, spicy and slightly peppery, with ineffable layers of smoke, melon, raspberry and grapefruit; super fresh and refreshing, with heft and body that flow blithely on the palate. Delicious. Excellent. About $24.
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tongue dancer rose'
Tongue Dancer Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Putnam Vineyard, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Production was 90 cases. Bright copper-coral color; an unusually savory and fleshy rose, lithe and supple on the palate, with scents and flavors of strawberries and raspberries, melon and cloves, pomegranate and wild thyme; a filigreed background of limestone and flint minerality and bracing salinity. A superior rosé. Excellent. About $25.
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angel
Caves d’Esclans Whispering Angel 2016,
Côtes de Provence. 13% alc. Grenache, rolle (vermentino) and cinsault. Whispering, indeed, from its very pale onion skin color, to its delicate hints of orange rind, strawberries and cloves, to its dry, spare, elegant texture: a rose of nods and nuances, except that all aspects are bound and energized by taut, vivid acidity and a limestone structure of lacy transparency; flows across the palate like ethereal peach nectar. Excellent. About $22.
Imported by Shaw-Ross International, Miramar, Fla.
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No, film buffs, I am not referring to the great and controversial film by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, released in 1990, but to this pair of wines that feature tied-up and chained captives on their labels, reproductions of etchings by Goya, and are named The Prisoner and Blindfold. Not surprisingly, the wines, a red and a white, are bold, passionate and vivacious, qualities that work for the red but not, as you will see, for the white. As often happens in California, the tale of The Prisoner is complicated. Dave Phinney created this popular zinfandel blend shortly after founding Orin Swift Cellars in 1998, increasing sales to about 80,000 cases annually. He sold the brand to Huneeus Vintners early in 2010, who in turn sold The Prisoner Wine Company to Constellation Brands in April 2016 for about $285 million. Meanwhile, Phinney sold Orin Swift to E&J Gallo in June last year. There’s a lot of money flowing around the West Coast, I’d say. Winemaker for The Prisoner Wine Company is Chrissy Wittmann; consulting winemaker is Jen Beloz. These wines were samples for review.
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wine-hero-the-prisoner
First, the good, and My Readers will be surprised, because I don’t typically endorse a wine bearing alcohol degrees of 15 percent or higher. The Prisoner Red Wine 2015, Napa Valley, is a bold and exuberant blend that emphasizes zinfandel with the fairly unusual addition of cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah, syrah and charbono; the wine aged an unspecified amount of time in French and American oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is opaque black-purple with a magenta rim, dark as a dungeon, you might say; a big snootful of graphite, lavender and wood-smoke assails the nose, woven with very ripe and spicy black currants, blueberries and plums; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of cherries, iodine and fruitcake, with the latter’s component of figs, dried fruit, brandy-soaked raisins and baking spices. The wine displays undeniable grip and power, a tide of bright acidity, rollicking velvety dust-and-leather-girt tannins and a granitic edge, all the while allowing its elements of ripe black and blue fruit flavors plenty of play. 15.2 percent alcohol. Grilled ribs, perhaps, or pork chops rubbed with cumin and smoked paprika? Here’s your wine. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $47.
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The Blindfold White Wine 2014, carrying a general “California” designation, is predominantly chardonnay, with some chenin blanc and a coalition of Rhone varieties — roussanne, viognier, grenache blanc and marsanne. The wine aged for 10 months, 85 percent in a combination of French and Hungarian oak, 25 percent new barrels, and the rest in stainless steel. Sounds like a recipe for an interesting, even intriguing white wine, n’est-ce pas? Unfortunately, this one embodies everything that I abhor about overblown, exaggerated white wine from the Golden State, exhibiting all the unbalanced qualities of strident spice, cloying floral nature, over-ripe tropical character, butterscotch, toffee and burnt toast that make such wines undrinkable. Someone must like them, but I am not a member of that cohort. Not recommended. About $32.
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As if David Ramey didn’t have enough to do, as proprietor of Ramey Wine Cellars, maker of single-vineyard chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and pinot noir, and as one of the most ubiquitous winery consultants in California, he recently launched Sidebar 2015-RFB-FrontCellars, the idea being to break out of the RWC mold to play with interesting grapes from Russian River Valley and lesser-known AVAs. I will eventually get around to five of the Sidebar offerings, but today, as Wine of the Day No. 259, I want to discuss the Sidebar Cellars Red Field Blend 2015, from the certified sustainable Alegria Vineyard in Russian River Valley. The vineyard was planted in 1890 and partially replanted in 1950, so the grapes for this wine came from vines that were either 65 or 125 years old. The Sidebar Red Wine Blend 2015 is comprised of 80 percent zinfandel, 11 percent alicante and 9 percent petite sirah, fermented by native yeast and aged 14 months in neutral French oak barrels. The color is dark ruby with a lighter mulberry rim; aromas of blackberries, black currants and plums are wreathed with notes of cedar, tobacco and dried rosemary, with just a hint of lavender and blueberries, all framed both by immediate freshness and ripeness and knotty intensity and concentration. On the palate, the wine is dry, lively and focused, its pure black and blue fruit flavors inflected by boxwood and heather, loam and graphite and undertones of tannins that balance rigor with velvety plushness; an hour in the glass brings in elements of fruitcake and brandied raisins, while the chiseled finish is long and lithe. 14.5 percent alcohol. If you’re firing up the grill this weekend (or any day) and laying on the gridiron a leg of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary or pork chops rubbed with cumin, smoked paprika and Szechuan pepper or your version of barbecue ribs, this is the wine for you. Now through 2020 or ’21. Production was 1,200 cases. Excellent. About $27.

A sample for review.

And here’s a tasty, accessible chardonnay for Wine of the Day, No. 257. The Martin Ray Chardonnay 2016, carries a Sonoma County MR-16-SC-Chard-frtdesignation, featuring grapes that derive from the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Valley and Carneros AVAs. Any wood influence is minimal, more in the shaping spirit of subtlety and suppleness; the wine sees 35 percent new French oak barrels. The color is very pale straw-gold; it’s a fresh, clean and crisp chardonnay that offers classic notes of clove-inflected pineapple and grapefruit, with hints of quince and ginger and a lovely, lively texture that feels as if you’re sipping liquid quartz, so, yes, there’s a tantalizing mineral aspect. The wine is quite dry but juicy on the palate with citrus and stone-fruit flavors, all leading to a bright, spicy, limestone finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Now through 2018, maybe ’19, and a shoo-in for your house chardonnay, especially during the Summer, and for restaurant and bar by-the-glass programs. Very Good+. About $17.

A sample for review.

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It’s a beautiful Spring day in our neighborhood, and I hope that’s the case in your neighborhood too. You can tell that it’s a beautiful Spring Day because the lawn mowers and leaf-blowers fired up about 7:30 this morning. Beautiful Spring days — and Summer also — call for crisp refreshing rosé wines, and my candidate today is La Crema Winery Pinot Noir Rosé 2016, from Monterey County, the first produced by this winery that has been part of Jackson Family Wines since 1993. Appropriately made all in stainless steel, this delightful wine offers a lovely coral-smoky topaz hue and delicate aromas of orange rind and pink grapefruit with a hint of strawberry, opening, after a few moments in the glass, to almond blossom and a hint of heather. Bright acidity keeps this sleek rosé lively and appealing, while the finish brings in a welcome note of bracing limestone and seashell salinity. 13.5 percent alcohol. One need not ask for anything more from a thirst-quenching porch-patio-picnic wine. Very Good+. About $20.

A sample for review.

Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t hate the chardonnay grape, I just despise and am frequently saddened by what is done to the grape in wineries in California. And it’s true, as I have remarked many times on this blog, that I hate the over-oaked, brassy, blatantly ripe, stridently spicy, dessert-and-tropical-flavors-dominated chardonnays that I often receive as samples for review. I find such wines drastically unbalanced, harsh yet sweet, and undrinkable. Today, however, I post for your delectation and edification reviews of 12 chardonnay wines that I found to be splendid examples of the intensity and purity of form and flavor that come from thoughtful fidelity to the grape and, possibly, to a particular patch of land. I have always felt that richness, whether in food or wine, is not a virtue in itself, and you will notice that while most of these examples display sufficient or even marked richness of fruit, that aspect is balanced and supported by clean, bright acidity and minerality. I don’t mind wines that provoke and take risks, but ultimately the governing principle is equilibrium of all the qualities that compose the whole package. With one exception — an online purchase — these chardonnays were samples for review, mainly 2014s and ’15s and one 2013. Geographically they range along the vertical axis of winemaking in the Golden State, from Santa Barbara County in the south to Mendocino in the north. Technically, they illustrate an interesting gamut of possibilities, from the lightest touch of neutral oak and no malolactic to (surprisingly) full barrel-fermentation, 100 percent new French oak and malolactic. Too often, we encounter wines — not only chardonnay — fashioned along the lines of the winemaker or producer’s ego and prescribed expectations, but in the models I describe today, it feels as if purity, sensitivity and integrity won the race.
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The Black Kite Cellars Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, the rest one-year-old. The color is pale gold; aromas of baked apples and spiced pears are woven with layers of grapefruit and pineapple that are ripe and spicy but controlled on the palate by scintillating acidity and limestone-flint minerality; some moments in the glass bring in hints of gardenia, smoke and jasmine. The wine is quite dry, energized by its crystalline clarity and intensity and a lithe supple texture. The finish is packed with elements of damp stones and bright yellow stone-fruit flavors. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Jeff Gaffner. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Production was 201 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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The Nielson Vineyard, the first commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County, was planted in 1964. Ken Brown, who acquired the 432-acre vineyard in 1989 after founding Byron Wines, started replanting in 1991. Jackson Family Wines purchased the winery and vineyard in 2006. Winemaker is Jonathan Nagy, who puts the Byron Winery Nielson Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, through 100 percent barrel fermentation, aging in 54 percent new French oak and full malolactic. To my palate, that regimen could be a recipe for disaster, but Nagy manages to fashion a high-impact chardonnay that offers lovely purity and intensity, texture and structure, a rich, ripe wine that isn’t stridently spicy or cloying with oak. The color is very pale gold with a faint green tinge; notes of green tea and lemongrass infuse aromas and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit that open to suggestions of clover, peach and quince. The wine is deftly balanced and integrated, and what might feel florid and forward in its approach is leavened by bright acidity and a lingering coastal shelf of limestone, flint and sea-salt. Tremendous vitality, verve and presence. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 848 cases. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
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The Edna Valley Vineyard Winemakers Series “Fleur de Edna” Chardonnay 2014, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County, sees only neutral oak barrels. The wine is very clean and fresh, offering a pale gold hue and pert aromas and flavors of green apple and pear, pineapple and grapefruit, all lightly spiced and macerated; lip-smacking acidity sends a bright arrow through a lean and lithe structure honed by limestone and flint minerality. The wine gradually opens to notes of smoke, lilac and honeysuckle, peach and quince, gently expressed. While this chardonnay makes no great display of itself, it asserts real confidence and character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. (The 2015 is also available now.) Excellent. About $27.
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Winemaker Ryan Hodgins gave the FEL Chardonnay 2015, Anderson Valley, nine months in neutral French oak barrels and limited malolactic fermentation. The result is a chardonnay of lovely delicacy and elegance that features a pale straw-gold hue and elusive aromas of honeysuckle and jasmine; a few moments in the glass add classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit and subtle hints of cloves and roasted lemon. The wine is sleek and supple on the palate, juicy with ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors buoyed by a burgeoning limestone quality and fresh, bracing salinity on the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $32.
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Winemaker Todd Graff put the Frank Family Wines Chardonnay 2014, Napa-Carneros, through nine months in French oak, 1/3 each new, one-year-old and two-year-old barrels. The grapes derived from the winery’s Lewis Vineyard, where 68 acres of chardonnay vines and 10 acres of pinot noir are subject to the maritime influence of San Francisco Bay’s cool temperatures, fog and wind. The color is pale gold; the wine feels as if you’re sipping crushed gravel minerality with a cool flint chaser, these elements at the service of spiced pear and roasted lemon with notes of jasmine, cloves, honeysuckle and heather. This vibrant chardonnay offers texture and juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors galore, edging a bit toward flamboyance but still nicely restrained by crisp acidity and its prominent mineral component; real personality and energy here, animating a finish packed with grapefruit and graphite. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $35.
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Rob Davis has made every vintage of Jordan chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon since the winery was launched in 1976. That’s a record for 2015-Jordan-Russian-River-Valley-Chardonnay-Label-WebThumblongevity, dedication and knowledge almost unsurpassed in California. For the Jordan Vineyards Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley, the grapes fermented for 17 days in 47 percent stainless steel tanks and 53 percent new French oak barrels, and then aged six months — not a long passage — in 100 percent new French oak. Did I read that right? 100 percent? Mais oui, mon lecteurs. How did the wine turn out? Delicate, elegant, steely, filled with tantalizing nuance. The color is pale straw-gold; white floral aromas are ethereal, while notes of pineapple and grapefruit and a hint of peach are spare and subtle, opening gradually to touches of heather and seashell. The limestone and chalk minerality settles in for the long haul, lending this chardonnay an extraordinary sense of presence and gravity, buttressed by an arrow-bright line of chiseled acidity. You could say that this is a very Chablis-like chardonnay for Russian River Valley; I just say that it’s great. 13.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $32.
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The Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast, is a bright, bold chardonnay whose tendency toward richness took my 2014-CHARD-FreestoneLABELtolerance right to the edge — but held back from the plunge by incisive acidity and a profound depth of limestone and chalk minerality. The oak regimen is interesting, the wine aging 13 months in French oak barrels and puncheons, 35 percent new, 65 percent two and three years old. A puncheon is typically about twice the size of a traditional barrique, or approximately 123 U.S. gallons to 59 U.S. gallons, though, truly, different interpretations as to the size of a puncheon exist from country to country and region to region. Anyway, this wine offers a mild gold hue and an initial impression of daunting mineral elements that make it quite spare and austere; as the moments pass, it opens and softens to the extent that notes of lime peel and roasted lemon emerge, with attendant touches of baked pineapple and grapefruit, mango and bananas Foster, all tempered by acid and a mineral nature that practically glitter in the glass. What’s most compelling here is the exquisite sense of tension and risky balance among all these qualities, making for a drink that’s both satisfying and exciting. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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The Mayacamas Vineyards The Terraces Special Bottling Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley, is simply one of the best chardonnay wines I have 2013 Mayacamas Terraces CH Front Labelever tasted. It was made from a high-altitude 60-year-old vineyard that will not be used again, so this one is a rare treat. The color is pale straw-gold; notes of ginger and quince, guava and yellow plum and peach are woven with a slightly piney-resinous element and a tincture of lilac; it feels like liquid quartz on the palate, animated by chiming acidity and an aura both propulsive and dignified; ripe and spicy stone-fruit flavors nestle in a texture that’s soft as talc yet lithe and a little muscular, all devolving to a finish loaded with tangerine, lemongrass and grapefruit pith. 14.25 percent alcohol. A chardonnay of stunning and crystalline balance, tone and presence. for drinking through 2021 to ’25. Exceptional. About $95, an online purchase and Worth a Search for devotees of varietal purity and intensity.
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Though the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, saw 100 percent barrel-fermentation and aging in 100 smlabel_lr_chard_14percent new French oak barrels — that a lot of wood in my book — the wine feels as if it had been chiseled from the bedrock of the 42-year-old, dry-farmed vineyard whence it originated, while the oak influence feels almost subliminal in lending the wine shape, size and subtle spice. It’s a beautifully proportional chardonnay in every aspect — made from a 42-year-old dry-farmed vineyard — displaying a pale straw-gold hue and enticing aromas of cloves, ripe pineapple and grapefruit with a touch of mango and guava and back-notes of quince and crystallized ginger; these elements segue seamlessly to the palate, where the wine feels etched by bright acidity that cuts a swath and a deeply-hewn, scintillating limestone quality. 14.2 percent alcohol. One of my favorite chardonnays to taste in any and every year. Production was 850 cases. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $32.
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New oak was kept to a minimum in the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Karia” Chardonnay 2015, Napa Valley, which aged seven months in 30 percent new French barrels. The color is pale straw-gold; hints of peaches and spiced pear, quince and ginger waft from the glass in an effect that’s delicately floral and both faintly smoky and slightly candied, as in just a note of caramelized grapefruit lightly touched with mango, the whole impression being beguiling and intriguing. This chardonnay is quite dry but offers a vibrant, vital presence in a lithe supple texture that flows over a keen edge of limestone-flint minerality; citrus and stone-fruit flavors are ripe and moderately spicy, bold without being overdone. A really lovely chardonnay. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $35.
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The grapes for the Stony Hill Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, were grown on dry-farmed vines from 23 to 32 years old, at elevations ranging stony chardfrom 800 to 1,500 feet. Winemaker Mike Chelini uses only neutral oak for the winery’s chardonnays and inhibits malolactic. The result is a chardonnay whose innate richness and generous nature are buttressed by a powerful limestone and flint element and enlivened by riveting acidity. The color is medium straw-gold; aromas of slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit are shot through with notes of quince and cloves, acacia and heather, a hint of yellow plum and a faint whiff of lilac. This chardonnay offers true grace, elegance and spareness, with a lithe, lightly powdered texture brightened by vibrant crispness and scintillating minerality that feels filigreed and transparent through the finish. 13 percent alcohol. Drink this exquisite yet powerful wine through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $48.
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2014-CHard
If you’re looking for a taut, vibrant chardonnay that admirably balances fruit and floral elements, acidity and mineral power, Trione Vineyards and Winery River Road Ranch Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, is your baby. Deriving from the winery’s 115-acre estate vineyard, the wine features a shimmering pale gold hue and lovely aromas of apple and pear, quince and ginger and slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, all heightened by notes of cloves and a hint of quinine; there’s a gradual blooming of honeysuckle and jasmine. This chardonnay is fleet and fluent in all aspects, quite dry but delivering a beguiling talc-like texture riven by clean acid and a burgeoning limestone quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $34.
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One of my favorite wines of the year — any year — is the Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Chenin Blanc, made from grapes grown in the Clarksburg 2016_Chenin_Blanc_label_rgbAVA, an unusual region (approved in 1984) that lies athwart portions of three counties in Northern California: Sacramento County, Solano County and Yolo County, near the town of Clarksburg. Benefiting from the breezes that waft from San Francisco Bay, Clarksburg is cooler than nearby Sacramento. Fewer than 10 percent of the grapes grown in Clarksburg are actually crushed within the AVA, most being trucked to wineries in distant climes. And speaking of this wine, I would argue that the designation “Dry Chenin Blanc” is not necessary. Do consumers meet so much sweet chenin blanc that the “dry” distinction needs to be asserted? I don’t think so. Anyway, the Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Chenin Blanc 2016, Clarksburg, displays a very pale straw-gold hue and offers lovely aromas of hay and heather, quince and ginger, notes of roasted lemons and poached pears inflected by lilac and camellia. It is indeed a dry wine (made all in stainless steel) but juicy with flavors of yellow stone-fruit, clean and fresh with bracing acidity and an intriguing limestone edge; several minutes in the glass bring in hints of acacia and broom, flint and just a bit of guava. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of this year or into 2018 with all sorts of porch, patio or picnic fare, or as aperitif while you’re preparing dinner. Winemaker was Tim Bell. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.

A sample for review.

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