California


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

A sample for review.

You won’t find a sauvignon blanc much fresher than the just-released Stewart Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa Valley. The small winery, Stewart_Logofounded in 2000, is a close-knit family-run company whose winemaker is son-in-law Blair Guthrie, working with ubiquitous consultant Paul Hobbs. For its first foray into the variety, the winery whole-cluster pressed the grapes and fermented half in barrel and half in stainless steel. The color is palest straw-gold; arresting aromas of lime peel and guava, heather and hay are pert and lively and infused with notes of greengage and fig, fennel and lilac. On the palate, this wine runs fleetly and lightly, with a texture that’s partly lush and talc-like and partly lean and lithe, buoyed by bright acidity for pinpoint balance. The effect is quite dry and sprightly but juicy with citrus and stone-fruit delicately spiced with cloves and lent complexity by a burgeoning grassy-lemongrass element. 13.5 percent alcohol, and a delicious reflection of thoughtful winemaking. Production was 771 cases. Now through the end of 2018. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

Here’s a purpose-built rosé wine that lovers of the classic style don’t want to miss. By “purpose-built,” I mean that the Gary Farrell 15_ROSE_PRODUCT1Russian River Selection Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley, was not made as an after-thought or a quick decision to bleed-off some juice to help concentrate another red wine. The grapes were hand-harvested, from two Dutton Ranch vineyards in the Green Valley sub-appellation, specifically for this wine, at a point to keep the acidity vibrant, whole-cluster pressed and racked off to a stainless steel tank to ferment. After a few days, 40 percent of the juice was transferred to neutral French oak barrels for two weeks. After blending, the wine spent four months in stainless steel. The result is an ethereal rosé whose delicate nature is reflected in its beautiful pale coral-petal pink hue and its ethereal scents of strawberry, peach and blood orange wreathed with lilac and watermelon. This rosé displays lovely tensile strength, while bright acidity cleaves through a texture almost talc-like in softness; no push-over on the palate, though, the wine also embodies a line of slightly dusty river rocks and limestone minerality. The whole package is clean, refreshing and delightful, all permutations of its exquisite elegance. 13.2 percent alcohol. Perfect for Spring and Summer sipping with various sorts of patio and picnic fare — fried chicken, deviled eggs, cucumber and watercress sandwiches, shrimp and chicken salad. Winemaker for Garry Farrell Vineyards & Winery is Theresa Heredia. The eponymous founder of the winery sold it in 2004; it is now owned by The Vincraft Group. Production was 393 cases. Excellent. About $32, and Worth a Search.

A sample for review.

Not that there’s anything wrong with cabernet, merlot and pinot noir, that is when they’re thoughtfully-made and well-balanced, but these admired grapes and the renowned wines made from them cannot be our be-all and end-all when it comes to beverages. Today, for the second Weekend Wines Notes in a row, I look at wines fashioned from other grapes, 12 this outing, including both 100 percent varietal wines and some interesting blends. We cover examples from various points in California, a pair from Southern Oregon, a wine from Portugal, one from Austria, an august Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany and several from Chile. As usual with this series, I forgo the details of technical matters, history and geography for the sake of incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my wine-stained notebooks, in order to pique your interest and whet your palate. Prices range from $15 to $75. Enjoy! (Moderately, of course.)

These wines were samples for review.
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Apaltagua Grial Carmenere 2012, Apalta Valley, Colchagua, Chile. 14.5% alc. Very dark ruby shading to a purple rim; smoke, graphite, mint, eucalyptus and cedar; ripe and spicy red cherries and currants with a touch of plums and blueberries; a sizable wine, very dense and chewy, packed with dusty, velvety tannins and flinty minerality, feels a bit rock-ribbed and clasped by iron, clearly intended as a privileged and long-aging expression of the grape; try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 or ’32. Very Good+ for now with Excellent Potential. About $75.
Imported by Global Vineyard, Berkeley, Calif.
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Bonny Doon Cuvée R Grenache 2014, Monterey County. 14.5% alc. 270 cases. Medium ruby hue with a pale magenta rim; raspberries and plums, hints of tar and lavender, raspberry leaf and black tea; intriguing notes of red cherry and cherry pit; an aura slightly macerated and baked, with dried fruit and spices; wood smoke and loam; swingeing acidity and spare, slightly dusty tannins. One of my favorite wines to try every year. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $48.
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Bruce Patch Wines Carraras Ranch Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2013, Dry Creek Valley. 14.5% alc. 100 cases. A field blend With carignane, petite sirah and alicante bouschet, from vines planted in 1906. Dark ruby-purple; very ripe and spicy blackberry, black currant and blueberry, with a hint of boysenberry; notes of tapenade, fruit cake, tobacco and roasted fennel; lip-smacking acidity, tannins and loamy minerality keep it both lively and grounded; opens to touches of lavender, vanilla and cinnamon; finishes with notes of wild berries. A zinfandel that flaunts its purpose and struts its stuff but remains essentially balanced. Now through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $40.
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Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere 2014, Peumo, Chile. 14% alc. Inky violet-purple; warm, ripe, spicy and fleshy; plums, currants and mulberries, woodsmoke, cedar and dried rosemary; hints of black olive and bell pepper; sleek, slippery moderately dusty tannins; something not just robust here but wild, in its deep berry flavors, its dark, vivid acidity, its precipitous graphite character. Now through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Excelsior Wine Co., Old Brookville, N.Y.
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concha
Concha y Toro Serie Riberas del Cachapoal Gran Riserva Carmenere 2014, Peumo, Chile. 13.5% alc. Very dark ruby color; a warm, fairly generous melange of black currants and cherries permeated by black tea, tar and loam, cloves, allspice and lavender; framed by dusty, velvety tannins, an inky wine, opening to a finish flecked with cedar, black olive and bell pepper. Very tasty. Now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $17.
Excelsior Wines, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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esporao
Esporão Private Selection 2011, Garrafeira, Alentjo, Portugal. 14.5% Aragonez and alicante bouschet 40% each, syrah 20%. Inky-purple with a magenta rim; fresh and bright, notes of smoke, mint and graphite, spiced and macerated black and blue fruit; cedar, cloves, dried thyme and rosemary; robust, vibrant and juicy but stalwart with dusty, granitic tannins; pulls up green hints of olives and peppers and layers of leather and loam. Now through 2028 to ’30. Quite a performance. Excellent. About $65.
Imported by Adil Wines & liquors, New Bedford, Mass.
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gaja
Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta 2011, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany. 15% alc. 100% sangiovese. Medium-hued but intense ruby color; deeply dredged from the spice cabinet; macerated red and black cherries and currants, with all the sangiovese undertow of oolong tea, orange rind, lavender and rose petals, these qualities being hints within the elements of resinous cedar, iodine and a profound factor of dusty, granular tannin and oak; lithe, supple, muscular texture, ultimately well-balance despite the alcohol level and the wood-framed bastions. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2029 to ’33. Excellent. About $75.
Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Illinois
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Heinrich Zweigelt 2014, Burgenland, Austria. 12% alc. Certified biodynamic. Medium ruby-purple shading to transparent magenta; immediate Spring-like appeal of lavender and violets, opening to spicy blackberry, currant and plum scents and flavors; a little smoky and meaty; lithe supple texture animated by bright acidity and mild tannins; dry finish brings in graphite and a hint of mulberries. Needs rabbit. Now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Winebow, Inc., New York.
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Renwood Premier Old Vine Zinfandel 2014, Amador County. 14.5% alc. With 6% petite sirah, 5% barbera, 4% syrah, all from vines 50 to 103 years old. Opaque black purple with a glowing violet rim; black cherries and blueberry jam, mint, iodine, graphite and cloves; notes of lavender and bitter chocolate; very dry, enlivened by pinpoint acidity and founded on lavish, dusty tannins; a finish packed with granitic minerality, yet for all that, a classically-framed, delicious and highly drinkable zinfandel. Now through 2019 to ’20. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.
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Trivento Amado Sur 2014, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Malbec 79%, bonarda 11%, syrah 10%. Dark ruby-purple; first, lavender and tar, then notes of blackberries and blueberries, earthy briers and brambles, raspberry leaf and graphite with a hint of iodine; a dry, fairly tannic but lively and supple wine with lots of grit and bottom to it, entirely appropriate with hearty red meat preparations and pastas, or, say, a sausage pizza or bacon-cheeseburger. Very Good. About $15.
Imported by Excelsior Wines, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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troon mt
Troon Vineyard M*T Reserve 2014, Southern Oregon. 14.4% alc. 60.1% tannat, 39.9% malbec. 240 cases. Opaque purple center shading to transparent fuchsia; a beautifully conceived, well-knit, vibrant and vivid blend that marries mulberries and blackberries with dusty plums and brandied black cherries; plush tannins bolster firm but moderate tannins; clean acidity and graphite minerality cut through smoke and loam, mint and iodine and an overall aura of pure blueberry. Irresistible but with a slightly serious edge. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $50.
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troon tannat
Troon Vineyard Estate Tannat 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon. 14.4% alc. 169 cases. Dark dark ruby hue; red and black currants, cherries and plums, loaded with smoke and graphite, tobacco and blueberries, brambles and pomegranate; very intense and concentrated core of lavender, iodine, mint and bitter chocolate; dusty, iron-like tannins coat the palate, allowing for a supple velvety texture midst the granitic rigor; and for all that, a thoroughly balanced and drinkable wine appropriate for the biggest and most robust red meat preparations. Drink through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $35.
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The last time I posted an entry in this series was October 10, 2016, and, coincidentally, that post involved the Sarah’s Vineyard Estate sarahChardonnay 2014 and Estate Pinot Noir 2014, from Santa Clara Valley, 28 acres in the cool climate “Mt. Madonna” district of the southern Santa Cruz Mountains. Today it’s the turn of the winery’s straight-forward Santa Clara Valley offerings from 2014, a pair that is less expensive than the estate wines and produced in fairly larger quantities. This line was previously called the “Central Coast Series,” and still carries a Central Coast appellation. Owner and winemaker Tim Slater, who acquired the winery from founders Marilyn Clark and John Otterman in 2001, practices minimal intervention, especially in the barrel program, where new oak is kept strictly in the minority position.

These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform My Readers at the bidding of the Federal Trade Commission. This injunction does not apply to print writers, because they obviously are more trustworthy than bloggers.
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Aged 11 months in primarily neutral French oak barrels, the pure medium gold-colored Sarah’s Vineyard “Santa Clara Valley” Chardonnay 2014 is effusive in its classic pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors that feel slightly baked, a little crisp around the edges in its crystalline clarity and purpose; notes of white flowers, cloves and a hint of mango flesh out the effect. A very subtle oak patina bolsters the richness on the palate, while bright acidity and an element of limestone minerality keep the wine on an even keel, allowing a lovely tension between juicy flavors and dryness. The finish opens to touches of ginger and quince and a coastal shelf of flint. 13.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 or ’19. Production was 459 cases. Excellent. About $20, marking Good Value.
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The Sarah’s Vineyard “Santa Clara Valley” Pinot Noir 2014 aged 11 months in French oak, only 10 percent new barrels. The color is an entrancing limpid medium ruby hue, transparent at the rim; the wine is both woodsy and meadowy, by which I mean that it partakes of elements of forest floor and dried mushrooms as well as heather and potpourri, these aspects winsomely supporting notes of black and red cherries and currants infused with cloves, sandalwood and sassafras. This pinot noir is supple, lithe and sinewy on the palate, animated by acidity that cuts a swath and a clean mineral edge under tasty cherry flavors opening to notes of cranberry and pomegranate. The finish is spare and elegant. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Production was 1,211 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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The Smith-Madrone Riesling 2014, made by Charles and Stuart Smith high in Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain District, is a wine of smlabel_lr_ries_14unimpeachable authority and integrity. Fashioned from 42-year-old vines grown on steep slopes, the wine features piercing limestone and flint minerality, softened by notes of jasmine and honeysuckle, lime peel and lychee, gently spiced pears and lightly roasted peaches, all encompassed by the grape’s signature element of petrol or rubber eraser. Incisive acidity, like some energy source from deep in the earth, animates and etches the wine, keeping it brisk and lively in the mouth, though the texture embodies an ineffable and fabulously appealing talc-like softness; the tension between the chiseled nature of its mineral and acid components and the ripeness and allure of its fruit and mouth-feel is exquisite. This quite dry wine concludes in a finish that glitters with limestone and crystallized yellow fruit. 12.8 percent alcohol. If you know of a better riesling made in California, tell me (or send it to me). Drink now through 2020 to ’24, though I suspect that the wine’s tensile structure will sustain it to 2030. Production was 1,551 cases. Exceptional. About $30.

A sample for review.

Well, freakin’ BRRR, it got cold, and there’s even a chance of snow tonight, here in Memphis and elsewhere around the country. Morgan_label_Double_L_Syrah_2014_frontTime to break out a hearty, flavorful red wine for your dinner. How about the Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Syrah 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands — that’s in Monterey County, an east-facing ridge on the west side of the Salinas Valley. The vineyard is certified organic; the wine fermented with native yeasts and aged 14 months in French oak, 42 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a glowing purple rim, like royal raiment; the wine is ripe and juicy, intense and concentrated, offering notes of black cherries and plums permeated by leather and licorice, wood smoke, white pepper and violets. A burgeoning foresty-underbrush character lends support to sleek dusty tannins, and while the texture is lithe and supple, there’s a bit of velvety graphite resistance on the palate, a sense of the wine not giving in too easily to being consumed. Lovely stuff, with a serious slightly chiseled mineral edge. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 241 cases. Winemaker was Sam Smith. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $42.

A sample for review.

Here’s another entry in this ongoing series about cabernet sauvignon wines from Napa Valley. Few would deny that this area in California, the Valley itself in general and its sub-appellations, produces some of the finest cabernet-based wines in the world. Few also would deny that sometimes — even frequently — the wines are too alcoholic, too ripe and over-oaked. This roster of nine examples 2013 and 2014 seems to avoid the excesses and exaggerations to which Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon can be subject, treading the lines among structure, fruit, acidity, tannin and mineral character with deftness and dimension. It’s true that most of these wines are large in size and intent and will require two or three years in the cellar (or closet or in the box under your bed) before they become drinkable, but of course that situation depends on what your notion of drinkable is; most of these would be fine tonight with a steak. While revealing differences in detail because of vintage variations, microclimate, vineyard and winery techniques, these nine wines also feel pretty classic in the Napa Valley manner of ripe black fruit scents and flavors; lithe, dusty tannins; and pronounced graphite minerality, all bound by a scintillating chiseled structure. These are expensive wines, intended to age up to 20 years or more and so not the sort of product one buys on a whim. Still, such wines serve as a benchmark for a grape and a region. These wines were samples for review.
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Winemaker Jennifer Williams slips 3 percent petit verdot and 1.5 percent merlot into the Arrow & Branch Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, which aged 20 months in French oak, 80 percent new barrels. The color is opaque ruby-magenta, epitomizing the concept of dense radiance; you smell the cassis and cedar from a foot away from the glass, to which the wine adds notes of plums and raspberries, briers, brambles and moss, lavender and licorice, iodine and iron, and an incisive strain of graphite; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of ancho chili and espresso. Dusty, granitic tannins coat the palate, and, friends, that’s about all there is to this wine and its manifestation of a huge structure, an intense texture riven by bold acidity, and a big, bold finish, 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 245 cases. Built for the cellar; try from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 or ’33. Excellent potential. About $100.
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The Arrow & Branch Dr. Crane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, ups the ante a bit in terms of the oak regimen, this resting also 20 months but in 85 percent new barrels. This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon that offers a dense ruby hue shading to a transparent rim; aromas of allspice and sandalwood, roasted fennel and graphite open to notes of black currant and raspberry, blueberry and pomegranate, against a background of smoke and wood-ash. The balance here is between spicy, juicy black fruit flavors and big, dusty, granitic tannins, and as the minutes pass, the wines becomes more austere, yet also imbued with a strain of blueberry tart and bitter chocolate. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 288 cases. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’32. Excellent. About $175 (a bottle).
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cliff lede cab
The color of the Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stags Leap District, is a riveting opaque ruby with a bright magenta rim. The wine is a blend of 80 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent petit verdot, 6 percent malbec and 2 percent each cabernet franc and merlot, utilizing what used to be called the “five classic red grapes of Bordeaux,” though malbec is as rare now in Bordeaux as sauvignon blanc in Burgundy. This is all ripe, spicy plums and cherries coated with iodine and iron and loads of cedar, tobacco and graphite; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of roasted fennel and lavender, roots and branches. It’s a very dry wine but pretty darned plush on the palate, though the opulent texture is balanced by stirring acidity and tannins that grow more rigorous as the wine airs; the finish adds more foresty elements of underbrush and heather, with leather and loam. 14.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $78.
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The Flora Springs Trilogy Red Wine 2013, Napa Valley, is a deep, dark brooding Titan of a wine, a blend of 87 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent petit verdot and 6 percent malbec that aged 22 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels. The color is inky-ebony with a rim that allows a peek at ruby-garnet; dusty, granitic tannins coat the palate with a profound mineral character, yet for all its size, I believe that this wine — chiseled, etched and honed — portends sleek elegance in its future. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’33. Excellent. About $80.
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The Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Rutherford, Napa Valley, is 100 percent varietal and aged 28 months in French oak, 67 percent new barrels. The dense black-purple hue and the intensity, the concentration of black fruit scents and flavors, and the sweeping dimension of graphite-ribbed dusty tannins mark this as a wine that needs years to develop company manners and an indoor voice. Still, it offers interesting notes of cedar and rosemary, tobacco and cigarette paper, loam and pencil shavings, all structural elements to be sure, but encouraging. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’21 through 2030 to ’35. Excellent potential. About $70.
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The Mount Veeder Winery Reserve 2013, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley, is a blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, nine percent merlot, four cabernet franc and 2 malbec, aged 20 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels. The wine is a stalwart expression of size and dimension in a red wine, featuring an opaque black-purple hue and intense aromas of cedar, tobacco and roasted coffee beans, heather and wild mountain herbs and swaths and swales of dusty graphite-infused minerality. It fills the mouth with a tide of deep, grainy, velvety tannins, and frankly, I wouldn’t touch this until 2019 or ’20; it should build an aging curve through 2030 to ’35. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent potential. About $100.
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Here’s a cabernet-based wine that doesn’t try to ingratiate itself, either in its formidable structural elements or even in its 2014_CabernetSauvignon-labelpotential pleasures. The Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, is a blend of 84 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent merlot, 4 petit verdot and 2 each malbec and cabernet franc; it aged 18 months in 45 percent new French and American oak barrels and 55 percent two-year-old French and American oak. From its opaque ruby-purple hue to its intense and concentrated scents and flavors of spicy, macerated black currants, cherries and plums to its profoundly tannic-graphite character, this is one for the cellar, at least for a couple of years. Nuance develops with time in the glass, bringing up notes of lavender and mocha, potpourri, cedar and dried rosemary (with that herb’s innate touch of resinous austerity), as well as intriguing hints of wild berries and fruit cake. Mainly, though, this wine is all about the architecture of possibility; try from 2019 or ’20 through 2029 to ’32. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $75.
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Brothers Stuart and Charles Smith don’t fool around. Their Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Spring Mountain District, made from smlabel_lr_cab_1341-year-old dry-farmed vines 1,800 to 2,000 feet atop Spring Mountain, is built to last. The wine is a blend of 82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent merlot that aged 18 months in French oak, 75 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a magenta rim; you feel the steep mountain pedigree in the wine’s elements of graphite, iodine and iron, walnut shell and dry, austere herbs and heather; black cherries and currants are plumped with cloves, black pepper and mint, while the wine layers briery, underbrush and slightly raspy, leafy notes through the dry, granitic finish. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’35. Excellent. About $50, a bargain considering the present roster.
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Grapes for the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Artemis” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, derive partly from the winery’s estate vineyards stags leapand partly from other vineyards in the valley. The wine is 98 percent cabernet sauvignon, with a scant 1 percent each merlot and malbec; aging was 19 months, 33 percent new French oak, 10 percent new American. It’s a dense, vibrant and resonant cabernet that needs a few years to allow its more approachable personality to emerge. For now, the color is opaque ruby with a glowing purple rim; its character centers around elements of briers and brambles, cedar and tobacco, leather and loam, that gradually allow hints of ripe but intense and concentrated black currants and cherries to appear, along with notes of iodine, iron and mint. Dusty, slightly gritty tannins are prelude to a sleek, lithe finish that feels chiseled from quartz and granite. 14.5 percent alcohol. I predict a great future for this wine, say from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’34. Excellent. About $60.
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The grapes for the Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards “The Blue Note” 2012, Malibu Coast, were grown in Newton Canyon, at an elevation of 1,450 blue notefeet, above the fog line. The wine, a blend of 44 percent merlot, 36 percent cabernet sauvignon and 20 percent cabernet franc, aged 21 months in French oak, 56 percent new barrels. The color is a striking dark ruby shading to a magenta rim; boy, this is a smoky, ripe, fleshy wine that features notes of blueberries and black currants permeated by cloves, allspice — with a touch of that characteristic slightly astringent woody nature — and ancho chili, while a few minutes in the glass bring in exotic hints of potpourri and sandalwood, black licorice and bitter chocolate. It’s plush and succulent on the palate, but balanced by bright acidity, moderately dusty tannins and graphite-infused minerality. Under the black and blue fruit flavors, the tannic-foresty-mineral elements increase as the moments pass, providing a briery-woodsy finish and firm structure for aging, say through 2020 to ’22; perfect for a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Production was 199 cases. 14.8 percent alcohol. Malibu Coast was granted AVA status in July 2014, largely under the auspices of this winery’s owner Elliott Dolin. The AVA is 46 miles long, hugging the Pacific Coast northwest of Los Angeles, and eight miles deep. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

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