California


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.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Or luscious wines, or wines that a certain writer calls “sexy” or “hedonistic,” or wines that base their raison d’etre on ripeness and juiciness, succulence and opulence. I think that these wines reflect the infantile nature of the American palate trained to sweetened iced tea and sugary sodas or, for the Baby Boomer generation, Kool-Aid and Tang. American wine consumers seem to want their taste buds coddled and cosseted by the saturated ripeness of long-hanging grapes plumped with sugar and by velvety textures that slide comfortingly through the mouth and down the throat.

As a culture, Americans typically desire immediate gratification, a tendency that’s probably our most consequential export to the rest of the world. With a sniff and a sip, the gorgeous wine gets right in there and provides quick fulfillment, a burst of pleasure. “Wow, that’s gorgeous!” What happens next, though? Such wines may be superficially attractive, even seductive, and I won’t deny that a wine with the capability to draw you in irresistibly isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In the end, however, the gorgeous wines don’t deliver the true promise that great wines hold: elegance and finesse married to power and dynamism; a structure that feels embedded in the grapes’ origin in the vineyard and the vineyard in a region; acidity that brings the necessary matanzas merlotvitality to the wine’s essence and cuts a swath on the palate; the balance among fruit, tannin, acid, oak and minerality that soothes, stimulates and challenges the senses and the intellect.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. A couple of nights ago, to accompany meatloaf and roasted potatoes, I opened a bottle of the Matanzas Creek Jackson Park Vineyard Merlot 2012, Bennett Valley. (Matanzas Creek is owned by Jackson Family Wines.) Bennett Valley, approved as an AVA in 2003, largely at the instigation of Matanzas Creek Winery, lies almost entirely within the Sonoma Valley AVA and overlaps somewhat into Sonoma Coast and Sonoma Mountain AVAs. The vineyard stands at an average elevation of 600 feet. The wine is 98 percent merlot with one percent each cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc; it aged 20 months in French and American oak, the French being 23 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Marcia Monahan-Torres. Yes, that’s the wonky technical data that may bore you silly, but I love it.

The color is deep ruby-purple with a glowing magenta rim. The aromas launch from the glass in what’s initially a subdued skein of ripe and slightly macerated black and red currants and cherries with notes of raspberry and blueberry; a few minutes’ airing brings in hints of cloves and sandalwood and then a great bloom of violets and lilacs, backed by licorice and bitter chocolate, all in a lovely welter of sensual delight. Yeah, pretty damned gorgeous. Within this panoply of pleasure, however, lurks a deeper influence of graphite, something root-like, briery and brambly, with sage and a touch of rosemary, and deeper yet, a layer of lithic iodine and iron. The wine is shifting, you see, from gorgeous to profound, a transition that occurs on the palate, also, where the ripeness and allure of the spicy red and black fruit flavors are bolstered by bright and active acidity and given depth and dimension by dusty, woodsy tannins that partake of dried mushrooms and forest-floor and a burgeoning tide of granitic minerality. This is in no way, you see, a merely gorgeous wine. The Matanzas Creek Jackson Park Vineyard Merlot 2012 doesn’t sate your desire for wine or weary your palate by its opulence and velvety succulence. Instead, it leads you on from sip to sip, a wine to savor for the very savory qualities that more flamboyant wines lack. This should drink beautifully through 2020 to ’24. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $60.

Perhaps the virtues I extol demand too much of wine, which is, after all, only a beverage, an agricultural product, though I think that wine — including Champagne and the adjuncts Port and Cognac — possesses the capacity to be the most complex and satisfying result of agricultural endeavor. (I’ll hear arguments for Scotch, too.) Not that every wine ought to promote deep contemplation and examination; sometimes you just want a decent quaff to knock back with a burger or pizza. Still, I think we deserve wines that exhibit finer character and more essential structure than the prettiness and hyperbole of ripeness and plumpness allow.

… and, yes, friends, it looks like it’s climbing clear up to the sky.
jayson
What is this trope about table wines that bear the cloying impress of alcohol levels over 15 percent, even 16 percent and higher? Some winemakers in California seem to fall into the same camp as many producers of craft beer, who believe that the hoppier a brew is the better it is, intrinsically, so, by parallel reasoning, since wine is an alcoholic beverage, let’s pump up the alcohol for a wild ride.

There was a time when wines produced in California came in at alcohol levels between about 11.5 and 12.5 percent, maybe up to 13.5. The norm now is 14.5 percent, with the result that red wines — cabernets, pinot noirs, syrahs, merlots and, especially, zinfandel wines — are riper and juicier but also convey an impression of sweetness and sometimes, on the finish, of heat. These exaggerated qualities increase as the alcohol content creeps past 15 percent and inches toward or past 16. The problems intensify because many of these wines are also exceedingly tannic, so any sense of balance is lost in an entity that turns out to be powerful and dynamic but awkward, clunky and incoherent. I read the deliriously approving descriptions of some of these wines and reviews from other writers, and I have to think, surely we’re not talking about the same product, as I’m sure they will think about me and my fairly harsh evaluations.

So, today, I offer brief notices of beyond-the-pale, high-alcohol, lurching, unbalanced red wines, along with a few that manage to pull off the feat and achieve a measure of poise. Notice that most of these examples are zinfandels from Lodi, Amador County and Dry Creek Valley; the great and surprising exception is a beautifully-made Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon that registers 15.2 percent alcohol. The order is by increasing amounts of alcohol, starting at 15 percent. Proceed at your own risk.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Renwood Clarion Red Wine 2012, Amador County. 15% alc. Dark ruby color; pungent with ripe raspberry and blueberry infused with briery-brambly notes, graphite and lavender; very dry, quite spicy, juicy with red and black fruit flavors; you feel a touch of raisiny heat on the finish. Very Good+. About $20.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Renwood Grandpere Zinfandel 2012, Amador County. 15% alc. Medium ruby hue with a light garnet rim; sweet spices, mint, ripe cherries and cranberries with touches of blueberry and boysenberry; quite dry, plush, velvety tannins, large-framed but palatable; a bit of alcoholic heat mars the dense, lithic finish. Very Good+. About $40.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Priest Ranch Coach Gun 2011, Napa Valley. 15.1% alc. A cabernet sauvignon-based blend. Dark ruby color; smoke, loam, graphite, lavender; black currants and cherries and blueberries, all deeply spiced and macerated; cedar and mint; energized by pert acidity; very dry dusty out-of-scale tannins, austere finish that falters out of balance. Not a success. About $75.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Bradford Mountain Grist Vineyard Syrah 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 15.2% alc. 75% syrah, 25% zinfandel. Opaque black-ruby with an intense violet rim; big, bold and very spicy; ripe and fleshy blackberry and blueberry fruit with an infusion of ligonberry, blackberry jam and blueberry tart; deep, plush, dusty tannins that coat the palate; every element that I look for in a syrah wine is absent, muted into anonymity by ripeness, alcohol and tannin. Awkward and unbalanced. About $32.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley. (The second label of Pahlmeyer.) 15.2% alc. A complete, harmonious and complex red wine. Dark ruby-purple hue; a very ripe, fruit-infused wine, high-toned and surprisingly elegant in its balance; intense and concentrated, with notes of cassis and red and black cherries permeated by iron and iodine, graphite, ancho chili and meat blood; powerfully dynamic, ferrous and savory, deep, rich and spicy with a resonant mineral core and a concluding touch of blueberry tart; a sleek, polished and chiseled cabernet. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $65 to $75.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Truett-Hurst Old Vine Burning Man Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 15.3% alc. Opaque black-ruby with a magenta rim; a strapping, palate-stomping tannic wine, pungent with spiced and macerated black currants, plums and blueberries, pomegranate and boysenberry; lots of leather and loam; formidable structure, dusty, gravelly and austere. Not a success. About $38.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Renwood Premium Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Amador County. 15.5% alc. Medium ruby hue with a garnet rim; a lovely blooming, floral and spicy bouquet, evolves to fruitcake, loam and brambles, bitter chocolate; blueberries, mint and pomegranate; a bit of an after-burn but not heavy, over-ripe or obvious; still, the finish is tight and austere. Very Good+. About $20.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Michael David Winery Earthquake Zinfandel 2012, Lodi. 15.5% alc. Moderately dark ruby hue; very ripe, spiced and macerated plums, currants and cherries with a slightly raisiny fruitcake inflection; large-framed and quite lively; dense, dusty, chewy, infused with graphite and lithic tannins that coat the palate; still, surprisingly well-balanced, really luscious for those who want luscious wines (not me). Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $26.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Tin Barn Vineyards Coryelle Fields Vineyard Syrah 2012, Sonoma Coast. 15.5% alc. Opaque ruby hue with a magenta rim; both intense and concentrated while being very ripe, smoky and spicy; heaps of leather and loam and a tide of black fruit flavors, but distinctly more zin-like than syrah, with a high-alcohol zin’s off-balance element of cloying fruit and austere tannins. Doesn’t work. About $27.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Tin Barn Los Chamizal Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Sonoma Valley. 15.6% alc. Dark ruby with a much paler rim; a lovely bouquet of smoke, lavender and cloves, mint, sandalwood, fruitcake and blackberries; a big, firm, tannic wine that just manages to hold the line against over-ripeness and austerity; it takes a risk and the risk feels worth it; still, you feel some slightly sweet/parching alcoholic heat on the finish. Very Good+. About $29.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Tin Barn Gilsson Vineyard Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley. 15.6% alc. Solid dark ruby hue; a refreshing bouquet of mint, lavender and black cherries until the alcohol wafts up and sort of stops everything in its tracks; very dry, spicy, dense, tannic and austere. Not recommended. About $29.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Watts Winery Upstream Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne, Lodi. 15.6% alc. Dark ruby hue with a mulberry rim; an immense presence, fairly well-balanced, considering, but takes on overwhelming ferrous and sanguinary elements and huge dusty tannins; the saving grace is that it’s not sweet, hot or cloying, but not quite coherent or reconciled either. Very Good. About $25.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Truett-Hurst Old Vine Red Rooster Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 15.7% alc. Medium ruby-cherry color, not super-dark or extracted; very ripe, very spicy and fruity; black and red currants and plums with touches of lavender, licorice and saturated boysenberry; an alcohol after-burn of heat, spice and sweetness, so the finish clashes with the wine’s dryness and austerity on the palate, fundamentally unbalanced. Doesn’t work. About $35.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Bradford Mountain Grist Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Dry creek Valley. 15.8% alcohol. 88.2% zinfandel, 10.6% syrah, 1.2% petite sirah. Medium ruby color with a lighter rim; cloves, red and black berries, interesting notes of caraway and sandalwood, but tromps across the palate with boots of dry, austere and astringent tannins coupled with the sweetness of high alcohol in the finish. Nope. About $32.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Truett-Hurst Old Vine Rattler Rock Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 15.8% alc. Radiant medium ruby hue; a broad, deep, very dry, quite austere wine, awkward, unbalanced, hot and sharp on the finish. Nuff said. About $35.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Harney Lane Zinfandel 2011, Lodi. 15.9% alc. Dark ruby-purple; ripe, spiced and macerated blackberries and blueberries infused with cloves and graphite, a sort of mineral-laced cocktail of sweet and roasted black and blue fruit, touched with pomegranate and brandy-soaked raisins; acidity plows a row on the palate, preceding formidably dusty, lithic tannins leading to an austere finish. Maybe with a steak, or maybe not. Very Good+. About $22.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Priest Ranch Somerston Estate Zinfandel 2012, Napa Valley. 16.2% alc. Medium ruby with a garnet rim; cloves, allspice and sandalwood make an exotic festoon; black and red currants and plums, with notes of blueberries, lavender and red licorice; outlandishly plush, dusty yet rigorous tannins dominate the palate, yet the finish is over-ripe and sweet. Awkward and ungainly. Forget it. About $40.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Martinelli Lolita Ranch Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley. 16.3% alc. 253 cases. When I see that a table wine tops the charts at 16.3 percent alcohol, my reaction tends to run along the lines of “You have to be fucking kidding me,” but no, they’re not kidding. Moderate ruby color, almost transparent; roasted blackberries, currants and plums; fruitcake; very spicy and peppery; cloying alcoholic sweetness and heat; very dry, formidably austere tannins; clunky and chunky. Doesn’t work. About $52.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Rombauer Vineyards is well-known for its zinfandels, which I consider among the best in California, and its rich, full-throated, California-style chardonnays, which I cannot drink. Today, however, I am happy to include, as the 2014 Romb_SB_f+b_v5100th entry in the Wine of the Day series, the Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Yes, 2015! Harvest for the grapes occurred in the second and third weeks of August last year, the wine was made and rested for a few months, 90 percent in stainless steel tanks, 10 percent in neutral French oak barrels, and will actually be released in February, so jot down one of those little remindy note things on your phone. This wine marks the first national release of a sauvignon blanc for the winery; the first vintage, the 2014, was available only through the tasting room. So, the color is a shimmering pale straw-gold with an allusive green inflection. The lively bouquet offers grapefruit, lime peel and lemongrass, gooseberry and a subliminal trace of jasmine and honeysuckle, all enveloped in a lovely dusty-sunny-leafy fig character. The wine slides across the palate with a sense of supple presence yet with litheness and lightness; spiced pear and stone-fruit dominate in the mouth with the merest touch of guava and mango. Neither the tropical nor the floral element is emphasized, lending this fairly tart, limestone-influenced sauvignon blanc a feeling of ineffable balance. The finish concludes with a wisp of bracing grapefruit peel. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review.

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

A sample for review.

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

All of these selections were samples for review or were tasted at wholesaler trade events.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
kerner
Abbazia di Novacella Kerner 2013, Valle Isarco, Alto Adige, Italy. Kerner is a white hybrid grape created as recently as 1969. It is found primarily in Germany but certainly performed well in this section of Alto Adige. Excellent. About $19.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________
baur
Francois Baur Brut Réserve nv, Crémant d’Alsace, France. Pinot blanc, riesling, chardonnay, pinot gris. Excellent. About $18.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
cattin riesling
Joseph Cattin Riesling 2013, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $14.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
chevalier_muscadet_2010_hi_res
Eric Chevalier Clos de la Butte 2013, Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu sur Lie 2013, Loire Valley, France. Excellent. About $16.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
arneis_le_madri_btl_535px
Michele Chiarlo Le Madri Roero Arneis 2014, Piedmont, Italy. 100 percent arneis grapes. Excellent. About $18.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________
2014_Sauvignon_Blanc_label_rgb1
Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $18.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Eguia_Rosado_FT
Viña Eguía Rosado 2014, Rioja, Spain. 80 percent tempranillo, 20 percent garnacha. Very Good+. About $12.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
cava
Isaac Fernandez Seleccíon Biutiful Cava Rosé nv, Penedes, Spain. Excellent. About $15.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
schloss-gobelsburg-gobelsburger-riesling-kamptal-austria-10224971
Schloss Gobelsburg “Gobelsburger” Riesling 2013, Kamptal, Austria. Excellent. About $18.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________
Hidalgo_Fino
Emilio Hildago Fino Jerez Seco nv, Jerez, Spain. Excellent. About $14 (500 milliliter bottle).
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
leitz
Leitz Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Trocken 2013, Rheingau, Germany. Excellent. About $20.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
martini-cab
Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $20.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________
masi
Masi Campofiorin 2011, Rosso del Veronese IGT, Italy. Corvino, rondinella and molinara grapes. Excellent. About $18.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
mud-house-sauvignon-blanc-marlborough-new-zealand-10126095
Mud House Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, New Zealand. Excellent. About $17.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
pazo
Pazo San Mauro Albariño 2014, Rías Baixas, Spain. Excellent. About $19.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________
ped sb
Pedroncelli East Side Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $15.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2012_domaine_perraud_macon_villages_vieilles_vignes
Domaine Perraud Vielles Vignes Mâcon-Villages 2013, Mâconnais, France. 100 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $20.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Amauta-Absoluto-Torrontes
El Porvenir de Cafayate Amauta Absoluto Torrontés 2012, Salta, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
prodigo
Prodigo Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Friuli Grave, Italy. Excellent. About $11.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
scaia-garganega
Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Bianca 2014, delle Venezia IGT, Italy. The label asserts 55 percent garganega, 45 percent chardonnay grapes. Press materials and website say 50 percent garganega, 30 percent chardonnay, 20 percent trebbiano Soave. Whatever. Excellent. About $11.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
segries
Château de Ségriès Côtes-du-Rhône 2013, Rhone Valley, France. 50 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah, 10 percent each cinsault and carignane. Excellent. About $15.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
charles_thomas_cotes_du_rhone_rouge_hq_label
Charles Thomas Côtes-du-Rhône 2013, Rhone Valley, France. (Maison Jean-Baptiste Bejot) 50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache, 10 percent mourvedre. Very Good+. About $12.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
valentina
La Valentina 2014, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Italy. Rosé of montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Very Good+. About $12.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
VR_Label_14_WHITE4_Front
Vina Robles “White 4” 2014, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara County. 54 percent viognier, 22 percent vermentino, 15 verdelho, 9 sauvignon blanc. Excellent. About $16.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Zemmer-Pinot_Bianco_Square
Peter Zemmer Punggl Pinot Blanc 2013, Alto Adige, Italy. Excellent. About $18.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Here’s a red wine blend that will warm your hearts during these chilly January days and nights and serve as gratifying accompaniment to hearty winter-time fare. You might think that the Head High Red Wine 2013, North Red-595x960Coast, made a stab at an interesting Bordeaux-style blend, with unusual emphasis on malbec, what with its 36 percent malbec, 20 percent merlot and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, but the addition of 13 percent zinfandel and 11 percent grenache ensures that we’re in classic, eclectic California blend territory. The wine qualifies for a North Coast designation by way of 74 percent Sonoma County, 14 percent Lake County and 12 percent Napa County. It aged 15 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Samuel Spencer. The color is dark ruby with a glowing magenta rim; aromas of red and black currants and plums are bolstered by notes of blueberries, cloves and sandalwood, while a few minutes in the glass bring in tones of iodine and mint, briers and brambles. These multi-layered qualities segue naturally to the palate, where the wine builds a dusty, graphite-laden tannic presence that leads to a dry, lithic finish, neither factor diminishing spicy and tasty black and red berry flavors. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. For every two bottles of Head High wines sold, $1 goes to the charities, Sustainable Surf and Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. Excellent. About $30.

A sample for review.

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

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

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

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

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

La Jota Vineyard Co. W.S. Keyes Vineyards Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. 296 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
cuvee rose
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rosé Brut nv. 100 percent Grand Cru pinot noir. Excellent. About $99.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
laurent 2006
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2006. Excellent. About $65.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
lokoya
Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $350.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
ember-site
Loomis “Ember” Red Wine 2012, Napa Valley. Syrah, grenache, mourvedre. 75 cases. Excellent. About $38.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
maggy
Maggy Hawk “Afleet” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 156 cases. Exceptional. About $66.

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

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

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
taylor
Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Porto 2012, Portugal. Exceptional. About $53.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
joon
Tin Barn “Joon” Coryelle Fields Vineyard Rosé of Syrah 2014, Sonoma Coast. 158 cases. Excellent. About $23.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
torre
Torre San Martino Vigna della Signore 2013, Colli di Faenza Bianco, Italy. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, albana grapes. Excellent. $NA.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
two shepherds logo
Two Shepherds Grenache Rosé 2014, Sonoma Coast. 90 cases. Exceptional. About $24.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
11_barolo_castiglione1-232x686
Vietti Castiglione Barolo 2011, Piedmont, Italy. 100 percent nebbiolo grapes. Excellent. About $50.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
chateau-villa-bel-air-graves-france-10213716
Chateau Villa Bel-Air 2013, Graves, Bordeaux. 65 percent sauvignon blanc, 35 percent semillon. Excellent. About $25.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________–
2012-Jordan-PN-300x207
Youngberg Hill Jordan Block Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley. 300 cases. Excellent. About $50.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Two excellent blanc de noirs sparkling wines — 100 percent pinot noir — from California.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
McIntyre
Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, the McIntyre Vineyard L’homme Qui Ris nv, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, is essentially a blanc de noirs sparkling wine. The name means “the man who laughs.” It was made in the traditional method of Champagne, from the winery’s sustainable estate vineyard, and aged on the lees in bottle for a minimum of two years. The color is a very pale blond hue, animated by a silver tempest of tiny glinting bubbles; notes of roasted lemon, lemongrass and lime peel contain a bare hint of red currents and raspberries, against a background of brioche and wet stones. The whole enterprise is supported by whiplash acidity and a scintillating mineral element, call it steel etched by limestone and sea salt, yet the overall effect is of tissues of delicacy melded by tensile energy. Lovely purity and intensity. Winemaker was Steve McIntyre. Excellent. About $36.

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

A sample for review.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

« Previous PageNext Page »