California


If your ideal of chardonnay from California is a wine that’s opulent, bold, brash, rich and spicy, tropical and creamy, tinged, perhaps, with vanilla and butterscotch, stop reading right here. The chardonnay I nominate for Wine of the Day, No. 109, takes the opposite stance from all of those burdensome qualities and maintains a character consistent with the vision that Eleanor and Fred McCrea had when they produced their first bottling from vintage 1952. That is, a chardonnay that sees no new oak and undergoes no malolactic fermentation. Those who possess knowledge of the history of the Golden State’s wine industry know that I’m referring to Stony Hill stony hill chard labelVineyard, a winery perched on Spring Mountain above St. Helena that since its inception refused to follow the standard procedures of winemaking and marketing and went its own way, a model of individuality and authenticity. Fred McCrea died in 1977 and Eleanor in 1991, but the winery’s tradition continues with their son Peter, his wife Willinda and their daughter Sarah. Winemaker Mike Chelini has been at Stony Hill since 1971.

The Stony Hill Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley, fermented in French oak and rested 10 months in barrels that were six to 26 years old. Malolactic is inhibited, so the wine retains a scintillating element of fresh and vibrant acidity. The color is very pale straw-gold; subtle aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince and ginger are touched with smoke and a hint of peach and spiced pear. The purity and intensity of this chardonnay, its beautiful balance and integration are incredibly gratifying. On the palate, the texture feels like talc or powdered limestone, while the structure is lithe and supple, flowing across the tongue with vibrancy and mineral-laced resonance. Ripe but not ostentatious citrus and stone-fruit flavors are backed up by the pith and vigor of the wine’s crystalline roots in the earth and the shapely modulation of those old French oak barrels. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 1,852 cases. Drink now through 2023 to 2028; it has the framework and foundation to last. Exceptional. About $45.

A sample for review.

Today’s edition of Weekend Wine Notes — a day early, but we don’t care, do we? — continues with the Catching Up on California Pinot Noir theme but focusing on three wineries: Donum Estate, FEL Wines and Lutum Wines. I depart from my usual procedure today and offer a bit more detail about winemaking and about the wines than I usually do in these posts. Still, as I typically inform My Readers, the Weekend Wine Notes are not intended to provide scads of information about history, geography, personalities and technical data. The idea is to inspire your interest and whet your palates. These wines were samples for review.
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Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. This wine aged 12 months in French oak, 64 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby-magenta, almost beet-red; aromas of ripe black and red currants and plums are intense and concentrated, though opening to notes of cloves, sandalwood and allspice, with a trace of the latter’s slightly astringent, earthy quality. Velvety and vigorous tannins feel imbued with graphite and loam, and the black and red berry flavors are deeply spicy and rather rigorously proportioned. 14.7 percent alcohol. This could use a bit more charm. Now through 2019 or ’20. Production was 732 cases. Very Good+. About $72.
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Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, Sonoma County. The aging regimen was 11 months in French oak, 59 percent new barrels. In contrast to the color of the previous wine, this one offers a transparent medium ruby hue; it’s a warm and spicy pinot noir that builds inextricable layers of red cherries, cloves and sandalwood, sassafras and cranberry, with hints of earthy moss and mushrooms. The texture is dense and chewy, superbly satiny and flowing, seeming to drape the palate, while elements of graphite-tinged minerality and bright acidity keep the wine honest and true to scale. 14.5 percent alcohol. Lovely balance and integration. Production was 766 cases. Drink now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $72.
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Donum Ten Oaks Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. Of this quartet of pinot noir wines from Donum Estate, this is the one that captured my heart. A transparent medium ruby hue shades to light mulberry at the rim; ethereal notes of cola, cloves and beetroot wrap around scents of ripe black cherries and raspberries that reveal traces of smoke and cranberries, rose petals and lavender; Readers, you could eat it with a spoon. Delicacy and elegance, robustness and vivacity balance deftly here, though while the texture is suavely silky and almost succulent, dry, dusty tannins provide ballast. Alcohol content is a pleasingly low 13.4 percent. An exquisite pinot noir with the proper amount of tension and resolution. Production was 160 cases. Excellent. About $72.
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Donum Estate West Slope Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. Another deceptively light and lithesome pinot noir that turns out to be muscular and sinewy. The color is a graceful transparent ruby-magenta; notes of black and red cherries are flush with hints of sassafras, tar and black tea, while a few minutes in the glass bring in an intensely floral quality of violets and roses. Though the wine’s structure is powerful and drawn out through the dynamic finish, the weight on the palate feels fleet and refined. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 273 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $90.
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FEL Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley. This is the “regular” bottling from this winery, as distinguished from the Savoy single-vineyard offering remarked upon below. The color is a beguiling transparent medium ruby; aromas of sandalwood and sassafras, cloves and tobacco leaf, pomegranate and cranberry serve as exotic highlights to notes of black and red cherries and currants that deepen to a layer of underbrush and loam. This pinot noir displays lovely limpidity, suppleness and lightness of being, but not without elements of tannic muscle and mineral power. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 2,347 cases. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $38.
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FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley. The color is dark ruby shading to a purple-magenta rim; the wine delivers a fairly rigorous structure, with slightly dusty tannins and acidity that plows a furrow on the palate, but, withal, it’s a beautifully balanced and integrated pinot noir that exudes tons of confidence and elan. Scents and flavors of red and black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of cloves and sassafras, violets and pomegranate, while a super satiny and supple texture bathes the taste-buds in luxury; the grace of pinpoint graphite minerality saves ther wine from being too opulent. The wine aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 59% of which were new. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 605 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $70.
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Lutum Wines La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills. The color is pale ruby-magenta with a very delicate rim; it’s a wine of quicksilver effects and changeability, with notes of cranberry and pomegranate, cherries and rhubarb, cloves and sassafras strung like twinkling lights on lines of loam, underbrush, heather and leather and oolong tea; for all its ethereal character, however, this pinot noir delivers plenty of tannic power and acid structure for liveliness and longevity, as well as a silky-satiny texture that feels like a scarf draping a warm shoulder. I loved it. 14.5 percent alcohol. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels. Production was 225 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Lutum Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley. The color is a ravishing pale ruby-magenta shading to a transparent rim; the wine is intense, rich and focused, driven by bright acidity and chiseled flint-like minerality, yet open and generous with its black cherry, currant and plum fruit and its exotic touches of rhubarb, sassafras, sandalwood and lilac. The wine is quite dry, permeated by elements of briers and brambles, loam and dusty, earthy tannins, but it never loses a grip on its inner delicacy and buoyancy. 13.42 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $50.
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Lutum Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. Here’s a darker pinot noir, with a dark to medium ruby hue, high-toned intensity and concentration and lip-smacking acidity. Scents and flavors of ripe and smoky black cherries, currants and plums unfold to hints of cloves, lavender and violets, cranberry, pomegranate and loam; passing moments develop an elusive strain of red currant and sour cherry. This is a richly detailed and very dry pinot noir whose dimensions are framed by dusky tannins and a bosky briery and brambly character. 14.13 percent alcohol. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels. Production was 250 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $60.
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One of the smartest moves Randall Grahm, owner of Bonny Doon Vineyards, made as a businessman and winemaker was selling his Cardinal Zin and Big House labels in 2006 and his Pacific Rim brand in 2010, allowing him to reduce production and concentrate on the Rhone variety grapes that his Central Coast vineyards grow best and for which, it must be said, he seems to have a natural affinity. Grahm also delved full-time into biodynamic farming practices while espousing, as he always had, the principle of minimal manipulation of wines in the winery. Under review today is a group of Bonny Doon’s red Rhone-style wines which, whatever the nuances of detail and dimension that differentiate them, share an almost genetic propensity toward spareness and elegance, toward a rooty-branchy structure and lithe, sinewy texture. If terroir means being able to taste the influence of the vineyard in the wine, then these wines seem to embody that doctrine. These wines fall into the limited edition category of reserve bottlings and a couple intended for members of the the winery’s DEWN club. They were samples for review.

I reviewed the Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant 2011, Central Coast, as a Wine of the Day, in August last year. Here’s a link to that post now.
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The unusual blend for the Bonny Doon Cinsault Counoise 2014, California, is 67 percent cinsault and 33 percent counoise, this latter being one of the minor grapes allowed into Chateauneuf-du-Pape and other red wines of the southern Rhone Valley. The color is medium to light cherry; a bouquet of red cherries and currants is slightly briery and brambly and opens to hints of cloves and sandalwood, tobacco, black tea and cigarette paper. The counoise lends a distinctly peppery note in the nose and on the palate, where a tannic bite and blazing acidity cut a swath. It’s almost unnecessary to add that this is a lithe, lively and sinewy wine that prizes bones above flesh and muscle above fat. I like it. 13.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 or ’19. Production was 280 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
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My first note on the Bonny Doon Cuvee R Grenache 2014, Monterey County, was “lovely wine,” and indeed it is. From its nearly transparent medium ruby color, it goes to aromas of pure raspberry and red currents over briers, brambles and loam, with hints of violets and lilac, cloves and cinnamon, with a spicy, peppery effect a bit like Red Hots, and a background of black tea and orange zest. Spare and limber on the palate, the wine delivers a mouthful of red and blue fruit flavors deftly and lightly graven with graphite and mildly dusty tannins. Overall, the impression is of a liquid both dense and weightless. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 270 cases. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $48.
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Bonny Doon Reserve Le Cigare Volant 2011, Central Coast, is a blend of 37 percent mourvedre, 34 percent grenache, 20 syrah and 9 cinsault. This is the “normale” version of the Reserve Le Cigare Volant, meaning that it aged in oak barrels rather than in five-gallon glass demijohns as the following wine did. The color is dark ruby-purple with a tinge of magenta at the rim. The wine is slightly dusty and graphite-inflected, burgeoning with elements of ripe black currants and raspberries etched with notes of cloves, leather and sandalwood. Delicately mossy, rooty and woodsy, this mellow and drinkable wine’s tannins feel clothed in lightly sanded oak and chiseled granitic qualities, while bright acidity keeps it lively and flowing. I played with this wine for three hours, and it gained power and structure over that time, but never to the detriment of its tasty black and red berry flavors, both fresh and dried. The lithe finish offers more dried spices and a sinew of forest floor, brambles and briers. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 966 cases. Drink now through 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $79.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve “en bonbonne” 2010, Central Coast. “En bonbonne” refers to the five-gallon glass demijohns mentioned above, in which this wine rested for 20 months, after a brief pass through oak for malolactic fermentation. It’s a blend of 28 percent syrah, 22 percent grenache, 17 cinsault, 17 mourvedre and 16 carignane. The color is dark ruby shading to transparent mulberry; aromas of ripe and macerated red currants, cherries and plums are permeated by notes of violets, smoke, leather and mushrooms. This is a wine of threads, tendrils and filaments, a bosky, framboiserie of a wine whose fruit seems to shift subtly from red to black from mid-palate back; though it possesses plenty of slightly dusty tannins and vivid acidity for structure (and it’s quite dry), it’s not heavy or strenuous. Rather, it offers lovely detail and satisfying dimension in its approachable character. 13.3 percent alcohol. Production was 511 cases. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $79.
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bien nacidoThe Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2011, Santa Maria Valley, delivers an enticing dark ruby hue shading to pale magenta; aromas of dried lavender and violets, cloves and white pepper underlie notes of black currants, blueberries and plums; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of loam and forest floor, cedar, black olives and bell pepper. The wine flows across the palate with brisk vitality, expressing a sense of litheness and sinuosity; dusty, graphite-infused tannins are a little chiseled and faceted, needing a year or two to smooth out. Other than that aspect, this is a thoroughly tasty, approachable wine that gains some power and dimension in the glass. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 463 cases. Try now or from 2017 through 2022 or ’23. Excellent. About $50.
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Not many chardonnay wines feel as pure and intensely varietal as the Pine Ridge Le Petit Clos Chardonnay 2013, Stags Leap District. The wine’s name refers, in French, to a small enclosed vineyard, in this case a tiny area, within a larger vineyard, lying in the shadow of the ridge for which the winery is named. While Le Petit Clos Chardonnay 2013 is barrel-fermented, it ages only seven months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels, and malolactic fermentation is inhibited. The result is a chardonnay of shimmering and simmering integrity, lovely as it can be but with a dynamic core of bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. The color is mild gold; aromas of roasted lemon and lemon balm are heightened by notes of pineapple and grapefruit, baked apple and cloves; from the background surges a whiff of gun-flint and shale. The acid and minerality lend sinew to a moderately lush, talc-like texture that cushions a fluid layering of ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors, hints of quince and ginger, traces of chalk and flint and a suave, subtle, supple oak influence. 14.9 percent alcohol. A downright beautiful chardonnay, for drinking through 2019 to ’23. Excellent. About $75.

A sample for review.

Gary Andrus founded Pine Ridge Vineyards in 1978, acquiring 50 acres, planted mainly to chardonnay vines, on the Silverado Trail in Stags Leap District. After planting cabernet sauvignon vines and purchasing other vineyards, logo-Pine-Ridge-VineyardsPine Ridge earned a reputation for its full-bodied, multi-dimensional cabernet sauvignon wines, as well as chardonnay and, later, a popular and inexpensive chenin blanc-viognier blend that pays the rent. Anders put the winery on the market in 2000, and it was purchased by The Crimson Wine Group, which also owns Archery Summit, in Oregon, and Seghesio, in Sonoma County. Pine Ridge owns vineyard acreage in many parts of Napa Valley, and produces limited bottlings of wines from these classic AVAs. Under review today are the examples from Rutherford, Oakville District and Stags Leap District. Rutherford and Oakville stretch across the central Valley floor, while Stags Leap, backing up to the Vaca Range, is hillier, even fairly steep in places.

These three wines receive the same oak regimen, 18 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels, but it’s interesting that the blend on each is different, making accommodations to the vineyards and the landscape and micro-climates involved. Wimemaker and general manager is Michael Beaulac. These are stalwart — and expensive — cabernets, that seem to me to epitomize what makes Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon so well-known in the world of both casual drinkers and astute wine collectors: the sense of acute minerality; the poised and rugged tannins; the deep black fruit permeated by the unique combination of tea, dried herbs, loam and dust; the ultimate balance and integration, in the best years. The vintage in question here, 2012, though a warm year, is undeniably one of the best.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Pine Ridge Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, is a blend of 76 percent cabernet sauvignon and 24 percent petit verdot. With its intensity and concentration, its huge, dynamic lithic structure and its exquisite balance that paradoxically verges on elegance, this wine conforms to my ideal of an Oakville cabernet. The color is very dark ruby with a tinge of purple at the rim; taking some time to swirl the wine and sniff allows whiffs of black fruit shading to blue and dried meadow flowers to emerge, almost reluctantly it seems, while the big build-up is in the precincts of dust and graphite, iodine and iron. Still, tannins are plush on the palate, and the wine, despite its depth and dimension and the tautness of its acidity, flows through the mouth with lively aplomb. A wine that needs some time to open, though it would be tempting with a medium-rare strip steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’34. Excellent. About $85.
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The Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, offers a dark ruby hue with a glowing magenta rim; the nose is distinguished by incisive graphite minerality that bears hints of iodine and iron, ancho chili and bitter chocolate, opening gradually to deeply spiced and macerated red and black currants and raspberries; these aromas take on an incredibly floral aspect, blending lavender, violets and lilacs with a twist of black licorice. Though rigorous in structure, supported by bastions of dry, dusty tannins, this Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is lively, vital and vigorous, almost engaging, though a few minutes in the glass give it burgeoning depth and dimension; oak stays firmly on the periphery, yet the influence is undeniably there. The finish is long, dense and freighted with a kind of powdery granitic quality. The blend is 82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15 percent malbec, 3 percent petit verdot. 14.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $85.
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Stylistically, the Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, bears resemblance to its cousins also mentioned in this post but feels even denser, more stringent, bottomless, as if it siphoned up all the bedrock of the steep hillside vineyards where it was born. It’s a blend of 77 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent malbec. The color, of course, is dark, almost opaque ruby that shades to a lighter mulberry rim; the bouquet is a stirring melange of graphite, tar, ancho chili and bitter chocolate, roasted fennel and ripe, macerated red and black currants and cherries; a bit of time brings in notes of cloves, sage and rosemary. Yes, it’s massive on the palate, deeply tannic, yet fleet of foot too, aided by plangent acidity and a deft touch with oak, which feels polished and lightly sanded. It will need a few years aging to bring out more of the black fruit flavors, so try from 2017 to ’19 through 2030 to ’35. 14.7 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $125.
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The joke about Bonny Doon’s A Proper Claret is, of course, that it’s a highly unproper example, even a parody, of APC13C_front_300dpiclaret, that is, of a red wine from Bordeaux. Birthed by the fervid, fevered imagination of winery owner, winemaker and celebrated punster Randall Grahm, the latest release, the Bonny Doon A Proper Claret 2013, carrying a California designation, contains 46 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent merlot and 14 percent petit verdot, all veddy proper for a Bordeaux, but the balance is filled by 15 percent tannat, 8 percent syrah and 1 percent petite sirah, grapes that would made all the Rothschild ancestors and cousins spin in their graves, now and forevermore. To say that the result is unique doesn’t begin to cover the bases. The color is dark ruby-purple; at first, the aromas are red fruit — mainly cherries and currants — that take on hints of black and blue as the minutes pass, all permeated by notes of mint and iodine, briers and brambles, a hint of dried porcini mushrooms and a remarkably intense floral element, like a bouquet of fresh and dried meadow flowers. On the palate, this is woodsy, musky and dusty, with ripe and spicy raspberries, currants and plums bolstered by firm yet pliant tannins and a dense supple texture enlivened by brisk acidity. Graphite and loam serve as foundation for an earthy element that broadens across the spectrum with meaty, feral, ferrous dimension. Quite a performance; loads of tantalizing and ineffable personality. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018. Excellent. About $16, marking Great Value.

A sample for review.

The Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2012, North Coast, isn’t all “noirs”; to its 88 percent pinot noir grapes it adds 12 percent chardonnay. It’s clearly North Coast, drawing grapes from Sonoma (44 percent), Mendocino (33 percent),Schramberg-Vineyards-Blanc-de-Noirs-Label Napa (19 percent) and Marin (4 percent) counties. The color is an ethereal pale gold, enlivened by a steady swirling stream of tiny bubbles. The first notes from the glass blossom with freshly baked biscuits and toasted hazelnuts, hints of lemon and pears spiced with ginger, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and touches of mango, melon and orange blossom, clean, high and elegant. This sparkling wine indeed sparkles on the palate with crisp acidity and a scintillating limestone element that burgeons through the sleek, chiseled finish; slightly macerated citrus tones dominate the flavor profile but in a spare cool fashion that allows the structure to express itself fully. 11.8 percent alcohol. A superb aperitif but also appropriate with such dishes as duck, pork and rabbit terrines, roasted veal and (more humbly) fried chicken. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $41.

A sample for review.

Well, damn it, this is sort of embarrassing. I have so many pinot noirs from California to catch up on reviewing that I have to divide the effort into two parts. Perhaps three. As usual in the Weekend Wines Notes, I eschew technical, historical and geographical information for the sake of incisive reviews, ripped from the pages of my notebooks, designed to tease your interest and whet your palate.
These 12 examples, all samples for review, are from vintages 2012 and 2013. The order is alphabetical, not hierarchical. Enjoy.
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Anaba Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.3% alc. A glowing medium ruby hue shading to a transparent magenta rim; a cool and mineral-laden pinot noir that features spiced and macerated black and red cherries with hints of loam, briers and brambles; incisive acidity and graphite minerality, notes of mint and iodine and a savory fleshy quality; lots of tone and subtle shape, beautifully balanced and integrated. Excellent. About $34.
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ferrari pn
Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley. …% alc. Limpid medium ruby color; the typical range of smoky black cherry, currant and plum scents and flavors filigreed with notes of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood, yet couched in a texture of supernal silky suppleness and deepening to a dark, rooty loamy layer bolstered by mildy dusty tannins and bright acidity; displays more power than elegance, but certainly plumbs the depths of the grape. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $35.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Ineffable medium ruby hue shading to light mulberry; an elevating and enticing bouquet: macerated red currants and cherries with a hint of slightly briery raspberry and notes of cloves and sassafras, smoke, lavender and heather; super supple and satiny; dusty tannins infused with underbrush and moss; pulls up roots and branches and wild floral elements; quite dry but seductive in every sense. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.
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Head High Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Transparent medium ruby, brick-red at the rim; a subdued manner that features pert acidity and fairly tart red berry fruit, though highlighted by notes of smoke and cloves, sassafras and pomegranate; it becomes deeper and broader in the glass, after 30 or 40 minutes, building a dimension of blue plums, blueberries and graphite, becoming more intense and vibrant. A lovely pinot noir, ephemeral yet with sleek backbone, for drinking through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $35.
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Heintz Ranch Swan Selection Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 13.3% alc. 200 cases. Lovely limpid medium ruby color; cherries, cranberries and rhubarb; cloves and tobacco, sandalwood and loam; supple and satiny texture, feels generous on the palate yet enlivened by clean acidity and graphite-tinged minerality; dried spice and wild flowers emerge after a few minutes in the glass. Very attractive personality and character. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $48.
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La Follette Pinot Noir 2013, North Coast. 13.8% alc. Medium ruby fading to a lighter magenta; remarkable depth and dimension for the price; black cherry, cranberry and cloves, sassafras and sandalwood; quite intense and pure, with a lithe and supple texture; richness and density cut by vibrant acidity; brings in touches of smoke and dried spices, briers and loam, with dry, dusty tannins. Now through 2017 or ’18 If you’re looking for a house pinot noir, this is it. Excellent. About $20, representing Fine Value.
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MacMurray Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013, Central Coast. This Gallo brand used to be called MacMurray Ranch and sported an altogether more pleasing label than the new generic model, but nobody asked me. 14.8% alc. Dark ruby shading to a transparent mulberry rim; black raspberries and currants with hints of plums, cloves and sassafras; very satiny and supple, with appealing substance on the palate; savory, and with some elements of briers and brambles and slightly dusty tannins and graphite. A nice rendition. Very Good+. About $23.
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Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.4% alc. 1,211 cases. Dark ruby shading Double_L_Pinot_Noir_2013to lighter ruby and a transparent magenta rim; ravishing bouquet: cloves and sandalwood, smoky black cherries and plums, rose petals and lavender; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of Necco wafer, raspberry jam, leather and violets; beautifully lithe and supple on the palate, spicy and savory, with lovely weight and heft; dry and loamy, dense and fairly tannic in a dusty, graphite-laden fashion; all melded by fleet acidity and deftly handled oak. A real beauty; drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $58.
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Paul Hobbs CrossBarn Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley. 14.1% alc. Transparent medium ruby hue; pure fresh black crossbarnraspberry and plum infused with cloves and sassafras and a hint of leather and loam; a few moments in the glass bring up notes of red currants and cherries; smoky and dusty, with plenty of stuffing, though tannins are supple and manageable; keen acidity cuts a furrow on the palate. Very attractive, for drinking through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $35.
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Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-magenta with a pale rim; patza pure and intense expression of lightly macerated red raspberries and cherries with a touch of blue plum; cloves, sandalwood and sassafras, hints of graphite and loam; super satiny, spicy, smoky and savory, the red berry flavors a bit fleshy, all directed by a stern finger of dusty tannins and lip-smacking acidity. a joy to drink. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $70.
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Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Beguiling transparent ruby hue shading to a rim of delicate invisibility; bursting with notes of sassafras, cloves, pomegranate and cranberry opening to smoky black cherries and currants; lovely purity and intensity, with a sleek silky texture, abundant acidity and slightly briery tannins, all at the service of bright yet slightly loamy cherry-berry flavors. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $25.
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Saxon Brown Durell Vineyard Hayfield Block Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Fewer than 100 cases. Dark ruby hue at the center shading to medium ruby-magenta at the transparent rim; dusty plums and red currants, loam, cloves and allspice, with a tantalizing note of the latter’s fragrant woody astringency; iodine and graphite tending toward a granitic element, softened by a supple texture exquisitely poised between silky lushness and lithe muscularity; it feels married to the earth. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, or at least, say, until 2020 or ’22. Exceptional. About $48.
The wines of Saxon Brown are sold by allocation through a mailing list. Contact saxonbrown.com for information.
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Here’s a zinfandel from Lodi that’s balanced, delicious and close to elegant, though it doesn’t neglect the 2012 Sherm Zinnecessary structure. The Fields Family Wines Sherman Family Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel 2012 offers a dark ruby-purple hue that shades toward violet at the rim. Blackberry, blueberry and plum scents and flavors feel rooted in dark graphite minerality and loaminess at the same time being delicately etched with filigrees of cloves and sandalwood, smoke and pomegranate. The wine is fairly dense and chewy on the palate, but vibrant, beautifully poised and polished by gently burnished oak and slightly dusty tannins; ripe and spicy black fruit flavors stay on the sane side of succulent, held in check by bright acidity and a chiseled frame-work. 14.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18 with burgers or steaks, braised meat dishes and seared porkchops. Russ Fields purchased the property where the vineyards and the recently constructed winery stand in 2005. Winemaker is Ryan Sherman. Excellent. About $26.

A sample for review.

One of the best-known vineyards in Sonoma County, if not California, is the Durell Vineyard, perched at the cusp of three appellations, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Valley and Carneros, just a toe-hold in the latter, but entitled to a Sonoma Coast designation. Dedicated primarily to chardonnay and pinot noir, this vineyard supplies grapes to such labels as (perhaps most famously) Kistler, Chateau St. Jean, Patz & Hall and Robert Craig, as well as Saxon Brown, Loring, Armida, Auteur and others.

Ed Durell, a food broker in San Francisco, acquired the land in 1977, intending to raise cattle but planted vines bill-600x880instead, and, as it turns out, this area, just at the foot of the Sonoma Mountains, was prime soil and climate for those grapes. In 1998, Durell sold the 200-acre vineyard, by now a prestigious site, to Bill and Ellie Price. Bill Price III, a co-founder of TPG Capital (image at right), which bought Beringer Wine Estates and sold it to Fosters and if that’s not a great introduction to the wine business I don’t know what is, and Ellie Price divorced in 2001 but each retains ownership of Durell Vineyard. Price is chairman of Kosta Brown Winery and Gary Farrell Winery — you know those names — and has interest in Kistler, another name you know. He purchased the well-known Gap’s Crown Vineyard in 2013.

Price’s Three Sticks label — named for his old surfing nickname — draws grapes from Durell as well as from other vineyards in Sonoma County and down to Santa Barbara County. These 2013s were made by Don Van Staaveren, who is now winemaker emeritus, having handed his former duties to director of winemaking Bob Cabral (former winemaker at Williams Selyam), associate winemaker Ryan Prichard and assistant winemaker Ashley Holland.

These wines were samples for review.
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13Chardonnay_Durell
I’m sorry to begin this series of reviews on a discouraging note, but the Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Valley, received the full in-house treatment, and it shows. Fermented in French oak barrels, aged for 15 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels, and undergoing complete malolactic fermentation, the wine came out bold, bright and brassy, dense and lush to the point of being viscous, bursting with candied and caramelized citrus and stone-fruit flavors, stridently spicy, cloying and creamy and lacking the saving grace of minerality. It is my understanding that some people like this overdone, exaggerated character in chardonnay, but not me. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 713 cases. Not recommended. About $50.

Now, on to more pleasant matters.
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12_OriginChardonnay_750-215x700-1-copy
Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Valley, fermented 28 days in concrete eggs and aged for 12 months, unusually, completely in stainless steel. No oak for this baby! It did not go through malolactic fermentation, the transformation of sharp malic (“apple-like”) acid to creamy lactic (“milk-like’) acid that can occur during barrel aging. The color is medium gold, and the first impression is of a bold, forthright but not flamboyant chardonnay that features quite spicy lemon and peach scents and flavors with notes of ripe and slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, all permeated by elements of cloves, quince and ginger. It’s a deep, almost rooty chardonnay with structure to burn and a smoky, cigarette paper character that lends depth and dimension. Crystalline acidity cuts through a supple texture and rich stone-fruit flavors enlivened by a burgeoning limestone quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 409 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $48. One of my favorite chardonnays produced in California.
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12_OneSkyChardonnay-292x10241
Unlike its stablemate Origin Chardonnay mentioned just above, the Three Sticks One Sky Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Mountain, ferments in French oak barrels and ages in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, for 15 months; it undergoes 100 percent malolactic. Sometimes that full oak treatment works out fine, thank you very much, but it has to be thoughtful and finely balanced. The color is bright, brassy gold to match the wine’s bright, brassy aromas and flavors. Lots of volume here, lots of structure and dimension, personality and character. Spiced and macerated grapefruit and pineapple have a slightly floral overlay, while the wine coats the mouth with ripe and slightly dusty citrus and stone-fruit flavors that open to hints of toffee and lightly candied and caramelized lemons, peaches and grapefruit. While the description of this panoply of sensual delights may sound overwhelming, the wine is actually deftly controlled and engaging, gliding over the palate with confidence and some fancy footwork. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 274 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $50.
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2012-RRV-PN_Bottle-Shot
The Three Sticks Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, aged 16 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby shading to a transparent rim; transporting and exotic notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras and rhubarb lend highlights to a macerated compote of cranberries and red and black cherries; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of smoke, lavender and heather. The texture is supremely satiny, with a luxurious drape on the palate that’s balanced by brisk acidity, slightly dusty tannins and touches of graphite and shale minerality, all at the service of tasty, spicy red and black fruit flavors. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 573 cases. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $60.
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2012-Sta-Rita-PN-James_Bottle-Shot
The Three Sticks “The James” Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills, gathers grapes from three familiar vineyards in this region of Santa Barbara County: Burning Creek, La Rinconada and (perhaps the best-known) Sanford & Benedict. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is an irresistible limpid medium ruby that shades to transparent at the rim; you could call this wine “cherries, cherries, cherries,” though the heady influence of black and red raspberries and currants is undeniable, along with notes of cloves and sassafras, graphite and lavender; a few moments in the glass pull up hints of pomegranate and rhubarb. It’s a supple, sleek and satiny pinot noir, whose slightly dusty tannins, clean acidity and burnished oak keep it on the sane side of succulence, though let’s admit that it’s really tasty, too. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 through 2013. Excellent. About $60.
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13Pinot_Durell
The Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, aged 16 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, but you don’t feel the oak influence until the finish, where the wood element feels sanded and burnished. The color is transparent medium ruby; aromas of sassafras and cloves, black and red cherries and currants are permeated by hints of loam and an autumnal briery-brambly quality, like some ancient root-like brew; give it a few minutes and it dredges up a mysterious and seductive floral tone, as if dried violets and lilacs had been steeped in oolong tea. It’s all quite extraordinary. In the mouth, well, taut acidity cuts a swath on the palate, leading the way for a texture that feels both delicate and tense, poignant and dynamic; deeply spiced red and black fruit flavors seem suspended in a foundation of lightly dusted tannins and an increasing lithic, graphite character. Altogether a beautiful performance, exquisitely balanced, tensile with power. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 585 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Exceptional. About $65.
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13_GapsCrownPinot
The Three Sticks Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, received the same oak regimen as the Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir ’13 mentioned just above, and for whatever reason, you feel the oak more in this wine, a persistent presence from mid-palate back through the finish. Still, this is pinot noir of fine detail and dimension, offering a light transparent ruby-magenta hue and a meaty, fleshy, roasted bouquet that pulls up fathoms of spice in the juicy, peppery red and black fruit scents. Again, the wine hints at some rooty, loamy tea steeped in bark and mushrooms, with an allusive and tantalizing floral element. Flavors of very ripe, sweet cherries and currants open to touches of cranberry and rhubarb, while a supple lithe texture runs like warm satin across the tongue. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 329 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Very Good+. About $65.
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