California


Here’s a chardonnay that toes the line between richness and elegance with thrilling deftness. The Benovia Winery Chardonnay 2013, Russian River Valley, derives mainly from the winery’s benoviaMartaella Estate Vineyard. It’s barrel-fermented, with indigenous yeasts, and aged 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Mike Sullivan. The color is a pale gold that almost shimmers in the glass; it’s a chardonnay of wonderful purity and intensity, offering aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince and crystallized ginger, with a hint of the tropical, a touch of musk, and notes of lilac and heather. Nothing overblown or strident here, nor creamy or toasty, as in so many chardonnays from Russian River, yet the wine’s balance and integrity hinge on pinpoint focus and steely resolve, taking a risk with the integration of lushness and limestone spareness; the oak is like a whisper along the wine’s arc of bright acidity and mineral structure. On the palate, you feel subtle elements of figs, spiced pear and lemon curd, a bit of dusty leafiness, and then a finish that brings in some rigor of grapefruit pith and flint. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 1,580 cases. We drank this bottle last night as accompaniment to seared salmon with a harissa crust and fingerling potatoes, split, tossed in olive oil, smoked paprika, cumin and chili powder, browned in a cast-iron skillet, then roasted in a 500-degree oven. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $36.

A sample for review. The label image is one vintage behind.

masut 14
On February 8, 2014, I posted the first entry about Jake and Ben Fetzer and the initial offering from their all-pinot noir winery, Masút. I liked their Pinot Noir 2012, Mendocino County, quite a lot and gave it an Excellent rating. Here’s a link to that post and review. Now, we come to the offerings — a regular bottling and a “reserve” — from vintage 2013, which I tasted four to six months ago, and the just released 2014. Notice that the ’12 version aged 10 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels, while the ’13 and ’14 aged 15 months in French oak, 50 percent new. The ’13 “Two Barrels” aged 15 months in 100 percent new French oak. The increase in the oak regimen is a conscious choice by the winemakers that I consider somewhat misguided — the wines lack the elegance, finesse and eloquence of the best pinot noirs — but particularly in the case of the “Two Barrels.” On the other hand, for pinots that plumb the grape’s dark side, I like the regular ’13 and ’14 very much.

These wines were samples for review.
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Let’s start with that current release. The Masút Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Eagle Peak, Mendocino County, offers an ebon ruby hue shading to a transparent magenta rim; first come the spices and earthiness in the form of damp loam, cloves and sandalwood, followed by notes of ripe black cherries and currants permeated by smoke and graphite; a few minutes in the glass bring in heady aromas of rose petals steeped in oolong tea. Yes, the effect is almost deliriously attractive. On the palate, this is a deep, almost brooding pinot noir, rich, supple and lithe, with a structure prolonged by slightly dusty tannins and bright acidity; the black fruit flavors feel firmly rooted in the soil from which the vines sprang. This is the dark succulent side of pinot noir. 14.7 percent alcohol. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. Production was 1,800 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22, especially with seared duck breast or grilled veal chops. Excellent. About $45.
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The color of the Masút Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Eagle Peak, Mendocino County, is dark ruby shading to a transparent mulberry/magenta edge; what appealing life and vibrancy this pinot noir displays, with its extraordinary bouquet of red cherries and currants, rose petals and red licorice, rhubarb, sassafras and cranberry; it’s a large-framed pinot noir — the alcohol content is 14.9 percent — generous and expansive, supple and satiny, warm and spicy but with a finger of cool minerality running through it. A few minutes in the glass bring in notes of heather, sage and pomegranate. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. 1,500 cases. Drink now through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $40.
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The Masút Two Barrels Pinot Noir 2013, Eagle Peak, Mendocino County, has one barrel too many for my taste. (Actually, it’s a selection of what the brothers considered the best two barrels from the harvest.) It aged 15 months in all new French oak barrels, and, friends, that was too much time in too much new oak. The color is dark ruby shading to a mulberry-magenta rim and a fine line of transparency; spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants are inflected with notes of plums, rhubarb, graphite and loam. The texture is supremely supple and suave, but it takes just a few moments for you to feel the tug of wood, a tide that gradually takes over, permeates the wine and mutes any of the grape’s expressive qualities. The 51.1 percent alcohol content doesn’t help either. Production was 50 cases. If you like oak and alcohol, this one’s for you, but it’s not for me. About $60.
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I know that some of My Readers are thinking, “Um, F.K., why are you telling us about pinot noirs from 2012? Haven’t these wineries released their 2013s? Aren’t you, like, a little behind the times here?” Laggard, yes, but trying to catch up. And besides, many of these pinots from 2012 still have a retail presence around the country, in physical stores and online. Where you can find them, buy them, because at a bit more than three years after harvest, some of these pinot noirs are drinking beautifully and will continue to do so for four to six more years. To clarify matters, I didn’t just taste these wines; they have been in my notebooks in jottings that go back to last Spring. I am not behind in the experience but in the organizing and publishing. I offer, then, brief reviews of 18 wines that range geographically from Mendocino County in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south. As usual in the Weekend Wine Notes, I avoid technical, historical, geological and personal information for the sake of incisive but heart-felt reviews meant to tease your taste-buds and pique your interest. These wines were all samples for review.
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FC anderson
Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson valley. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby color; a finely meshed web of smoky black and red cherries and currants (a bit macerated and roasted), briers and loam, lavender and rose petals; bright acidity, moderately sleek and satiny texture, with supporting slightly dusty tannins and integrated oak; the spice element burgeons from mid-palate back through the finish. Now through 2017 to ’18. Very Good+. About $30.
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FC middleridge_pinot_noir_2012
Ferrari-Carano Middleridge Ranch Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. 14.6% alc. Medium ruby color, slight fading to magenta; smoky and spicy black and red cherries; dust, graphite and loam; bare hints of lavender and violets; very dry, with leathery tannins and dominating oak that feels a bit sanded and polished; could use more balance, meaning less oak. Now through 2017 or ’19. Very Good. About $NA.
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FC sky-high2012
Ferrari-Carano Sky High Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Mendocino Ridge. 14.5% alc. 700 cases. Medium ruby-meganta hue; intense and concentrated, with a focus on black and red cherries and currants permeated by graphite and loam and a trailing edge of black pepper, cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate; this is deep, rich and spicy on the palate, more velvety than satiny or silky; lithe, supple, a little muscular, with a real mineral edge and acid cut. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $48.
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Gary_Farrell_2012_RRS_PN_Bottle
Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry hue; intoxicating bouquet of cranberry, blueberry and plums permeated by rhubarb, lavender and violets, cloves, iodine and brambles with a touch of sandalwood; marvelously svelte, sleek and supple texture enlivened by bright acidity and a subtle graphite accent. Delicious and delightful but with some depth. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $45.
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Gary_Farrell_2012_Hallberg_PN_Bottle
Gary Farrell Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Limpid ruby-magenta color; this single-vineyard pinot noir resembles its regional cousin mentioned directly above but with the difference of marked intensity and concentration; rhubarb, cranberry and pomegranate; cloves, sassafras and beet-root; briers and brambles and a touch of loamy earthiness; very sleek and satiny but with a peppery rasp; the spicy element builds, as do the slightly dusty, graphite-tinged tannins; keen acidity cuts a swath on the palate. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $55.
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GB pinot
Gundlach-Bundschu Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color; cranberry, rhubarb, pomegranate; cloves, rose petals, lilac; a lovely mid-palate, with a dusty silky texture, slightly earthy with notes of briers, underbrush and loam, though paradoxically, the earthy element grows while the finish falls a bit short. Not quite a success. Very Good. About $39.
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kendall_jackson_estate_outland_LRG
Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Outland Ridge Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby shading to medium ruby at the rim; a powerful expression of the grape, delivering notes of iodine and iron, savory black plums, cherries and raspberries, with hints of cloves, white pepper and loam; a large-framed pinot, dry, polished, a bit chiseled in its graphite minerality, velvety tannins and vibrant acidity; the finish is focused and a bit austere. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $35.
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lazy
Lazy Creek Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. 14.3% alc. (Owned by Don and Rhoda Carano.) 257 cases. A cherry-berry color for a cherry-berry pinot noir, all black and red with touches of rhubarb, cranberry, lavender and loam and hints of briers, brambles and underbrush; dense and almost chewy, tending toward the heavier satin drape; lively and dynamic, with vibrant acidity supporting a dry, foresty structure and finish. Another fairly lithe and muscular pinot noir. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
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macmurray
MacMurray Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim; ripe, meaty and fleshy; black cherries and plums steeped in cloves and oolong tea; an earthy and loamy pinot noir, satiny in texture but feeling slightly roughened and sanded around its tannic edges. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $28.
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Orentano Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. From R. Buoncristiani Vineyard. 305 cases. Transparent orestano pnmedium ruby hue with a lighter, ethereal rim; dried red and black cherries and potpourri; deceptively unextracted — the mild color and its blithe footfall on the palate — yet displaying notable intensity and rootiness; hints of orange peel and black tea, mocha and tobacco; gains power and grip while not losing hold of elegance and proportion; lithe, not clingy or drapy; acidity plows a furrow on the palate. One of my favorite pinot noirs from tasting over the past six months. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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dolan pn
Paul Dolan Pinot Noir 2012, Potter Valley. 13.5% alc. Certified organic. Transparent mulberry-magenta color; black cherry, cranberry and pomegranate; cloves, cinnamon, touches of allspice and cola; the tannins expand, fairly dusty and leathery, and the oak comes up too, dominating the wine from mid-palate back through the finish. Could use more balance and integration. Very Good. About $30.
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Patz & Hall Burnside Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.2% alc. 413 cases. Beautiful transparent patz hall pn burnsidemedium ruby/mulberry hue; spiced and macerated and slightly fleshy red and black cherries and plums highlighted by notes of cloves, rhubarb, rose petals and sandalwood; a lovely, supple silky texture; quite dry, and after a few minutes in the glass, you feel the tannin and oak come up, not formidably but definitely there; still a display of exquisite balance and proportion. Now through 2017 to 2019. Excellent. About $75.
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patz chenoweth
Patz & Hall Chenoweth Ranch Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.8% alc. 871 cases. Dark ruby shading to a magenta rim; a pinot cast in the dark shades of black cherries, currants and plums, with notes of cloves and allspice and a hint of sandalwood; dense and substantial, supernal in its silky/satiny character; brings in touches of tobacco, smoke and briers. Immensely appealing. Now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $60.
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Saxon Brown Glass House Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.7% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry hue; exotic, fleshy, even a bit — gulp! — sexy; cloves, sandalwood, allspice, sassafras; black cherries and plums, pomegranate and cranberry; fills the mouth and strokes the palate in a satiny profusion, but you feel the burgeoning rigor of slightly dusty tannins and polished oak in the depths; along with bright acidity and a tinge of loam. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $48.
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Stemmler Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros. 14.2% alc. Transparent medium ruby-magenta color; black and red cherries, mulberries and cranberries, cloves and cola, plum dust, notes of briers and brambles, loam and graphite; a dark and spicy pinot noir, highlighted by touches of lavender and potpourri and characterized by a mouth-filling presence and a draping of supple satin on the palate; long, lithe, muscular. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $44.
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Stemmler Estate Nugent Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.3% alc. 873 cases. Yes, this is RS_11nugent_frontreaching back pretty damned far, but so be it. Transparent medium ruby-cranberry hue; roots and branches, briers and brambles, a hint of dried porcini and loam; sweet and smoky and ripe black and red cherries and currants offering a distinct aura of lavender and violets, cloves and sandalwood; supple, lithe and sinewy, with dusty, slightly leathery tannins and a finish packed with plums, flint-like minerality and slightly burnished oak. A big deal pinot for those who desire big deal wines, which I generally don’t, but I would certainly drink this one again. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $44.
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Three Sticks Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. 14.6% alc. Transparent and ethereal ruby-cranberry hue; red and black currants, cranberries and mulberries; cloves, sassafras and rhubarb, notes of loam and leather, smoke and brambles; opens to a tinge of tobacco and black pepper; a very satiny texture enfolds the palate yet the wine feels light on its feet, fleet and dynamic; even the moderate tannins and hint of graphite minerality seem blithe and spontaneous. A lovely pinot noir. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $60.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.7% alc. Dark ruby color with a slightly lighter rim; full-blown spicy, floral and fruity pinot noir, offering an array of black currants, cherries and raspberries etched with cloves and sassafras and notes of rich loam; dense and super-satiny, with deep dimensions and layers of spice, black fruit, vibrant acidity and fairly firm tannins bolstered by a graphite-flinty mineral element. Just terrific. Now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $65.
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When I posted last week’s edition of Weekend Wine Notes, devoted to catching up on reviews of pinot noir wines from California, William Allen replied on Facebook, “Lots of Pinots — time to be Rhônely.” Allen happens to make tiny quantities of wines from Rhône Valley grape varieties under the Two Shepherds label in Sonoma County. In honor of his response, today I offer brief reviews of nine wines made from such Rhône grapes as syrah, grenache and mourvedre, including one from Two Shepherds that I should have mentioned months ago, as well as several others from California, one from Washington state, two from the southern Rhône Valley and two from Australia, where the syrah grape is called shiraz. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew reams of technical, historical, geological and personnel information in favor of incisive reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. With duly noted exceptions, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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beaume
Balma Venitia La Chapelle Notre Dame d’Aubune 2012, Beaumes de Venise. 14.5% alc. Grenache, syrah, cinsault. Dark ruby-purple; exuberant nose of black currants and black raspberries, violets and lavender; a wine of woodsy tendrils, filigrees and roots, with lip-smacking acidity and a savory note of grilled bread and mushrooms; an aura of clean linen snapping in a fresh breeze; fairly dense and chewy, with polished, slightly dusty tannins and a a sleek lithe texture. A joy to drink, now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $25, a local purchase.
William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.
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bh14occultumbottle
Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2014, Cotes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France. 14% alc. Predominantly syrah, with grenache and carignan. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; violets and loam, fresh black currants and plums with a hint of blackberry jam; lavender and licorice, smoke and graphite, notes of wet fur, tapenade and underbrush; lithe, supple and sinewy, quite tasty and refreshing but dense with dusty, slightly velvety tannins. A serious wine that also delights and charms. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $28.
An R. Shack Selection for HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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Cadaretta Windthrow 2012, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.8% alc. Syrah 56%, grenache 25%, mourvèdre 19%. 130 cadarettacases. Deep ruby-purple, motor-oil opaque, with a thermo-magenta rim; earth and loam, briers and brambles, lavender and leather and wet dog; intense and concentrated notes of blackberry, blueberry and plum; a sense of immersive and slightly austere tannins but finely honed and sifted; the oak comes up from mid-palate back providing a woodsy-spicy framework. Tremendous presence and character. Try 2017 or ’18 through 2025 to ’27. Excellent. About $ .
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couron
Domaine de Couron 2012, Côtes du Rhône. 14.5% alc. 60% grenache, 40% syrah. Dark ruby-garnet; notes of sage and thyme, ripe and macerated black and red currants and cherries; a direct appeal of fruit and structure with pleasing heft and presence; slightly briery tannins, with a hint of leather and loam and a faint floral overtone. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $14, a local purchase.
Imported by Chloé Wines, Seattle, Wash.
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Heintz_syrah
Charles Heintz Winery Roxy Syrah 2013, Sonoma Coast. 13% alc. 150 cases (or 98 cases depending on if you believe the label or the website). Very dark ruby-purple with a glowing violet rim; a beautiful bosky-meadowy bouquet of roses and wild strawberries, heather and blueberries with hints of mint, tobacco and loam; sleek, lithe, silky texture enveloped by moderate tannins and enlivened by bright acidity; develops some rasp and cut in the glass, with notes of white pepper, briers, brambles and underbrush. A blithe version of the grape. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+. About $46.
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grenache
Quivira Vineyards Wine Creek Ranch Grenache 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 14.7% alc. Certified bio-dynamic. Entrancing ruby-crimson hue with a transparent rim; cloves, orange rind, black tea; cedar and pine; raspberry and black currant with a touch of pomegranate and cranberry; lean and lithe, brambly and a little raspy; vibrant acidity that plows a furrow on the palate; lovely heft and tone, nicely meshed tannins and oak; nothing opulent here, you feel the structure as a defining principle. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $35. A local purchase.
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Two Shepherds Saralee’s Vineyard Syrah 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.2% alc. 60 cases. Opaque ruby-magenta with 2012_Syrah_front_COLAa pale rim; fleshy and meaty; ripe and slightly roasted blackberries, black currants and plums; cloves, fruitcake, oolong tea; firm, dusty tannins under a silky smooth texture that seduces the palate; deeply spicy black fruit flavors infused with graphite and lavender, powered by fleet acidity; the finish chiseled, sleek, polished and not austere. Truly lovely syrah, with power and elegance. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $38.
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wakefield jaraman
Wakefield Jaraman Shiraz 2013, Clare Valley & McLaren Vale, Australia. 14.5% alc. Solid dark ruby hue; mint and iodine, black and red cherries and raspberries with a touch of thyme and tapenade; a steel thread of graphite runs through it; cloves, violets and an exotic hint of sandalwood; sleek, supple texture but slightly shaggy, dusty tannins dominate. Now through 2013 to ’25. Excellent. About $30.
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wakefield andrewsWakefield St. Andrews Shiraz 2013, Clare Valley. 14.5% alc. Very dark ruby color; black and red raspberries and currants threaded by mint and iodine, graphite and a rooty-branchy-loamy element; notes of tobacco and cedar emerge; quite flavorful, tasty ripe and slightly spicy berries, but plenty of acidity for liveliness and dusty, flint-laced tannins for structure. Now through 2020 to ’23. Very Good+. About $60.
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If you look at the website for Rodney Strong Vineyards, you’ll see quite an array of cabernet sauvignon wines, arranged in the order of Sonoma County, Estate, Reserve and Single Vineyard, seven offerings altogether. There’s rodney-strong-logo-crest-72dpialso a “meritage” style blend called Symmetry, which in the current vintage contains 75 percent cabernet, so that counts. Does the winery really need eight cabernet sauvignon-based bottlings? Does an audience exist for each level in this broad cabernet category? Do consumers care?

As to the issue of price, the basic Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon goes for $20. The two Estate bottlings — Alexander Valley and Knights Valley — are $35. Moving up the ladder, the Reserve costs $40, the Symmetry Meritage is $55 and the Single Vineyard wines — Rockaway, Brothers and Alexander’s Crown — top out at $75. These are not cheap wines by any means, yet let’s be honest, compared to limited edition reserve-style wines from other California producers, particularly in Napa Valley, the Rodney Strong cabernets are bargains, though quality also is a factor in determining if a wine delivers good value, at whatever price.

Rodney Strong’s single vineyard project was launched in 2008 with the release of Rockaway 2005. Brothers — originally Brothers Ridge — and Alexander’s Crown were added over the next few years, the latter named for the elegant Alexander’s Crown cabernet-based wines that Rodney Strong himself made in the 1970s. Elegance is not the game-plan for this contemporary trio of high-concept cabernet sauvignons, except in terms of the simple, suave packaging.

From the beginning, alcohol levels have been high — 15.4 percent in the Rockaway 2005 — a device that consistently contributes a sense of over-ripeness and opulence on the palate and sweetness on the finish. On the other hand, these single vineyard offerings are crafted with rigorous tannins and dominant dusty graphite-inflected minerality, lending them a sleek, chiseled structure. Too often, though, the contrast between the succulence and ripeness of fruit and the precision and austerity of the structure isn’t resolved, leaving the wines awkward and unbalanced. I have chided this winery in the past with the overuse of French oak barrels and the length of aging, a criticism that applies to the wines presently under consideration. A criticism that I leveled against Rockaway 05 was that it felt made by a committee, as if a checklist of characteristics desirable in a cabernet wine from Alexander Valley had been followed. Indeed, it takes four men to make these wines: Rodney Strong’s longtime head winemaker, Rick Sayre; winemaker Greg Morthole; winery owner Tom Klein; and consultant (and highly regarded producer of his own label) David Ramey.

To this somewhat discouraging discourse, I’ll add a note of sweetness and light. The Rockaway and Alexander’s Crown 2012 are the best I have tasted in this series, a reflection, I feel sure, of a superb vintage but also, in some sense, of a certain delicacy of touch from the team. On the other hand, these are highly calibrated wines; visit the winery’s website to see how exacting the scheme behind each wine is, from the picking of the grapes at different times from various areas of the vineyards to their treatment in the cellar.

I review today the trio of Rodney Strong Single Vineyard offering from 2012 and 2010; for some reason, I had only the Brothers from 2011. If the other two from 2011 show up in the barbarian welter of my notes, I’ll append them promptly. I’ll write about the winery’s other cabernet-based wines in a subsequent post.

These wines were samples for review.
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Rodney Strong Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Alexander Valley. A dark ruby-purple hue leads into a definitive rockawaystatement of intensity and concentration in nose and mouth; the bouquet is characterized by cassis, black cherry and plum infused with cedar, sage and graphite and notes of leather loam and black pepper. Dusty, dense but manageable tannins cloak a rigorous and chiseled mineral element that maintains discipline while relegating plenty of space to juicy black and red fruit flavors; the finish is granitic, a bit austere and sustained. 14.5 percent alcohol. The vineyard lies at elevations from 225 to 700 feet. 14.5 percent alcohol. This feels classic Alexander Valley and the best Rockaway I have tasted. With 4 percent malbec; aged 21 months in French oak, 56 percent new barrels. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $75.
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Rodney Strong Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Alexander Valley. The color is unvarying dark ruby; crownstructure is foremost, with the nose detecting whiffs of wheatmeal and walnut shell and intense and concentrated aromas of black currants, cherries and plums; give it a few minutes and it offers hints of black olives and bell pepper and, with a little more swirling of the glass, touches of lavender and violets. Tannins are lithe, sinewy and rigorous, and the wine’s structure includes incisive acidity and graphite-tinged minerality, yet for all that, this is a surprisingly approachable (and slightly over-ripe) wine for drinking now through 2022 to ’25. The vineyard lies at elevations of 250 to 360 feet; the wine aged 21 months in French oak, 38 percent new barrels. 15 percent alcohol, but carries it lightly. Excellent. About $75.
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Rodney Strong Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Alexander Valley. For 2012, the Brother Cabernet feels like an brothersamalgam of its stablemates, the Rockaway and the Alexander’s Crown. (It contains 2 percent petit verdot; it aged 21 months in French oak, 44 percent new barrels.) Yes, the intensity and concentration; yes, the important tannins, meaningful acidity and sleek, sculpted graphite minerality; yes, the spicy, slightly roasted and succulent black fruit flavors; yes — damnit! — the 15.5 percent alcohol that creates a slight sweet and over-ripe aura. So, that being the case, what is the justification for these wines created from separate vineyards in Alexander Valley, this one the highest at 400 to 1,030 feet elevation? They are far more similar than they are different, perhaps a reflection more of a house style and philosophy than the actual character of the vineyards involved. And if that’s the case, what’s the point? Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $75.
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brothers
Rodney Strong Brothers Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Alexander Valley. The color is deep ruby verily unto the opacity of a black hole, with no trace or purple or magenta or mulberry; the bouquet offers an extraordinary melange of mint, iron and iodine layered with lavender, violets and loam, finally delivering notes of ripe red and black currants and cherries bolstered by dusty graphite. Well, that’s quite a performance! The effect on the palate is more typical and unsurprising, that is, the standard plush, velvety mineral-laced tannins, boot-strap oak hauling up the wood influence, vibrant acidity, all at the service of an austere, lithic finish. 15 percent alcohol. This wine is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon; it aged 26 months in French oak, 48 percent new barrels. Very Good+. About $75.
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rockaway
Rodney Strong Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley. A deep ruby-purple hue presages a bake-shop bouquet of blueberry tart and plum jam as a glaze to graphite, lavender and licorice and hints of black currants and cherries; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of rosemary and thyme and a hint of black olive. A huge and daunting tannic and oaken presence creates a dense, dusty, chewy structure on which to hang glimpses of succulent blue and black berry flavors. 15 percent alcohol. Plenty of substance, not much character. 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent malbec, 5 petit verdot; aged 20 onths in French oak, 57 percent new barrels. Very Good+. About $75.
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crown
Rodney Strong Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley. The color is dark ruby-magenta, with little fading at the rim; notes of caraway, roasted fennel, potpourri and violets mingle with hints of very intense and concentrated black currants, blueberries and blue plums; a few minutes in the glass open a dusty-herbal aspect. A tremendous element of graphite and charcoal minerality plows every other quality under, dominating the palate from entry through the chiseled finish. 15.5 percent alcohol. Only for wine masochists. About $75.
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brothers
Rodney Strong Brothers Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander valley. The wine is 100 percent varietal; it aged 21 months in French oak, 43 percent new barrels. Very dry yet sweetish with alcohol and oak; wearying opulence, tiring alcohol, strident, unbalanced. 15.5 percent alcohol. Not recommended. About $75.
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Since its inception in 1981 — founded by investment banker Justin Baldwin and his wife Deborah before Paso Robles, in San Luis Obispo County, was an AVA — Justin Winery has been known for cabernet sauvignons that make no concessions to elegance or nuance, rather emphasizing size, texture, structure and what feels like a deep connection to the vineyard. The Justin Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Paso Robles, fulfills that ideal. The color is dark ruby with an opaque center; aromas of iodine and mint, underbrush and walnut shell, briers and brambles bolster scents of ripe and roasted black cherries and currants with a tinge of blueberry; a few minutes in the glass bring up aromas of graphite, lavender, licorice and sage. The wine is 100 percent varietal; it aged 14 months in small American oak barrels, 25 percent of which were new. Dense, dusty, sinewy tannins provide depth and dimension for rich, spicy, lip-smacking black fruit flavors enlivened by vibrant acidity; the whole enterprise is intense, concentrated and focused, loamy and earthy, and while the wine could use a year or so to expand its reach a bit, boy, it was terrific with a hefty strip steak coated in cracked black pepper and seared in a cast-iron skillet to medium-rare. In 2010, the Baldwins sold the winery to Stewart Resnick, owner of Fiji water and POM pomegranate juice. Presently, the director of production and winemaking is Fred Holloway; winemaker is Scott Shirley. 14.9 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $26.

A sample for review.

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

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

A sample for review.

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

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

A sample for review.

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