California


Lordy, I haven’t posted a “Whither Napa Valley Cabernet” entry since June 30. That’s totally remiss for two reasons: First, I receive a ton of samples in that genre, and, second, California’s Napa Valley is one of the best places in the world for producing excellent cabernet sauvignon wines. Not that Napa Valley has a lock on delivering great cabernet-based wines in California; such an assessment would be unfair to Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, Sonoma Valley and Knights Valley, to Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County, and other pockets of congenial micro-climate here and there in the Golden State. Today’s post looks at nine examples of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet-based wines, mostly from 2013, with a few from 2012 and one from 2014. It’s a miscellaneous group falling under the general Napa Valley designation; two of these display more specific appellations, Oakville and Rutherford. Prices range from $45 to $90, an upper range that reflects not only supposed standards of quality but perceived reputation and the cost of doing business, as in the prices of grapes, cultivated acreage and new French oak barrels. The wines also reflect similarities and differences in philosophy and winemaking techniques. Oak regimens and blending percentages vary widely as does the scale of alcohol content. As with any consumer product, you pays yer money and you takes yer choice.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Acumen Wines Mountainside Red Wine 2013, Napa Valley, feels indeed as if it had been hewn from granite outcroppings, and in fact the grapes derive from organically farmed vineyards in Atlas Peak. The wine is a blend of 74 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent malbec and 12 percent merlot that aged 18 months in French oak, 72 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a glowing purple rim; notes of black currants, black cherries and blueberries are imbued with elements of graphite, iodine and iron that after a few minutes in the glass emit hints of rosemary, cedar and celery seed and an intense aroma of wood smoke. Steep gritty tannins and profound granitic minerality make for an experience that feels as if you’re drinking architecture, and these qualities inform the austere finish. Still, you sense the balance here, the shifting tectonic plates of structure gradually transforming itself to something equitable. A refreshing 13.3 percent alcohol. Try 2018 or ’19 through 2029-’33. Production was 1,200 cases. Winemaker was the well-known Steve Matthiasson. Excellent potential. About $45.
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The Amici Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 carries a Napa Valley designation but the grapes derive from specific AVAs amici_cs_napawithin the valley: 67 percent from Rutherford, 20 from Atlas Peak, 9 from Coombsville, 3 percent from Calistoga and a smidgeon of 1 percent from Spring Mountain. In other words, the wine is a canny blend of grapes from cool and warm districts, from flat areas and mountain slopes, all helping to establish a general “Napa Valley’ character to the wine. The blend is 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 11 merlot, 3 cabernet franc and 1 petit verdot; the wine aged 20 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Tony Biagi. The color is very dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; while the emphasis is on dimension and circumference defined by dusty, velvety tannins, burnished oak and vibrant acidity, the wine allows classic notes of black olive, cedar and tobacco, ripe black currants and raspberries to assert themselves. A few moments in the glass bring in hints of plums and cloves, black pepper and mocha, as well as a graphite edge, so the wine feels both warm with spice and cool with minerals, all etched by chiseled minerality that extends through the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now — with a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill — through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $45.
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One of the flagship wines for Franciscan Estate is the Magnificat red wine blend based on cabernet sauvignon with franciscan-estate-2012-magnificat-meritage-label-frontcontributions from the other “noble” Bordeaux grape varieties. For 2012 and 2013, the wines received the same oak treatment, 20 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. The blends differ slightly, with the 2012 being 73 percent cabernet sauvignon with 19 percent merlot, three percent each petit verdot and malbec and two percent cabernet franc; the 2013 is also 73 percent cabernet sauvignon, with 24 percent merlot, two percent malbec and one percent cabernet franc, eliminating the dollop of petit verdot. Winemaker was Janet Myers. Not surprisingly, or perhaps disappointingly, these “meritage” wines are quite similar, the ’12 being slightly softer and more approachable than the ’13 but both focused on structure and foundation to a degree that feels not only solid but stodgy. The Magnificat 2012 displays real depth and breadth in its dark granitic minerality and sturdy tannins but not much in the way of the detail that makes a wine compelling and alluring, even at a relatively young age. The Magnificat 2013 feels like an ancient cathedral of a wine, very dense and intense, with dry austere tannins and profound granitic minerality; something slightly warm and spicy lends a touch of appeal but this is essentially a stout, rock-ribbed edifice established on palate-scouring tannins and acidity. After tasting this pair of cabernets, I wanted to say, “Hey, lighten up, even powerful and structured wines can be made with more deftness than these were.” Each features 14.5 percent alcohol. Each I rate Very Good+ with the admonition not to touch for five years. Each costs about $55.
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In the Galerie “Pleinair” Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa valley, Laura Diaz Muñozcrafted a 100 percent varietal wine whose potential lies two or three years ahead. Aged 20 months in French oak, 53 percent new barrels, bottled unfined and unfiltered, this cabernet displays a deep opaque ebony hue and profound intensity and concentration. Its initial phase of iodine, iron and graphite segues into spiced and macerated currants, raspberries and plums opening to notes — after an hour — of walnut shell, cloves and allspice, roasted fennel and caraway seed. The wine is dense and chewy but lithe and supple, dark with rooty-loamy elements, woodsy and mushroomy, and a little knotty with aspects of briers, brambles and forest floor; the black and red berry flavors course over the palate animated by bright acidity. 14.5 percent alcohol. 2018 through 2028 to ’30. Production was 1,616 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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The Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, reveals a gratifying consistency cs-2013-front_750-alcwith its cousins from previous vintages, while expressing a sense of individuality accorded by a great year. The blend is 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 11 percent merlot, 5 petit verdot, 4 cabernet franc; the wine aged 21 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels. The color is dense ruby-purple, while the whole package reflects that intensity and concentration; the initial impressions are all structural: earth, loam and walnut shell; dusty, graphite-laden tannins; a dense and chewy texture; a deep austere finish. Yet the wine is also vibrant, dynamic, resonant and strangely appealing, with its hints of tightly-packed and spicy black fruit flavors. Try from 2018 through 2028 to ’30. 14.6 percent alcohol. Excellent potential. About $69.
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The Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Rutherford, is 100 percent2013-csrf_front_with-alc cabernet sauvignon that aged 18 months in French oak, 80 percent new barrels. The color is motor oil opaque shading to a medium ruby-hued rim; as with its stablemate mentioned just above, this wine is immense in structure, deep, intense and concentrated, which character does not prevent it from delivering classic notes of cedar, rosemary and tobacco, black olive and a hint of bell pepper, all buoying a finely-chiseled melange of black currants, raspberries and plums. In fact, for all its size and dimension, this cabernet offers a ripe, spicy, meaty and fleshy aspect not quite belied by its formidable dusty, loamy tannins and its tremendous dignity and authority. 14.3 percent alcohol. Try 2018 or ’19 through 2030 or ’33. Excellent potential. About $90.
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The Jayson label is the second line from Pahlmeyer Vineyards and comes in as slightly less jay-cabexpensive than the top tier, though these are not inexpensive by any means. The Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, sees 5 percent cabernet franc with the balance cabernet sauvignon; the wine aged 17 months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels. The color epitomizes the entire experience of this wine, from its intense inky center fading to the transparent ruby-tinged rim, that is, from tremendous depth and dimension to an element of elegance and even delicacy. Most apparent, though, is the wine’s immense honed and chiseled granitic structure, abetted by polished oak and plush, dusty, rigorous tannins; it feels carved from mountainsides. Aromas of iodine and iron open to deliriously attractive notes of black currants, cherries and plums, highlighted by hints of blueberry and pomegranate, tapenade and ancho chili and wild notions of cedar and rosemary, wood smoke, lilac and lavender. Yes, this is damned heady stuff, richly layered and nuanced. The whole project is, not surprisingly, quite serious on the palate, yet its structure of wood and acidity, tannin and graphite-infused minerality does not advance on the punishing scale; the totality is balanced and integrated, though deep and multi-dimensional. 15.1 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 to ’34. Winemaker was Kale Anderson. This wine feels to me like the essence and apex of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. Exceptional. About $75.
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The Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, utilizes the five classic Bordeaux red grapes: 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent cabernet franc and 2 percent each malbec, merlot and petit verdot; the wine aged 22 months in French oak, 72 percent new barrels. The color could not be a more dark, dense and radiant ruby-purple that shades to a glowing magenta rim; in its incisive granitic minerality and dusty graphite-tinged tannins, the wine feels absolutely true to the Oakville model; it offers ripe and slightly fleshy notes of currants, raspberries and plums infused with cedar and rosemary — with a hint of the latter’s feral, woodsy astringency — black olives and lavender melded in a seamless array of superb balance and integration. It’s quite dry, and the chiseled mineral aspects bolster the long finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 to ’25. Director of winemaking for Robert Mondavi is Geneviève Janssens. Excellent. About $60.
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More time in oak but less new oak than the previous wine was the regimen for the Robert Mondavi BDX 2013, Oakville, aging 29 months in French wood, 32 percent new barrels. BDX stands for Bordeaux; this wine is a blend of 68 percent cabernet sauvignon and 32 percent cabernet franc. I was impressed by the wine’s lovely balance and integration, for all its size and substance. A dark ruby hue shades to a bright magenta rim; aromas of ripe black currants, raspberries and plums are permeated by notes of iodine, iron and mint, making for a ferrous, sanguinary and slightly herbaceous red wine highlighted by touches of lavender and violets, cedar and tobacco. Yep, it’s a big one, quite dry and cushioned by supple dusty tannins, while animated by a beaming line of bright acidity; the finish is packed with graphite tinged minerality and an array of spicy black fruit flavors. 14.5 percent alcohol. You could drink this wine tonight with a steak or braised short ribs or wait a couple of years; it should develop beautifully through 2027 to ’30. Excellent. About $65.
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The Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys red wine blend is a perennial visitor to our Thanksgiving table, this year being no different. Whereas Ridge typically focuses on single-vineyard ridge-three-valleysbottlings, the Three Valleys derives from a variety of vineyards in Sonoma County. seeking to achieve a sort of overall Sonoma character, if such a thing is possible. The wine was first produced in 2001. The Ridge Three Valleys 2014, fermented by native yeast, is a blend of 65 percent zinfandel, 17 percent petite sirah, 14 carignane and 4 grenache. The wine aged 15 months in American oak, a scant six percent new barrels, 43 percent one-to-two-year-old barrels, 51 percent three-to-six-year-old barrels. In other words, the effect of new oak is negligible, while the general wood influence is subtle and supple in its shapeliness. The color is intense dark ruby with a vibrant cherry rim; aromas of sweet, smoky currants, blueberries and plums gradually open to notes of spiced and macerated red cherries, lavender and violets. This is dense and chewy in the mouth, permeated by graphite-infused tannins that provide plenty of grit and resistance on the palate; black fruit flavors are ripe and spicy but reticent, yielding place to bright acidity, briery and brambly forest floor elements, and a strain of granitic minerality that persists through the warm but sculptured finish. In other words, a wine that delivers equal measures of pleasure and structure. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20 with big-hearted, two-fisted cuisine. Excellent. About $26.

A local purchase.

As you make your celebratory imbibing plans for the holiday season that runs from Thanksgiving to Epiphany — and happens to include my birthday — don’t forget Schramberg Vineyards, a Napa Valley-based producer of sparkling wines that has been around for 50 years and might be in danger of flying under the radar of all the other sparkling wine makers in California that emerged after its pioneering efforts. I rated three of these recent releases Excellent and one Very Good+, a better than decent outcome. In fact, I enjoyed these wines immensely and heartily recommend them for your Yuletide revels. Samples for review.
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The Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2013, North Coast, is 100 percent chardonnay, a blend of grapes from Napa County (63 percent), Sonoma (30 percent), Mendocino (4 percent) and Marin (3 percent), hence the North Coast designation. A blanc de blancs is the first sparkling wine that the producer made, in 1965, and the touch remains deft and fluent. The color is very pale gold, and the tiny, glinting bubbles are exuberantly effervescent; beautifully layered aromas of roasted lemon, lemon balm, spiced pear and toasted and lightly buttered brioche are twined with acacia blossom and almond skin. A few moments in the glass bring up a bright edge of flint and chalk bolstered by vivid acidity, both elements lending this sparkling wine tremendous verve and appeal, while notes of slightly candied quince and ginger round out the citrus-stone fruit flavor profile. 12.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $39.
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The opposite of blanc de blancs — “white from white” — is blanc de noirs — “white from black” — through the Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2012, North Coast, blends 12 percent chardonnay with the balance of pinot noir. Counties of origin are Sonoma (44 percent), Mendocino (33 percent), Napa (19 percent) and Marin (4 percent). The color is very pale gold, enlivened by a surging flurry of tiny bubbles; this is pure lemon in all its aspects, married to fresh bread, cloves, ginger and quince, with a dry scent like dusty heather and a deep bell-note of currant. It’s a high-toned and elegant sparkling wine, vibrant with energy, full-bodied, almost lush except for the rigor of prominent limestone-flint minerality and a seam of resonant acidity. 12.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $41.
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The Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2013, North Coast, is composed of 61 percent pinot noir and 39 percent chardonnay. The county make-up is 41 percent Sonoma, 26 percent Mendocino, 25 percent Napa and 8 percent Marin. The ravishing color is pale copper salmon, with abundant bubbles swirling upward; aromas of macerated strawberries and raspberries open to notes of dried red currants, lime peel, melon and sour cherry, with follow-up hints of cloves and orange rind. You might think that this sparkling wine is all about sensual appeal, which it obviously does not lack, but there’s real structure, too, with elements of chiseled limestone and chalk minerality borne by chiming acidity; it flows across the palate with crisp vitality. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 through ’23. Excellent. About $44.
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The Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec 2012, Napa Valley — a departure from the winery’s usual North Coast designation — is a blend of 74 percent flora grapes, 16 percent pinot noir and 10 percent chardonnay. Flora is a crossing of gewürztraminer and semillon, created in 1938 by Harold P. Olmo (1909-2006), a professor of viticulture at University of California, Davis, who pioneered the crossing of vinifera grapes for warm climate regions; among his other creations are ruby cabernet and symphony. To 85 percent Napa Valley grapes, this sparkling wines adds 10 percent from Sonoma and 5 percent from Mendocino; that 85 percent allows the Napa Valley designation. The color is pale straw-yellow; the bubbles are tiny but gentle, a stream but not a froth. Scents of green apple, peach and apricot are delicately floral and lead to a sweet entry — in fact sweeter than I thought it would be. This sparkling wine offers elegance in body and texture, a lively impression from clean acidity and flint-limestone minerality for background and a touch of dryness from mid-palate through the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’22. At 2,387 cases, this product has the smallest production of this quartet. Very Good+. About $40.
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The wine aged ……… The color is pale straw-yellow

Looking for a true Rhone Valley experience in a California red wine? Well, then, you should be. bns12c_bottle_180x579pxIn any case, look for a bottle of the Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2012, Santa Maria Valley. In all its wild and woolly and autumnal 100 percent syrah nature, the wine feels elemental, fundamental and inevitable. The color is an opaque black-ruby shading to a glowing violet rim; aromas of roasted meat and wet dog are foresty and loamy, opening to notes of macerated and slightly stewed blackberries, currants and plums; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of black pepper, tar, oolong tea and fruitcake, iodine, smoke and roasted fennel, with a bell-tone of blueberry. This syrah rests on deep foundations of briery and granitic tannic power and dynamic acidity, combined with very intense and concentrated black fruit flavors, polished oak and graphite minerality, these factors meshing across the palate and culminating in a brooding, darksome, feral finish. 13 percent alcohol. Tremendous character and personality. Production was 313 cases. The wine is a natural with braised short ribs or veal shanks and such cool-weather fare, though we drank it happily with black bean and sweet potato chili. Now through 2020 to ’22. Exceptional. About $50.

A sample for review.

Etude Wines was founded in 1982 in Napa Valley by Tony Soter to focus on cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir made from purchased grapes grown in highly regarded vineyards. After a series of purchases, acquisitions and transformations, Etude is owned by Treasury Wine Estates, along with a rather astonishing roster of properties in California, Australia and other regions. The winery still concentrates on pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, usually produced from named vineyards in small quantities. Under review today are six of Etude’s single-vineyard pinot noir wines from 2014, touching AVAs in Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills in California; Yamhill-Carlton in Willamette Valley; and Central Otago in New Zealand. Winemaker is Jon Priest. These are, let me just say, splendid examples of the pinot noir grape and the resonance rung upon it by specific locations. Priest sensibly employs a minimal amount of oak, as well as keeping alcohol levels to reasonable levels. These are all worth searching for.

Samples for review.
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The Etude Ellenbach Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, aged 13 months in French oak, percent new barrels. The steeply sloping vineyard sits at around 800 feet elevation, just above the morning fog line, four miles east of the Pacific Ocean. The color is dark ruby-mulberry with a slightly paler rim. A burst of cloves, allspice and sandalwood precedes notes of a compote of black and red cherries and plums, wreathed with loam and graphite, mint and iodine, presided over by high-tones of pomegranate and cranberry; pretty heady stuff, all right. On the palate, this pinot noir brings in more red fruit — cherries and currants — its deeply spicy character buoyed by slightly flinty minerality, dusty tannins and lively acidity that cuts a swath on the tongue. The finish delivers a polished melange of spice, graphite tinged minerals and an element of heathery meadow flowers. 14.8 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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The Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2014, Carneros, aged 12 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. Located at the northwest corner of the Carneros AVA, the vineyard features various types of well-drained, rocky volcanic soils and is influenced by breezes from the Pacific. The color is medium mulberry-magenta shading to a transparent circumference. Scents of red and black cherries are permeated by notes of sassafras, pomegranate and cranberry, talc, lilac and rose petals; the perfume grows deeper and more redolent as the moments pass. This pinot noir embodies beautiful shape and substance, flowing on the tongue like perfection in a lithe, supple stream of satiny texture; there’s a touch of baked plum in the red and black fruit flavors and a strain of dusty graphite minerality to the subtle yet skillfully chiseled tannins. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $45.
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The superlative transparent violet-magenta hue of the Etude North Canyon Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Maria Valley, belies the seriousness of its frame and foundation and its earthy, loamy character. The vineyard, planted in calcareous clay sandstone, lies in a secluded canyon that’s a bit more exposed to sunlight and a bit warmer than the rest of the valley. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels, the least oak influence of these six wines. A complex array of spicy effects — cloves, sassafras and cumin — heightens elements of ripe red and black cherries that open to notes of wild berries and oolong tea, pomegranate and cranberries. A profoundly earthy, loamy character penetrates the entire enterprise, lending deep roots for its graphite-tinged tannins and minerality. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $45.
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Location is everything, n’est-ce pas? For example, the Fiddlestix Vineyard lies in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA that is part of the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA, all encompassed by Santa Barbara County. The hills and ranges run east and west here, unusual for California where the typical etu_12fiddlestix_pinot_nv_400x126 mountainous orientation is north-south, and a configuration that allows a direct inlet for fog and cooling ocean breezes. The vineyard receives its share of those daily climatic events but stands low enough against the hills to be sheltered from strong afternoon winds. The combination of exposure and protection with well-drained clay-loam and calcareous marine shale soils results in pinot noir wines of great depth and finesse.

The Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, aged 12 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby-magenta hue of transfixing radiance; aromas of rhubarb, sassafras and sandalwood, pomegranate and cranberry, smoky black cherries and plums achieve a Platonic level of loveliness, while on the palate the wine is lithe, supple and satiny. juicy black and red cherry flavors reach down to elements of some rooty black tea, talc and chalk and a kind of gravelly condensation of graphite minerality. A few minutes in the glass bring out notes of rose petals and lavender. Redolent, even pungent; deeply spicy and flavorful; elegant and fine-boned yet with a dynamic of bright acidity, lightly dusted tannins and the shaping force of subtle oak — this is one of the most complete and wholly beautiful pinot noirs I have tasted this year. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’24. Exceptional. About $45.
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This wine takes us to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Approved in 2004, the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA is a horse-shoe shaped region that includes only acreage that lies between 200 and 1,000 feet elevation, where marine sediments compose some of the oldest soil in Willamette Valley. The vineyard from which this wine is derived stands at 600 feet. The Etude Yamhill Vista Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Yamhill-Carlton District, aged 13 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby shading to a mulberry rim; to notes of black cherries and plums, pomegranate and cranberry, the wine adds touches of tobacco and black tea, mint and iodine, as well as the deep loamy character typical of Willamette Valley pinot noir. The texture is superbly satiny, though powered by swingeing acidity and energetic tannins; the wine is quite dry, revealing an immediacy of granitic minerality that leads to a brooding, chiseled finish. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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Talk about far afield, this wine takes us to New Zealand and Central Otago, the world’s southernmost wine region. The Etude Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2014, Central Otago, spent 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. I found this to be an extremely fine-grained, richly detailed and slightly exotic pinot noir. The color is transparent magenta-mulberry with a delicate rim; aromas of macerated and lightly stewed red and black cherries are permeated by notes of cloves and allspice, red licorice and violets, loam and damp wood ash; after 15 or 20 minutes, the bouquet unfurls hints of cedar, iodine and rosemary. Nothing opulent or flamboyant here, the wine is spare and honed, riven by arrows of acidity and borne by gravel-like minerality and layers of loam and foresty elements. 13.8 percent alcohol. I loved it. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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We are inching our way toward the most festive season of the year, a hectic, expensive, exhausting and frequently joyful stretch that encompasses Thanksgiving, My Birthday, Christmas, bottle-etoile-roseNew Year and Twelfth Night. Call it Yuletide 2.0. To slide into the proper spirit, I offer as Wine of the Day, No. 201, the Domaine Chandon Étoile Rosé, a non-vintage sparkling wine from the company that’s pretty much the grand-daddy of sparkling wine in California. By “non-vintage,” the common parlance, I really mean “multiple-vintage,” since this product and virtually all non-vintage Champagnes and sparkling wines contain wine from the current year as well as reserve wines from previous years, the point being to lend depth and character to the product from wines that have aged for several years. Now Chandon is surprisingly reticent about information for this sparkler and others I received recently. I can tell you, for example, that the grapes for the Domaine Chandon Étoile Rosé were grown in the cool Carneros region of Napa and Sonoma counties and that the blend includes chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, but not in what proportion. I can tell you that the sparkling wine rested on the lees in the bottle for “at least three years,” but I cannot be more specific. I can also tell you that the Domaine Chandon Etoile Rose is beguiling and irresistible. The color is ruddy salmon-copper, animated by a steady frothing stream of tiny bubbles. A cool rush of orange rind and strawberry compote is twined with smoke and seashell-like salinity with hints of cloves and lightly toasted brioche. This is lively on the palate, even sprightly and balletic, yet it delivers depths of limestone and chalk minerality, as well as flavors of roasted lemons, spiced pears and a hint of red currant. 13 percent alcohol. A very attractive and enticing brut rose. Excellent. About $50.

A sample for review.

I know, I could have written, “Two Groups of Pinots, Three Each,” but I like the off-rhyme of “trios” and “pinots,” as well as the rhythm of the line. So be it.

In any case, the two groups of pinot noir wines, three each, under review today have little to do with each other except for the grape variety. Inman Family Wines is in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley AVA, while Zena Crown lies in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, considerably to the north. Jackson Family Wines purchased the vineyard just west of Salem in 2013. The other quality these wines share is that, whatever differences they display because of the divergence in geography, geology, climate and terroir (and oak regimen), each is a model of what can be done with the grape by thoughtful growers and winemakers concentrating on a particular place.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Zena Crown Vineyard Conifer Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, aged 17 months in French oak, connifer75 percent new barrels. The grapes derive from the vineyard’s East 12 and West 1A and 14 blocks, grown in volvanic soil of varying depths. The color is a beautiful transparent medium ruby shading to an ethereal rim; aromas of red and black cherries are wreathed with notes of sassafras, rhubarb and cloves, all becoming a little meaty and fleshy as the moments pass and then opening to a hint of some shy astringent woodland flower. This is a rooty, tea-like pinot noir that expands to touch areas of loam, briers and brambles as well as reaching to depths of real tannic and acidic power, yet displaying a delicate floral filigree around the circumference. There’s a mineral edge that becomes more spare and chiseled through the finish, which contributes a final fillip of resiny pine and rosemary and an autumnal haze of leaf-smoke. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Production was 240 cases. A pinot noir of awesome, paradoxical and wholly gratifying complexity. Excellent. About $75.
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The Zena Crown (Sigma) Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills — the Greek capital Sigma is a symbol for zena-259“sum” in mathematics, though that’s putting the case rather simply; WordPress will not allow the symbol to be uploaded to this page — aged 17 months in French oak, 71 percent new barrels; the grapes are grown in Blocks 4, 5 and 12 of the vineyard, providing a varied background of characteristics. First is the dark ruby hue that shades to vivid magenta, then a wealthy perfumed bouquet of talc, lavender and violets, cranberry and pomegranate, graphite and loam. This is a deep rich pinot noir that feels sifted and layered in complexity, and while you note with a touch of alarm the presence of oak, that element subsides to become a shaping factor rather than a dominant influence. Lip-smacking acidity keeps the wine taut and animated, while it practically vibrates around a core of graphite, iodine and iron. 12.9 percent alcohol, a truly benign presence in this age of 14.5 percent and higher. Production was 302 cases. Drink now through 2021 through 2024. Excellent. About $75.
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Blocks East 5 and 6 of the Zena Crown Vineyard start at 600 feet elevation and slope to the south, allowing plenty of sunlight exposure. The Zena Crown “Slope” Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity zena_slope_laydownHills, aged 17 months in French oak, 85 percent new barrels, which seems to me to be an extraordinary amount of new oak for pinot, but the wine apparently soaked up that wood influence and came out with tremendous confidence and elan, with lovely heft and balance, and a lithe supple, satiny texture; it rolls across the palate like liquid money. (You’ll need some money if you want to buy a few bottles.) The color is brilliant medium ruby shading to an ephemeral, invisible rim; it’s a rooty, brambly and briery pinot noir that offers plenty of earthy-loamy elements to shore up scents and flavors of black cherries, currants and plums with a tinge of red fruit and hints of sassafras and cloves. It’s a large-framed wine within its context of succulence, acid brightness and dusty tannins, all subsumed to a broad component of graphite minerality. 12.7 percent alcohol, and when was the last time you saw a wine from California with this sensible an alcohol level? Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Production was 348 cases. Excellent. About $100.
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Let’s start with an email statement from owner and winemaker Kathleen Inman:

“As for barrel regime, I purchased six new Sirugue barrels and 2 Billon barrels (used for the inman-sexton
Sexton only) for my Pinot in 2013 and I think I began with 78 or 80 barrels of Pinot that year. That would be about 10% new each year. I use my barrels for up to 8 years. I do not keep track of how many new, one-year, two-year or older barrels go into each final blend. My answer to how much oak is – the right amount of oak for my taste.” In other words, new oak at this winery is held to a bare minimum, with the emphasis placed on a blend of wines from barrels of myriad ages.

So, let’s go now to the Inman Family Wines Sexton Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. The color is moderately dark ruby shading to lavender transparency; you notice immediately the notes of black and red cherries with the slight astringency of their skins and pits, hints of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood. This pinot is substantial, with real heft and thrust, but it feels weightless on the palate in a wonderful contention and resolution of the feminine and masculine elements; a few moments in the glass bring in layers of leather and loam and forest floor, rhubarb and beet-root, all encompassed in a super supple satiny texture. Give this an hour and the finely-milled and sifted tannins assert themselves. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $68.
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The Inman Family Pratt Vine Hill Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, displays a ravishing hue of transparent medium ruby fading to an invisible rim; if you could exist on color alone, this would be it. Aromas of cloves and pomegranate, sandalwood, red cherries and currants, lilac and rose petals, red licorice and loam circulate from the glass; it’s a dark, spicy, feral pinot noir, fleet with musky, meadowy notes of melon and cloves, loam and leather. The texture is supple and lithe, with a satin drape on the palate cut by rigorous acidity, dusty tannins and graphite minerality. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to 2023. Excellent. About $68.
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The Inman Family OGV Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, retains a grip on inscrutability and reserve while exhibiting a panoply of sensual pleasures and potential. The color is a transparent mulberry-magenta hue; aromas of pomegranate and cloves, cranberry and sassafras open to notes of red and black cherries, leather and loam. Layers of sanded, polished and insistent tannins offer enough grit to provide some resistance on the palate, while bright acidity cuts a swath through the remarkably supple, satiny texture. The sense of animation blanaced by a paradoxical dark, brooding quality lends the wine great personality and character. 14.2 percent alcohol. This could use a year to age, but try through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $73.
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I prefer my chardonnays untainted by the specter of toasty new oak and creamy malolactic, and if 2014-morgan-metallico-chardonnayyou inhabit the same camp, you probably already know about Morgan Winery’s un-oaked chardonnay called Metallico. If not, here’s a chance to be introduced. The Morgan Metallico Un-Oaked Chardonnay 2014, Monterey, derives from vineyards in the specific Santa Lucia Highlands and Arroyo Seco AVAs and the broader Monterey appellation. It aged five months in stainless steel tanks, seeing no oak and no malolactic fermentation. The color is bright medium gold; bold aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, green apple and mango burst from the glass in a welter of cloves, quince and ginger and a defining limestone edge. That strain of flinty minerality continues on the palate, where the wine is animated by crisp, lively acidity and characterized by ripe, spicy (and fairly rich) citrus and stone-fruit flavors; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of jasmine and honeysuckle, with bass-tones of loam and sea-shell, all encompassed by a lithe supple texture. The alcohol content is a pleasant 13.5 percent. Drink through 2017 with all manner of fish and seafood dishes. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

So, today I offer 10 red wines worthy of your attention and use with the hearty fare we prepare during cooler weather, if this country ever gets cooler weather. We’re running 10 to 15 degrees above normal in this neck o’ the woods. Anyway, these wines represent California; Italy’s Piedmont region; Australia’s McLaren Vale; and three sections of Spain, all featuring the tempranillo grape. The grapes and blends of grapes involved are equally diverse. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew the technical, geographical and historical I tend to dote upon for the sake of quick and incisive reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy, in moderation, of course. These wines were samples for review.
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Angeline Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir 2015, Mendocino County 80%, Sonoma County 20%.13.9% alc. Transparent angelinemedium ruby shading to an ethereal rim; rose petals and sandalwood, pomegranate and cranberry, a hint of loam that expands to form a foundation for the whole enterprise; satiny and supple but nicely sanded and burnished by mild graphite-tinged tannins; a few minutes in the glass being in notes of wood smoke, red cherry and raspberry; grows quite dense and chewy, almost succulent but riven by straight-arrow acidity that cuts a swath on the palate; builds in power and structure. Now through 2018 or ’19. You could sell the hell out of this pinot noir in restaurant and bar wine-by-the-glass programs. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Bonny Doon A Proper Claret 2014, California. 13.2% alc. 36% cabernet sauvignon, 22% petit verdot, 22% tannat, 9% syrah, 7% merlot, 3% cabernet franc, 1% petite sirah. The point of Bonny Doon’s A Proper Claret is that it is not a proper claret at all, not with the inclusion of tannat, syrah and petite sirah. Ho-ho. Medium ruby with a transparent magenta rim; untamed and exotic, with notes of dried berries, baking spices and flowers; opens to black fruit scents and flavors with a tinge of red fruit; firm, moderately dense, supported by plenty of dusty graphite-laden tannins and bright acidity; needs a steak or leg of lamb. Very Good+. About $16.
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Chronic Cellars Purple Paradise 2014, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. 77% zinfandel, 14% syrah, 8% petite sirah, 1% grenache. Medium ruby hue; a feral and flinty flurry of black currants, mulberries and plums; a hint of blueberry, with cedar and mint; warm and spicy with notes of cloves and sandalwood; a high, wild baked berry tone; very dry, quite dense and chewy, firm sinewy structure packed with dusty tannins and lively acidity. Now through 2018. Very Good+. About $15.
As you can see, the label is appropriate for Halloween parties.
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Viña Eguía Tempranillo 2013, Rioja, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. Medium ruby hue shading to a delicate mulberry rim; violets and rose petals, blueberries and red currants, leather and smoke; an exotic dusting of cloves, sandalwood and allspice, with a hint of the latter’s woody, slightly astringent quality; though moderate in tannins, this gains weight and heft as the minutes pass, picking up a fleshy, meaty character to the macerated and baked dark fruit flavors; animated by brisk acidity. Terrific character for the price. Now through 2018. Very Good+. About $14, marking Excellent Value.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
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Bodegas Fariña Dama de Toro Tempranillo 2014, Toro, Spain. 13.5% alc. With 5% garnacha. Medium ruby-mulberry color; loam, dust, graphite, mint, iodine; hints of red and black currants and blueberries, permeated by dried spices and flowers; very dense, dry, smoky, chewy; smacky tannins coat the palate. What it lacks in charm it makes by for in inchoate power and dynamism. Try 2018 to ’20 with pork shoulder roast slathered in salsa verde or grilled pork chops with a cumin-chili powder rub. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
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Marchesi di Gresy Barbera d’Asti 2014, Piedmont, Italy. 13% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Medium ruby-violet hue; an attractive bouquet of potpourri, dried baking spices and dried currants; hints of cedar, tobacco and lead pencil; clean and spare with plenty of acid cut for liveliness and lip-smacking tannins; pulls up elements of black cherries, mulberries and plums, all slightly spiced and macerated, and touches of cherry pit and skin; the finish is packed with earthy tannins and graphite minerality. Now through 2019 to ’22 with salumi, red meat pizzas and pasta dishes — especially pappardelle with rabbit — or aged hard cheeses. Excellent. About $18.
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Peachy Canyon Incredible Red Zinfandel 2014, California. 14.5% alc. With 2% petite sirah. Dark ruby shading lighter to an invisible rim; notes of spicy and slightly roasted black currants, cherries and plums, a strain of wild berry and white pepper and hints of wood smoke, ground cardamom and cumin; rich on the palate but tempered by loamy and velvety tannins and clean acidity; an element of dusty graphite minerality dominates the finish. A well-made zinfandel for everyday drinking. Very Good+. About $14.
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Real Compañía de Vinos Tempranillo 2012, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. Vibrant inky purple; a very deep, dark, warm, spicy loamy tempranillo with staggering, mineral and graphite-laced tannins that don’t prevent a hint of floral-inflected black currant and plum fruit and touches of heather, cedar and black olive from emerging from the ebon depths; there is, in fact, surprising elegance and finesse at play in the balance between structure, acid, fruit and oak elements. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About — I’m not kidding — $12, a Remarkable Value.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
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Robert Oatley GSM 2014, McLaren Vale, Australia. 13.5% alc. 48% grenache, 47% syrah, 5% oatleymourvèdre. Dark ruby with a lighter magenta rim; ripe and spicy notes of roasted plums and currants, with traces of red licorice and leather, briers and brambles; a few moments in the glass bring in alluring touches of allspice and sandalwood, dried sage and rosemary; dry, dusty and slightly austere tannins serve as foundation for lithe, supple black and red fruit flavors boosted by fleet acidity and graphite minerality. For all its structure, the wine is juicy, seductive and tasty. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $20.
Imported by Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits, Greensboro, N.C.
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Vina Robles Vineyards & Winery Red4 2013, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 14.9% alc. 41% petite sirah, 40% syrah, 10% mourvèdre, 9% grenache. Dark ruby-magenta color; redolent of macerated and slightly baked mixed berries, cloves and iodine, espresso, wood smoke and roasted fennel — heady stuff indeed; a lightly resistant dusty, velvety texture bolstered by persistent tannins packed with graphite and loam; a long expressive finish. A lot going on here for the price. Drink now through 2018. Excellent. About $17.
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Dan Morgan Lee and his wife Donna founded Morgan Winery in 1982, the first production being 2,000 cases of chardonnay from Monterey County. In the intervening 34 years, the winery has grown exponentially, while the roster of wines and labels has expanded, decreased, altered radically and undergone intense focus. Morgan, centered in Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands, specializes in chardonnay and pinot noir, both at the AVA and single-vineyard levels, but also produces notable sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, riesling and syrah. A more personal project is Lee Family Farm, launched in 2005 and specializing in Spanish and Portuguese grape varieties. Except for the AVA-based wines, most of these products are made in limited quantities, though all are priced fairly. Today we look at the Morgan Albarino 2015 and the Lee Family Farm Tempranillo 2014. Winemaker for Morgan is Sam Smith.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Morgan Albarino 2015, Monterey, fermented in stainless steel and then aged a brief five morgan_label_albarino_2015_frontmonths in French oak, a scant 10 percent new barrels. The result is a fresh, crisp and lively wine whose medium straw-gold hue leads to abundantly floral aromas of acacia, jasmine and lilac, with hints of spiced pear and lemon balm. This is a lustrous albarino offering a lithe and supple texture that embodies a sort of Platonic juicy peach and pear element bolstered by an almost prodigious amount of damp limestone and flint minerality and a keen acid edge. It’s quite dry, a bit spare through the finish, yet seductively attractive. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 with seafood risottos, roasted fish or with tapas. Production was 375 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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The Lee Family Farm Tempranillo 2014, Arroyo Seco, is a beautiful, vibrant expression of the 2014_lff_tempranillogrape. The Arroyo Seco AVA lies in central Monterey County; it’s a roughly triangular shaped region whose longer, slightly curved angle fits against the eastern foothills of the coastal range. Arroyo Seco is cooled by the breeze from Monterey Bay which brings in morning fog. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. The color is inky ruby-purple; aromas of ripe blackberries and plums are touched with notes of blueberry and pomegranate, cloves and just a hint of vanilla and hints of violets and rose petals. Animated by bright acidity, the wine is fleet on the palate yet distinguished by pleasing weight and heft; black fruit flavors reveal a slightly roasted, sun-baked quality. with a bit of fruitcake in the background. Moderate tannins are brushy and velvety, picking up high-toned rigor and dusty graphite on the way to the finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Certainly one of the best tempranillo wines made in California, alas, in only 53 cases. Drink through 2019 or ’20 with steaks and chops or braised shanks of various kinds. Excellent. About $20.
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