California


The prices of these 50 Great Wines of 2017 range from an unprecedented $15 to a whopping $250. Not that I expect My Readers to hasten out and snatch up a bottle of wine that costs $250, but when an extraordinary wine crosses my horizon and I rate it “Exceptional,” well, it goes on this list no matter the price. That’s one of the criteria for this annual roster: Every wine I rated Exceptional in 2017 is included automatically, followed by wines I rated Excellent and that I go back through the reviews and parse very carefully. Now I’m sure My Readers understand that by “50 Great Wines” I’m not saying that these are the 50 greatest wines in the world, just that they’re great wines — as I interpret greatness — that I tasted during the year in question. What makes a wine great? Purity, intensity, integrity, authenticity, as well as a sense of individuality and, if possible, a connection to a region or, in more rarefied examples, to a vineyard. Not all wines, even great ones, display this spectrum of virtues completely; winemaking is too intuitive a craft to allow for cookie-cutter sameness. Often, it’s the differences among wines from vintage to vintage that make them intriguing and exciting. I hope the wines listed here pique your interest and that you have a chance to try some of them. Many of them are entrancing and beautiful, and we could all stand a little enchantment and beauty in our lives.
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Alois Lageder “Porer” Pinot Grigio 2015, Alto Adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Vineyard Old Telegram 2014, Contra Costa County. 100 percent mourvedre. 277 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Brooks Wine “Janus” Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley. Exceptional. About $38.

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Capofaro Didyme Malvasia 2016, Salina, Sicily. Excellent. About $25.

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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $35.
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Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard Merlot 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $98.

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Champagne Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Brut Tradition nv, Champagne, France. 70 percent pinot noir, 30 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $68.

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Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $32.

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Enzo Bianchi Red Wine 2012, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina. 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent petit verdot, 7 percent malbec. Excellent. About $55.

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Esporão Private Selection 2011, Garrafeira, Alentjo, Portugal. 40 percent each aragonez and alicante boschet, 20 percent syrah. Excellent. About $65.
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Fathers & Daughters Ella’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 110 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Yountville, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley. 393 cases. Excellent. About $32.

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Ghost Hill Cellars Bayliss-Bower Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Yamhill-Carlton district, Willamette Valley. Exceptional. About $42.

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Grgich Hills Estate 40th Anniversary Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $50.

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Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection “Essence” Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 646 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
The label vintage date is one year behind.
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Grgich Hills Estate Paris Tasting Commemorative Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. 942 cases. Exceptional. About $94.

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Heitlinger Tiefenbacher Schellenbrunnen Trocken Riesling 2014, Baden, Germany. Exceptional. About $30.

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Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 672 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
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Iron Horse Chinese Cuvée 2012, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. A brut rosé, 76 percent pinot noir 24 percent chardonnay. 300 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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Domaine Jessiaume Les Cent Vignes Beaune Premier Cru 2014, Beaune, Burgundy. 300 cases. Excellent. About $45.

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Jordan Vineyards Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $32.

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Cantina Kaltern Pfarrhof “Kalterersee” Classico Superiore 2015, Südtirol-Alto Adige, Italy. 95 percent schiava. 5 percent lagrein. Excellent. About $24.
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Dr. Konstantin Frank Gewurztraminer 2015, Finger Lakes, New York. Exceptional. About $15.
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Chateau Lagrezette Le Pigeonnier 2011, Cahors, France. 100 percent malbec. 1,070 six-bottle cases. Exceptional. About $250.
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La Jota Vineyard Co. Howell Mountain Merlot 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $85.

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Lioco “Sativa” Carignan 2014, Mendocino. 650 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Louis Picamelot Cuvée Jean Baptiste Chautard 2012, Crémant de Bourgogne. 77 percent chardonnay, 23 percent aligote. Excellent. About $38.
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Domaine Marc Roy Les Champs Perdrix 2015, Marsannay, Burgundy. 100 percent chardonnay. 175 cases. Excellent. About $50.
The vintage date on the label image is one year behind.
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Mayacamas Vineyards The Terraces Special Bottling Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $95.
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Chateau Montelena “The Montelena Estate” Cabernet Sauvigono 2013, Calistoga, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $160.

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Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 45 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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Onward Wines Capp-Inn Vineyard Skin-Fermented Malvasia Bianca 2015, Suisun Valley, Solano County. Exceptional. About $28.
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Paul Blanck Scholssberg Grand Cru Riesling 2012, Alsace. Excellent. About $34.
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Penner Ash Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. 915 cases. Exceptional. About $65.

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Chateau Peybonhomme-les-Tours “Le Blanc Bonhomme” 2016, Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux. 50 percent each sauvignon blanc and semillon. Excellent. About $22.

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Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc 2014, Oakville District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
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Sidebar Kerner 2016, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 193 cases. Excellent. About $25.

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Siduri Wines Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $35.

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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent merlot. Excellent. About $50.
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Smith-Madrone Riesling 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,551 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Stewart Cellars Beckstoffer Las Piedes Vineyard “Nomad” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. 180 cases. Exceptional. About $175.
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Stony Hill Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $48.

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Tongue Dancer Wines “Pinot de Ville” Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast. 125 cases. Excellent. About $65.

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Troon Kubli Bench Blanc 2016, Applegate Valley, Oregon. 55 percent marsanne, 45 percent viognier. 180 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Domaine Weinbach Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling 2013, Alsace. Exceptional. About $40.
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Yount Ridge Cellars Epic Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $250.

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Yount Ridge Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 160 cases. Exceptional. About $35.

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ZD Winery Founder’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2013, Carneos. 800 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2014, Alsace. Excellent. About $26.

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Pricing is power, but sometimes producers get ahead of themselves in terms of ambitious tariffs. These examples today illustrate how makers of sparkling wine in the Charmat process of second fermentation in tank, rather than in the individual bottle, as in Champagne and other regions, over-reached and did a disservice to consumers.

These wines were samples for review.
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Le Grand Courtage sparkling wines are made in Nuits-Saint-Georges in Burgundy but have nothing to do with that great appellation and its 27 Premier Cru vineyards. Le Grand Courtage “Grand Cuvée” Blanc de Blancs, nv, for example, is a blend of chardonnay, ugni blanc, colombard and chenin blanc; of that quartet of grapes, only chardonnay is permitted in Burgundy, which is why the Grand Courtage wines — there’s also a brut rosé — carry the broadest possible designation: France. Nothing in the material associated with the products indicates the fashion of production, so I assume that the mode is Charmat rather than méthode traditionelle, and there’s not a thing wrong with that, depending on the quality and the price. This blanc de blancs offers a very pale straw-gold hue and a satisfying, steady tide of bubbles; there’s green apple and lime peel and hints of cinnamon toast and limestone in the nose with sprightly acidity and a slightly steely/flint element for structure, all rounded by diminishing notes of roasted lemon and pear. 11.5 percent alcohol. Innocuous and tasty and appropriate for large parties and receptions. Very Good. About $18, a price that bothers me; it would be more fairly priced at about $15 or less.
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Sterling Vineyards has released what is called its first sparkling wines, though in 2016 I was sent a Sterling Vineyards Brut 2012, Carneros, that I rated Excellent (about $50); perhaps that product was so anomalous that everyone concerned forgot about it. Anyway, the samples in question here are the Sterling Sparkling Rosé 2016, California, and the Sterling Blanc de Blancs 2016, Napa Valley. The first is a blend of 70 percent chardonnay and 30 percent pinot noir, the second is 100 percent chardonnay. These are made in the Charmat process of second fermentation in tanks instead of in bottle. Both are very enjoyable and engaging sparklers. The Rose offers a pretty salmon-coral color, with notes of raspberry and blood orange, apple blossom and almond skin, with a background of lime peel and grapefruit, all jazzed by bright acidity. The Blanc de Blancs is a very pale platinum blonde hue, with hints of smoke and steel, spiced pear and almond skin, quite crisp and lively and close to elegant. So, these are pleasant and attractively packaged sparkling wines that feel good to sip while preparing dinner, and I’m happy to rate them Very Good+. The problem is that the suggested retail price is $28, and if you understand anything about the world of sparkling wine, then you know that you can buy what are among the best of Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant d’Alsace and Crémant de Loire or many of the fine sparkling wines from California for the same price or often much less, and I mean models made in the méthode champenoise. I think Sterling overpriced itself here.
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Tongue Dancer Wines is a project of longtime winemaker James MacPhail and Kerry MacPhail, listed on labels as “Knowledgeable One.” The MacPhails produce minuscule amounts of pinot noir from Sonoma Coast and sell them only by mailing list. I’m a huge fan of the Tonge Dancer pinot noirs, which seem to encompass all the aspects I adore about the grape, from elegance to boldness, from the ethereal to the lithe and muscular, usually presented in a dynamic and superbly poised fashion. Unfortunately, I have to enter a dissenting voice for the winery’s first chardonnay, a model I thought embodied all the worst elements of over-determined California chardonnay. The pinot noir reviewed in this post, however, is a real gem of nuance and complexity.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Tongue Dancer Wines Bacigalupi Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley, the winery’s first chardonnay, received all sorts of high scores from various sources, but I’ll say, as politely as possible, that I didn’t care for it one bit. I found it too rich, too spicy, over-oaked, with fruit character that tasted more like dessert cordials than wine, too toasty and altogether unbalanced. But that’s just me. 14.5 percent alcohol. 100 cases. Not recommended. About $50.
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The color of the Tongue Dancer “Pinot de Ville” Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, is dark ruby shading to an utterly transparent magenta rim; it’s a deeply scented and flavorful pinot noir that offers hints of black and red cherries and currants with touches of plums, sassafras and sandalwood, loam and beetroot; potent graphite minerality penetrates a supple and lithe texture animated by vivid acidity. This pinot noir deftly balances a feeling of warm spices and cool minerals, while a few moments in the glass unfurl high notes of lilac and lavender and low tones of tar and espresso.
14.5 percent alcohol. A truly eloquent pinot noir that delivers pleasure and intrigue. 125 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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For coonskin-cap-wearing Baby Boomers, Fess Parker’s legacy will always be the lead characters in the television series he starred in — Davy Crockett (1954-55) and Daniel Boone (1964-70). Once he retired from acting, Parker, who stood a commanding 6-feet 5-inches tall, launched into the real estate and hotel/resort business, then following his dream of starting a winery in Santa Barbara County in 1989, focusing on Rhone Valley grape varieties. Parker died in 2010, but his family continues to expand the winery’s activities with reach into Napa Valley. The family includes daughter Ashley Parker-Snider; son Eli Parker, CEO; and Ashley’s husband Tim Snider, president. Addendum involves cabernet sauvignon from Rutherford and Atlas Peak, the latter site being the well-known Stagecoach Vineyard. Winemaker is Blair Fox. These are limited edition, expensive wines that are, as the big wine magazines say, approvingly, “thoroughly oaked,” though they’re too thoroughly oaked for my taste. The effort seems to be to fashion large-framed wines that make a deliberately huge impression on the palate. I was not entranced — such wines are fatiguing to drink — but I realize that some consumers like a full-throttle style, so I’ll keep that factor in mind with a nod in the direction of grudging admiration for two of these examples, while the other pair seem too big for their deer-skin britches.

These wines were samples for review. Image of Fess Parker from iCollector.com.
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The Addendum Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, aged 28 months in French oak, 67 percent new barrels. The grapes derived from the Rutherford AVA (67 percent) and the Stagecoach Vineyard. The color is the deep ruby-purple of royal robes; intense and concentrated scents and flavors of black currants and cherries are permeated by iodine and iron, graphite and loam, and notes of cedar and dried thyme and rosemary; the wine is formidably dry and envelopes the palate with volumes of velvety, dusty tannins and graphite minerality wrapped around a tight core of licorice, lavender and bittersweet chocolate; the finish continues the strain of hard-core minerality. 14.9 percent alcohol. Try from 2020 or ’22 through 2028 to ’30. Production was 276 cases. I’ll go with an Excellent rating for this one. About $90.
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Even more intense and concentrated than its cousin mentioned above, the Addendum Skellenger Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Rutherford, aged 28 months in French oak, 100 percent new barrels; friends, that’s a lot of toasty new wood. The color is black-purple fading to a transparent rim; it’s paradoxically warm and spicy at first but quickly develops a chiseled mineral edge and deep, dusty, boldly fashioned tannins and a dense velvety texture you could row through with an oar. The wine opens slightly after a few minutes in the glass, admitting notes of mint and thyme, rosemary and cedar, smoke and wood ash, all of these elements driven by vibrant acidity through to a whopping austere finish. 14.9 percent alcohol. Try from 2020 or ’22 through 2030 to ’32. Production was 116 cases. Very Good+. About $95.
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The Stagecoast Vineyard lies at elevations from 1,200 to 1,800 feet in the Atlas Peak AVA. This opaque Addendum Stagecoast Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Atlas Peak, aged 28 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. It exhibits what I think of as the high elevation influence in notes of celery seed and cedar, slightly resinous rosemary and sage and a very woodsy/meadowy feeling of wild flowers, herbs and forest loam, as well as bastions of dusty, flinty tannins. This is a powerful wine, energized by decisive acidity and deeply rooted granitic minerality that brooks no dispute, all the way through a finish packed with elements of gravel and clean earth. 14.9 percent alcohol. Try from 2020 to ’23 through 2030 to ’34. Production was 115 cases. Tremendous character here, and I believe the possibility for great development for those with patience and a yen for wines of huge dimension. Excellent. About $95.
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The most sizable and impenetrable of this quartet is the Addendum Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah 2014, Atlas Peak, a blend of 56 percent cabernet and 44 percent syrah that aged 28 months in French oak, 22 percent new barrels. This is a deep, dark, brooding wine that feels like bolts of velvet infused with iron filings and dredged with dusty tannins. Fruit is so black it’s metallic blue, and it’s enlivened by notes of graphite, ancho chili, walnut shell and dried porcini. The whole effect is of some incisive dynamism propelled by foreboding forces, making for a wine that may — or may not — be ready to drink some day. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 215 cases. Try, if you have the courage, from 2021 or ’23 through who knows…? Very Good+. About $80.
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What qualifies as a “Big Deal” wine? You could say price, and while that enters in it’s not the determining factor. You could say a “big” wine in terms of power and structure and alcohol content, and those elements could also be important. What really clinches the deal, though, on a Big Deal wine is the producer’s intention that a wine represent the best of the vineyards and the treatment in the winery, a wine that manifests every quality that to the winemaker stands for integrity, purity and intensity, a wine that, in other words, encapsulates the best that a vineyard and a vat of grapes can possibly deliver. Today’s post is the first in a series of perhaps three entries that examine Big Deal red wines from various countries and regions. This post offers 10 wines — mostly cabernet sauvignon-based but also two merlots; two of the wines are from Chile, are, in fact, among the best cabernets that country produces, and eight from California, all Napa Valley except one from Sonoma Valley. They’re not cheap, and they tend to be limited in production, but as flagship wines they chart the dimensions and depths of their regions’ top achievements.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Domus Aurea Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Maipo Valley, Chile, comes from the Vina Quebrada de Macul estate, where winemaker is Jean-Pascal Lacaze. It’s a blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent each merlot and petit verdot, and 3 percent cabernet franc that aged a year in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is intense black-ruby-garnet; black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of bell pepper and rosemary, cedar and tobacco, all with a blueberry and sage edge and a strain of penetrating graphite minerality. Dusty, flinty tannins seem precipitous, yet the wine feels quite engaging on the palate, bringing in touches of mint and eucalyptus and a whiff of iodine to the spicy black fruit and blue flavors — currants and cherries, blueberries and plums — all animated by bright acidity. 14.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $65.
Imported by Global Vineyard, Berkeley, Calif.
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With 8 percent cabernet franc with the rest cabernet sauvignon, the Don Melchor Puente Alto Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Puente Alto, Chile, aged 15 months in French oak, 72 percent new barrels. The color is intense black-ruby but shading to a transparent cherry rim; this is fairly closed presently, offering leafy-herbal notes of cedar, rosemary, thyme and black tea over fruitcake and tapenade; black currant and cherry flavors are concentrated and furled, and the wine is dry, mightily tannic and austere through the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 through 2028 to ’32. Winemaker was Enrique Tirado. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $125.
Imported by Excelsior Wine Co., Old Brookville, N.Y.
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The Franciscan Magnificat Meritage 2014, Napa Valley, is a massive, inky-purple blend of 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent merlot, 5 malbec, 2 petit verdot, 1 cabernet franc that aged 20 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. Intense and concentrated notes of black currant, blueberry and black raspberry are swathed in hints of bell pepper and green olive, cedar, tobacco and rosemary, with undertones of mocha and lavender. Bastions of dusty, rock-ribbed tannin and oak dictate some cellar time for this tightly coiled wine, say for trying from 2020 or ’22 through 2030 to ’32. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Janet Myers. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $56.
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The character of the Gundlach Bundschu Vintage Reserve 2013, Sonoma Valley, seems to partake of the rocky, volcanic soil where the grapes were grown. A blend of 82 percent cabernet sauvignon with 12 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent petit verdot, the wine aged 20 months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels. The whole package feels immense on the palate. The color is black-purple shading to a cherry rim; deep, intense notes of cassis, black cherry and raspberry offer hints of pomegranate, fruitcake and mocha, plums, lavender and bittersweet chocolate. Crushing dusty tannins and piercing granitic minerality define a structure that admits touches of cedar and tobacco, dried thyme and rosemary, laved by creamy oak and energized by bright acidity, all leading to a sleek, chiseled finish. 14.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’33. Winemaker was Keith Emerson. Excellent. About $125.
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The Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, is a blend of 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 16 percent malbec and 3 percent petit verdot; information on oak aging was not available. The color is the intense black-purple hue of motor oil; first, you detect notes of graphite, iodine and iron, then hints of concentrated black currants and cherries that unfold elements of smoke and grilled meat, briers and brambles; it’s a very dry wine, dense and chewy in the mouth but without being ponderous or truculent, rather, in fact, despite the size, it’s remarkably deft and light on its feet; around a winsome core of licorice, bittersweet chocolate and crushed violets, a haze of velvety tannins and charcoal-tinged wood wraps itself, tapering to a lithic finish inflected by granitic minerality.
14.6 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 to 2028 or ’30. Excellent. About $65.
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La Jota Vineyard Co. Howell Mountain Merlot 2014, Napa Valley, contains 10 percent petit verdot, to the balance of merlot grapes; the wine aged 19 months in French oak, 76 percent new barrels. The vineyards on Howell Mountain lie at elevations from 1,700 to 1,820 feet. This is a wine of amazing purity and intensity, from its dark ruby-magenta hue to its piercing elements of graphite and flint minerality, to its penetrating scents and flavors of blueberry, pomegranate and black currant; in its vibrancy, resonance and appeal, this wine can only be described as “exciting,” though the dry, dusty tannins coat the palate; some time in the glass adds complex notes of fruitcake and espresso, truffles and loam and a touch of bittersweet chocolate; the finish fleshes out the wine with a complement of warm spices and cool minerals that reach fathoms deep. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Winemaker was Chris Carpenter. Exceptional. About $85.
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Mi Sueño Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley — the name means “my dream” — is 100 percent cabernet sourced from the Coombsville and Oak Knoll AVAs, aged two years in French oak, 55 percent new barrels, and given another year in the bottle before release. The color is opaque inky-ebony shading to a glowing purple rim; notes of creamy cassis and ripe, fleshy black currants and raspberries open to touches of blueberry and boysenberry, leather and loam, lavender and licorice, with just a hint of well-integrated vanilla; boy, this one is ripe and plush and succulent, almost too gorgeous, really, but saved by bright acidity and a burgeoning sense of dusty, fairly rigorous elements that provide serious background and foundation; I’ll admit that what I admire most about this wine is the sense of vibrant tension between its frankly velvety allure and (from mid-palate back) its increasingly dry, rooty, underbrushy structure; that’s what makes me want to drink a wine. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’25. Rolando Herrera make 875 cases. Excellent. About $75, sold by allocation.
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The Mount Veeder Winery Reserve 2014, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, is a blend of 89 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent malbec and 4 percent petit verdot that aged 20 months — that seems to be the magic number — in 100 percent new French oak barrels. The color is opaque black-purple; slightly fleshy and meaty aromas of black currants and plums are earthy and rooty, touched with notes of bittersweet chocolate, pomegranate and fruitcake and a piercing graphite element; a few moments in the glass add hints of bell pepper and black olives. Deep-set, dusty tannins and granitic minerality coat the palate, and though the wine slides on the animation by keen acidity, the whole package feels inchoate presently; try from 2020 or ’22 through 2030 to ’34. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Janet Myers. Very Good+, with perhaps Excellent potential. About $100.
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If there’s one thing we know about Ravid Ramey, it’s that he’s a prestidigitator of oak, so while the Ramey Wine Cellars Template 2014, Napa Valley, received 18 months in all-new French oak barrels, and I’m thinking, “Boy, that’s a lot of new oak,” the wine emerged from that regimen with a texture both sinewy and supple and with depths of walnut shell and briery elements that add density and heft on the palate; there’s no whit of what are to me the distracting taints of new oak: toastiness, coconut, vanilla. The grapes derived from three Napa Valley AVAs: 70 percent Mount Veeder (merlot); 24 percent Oakville (cabernet franc); 6 percent Rutherford (cabernet sauvignon). The color is a dark but warm ruby hue that shades to a lighter purple rim; this is, no mistake, a serious, intense and concentrated majority-merlot wine, trimmed with hints of black currants, raspberries and blueberries permeated by notes of cedar and rosemary, lavender and sage, all leading to a dry, fairly austere tannic finish. For this one, you need a thick, medium-rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, or try from 2019 or ’20 through 2028 to ’30. Devotees of merlot (and Napa Valley) will be fascinated to watch the wine’s development. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 90 cases. Excellent. About $85.
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A true flagship wine of tremendous presence and significance, the Yount Ridge Cellars Epic Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, aged 20 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. The color is intense dark ruby shading to a transparent rim; right upfront are elements of penetrating graphite minerality and burnished oak, but after a few minutes in the glass, those aspects become more integrated, making room for an astonishing array of sandalwood and bergamot, lavender and candied violets, with concentrated black currant and blueberry fruit taking on a slightly resinous character of cedar and tobacco, ancho chili and sage. It feels ecclesiastical on the palate, with its cool, dusty, polished old wood nature and its warm incense-like spices, but make no mistake, this wine’s deeply-rooted rock-ribbed tannins could support mountains. More time in the glass brings out notes of poached raspberries, underbrush and dried porcini; the weight on the palate is lithe, supple and momentous, all these qualities adding up to a finish of Olympian austerity and dimension. 14.7 percent alcohol. Try from 2020 or ’22 through 2034 to ’38. Winemaker was Cecilia Welch. Production was 250 cases. Exceptional. About $250.
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One of Jess Jackson’s purchases, occurring in 1986, was about 700 acres of the Tepusquet vineyard in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. The estate was the site of a Mexican land grant in 1838. Vines were planted here in 1970 and ’71 by the Lucas brothers, who sold to Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke after financial reverses. In 1989, Jackson built a large winery at Tepusquet and named it Cambria. The vineyard, as in most of the rest of Santa Maria Valley, was planted primarily to chardonnay and pinot noir. The wines were issued as “Katherine’s Vineyard” for chardonnay and “Julia’s Vineyard” for pinot noir, though the roster has expanded tremendously in the past few years. The website for the winery — the estate is run by Barbara Banke, Jess Jackson’s widow, and daughters Katie and Julia Jackson — lists five chardonnays and 11 pinot noirs for 2014 and ’15, as well as pinot gris, viognier, syrah and a rosé.

Today, we look at two pairs of wines, chardonnays and pinot noirs from designated areas of the Cambria estate. Winemaker for these wines was Denise Shurtleff. She remains as Cambria’s general manager, as Jill Delariva Russell takes the reins as winemaker. As you will see in the notes below, I was impressed by the pinot noirs and absolutely put off by the chardonnays. Why even go to the trouble to make limited edition wines when they turn out, like these chardonnays, to be not only similar in character but packed with qualities that strenuously detract from the nature of the grape?

These wines were samples for review.
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O.K., let’s get the chardonnays out of the way, because, frankly, I cared for them not one whit. The Cambria Fog Tide Chardonnay 2015 and Cambria West Point Chardonnay 2015, both Santa Maria Valley AVA, represented every aspect that I believe is wrong-headed about chardonnay in California. Though the oak regimen was mild and new oak was kept to a minimum, I found these wines unreasonably tropical and cloying with sweet ripeness and elements of buttery caramel and toffee, all smoky and toasty and unbalanced. Each costs $38 but I don’t recommend them.
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We’re on steadier ground with the pinot noirs, fashioned in a big-hearted, full-throated style that touches on many aspects of the grape. The Cambria “Element” Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Maria Valley, aged 11 months in French oak, 39 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; it starts with notes of iodine and iron, spiced and macerated black cherries and raspberries, with hints of cranberry, pomegranate and sassafras; it emphasizes the dark, earthy and loamy character of the grape, though also its potential for a satiny, supple texture and succulent fruit; this is very dry, quite lively and spicy, and a few moments in the glass bring in touches of raspberry with slightly raspy and astringent raspberry skin and stem. 13.6 percent alcohol. Very pleasing in depth and complexity, for drinking through 2021 or ’22. Excellent. About $45.
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The Cambria “Mesa Terrace” Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Maria Valley, aged in a different direction, 10 months in French oak but with 62 percent new barrels. The color is a similar dark ruby shading to an invisible rim, but the focus here is on red fruit — cherries and currants — and a fuller exploitation of spice in the form of sandalwood, cloves and sassafras, with a smoky-beetroot background; it’s a dense and chewy pinot noir, not just satiny and succulent but close to opulent on the palate, though balanced by keen acidity and a scintillating flinty quality; the finish adds loam and forest floor. 14.2 percent alcohol. Again, a pinot noir that’s impressive for its detail and dimension. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $45.
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Part of the portfolio of Jackson Family Wines, Carmel Road was founded in 1997 to exploit the possibilities for pinot noir in Monterey County’s Arroyo Seco AVA in the Salinas Valley, where the 415-acre Panorama Vineyard perches on the east side under the Pinnacles. The valley is subjected to the fogs and chilly winds of the Blue Grand Canyon, a stupendous geological formation and weather-generator under Monterey Bay that encompasses 60 miles in length and 10,00 feet in depth. Winemaker at Carmel Road is Kris Kato, who brings to the fashioning of these wines a light touch with new oak and what seems to be a profound understanding of the pinot noir grape. I enjoyed these wines a great deal, a feeling reflected, I’m sure, in the notes that follow.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Carmel Road Pinot Noir 2015, Monterey County, aged 9 months in French oak, only 16 percent new barrels, resulting in an oak influence that’s almost subliminal in its shaping factor. The color is transparent medium ruby fading to an invisible rim; pert aromas and flavors of black and red cherries and currants are touched with notes of pomegranate and plum highlighted by hints of black tea, loam and sassafras. The wine is satiny smooth on the palate but enlivened by bright acidity that cuts a swath through to a finish lightly wrapped in graphite-tinged tannin. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Attractive and expressive. Very Good+. About $25.
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As one would expect for a single-vineyard wine, the Carmel Road Panorama Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Arroyo Seco, received more wood treatment than did its more generalized stablemate, in this case 13 months in French oak, 24 percent new barrels. The color is a hypnotic limpid medium ruby of utter transparency; the bouquet is an irresistible amalgam of black and red cherry compote heightened by notes of sandalwood, cloves and sassafras, rhubarb and pomegranate, with high tones of smoke, loam and cigarette paper. The wine is lithe, sleek and supple on the palate, spare, muscular and moderately tannic, those tannins folded around dusty velvet. The whole package is deftly balanced and integrated. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $35, marking Good Value.
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The Carmel Road Panorama Vineyard “First Row” Pinot Noir 2014, Arroyo Seco, received 13 months aging in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. A wholly transparent medium ruby hue with an ephemeral rim leads to a heady melange of cloves and sandalwood, rose petals and crushed violets, red and black cherries and currants with notes of cranberry and pomegranate, cola, loam and cherry pit; the wine is sleek and suave on the palate, with satiny drape on the tongue and delicious berry fruit for the taste-buds, all energized by bracing acidity and a hint of flinty minerality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
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The Carmel Road Panorama Vineyard “North Crest” Pinot Noir 2014, Arroyo Seco, offers a muscular rendition of the grape, though the color, a lucent medium ruby-magenta with an diaphanous rim, might suggest otherwise. Yes, the same 13 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. Vivacious and fleshy notes of black currants and cherries with a red undertone unfold hints of loam, beetroot and rhubarb, cloves, sandalwood and ground cumin; a few minutes in the glass unfurl touches of pomegranate and cranberry. This is dense and chewy and fairly intense, and its silky texture feels slightly roughened, as if by very fine sandpaper; it gets increasingly loamy as the moments pass, though keen acidity keeps it dynamic and enticing. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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The Carmel Road Panorama Vineyard “South Crest” Pinot Noir 2014, Arroyo Seco, is a bit more opulent than its cousins also reviewed in this post, and since it received the same oak treatment — 13 months, 20 percent new French oak — I would attribute the difference to the location of these blocks in the vineyard. A totally limpid and transparent medium ruby hue precedes a wine richly laved with loam and exotic spices, crushed and macerated black and red currants and cherries with a hint of plum; a few moments in the glass add notes of cranberry and pomegranate, sour cherry and cherry pit, with a background of briers and brambles. In this wine, you feel the luxury of which the pinot noir grape is capable, though leavened by coursing acidity and a bit of cheeky tartness. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $55.
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I don’t often feature chardonnays in this Wine of the Day series, but when I find a
chardonnay that’s well-made, accessible and inexpensive, well, I have to go with it. Olema is the second label of Amici Cellars, a specialist in single-vineyard wines. The Olema Chardonnay 2016, Sonoma County, however, offers a more general interpretation of a Sonoma wine, derived 90 percent from vineyards in Russian River Valley and 10 percent from vineyards in the wide-spread Sonoma Coast region. The wine was fashioned in a deft combination of 50 percent stainless steel tanks and 50 percent French oak, 30 percent new barrels. (Winemaker was Jesse Fox.) The color is pale straw-gold; clean and fresh aromas of apple and quince, ginger and grapefruit are immediately appealing, while hints of mango, orange blossom and smoke add intrigue. A damp stone background and bright acidity cut through a moderately lush texture, providing support for slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit flavors, the entire package displaying lovely vitality and poise. 13.8 percent alcohol. Now through 2018. Very Good+. About $15.

A sample for review.

No limp, wimpy red wine here, the Clos Pegase Mitsuko’s Vineyard Merlot 2015, Napa Valley-Carneros, sings of its character is full-throated ease, with rippling muscles and lithe structure, like the person on the treadmill next to you at the gym. If you drive along Highway 29, the central thoroughfare in Napa Valley, Clos Pegase is unmistakable. Designed by well-known architect Michael Graves, the winery, founded in 1984 just south of Calistoga, resembles a post-modern rendition of a Mayan temple. Owner Jan Strem, also an active collector of contemporary art, sold the winery (but not the art) to Vintage Wine Estates in 2013. The vineyard in Carneos was named for Strem’s wife. The wine is a blend of 90 percent merlot and five percent each petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon; it aged 16 months in French oak, 32 percent new barrels. It’s as opaque a black-ruby hue as a wine can be, alleviated by a glowing purple rim; the wine’s aromas of crushed black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of iodine and loam, smoke and graphite, with high-tones of lavender and licorice, dried thyme and rosemary (with some of the latter’s hint of woodsy astringency). Oh, it’s a brawny one all right, but sleek and polished and deeply flavorful, borne on a strain of arrowing acidity and dusty, velvety tannins. The finish is all briers and brambles and granitic minerality. 14.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2023 to ’25 with a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the coals. Excellent. About $40.

A sample for review from the local distributor.

I wonder why the people at Grgich Hills Estate feel it necessary to include on the label of their Fumé Blanc wines the script “Dry Sauvignon Blanc.” Is anyone out there in America worried about picking up by mistake a bottle of sweet sauvignon blanc? I seriously doubt it. Anyway, rhetorical questions aside, the Grgich Hills Fumé Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, displays all the virtues of a wine that’s always one of my favorites and a high point in tasting the sauvignon blanc grape every year. Made from certified organic vineyards, the wine aged six months on the lees in neutral oak barrels, 20 percent in the standard 59-gallon barriques, 80 percent in large old foudres of 900-gallon capacity. It offers a pale straw-gold hue and arresting aromas of roasted lemon and lemon balm, celery seed and lemongrass, lilac, gunflint and graphite. As is typical of this wine — winemaker is Ivo Jeramaz — the texture is seductively soft and almost talc-like while being animated by vivid acidity, factors that create a lovely sense of tension and balance between lushness and crispness, all at the service of herb-inflected stone-fruit flavors. A few moments in the glass bring in notes of leafy fig and fennel seed, quince and ginger; the finish feels etched and crystalline. 13.5 percent alcohol. We drank this wine happily with a curry of mushrooms and butternut squash. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $31.

A sample for review.

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