California


How do the Smith brothers do it? Normally, I would find a chardonnay that was 100 percent barrel-fermented and aged in 100 percent new French oak barrels (for eight months) undrinkable because of the influence of wood, but Charles and Stuart Smith, who produce only limited bottlings of chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and riesling, smith madrone chardonnaymanage, once again, to deliver a chardonnay notable for its bright, clean brilliance; its chiseled restraint that still allows for the grape’s natural richness; its lithe, supple juiciness. Perhaps this result has to do with the age of the mountain-side vineyard, where the vines were 41 years old for this vintage, or with the fact that the vineyard is dry-farmed, seeing no irrigation during periods of little rain, so the roots have to struggle to find nutrients and moisture, a sort of vinous variation on the “no pain-no gain” principle. In any case, the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, is a beauty. The color is pale straw-gold with a faint green tinge; classic aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit carry a thread of mango and cloves, with high notes of jasmine, talc and limestone. The intimation of limestone, and its aide-de-camp, flint, in the nose expands righteously on the palate, and combined with chiming acidity produces a chardonnay of crystalline clarity that feels lit from within. Despite the oak regimen, any wood activity lies in subtly shaping and sculpting the wine, a significance as gentle but urgent as a Summer zephyr. Flavors are more stone-fruit — peach, yellow plum — than citrus, and all elements devolve to a long, limpid and luminous finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. An essential chardonnay, exquisite in its parts, elegant in balance, dynamic in total. Production was 806 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $32.

A sample for review.

In some ways, it’s more fun to compile the “25 Great Wine Bargains” than it is to fret over the “50 Great Wines.” This present list of wines priced at $20 and under offers more geographical and varietal diversity, as well as appealing to people — most of the wine-drinkers on the face of the earth — would would rather pay $15 for a bottle of excellent wine than $150 for a bottle of exceptional wine. What’s particularly pleasing about today’s roster is that of the 25 wines included, all but two rate Excellent. The truth is that wines don’t have to be high-priced to be thoughtfully and precisely made or to embody all the characteristics of a terrific drink. An excellent sauvignon blanc for $11? Who would pass that up? These 25 Great Wine Bargains are cause for celebration, so have at it. Remember, though, that not all wines are available in every market. For bottles that can’t be found in your local retail stores, a search on the Internet may be helpful. Enjoy!

All of these selections were samples for review or were tasted at wholesaler trade events.
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kerner
Abbazia di Novacella Kerner 2013, Valle Isarco, Alto Adige, Italy. Kerner is a white hybrid grape created as recently as 1969. It is found primarily in Germany but certainly performed well in this section of Alto Adige. Excellent. About $19.
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baur
Francois Baur Brut Réserve nv, Crémant d’Alsace, France. Pinot blanc, riesling, chardonnay, pinot gris. Excellent. About $18.
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cattin riesling
Joseph Cattin Riesling 2013, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $14.
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chevalier_muscadet_2010_hi_res
Eric Chevalier Clos de la Butte 2013, Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu sur Lie 2013, Loire Valley, France. Excellent. About $16.
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arneis_le_madri_btl_535px
Michele Chiarlo Le Madri Roero Arneis 2014, Piedmont, Italy. 100 percent arneis grapes. Excellent. About $18.
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2014_Sauvignon_Blanc_label_rgb1
Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $18.
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Eguia_Rosado_FT
Viña Eguía Rosado 2014, Rioja, Spain. 80 percent tempranillo, 20 percent garnacha. Very Good+. About $12.
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cava
Isaac Fernandez Seleccíon Biutiful Cava Rosé nv, Penedes, Spain. Excellent. About $15.
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schloss-gobelsburg-gobelsburger-riesling-kamptal-austria-10224971
Schloss Gobelsburg “Gobelsburger” Riesling 2013, Kamptal, Austria. Excellent. About $18.
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Hidalgo_Fino
Emilio Hildago Fino Jerez Seco nv, Jerez, Spain. Excellent. About $14 (500 milliliter bottle).
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leitz
Leitz Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Trocken 2013, Rheingau, Germany. Excellent. About $20.
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martini-cab
Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $20.
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masi
Masi Campofiorin 2011, Rosso del Veronese IGT, Italy. Corvino, rondinella and molinara grapes. Excellent. About $18.
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mud-house-sauvignon-blanc-marlborough-new-zealand-10126095
Mud House Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, New Zealand. Excellent. About $17.
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pazo
Pazo San Mauro Albariño 2014, Rías Baixas, Spain. Excellent. About $19.
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ped sb
Pedroncelli East Side Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $15.
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2012_domaine_perraud_macon_villages_vieilles_vignes
Domaine Perraud Vielles Vignes Mâcon-Villages 2013, Mâconnais, France. 100 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $20.
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Amauta-Absoluto-Torrontes
El Porvenir de Cafayate Amauta Absoluto Torrontés 2012, Salta, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.
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prodigo
Prodigo Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Friuli Grave, Italy. Excellent. About $11.
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scaia-garganega
Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Bianca 2014, delle Venezia IGT, Italy. The label asserts 55 percent garganega, 45 percent chardonnay grapes. Press materials and website say 50 percent garganega, 30 percent chardonnay, 20 percent trebbiano Soave. Whatever. Excellent. About $11.
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segries
Château de Ségriès Côtes-du-Rhône 2013, Rhone Valley, France. 50 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah, 10 percent each cinsault and carignane. Excellent. About $15.
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charles_thomas_cotes_du_rhone_rouge_hq_label
Charles Thomas Côtes-du-Rhône 2013, Rhone Valley, France. (Maison Jean-Baptiste Bejot) 50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache, 10 percent mourvedre. Very Good+. About $12.
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valentina
La Valentina 2014, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Italy. Rosé of montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Very Good+. About $12.
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VR_Label_14_WHITE4_Front
Vina Robles “White 4” 2014, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara County. 54 percent viognier, 22 percent vermentino, 15 verdelho, 9 sauvignon blanc. Excellent. About $16.
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Zemmer-Pinot_Bianco_Square
Peter Zemmer Punggl Pinot Blanc 2013, Alto Adige, Italy. Excellent. About $18.
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Here’s a red wine blend that will warm your hearts during these chilly January days and nights and serve as gratifying accompaniment to hearty winter-time fare. You might think that the Head High Red Wine 2013, North Red-595x960Coast, made a stab at an interesting Bordeaux-style blend, with unusual emphasis on malbec, what with its 36 percent malbec, 20 percent merlot and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, but the addition of 13 percent zinfandel and 11 percent grenache ensures that we’re in classic, eclectic California blend territory. The wine qualifies for a North Coast designation by way of 74 percent Sonoma County, 14 percent Lake County and 12 percent Napa County. It aged 15 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Samuel Spencer. The color is dark ruby with a glowing magenta rim; aromas of red and black currants and plums are bolstered by notes of blueberries, cloves and sandalwood, while a few minutes in the glass bring in tones of iodine and mint, briers and brambles. These multi-layered qualities segue naturally to the palate, where the wine builds a dusty, graphite-laden tannic presence that leads to a dry, lithic finish, neither factor diminishing spicy and tasty black and red berry flavors. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. For every two bottles of Head High wines sold, $1 goes to the charities, Sustainable Surf and Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. Excellent. About $30.

A sample for review.

We tend to know when a wine is great from the first sniff and taste, because it possesses that ineffable yet very real quality called charisma. Renewed sniffing and tasting confirm that assessment, while adding depth and character. These factors hold true whether a wine costs $19 or $350, the range represented in today’s 2015 edition of the annual “50 Great Wines” post. I wouldn’t pay $350 for a bottle of wine — though apparently some people would — but I appreciate the occasional opportunity to encounter one. Of the wines on today’s roster, 18 rate Exceptional and 32 rate Excellent. Often the dividing line between Excellent and Exceptional is fine indeed, with permutations and intimations running silent and deep in each direction, but since my inclination is toward distinctions, rankings and hierarchies — that’s what graduate school will do for you — I always include a rating for each wine reviewed on BTYH. On the other hand, I refuse to employ the famous 100-point system; I would rather leave room for some ambiguity and imagination.

A great wine satisfies every point of interest and essence that we desire from a wine, exuding a feeling of utter completion and comprehension. Each wine accomplishes this purpose in a different way, of course, and to varying degrees, necessitating different responses. Some of these wines I admire, gravely and humbly; others, I adore rather shamelessly. The ultimate test, I think, is that when we drink a bottle of great wine, our conclusion is thus: “I wouldn’t want it to be anything other than this,” a sentiment we might also share with works of art and love affairs.

Today’s roster is presented alphabetically. Where a wine is a blend of grapes, I include the percentages that compose the blend. I also mention the case production for wines released in limited quantities, of which many on this list, not surprisingly, are. I do not include alcohol levels or names of importers or technical, geographical or historical date That sort of information is available in the reviews. These wines were selected from examples that I wrote about during 2015. The preponderance were samples for review, for which I thank the wineries, importers and marketing people who sent them.

For whatever eccentricities this list of “50 Great Wines of 2015” embodies, blame them on my taste, knowledge, experience and intuition. That is all I — or any of us — have to go on.
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achaval-ferrer-CMendoza-2013
Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $25.
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valadorna 09
Arcanum Valadorna 2009, Toscana IGT, Italy. 85 percent merlot, 8 percent cabernet franc, 7 percent cabernet sauvignon. Exceptional. About $80.

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14537_ARG-NHRS-13-F_1
Argyle Nuthouse Riesling 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon. Exceptional. About $30.
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sangioveto
Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana 2009, Toscana IGT, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. 750 cases. Excellent. About $60.
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Benovia-2013-Russian-River-Valley-Pinot-Noir
Benovia Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $38.
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occultumlapidem2012us
Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France. 50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache, 10 percent carignan. Excellent. About $30.
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BlackKite
Black Kite Cellars Stony Terrace Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 200 cases. Excellent. About $60. (Not exactly the correct label, but this is what they look like.)
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terras gauda
Bodegas Terras Gauda O Rosal 2014, Rias Baixas, Spain. 70 percent albariño, 15 percent loureiro, 15 percent caiño blanco. Excellent. About $24.
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Riesling
Chateau Montelena Riesling 2014, Potter Valley. Excellent, About $25.
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clemens-busch-vom-grauen-schiefer-riesling-trocken-mosel-germany-10529188
Weingut Clemens Busch Grauen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2012, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $30.
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Terrunyo_Sauvignon_Blanc_Front_Label-300x218
Concha y Toro Terrunyo Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $26.
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cornerstone 11
Cornerstone Cellars The Cornerstone 2011, Napa Valley. 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet franc. 100 cases. About $150.
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duckhorn merlot
Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon, 2 percent cabernet franc, 1 percent malbec. Excellent. About $54.
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ehlers
Ehlers Estate Sylvanie Cabernet Franc Rosé 2014, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $28.
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FEL-Logo_850x500
FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 645 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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Foursight Jpeg Logo
Foursight Wines Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 224 cases. Excellent. About $46.
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FINAL 2013 ESS LABELb
Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Essence Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. 1,204 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
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Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. 485 cases. Exceptional. About $90.
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inman-rose
Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,500 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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iron-horse-brut-x
Iron Horse Brut “X” 2010, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. 69 percent pinot noir, 31 percent chardonnay. 500 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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jacquard
Champagne Jacquart Brut Rosé nv. 53 percent pinot noir, 35 percent chardonnay, 12 percent pinot meunier. Excellent. About $55.
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La Jota Vineyard Co. W.S. Keyes Vineyards Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. 296 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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cuvee rose
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rosé Brut nv. 100 percent Grand Cru pinot noir. Excellent. About $99.
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laurent 2006
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2006. Excellent. About $65.
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lokoya
Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $350.
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ember-site
Loomis “Ember” Red Wine 2012, Napa Valley. Syrah, grenache, mourvedre. 75 cases. Excellent. About $38.
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maggy
Maggy Hawk “Afleet” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 156 cases. Exceptional. About $66.

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MFW_Rose_Face
MacPhail Family Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 492 cases. Exceptional. About $22.
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loidana-nueva-imagen-def_0_0
Marco Abella Loidana 2010, Priorat, Spain. 60 percent grenache, 25 percent carignane, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $30.
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mccay zin
McCay Cellars “Trulux” Zinfandel 2012, Lodi. 479 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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mcintyre
McIntyre Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 368 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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Morgan_2012_Double_L_Chardonnay
Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 530 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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beautiful pinot gris
Mt Beautiful Pinot Gris 2014, North Canterbury, New Zealand. 1,500 cases. Exceptional. About $19.
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Pahlmeyer and Jayson Wines Line Up
Pahlmeyer Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $85.
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pfendler
Pfendler Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 350 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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post and vine
Post & Vine Testa Vineyard Old Vine Field Blend 2012, Mendocino County. 42 percent zinfandel, 37 percent carignane, 21 percent petite sirah. 143 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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quivira zin
Quivira Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. With 10 percent petite sirah, 1 percent carignane. Excellent. About $26.
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innocent
St. Innocent Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 948 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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sequoia grove cab
Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. With 11 percent cabernet franc, 10 percent merlot, 1 percent each petit verdot and malbec. Excellent. About $38.
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smith madrone 11
Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,070 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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tonella sb
S.R. Tonella Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $29.
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2014EstateSauvBlanc
Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $35.

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tanner dafoe
Tanner Dafoe Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. 141 cases. Exceptional. About $110.

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taylor
Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Porto 2012, Portugal. Exceptional. About $53.
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joon
Tin Barn “Joon” Coryelle Fields Vineyard Rosé of Syrah 2014, Sonoma Coast. 158 cases. Excellent. About $23.
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torre
Torre San Martino Vigna della Signore 2013, Colli di Faenza Bianco, Italy. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, albana grapes. Excellent. $NA.
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two shepherds logo
Two Shepherds Grenache Rosé 2014, Sonoma Coast. 90 cases. Exceptional. About $24.
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11_barolo_castiglione1-232x686
Vietti Castiglione Barolo 2011, Piedmont, Italy. 100 percent nebbiolo grapes. Excellent. About $50.
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chateau-villa-bel-air-graves-france-10213716
Chateau Villa Bel-Air 2013, Graves, Bordeaux. 65 percent sauvignon blanc, 35 percent semillon. Excellent. About $25.
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2012-Jordan-PN-300x207
Youngberg Hill Jordan Block Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley. 300 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Two excellent blanc de noirs sparkling wines — 100 percent pinot noir — from California.
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McIntyre
Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, the McIntyre Vineyard L’homme Qui Ris nv, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, is essentially a blanc de noirs sparkling wine. The name means “the man who laughs.” It was made in the traditional method of Champagne, from the winery’s sustainable estate vineyard, and aged on the lees in bottle for a minimum of two years. The color is a very pale blond hue, animated by a silver tempest of tiny glinting bubbles; notes of roasted lemon, lemongrass and lime peel contain a bare hint of red currents and raspberries, against a background of brioche and wet stones. The whole enterprise is supported by whiplash acidity and a scintillating mineral element, call it steel etched by limestone and sea salt, yet the overall effect is of tissues of delicacy melded by tensile energy. Lovely purity and intensity. Winemaker was Steve McIntyre. Excellent. About $36.

A sample for review.
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The Inman Family Wines Blanc de Noirs 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, is the winery’s first blanc de inmannoirs, following its Brut Rose into production. Made from Inman’s OGV Estate Vineyard, the all-pinot noir wine aged almost three years en tirage and was finished with no dosage — added sugar — so it qualifies for the Bone-Dry category. The color is palest straw, and the bubbles are fervently dynamic in their upward, spiraling surge. First come notes of baked apple, roasted lemon and lemongrass, with undertones of lightly buttered cinnamon toast, pastry, spiced pear and damp chalk. On the palate, slashing acidity cuts a swath on the palate, while a crystalline limestone element adds a bracing quality of seashell and salt marsh to the finish. Taut, nervy and dramatic, this blanc de noirs feels deep, ethereal and elevating. Drink now through 2019 to ’22. Winemaker was Kathleen Inman. Excellent. About $68.

A sample for review.
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Sorry that I missed yesterday’s post, My Readers, but I was recruited to transport a puppy from Memphis to Nashville, a jaunt that sucked away most of the day. So let’s play a little catch-up, as I offer brut rose products from Alsace, California, Italy’s Franciacorta region and Champagne.
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dorpf
The 100 percent pinot noir Dorpf & Irion Brut Rosé nv, Cremant d’Alsace, ages 12 to 15 months in the bottle on the yeast cells. The color is pale peach, and there’s a hint of peach in the nose and on the palate, too. The bubbles are giddily, hypnotically surging upward, and while there’s a trend away from using flutes in favor of standard wine glasses for Champagne and other sparkling wines, a flute is the only way to appreciate this delightful factor. Raspberries, red currants and blood oranges dominate a bouquet that broadens to reveal notes of heather and meadows and an elusive whiff of orange liqueur. With headlong verve, this animated sparkling wine spills across the palate in a melange of citrus and red berry flavors, highlighted by layers of limestone and shale. As a plus, the whole enterprise gains in floral effect as the minutes pass. 12.5 percent alcohol. Completely delightful. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.

Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., New York. A sample for review.
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schramsberg
The Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2012, North Coast, is a true North Coast product, the grapes deriving from Sonoma (52 percent), Marin (24 percent), Napa (16 percent) and Mendocino (8 percent) counties. The blend is 76 pinot noir and 24 percent chardonnay. In the traditional method, it aged about two years in bottle on the yeast. The color is pale salmon-copper, and the tiny bubbles are fervently effervescent. Distinct aromas of orange rind and orange blossom, fresh biscuits and cloves, a tinge of red raspberry and red currants and just a hint of orange marmalade distinguish a refreshing and attractive bouquet. A few moments in the glass tease out notes of freshly-baked biscuits and brioche. Lithe and generous at the same time, this sparkling wine is savory and saline, with a keen limestone edge and bright acidity to balance spicy but spare red fruit flavors and a cloud-like texture. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $44.

A sample for review.
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pizzini rose
I have increasingly high regard for the traditional method sparkling wines of Franciacorta, in Italy’s Lombardy region, which can attain, I think, world-class status. Here’s a superb example. The Barone Pizzini Brut Rosé 2011, Franciacorta, consists of 100 percent pinot noir grapes; the initial wine ages six months in year-old French barriques and then an average of three years in the bottle on the lees. The color is bright pink-cerise, and the bubbles are abundant, lively and persistent. First come notes of brioche with raspberry jam and lightly buttered toast, followed by hints of spiced and macerated raspberries and strawberries infused by red currants, cloves, candied orange peel and rose petals; a fillip of pomegranate adds intrigue. This sparkling wine is deep and supple, vibrant with acidity and a scintillating limestone element, yet it offers, as well as sophistication and elegance, a sense of whimsy and gaiety. 12.9 percent alcohol. It will easily drink well and invitingly through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.

A Leonardo Locascio Selection, imported by Winebow, Inc., New York. A sample for review.
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pol roger brut rose bottle
The Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve Brut Rosé 2004 begins in delicate, elegant manner and gains weight and dimension in the glass, becoming a brut rosé of dignity, majesty and purpose. The blend is 50 percent pinot noir and 35 percent chardonnay grapes, all from Premier and Grand Cru vineyards, and 15 percent pinot noir made “en rouge” and added to the final blend before going into the bottle. The color is a pale copper-topaz hue, enlivened by a constant stream of upward swirling bubbles. The first impression is of something fine-boned and chiseled, dry, crisp, fresh and clean, drawing up hints of dried raspberries and strawberries, lime peel and damp limestone and flint. It’s expansive and expressive on the palate, yet taut, supple and dynamic; a bit of time brings in notes of brioche and lightly buttered cinnamon toast, roasted hazelnuts and almond skin, but always with a flush of red fruit and a wash of burgeoning minerality and keen acidity. The finish is increasingly stone-inflected and austere. 12.5 percent alcohol. This bottle should drink beautifully through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $80 to $100 nationally.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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duval lerot rose
The Champagne house mentioned yesterday in this space, Ayala, was founded in 1860. For today’s entry, we skip back one year to 1859, when the house of Duval-Leroy was established by the melding of two well-known families in Champagne. Duval-Leroy is still run by the family, with Carol Duval-Leroy at the head, assisted by her sons, Julien, Charles and Louis. Master of the cave is Sandrine Logette-Jardin. A major contribution of the house to the Champagne industry occurred in 1911, when Raymond Duval-Leroy created the first Champagne made exclusively from Premier Cru vineyards, opening the door to a level of focused, upscale products. Our Champagne today is the Duval-Leroy Premier Cru Rose Prestige, composed of 90 percent pinot noir and 10 percent chardonnay, aged on the lees a minimum of 36 months. The color is an entrancing smoky topaz-light copper hue, given liveliness by a upward surge of tiny bubbles. First, on the nose, come notes of strawberry, raspberry and orange rind, deepened, after a few moments, by hints of brioche and lightly-buttered cinnamon toast, quince and orange marmalade. Make no mistake, this is a high-toned, dry Champagne, flush with elements of limestone and flint, satin and steel, yet immensely appealing in its touches of red berries, cloves and a bracing fillip of sea-salt, all expressed with the utmost delicacy and tenderness over a tensile structure. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $80.

Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill. A sample for review.
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PRBR_Web
Here’s another brut rose, this one from Napa Valley. Priest Ranch is a label of the Somerston Wine Co. that includes Somerston Wines and Highflyer. Craig Becker is general manager and director of winemaking and viticulture. The Priest Ranch Brut Rose 2011, Napa Valley, was made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes. The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks and neutral French oak barrels; produced in the traditional Champagne method, it spent 18 months in the bottle en tirage, on the lees. The color is medium salmon-topaz with a core of tempest-like tiny bubbles. Lots of steel and flint in evidence, a crisp and lively sparkling wine, it offers notes of blood orange, apple peel and lime with hints of almond skin and orange blossom; a few minutes in the glass nurture elements of sweet red fruit and juicy currants. An intense limestone edge and brisk acidity lead to an austere finish that builds layers of chalk and damp shale. 12.5 percent alcohol. A fresh, lovely, vibrant brut rose for drinking through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review.
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Yes, indeed, My Readers, today launches the ninth edition of “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine,” and I’m changing the format a bit to accommodate different genres and styles of sparkling wine. Each day of the series, I will offer two examples, one a Champagne (I hope) and the second an alternate sort of sparkling wine, though one post will be devoted to Prosecco because it’s so popular, and producers are trying to make an up-scale shift. As usual, on New Year’s Eve, I’ll offer three or four products at various prices.

So, on we go, enjoy and Merry Christmas!
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ayala
The house of Ayala was founded in 1860 by Edmond de Ayala in the village of Aÿ, which looks like the name of an exotic seductress in a science-fiction movie. The estate was operated by the family until 2005, when it was acquired by Bollinger. The Ayala Brut Majeur, nv, is a blend of 40 percent chardonnay, 40 percent pinot noir and 20 percent pinot meunier. It rests on the lees — the residue of dead yeast cells — in the bottle for an average of eight years. The color is pale gold, set a-shimmer by a frothing surge of tiny glinting bubbles. A prominent architecture of damp limestone and chalk frames beguiling notes of roasted lemon, spiced pear and lightly candied quince and ginger, buoyed by a lithe and animated texture heightened by crisp acidity. From mid-palate back through the finish, the mineral element becomes more pronounced, though that influence only augments this Champagne’s essential crystalline purity and intensity. 12 percent alcohol. I loved this Champagne’s liveliness and elevation. (A local purchase.) Excellent. About $40.

Imported by Vintus LLC, Pleasantville, N.Y.
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bonny doon sparkling albarino
Rare is the occasion when I’m called upon to mention the albariño grape in the same line as sparkling wine, but leave it to Randall Grahm, the indefatigable leader of Bonny Doon Vineyard to explore such an option. Made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle — now called the “traditional method” outside of Champagne because of EU regulations — the Bonny Doon Sparkling Albariño 2010, Central Coast, offers a mild gold hue and moderate through very pretty effervescence. (This product is finished with a bottle cap, so be careful when you open it.) When first broached, this Sparkling Albariño seems delicate, a creature of soft wings and tender threads, but a few minutes in the glass bring out distinct elements of roasted lemon, baked pineapple and caramel apple, with a back-note of candied citron. It’s quite dry, slightly funky and earthy in a loamy way, and sports a finish that’s savory, bracing and saline. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 617 cases. If you have any of this on hand or find a bottle to purchase, by all means try it, but drink up; I think it has reached the distance of its range. Very Good+. About $36.

A sample for review.
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It’s immensely gratifying to taste a well-balanced wine that doesn’t allow one aspect of the grape or the wine-making to dominate the other qualities. The best or at least the most satisfying wine exists in a state of internal harmony that appeals to the eye, the nose and the palate in equal measure. Such wines come forward to you in a state of gradual revelation, not muted and unmarred by over-ripe jammy fruit, thunderous tannin, cinsaultstrident oak and high alcohol’s cloying heat. Unfortunately, the latter characteristics are often common in red wines that hail from the Lodi appellation, where producers of zinfandel, in particular, have a penchant for studly power above all other possibilities. Representing a saner approach for the AVA, however, is the Estate Crush Cinsault 2013, the grapes for which derived from the 129-year-old Bechthold Vineyard. Estate Crush was founded in 2009 by Bob Colarossi and Alison Liebich Colarossi. Located in downtown Lodi, the facility is a custom crush establishment, with tasting room, that makes wine for more than 80 clients, as well as its own releases. The Estate Crush Cinsault 2013 came to me unannounced via one of the major delivery services, and I’m certainly happy that it did. The color is an entrancing deep cherry-magenta hue; dark and spicy aromas of red cherries, mulberries and plums encompass a burgeoning intensity of lavender, violets and graphite under wild top-notes of cranberry and pomegranate. A briary-brambly quality lends earthiness on the palate, while vital acidity keeps the wine lithe and lively and drinkable. Just enough tannin and oak give the wine structure without interfering with the subtly tart and juicy red fruit flavors. 14.5 percent alcohol. Pretty damned ideal, I’d say. Excellent. About $26, and Worth a Search.

Named for — let’s not toss this word around too loosely — legendary winemaker Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, long-time director of Grgich mikeHills Estate, in Napa Valley’s Rutherford district, the Miljenko’s Selection labels indicate a level of quality and limited quantity fully worthy of the man and his heritage. While the 92-year-old veteran of 50 or more harvests turned over winemaking duties to his nephew Ivo Jeramaz years ago, the wines from the estate, all organically produced, bear Mike Grgich’s influential and benign thumbprint, and he personally selected the vineyards from which they derive. These wines ferment by indigenous yeast; the oak regimen is carefully tempered to the grapes in question and to the outcome at the end of aging. The goal is a fine balance between elegance and power, and rarely is that goal not accomplished. These are, admittedly, wines for collectors and enthusiasts, and they are available to the winery’s club patrons and at the tasting room. If any happen to come your way, don’t hesitate, if you can manage, to acquire a bottle or two or even twist someone’s arm to give you a taste. Such wines raise beacons of purity and intensity for others to follow.

Samples for review.
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The color of the Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection “Essence” Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, is very pale straw-gold; FINAL 2013 ESS LABELbbeguiling aromas of lemongrass and lime peel, quince and ginger are animated by an undertow of graphite and limestone. These elements segue seamlessly to the palate, where the wine’s dense, talc-like texture is riven by keen acidity and that shimmering stony minerality, lending a sense of both delicacy and durability. A few moments in the glass bring in notes of heather, fig and jasmine. 14.1 percent alcohol. A sauvignon blanc of piercing purity and intensity, beautiful in every aspect. The wine spent nine months in large French oak casts. Production was 1,204 cases. Now through 2019 to 2022. Exceptional. About $55.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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Hailing from Carneros, Napa Valley, the Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Chardonnay 2013 delivers loads of bright, bold 2012 CHCN, MSrichness handled with infinitely deft balance and nuance. The color is pale straw-gold; the bouquet blossoms in layers of classic pineapple-grapefruit scents infused with quince jam, hints of peach and spiced pear and notes of crushed gravel and damp flint. In the mouth, the wine is characterized by lovely expressiveness and vibrancy, a true marriage of power and elegance; citrus and stone-fruit flavors are lightly touched by cloves and allspice and bear a light cloak of slightly burnished oak, all encompassed by resonant limestone minerality. 14.1 percent alcohol. The wine spent 11 months in 900-gallon French oak casks. Production was 1,265 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2023. Excellent. About $60.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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I haven’t seen a petite sirah wine that measured under 14 percent alcohol in years, and not many under 15 percent, but the Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Petite Sirah 2011, Napa Valley, performs very nicely at 13.9 percent, thank you very much. It’s a rollicking ripe and spicy wine, whose dark ruby-purple color presages aromas of deeply scented, dusty and macerated black cherries and blue plums opening to notes of lavender, black pepper and graphite; a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of blueberry, mulberry and violets. The impression on the palate is of wonderful freshness, brightness and appeal of red and black fruit, but give the wine an hour or so and bulwarks of stalwart chiseled tannins begin to assert themselves. The wine spent a whopping 32 months in wood, half large oak casks, half small neutral barriques. Production was 503 cases. We drank this with a medium-rare strip steak, crusted with my secret multi-pepper mixture. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $65.
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The Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Petit Verdot 2012, Yountville, with 10 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, is a deep, geological wine that seems to draw strength and power from the strata of the earth and recesses of glittering granite. The color is inky ruby-purple, and the chief quality of the wine is — not to be repetitious — a piercing minerality entangled with tannins that crowd the palate like dusty antique velvet. Fruit makes an appearance in the guise of black currents and cherries with notes of wild blueberries and cranberries, but this is primarily a wine that will center on structure for years to come. The wine aged 21 months in French oak casks. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2022 to ’25. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 493 cases. Excellent potential. About $65.
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Devotees of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon wines — particularly from the west-central area of the region — who possess the necessary fiduciary prowess will want to snap up a case of the 100 percent varietal Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Rutherford. This is the real stuff, from a great vintage. The color is opaque ruby-purple with a tinge of magenta at the rim; at first, the wine emits scents of mint and eucalyptus, cedar and thyme, gradually unveiling notes of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black and red currants and cherries, backed by graphite, lavender and bitter chocolate, all melded with purposeful integration. It’s a dry, vigorous wine, ruled by laser-beam minerality, ferocious acidity and burnished and polished tannins; despite this profound nature, the wine is not ponderous or obvious, rather it carries its scintillating lithic character with grace and dignity. One feels, after a few minutes airing, the famous or elusive Rutherford dusty, loamy influence, adding touches of espresso and ancho chili. 14.5 percent alcohol. The wine spent 18 months in French oak barrels, 80 percent new. Production was 485 cases. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2028 to ’30. Exceptional. About $90.
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