California


Mother’s Day is Sunday, so right now I offer six selections of sparkling wine and Champagne to honor your Mom, toast her presence or memory and basically perform your duty as a child, which you will always be as long as either or both of your parents are among the living. No beverage is more festive that Champagne or sparkling wine — the latter designation for such products made outside of France’s Champagne region — and lord knows, your Mom deserves some festivity and honor after what she put up with all these years, n’est-ce pas? Prices range from just under $20 to over $60, so I hope there’s a bottle of bubbles here that will suit varying budgets. I include two sparkling wines from Italy and two from California, each of diverse spirit, and two Champagnes, also made in different styles; three of these products are rosés, making them even more celebratory. The sparkling wines were samples for review; I bought the Champagnes. Enjoy! And be good to your Mom!
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Carpenè Malvolti Extra Dry (nv), Prosecco Conigliano Valdobbiadene, Italy. 11% alc. 100% glera grapes. Pale pale gold color; green apples, almond skin and lemon curd, hint of lime peel; slightly sweet entry but dry from mid-palate back through the tingly, modestly spicy finish; quite clean, crisp and lively. Enticing by itself, or use in a Bellini with peach nectar. Very Good+. About $19.
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Sofia Blanc de Blancs 2012, Monterey County, California. 12% alc. Pinot blanc 74%, riesling 16%, muscat 10%; Pale gold color with brisk effervescence; jasmine and orange blossom, spiced pears; hints of lime peel and orange rind, roasted lemon; sprightly, engaging, just off-dry; touch of limestone minerality; backnote of biscuits and toasted hazelnuts. Very pleasant for casual sipping. Very Good+. About $19.
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Berlucchi Cuvée 61 Franciacorta Rosé (nv), Lombardy, Italy. 12.5% alc. Chardonnay 50%, pinot noir 50%. Lovely copper-salmon color, persistent stream of frothy bubbles; pop the cork and you smell strawberries from a foot away; add orange rind, almond skin and honeysuckle; pert, tart and sassy (my law firm), slightly sweet in the beginning but quickly transitions to bone dry; notes of lemon and lemon curd balanced by the acidity previously referred to and more than a hint of seashell minerality. Quite charming and beautifully structured. Excellent. About $35.
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Inman Family Brut Rosé 2012, Russian River Valley, California. 12% alcohol. 100% pinot noir. Pale pale pink color, almost virginal; a torrent of tiny bubbles; dried strawberries and raspberries, hints of brambles and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; a spine of bright acidity supporting a framework of scintillating limestone minerality; very dry, with spare red currant and stone-fruit flavors, hint of spiced pear, all elements woven with steely delicacy and elegance. Delightful, marvelous sparkling wine. Excellent. About $56.
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Henriot Souverain Brut (nv), Champagne, France. 12% alc. Chardonnay 40%, pinot noir 60%. Medium straw-gold color, wildly effervescent; biscuits and fresh bread, pears, lime peel and ginger, notes of limestone and chalk that take on increased resonance; vivacious acidity, almost glittering limestone minerality; lovely personality and verve, refreshing balance of savory and saline elements; irresistibly appealing. Excellent. I paid $62, but prices around the country go as low at $42.
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Paul Bara Grand Rosé Brut (nv), Champagne, France. 12% alc. Pinot noir 80%, chardonnay 20%, all Grand Cru vineyards. Pure topaz in hue; billions of tiny glinting bubbles; macerated strawberries, cloves, orange marmalade, hint of brioche, notes of chalk and flint; full-bodied, lots of presence and a powerful limestone element, yet wreathed with ethereal touches of dried red currants and rose petals, slightly biscuity; bone-dry with chiming acidity; tremendous class and breeding. Excellent. I paid about $69, but it can be found as cheaply as $45 if you look.
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“NV” stands for “non-vintage,” though on the face of it, that’s a ridiculous proposition. All grapes are harvested in a particular year; hence those dates on wine labels and the notion that some vintages are better than others so the wines from those years are more valuable. However, wine does not have to be made from grapes harvested all in the same year. The great example of this concept occurs in Champagne, the famed French region of prestigious bubbles, where something more than 80 percent of the product is non-vintage, though the term “multi-vintage” is really more useful. Champagne producers maintain stores of reserve wines to blend with the wine from the current vintage being used (generally about three years old) to ensure a consistent house style. Other wines employ the multi-vintage trope, including, surprisingly, Portugal’s Vinho Verde, “surprisingly” because Vinho Verde tends to be a fresh young wine intended for immediate consumption. In France, bottles plucked from roadside stands, service stations and highway convenience stores are often multi-vintage (or really “nonvintage”) and fairly anonymous; examples I have tried range from truly awful to not too bad.

Anyway, today we look at three “nonvintage” products that happen to be remarkably diverse.
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The Calamares Vinho Verde nv, Portugal, offers a bright gold color and mild, almost subliminal effervescence. The blend of grapes is 40 percent arinto, 30 percent trajadura (also known as treixadura) and 30 percent loureiro. Enticingly fresh and clean, the wine delivers notes of roasted lemon and lemon balm, quince and ginger, green apple and lime peel in a saline, limestone-inflected setting; while it’s a wine of the moment, this Calamares is not ethereal, instead possessing gratifying body with an almost talc-like finish touched with candied grapefruit. Acidity is flagrantly crisp and flint-like. Nine percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $7, and do I have to tell you to buy it by the case to drink this Summer?

Imported by Vision Wine and Spirits, Secaucus, N.J. A sample for review.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Gaston Chiquet “Tradition” Brut, nv, Champagne, France, is one of our favorite Champagnes, and I was surprised to see that I have never written about it on this blog. It’s a blend of 40 percent pinot meunier grapes, 35 percent chardonnay and 25 percent chardonnay, all from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. The base wine of the present manifestation is from 2010, with the addition of eight percent each from 2009 and 2008. The color is medium straw-gold; the all-important bubbles are myriad, prolific and dynamic. My purpose in purchasing this Champagne was to balance a scallop dish rich in butter and cream, and the clean, incisive acidity of the Gaston Chiquet “Tradition” Brut and its scintillating limestone minerality did just that. (Plus, you know, it’s Champagne.) The bouquet offers notes of lemon, seashell, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and honeysuckle, all quite subdued, and threads of cloves and crystallized ginger; it’s fairly full in the mouth, but not heavy or obvious, leaning more toward a well-knit and elegant character enlivened by crispness and energetic effervescence. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid about $60.

A Terry Theise Estate Selection, imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.
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Now comes the wine that inspired this post, the Steven Kent Winery “Evening Vinesong” Grenache nv, Livermore Valley. Produced in a minute quantity and available only to the winery’s Collector’s Circle, a bottle came into my hands via a generous benefactor. The wine is 100 percent grenache — previous editions were a blend — with 60 percent of the grapes grown in 2010 and 40 percent in 2011. Depending on the “year,” the wine ages 24 to 36 months in second-use and neutral French and American oak barrels. The production was 139 cases. The members of the Collector’s Circle who snatch a few bottles or a case of Evening Vinesong Grenache are lucky indeed; this is a beautiful and pure expression of the grenache grape, fruity, spicy, a little raspy and briery. The color is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of red and black currants and cherries are highlighted by pert mulberry and winsome notes of anise, lavender, brambles and dried rosemary (with some of that herb’s pithy, piney quality). In the mouth, the wine is sapid and savory, deftly balanced and integrated; oak is a whisper here, and so is a hint of loam, both forming a background to the wine’s lithe suppleness and elegance. Red and blue fruit flavors are permeated by sandings of cloves and allspice, the whole enterprise ending with a fresh, wild note. I gave LL a glass of this when she came home from work one night; she took one sniff and one sip and said, “Wow, that’s wonderful!” There’s your review. Excellent. For information call (925) 243-6440 or visit stevenkent.com

Before we get into the qualities that made me like the quite beautiful Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley — well, that sort of gives it away, doesn’t it? — let’s look at the interesting technical data, because for a wine that radiates purity and intensity of varietal purpose, it took considerable thought to make it that way. Cade Estate Winery was founded on Howell Mountain in 2005 by partners Gavin Newsom, Gordon Getty — names with which to conjure, fiduciary-wise — and general manager John Conover. The most visible of the trio is Newsom, who was elected mayor of San Francisco in 2003 and 2007 and lieutenant governor of California in 2010 and whose business successes make me think that I just got off to the wrong start in life. First came the PlumpJack wine store in 1992, followed by PlumbJack Winery in Napa Valley and then a host of cafes, restaurants, resorts and retail outlets. Sheesh. And the guy is good-looking too.

Let’s turn, however, to Cade winemaker Danielle Cyrot, whose work I much admired when she was at St. Clement, and the regimen for this sauvignon blanc. In terms of grape origin, 39 percent of the grapes for this wine derived from Cade’s vineyard in Oakville; the rest came from growers in Oak Knoll, St. Helena, Calistoga and the Napa Valley AVA. Fermentation occurred in a combination of stainless steel tanks (71 percent), stainless steel drums (11 percent), French oak barrels (61. percent new and 11.8 percent used) and the remaining .1 percent in concrete eggs. That is, I will say, the most complicated fermentation process I have ever heard of. Oh, wait, of the portion that fermented in barrels, 80 percent of that was inoculated with yeast and 20 percent fermented on naturally-occurring yeasts. No malolactic (or secondary) fermentation occurred, leaving the wine with crisp acidity. The wine aged in tanks and barrels for five months. There’s a bit of a blend: 2.5 percent each semillon and viognier.

Did it actually require that much calibration to creative this wholly attractive sauvignon blanc? Whatever the case, this is a damned fine wine. The color is pale gold that almost shimmers in the glass; fresh, enticing yet spare aromas of lemongrass and lime peel, pert gooseberry and earthy celery seed, peaches, tangerines and notes of lilac and lemon balm characterize the bouquet. In the mouth, this sauvignon blanc elegantly balances vibrant, finely honed acidity with cloud-like lushness and a scintillating crystalline limestone element, all supporting citrus flavors etched with a slight sunny, leafy, herbal quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. We drank the Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013 one night with chicken breasts first seared and then poached in white wine and the next night with a roasted tuna Nicoise. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $28, the upper limit of what I would recommend in these Wine of the Week posts.

A sample for review. The label image on the winery website has not caught up with the change to the 2013 vintage of this wine.

The immediately appealing factor about the Round Pond Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Rutherford, Napa Valley, is that it bears no burden of exaggeration. Made completely in stainless steel and seemingly equal parts savory, saline and spicy, this pale-gold wine offers notable balance and integration of all elements. Don’t mistake it, though, for being mild-mannered or wimpy; plenty of crisp acidity and citrus fruit keeps this wine refreshing, lively and energetic. Hints of lemongrass, cloves, lime peel, quince and ginger permeate a background of roasted lemon and tangerine; crystalline limestone minerality lends shimmer and litheness to the structure, which supports bracing lemon and peach flavors that open to an intriguing edge of sunny leafiness and a ping of currant. The finish brings in more spice and a faint line of grapefruit bitterness. 14.5 percent alcohol. The Round Pond Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013 will be terrific this Summer as aperitif or with grilled shrimp, chicken salad, cold fried chicken, watercress and cucumber sandwiches (crusts sliced off, please) and other patio and picnic fare. Founded in the early 1980s, the winery is now operated by the second generation of the MacDonnell family, brothers Ryan and Miles MacDonnell. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review.

For these brief notes on 12 wines appropriate for accompanying pizzas and burgers, we look, first, for reasonable prices and, second, for robust, full-bodied wines with lots of flavors and good acid structures. Prices range from $12 to $25. I avoided the obvious candidates like cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, except perhaps as part of a blend, mainly to give a chance to other equally worthy grape varieties. And speaking of variety, we touch down today in Tuscany and southeastern Italy, in France’s Rhone Valley, in Chile and Spain and Portugal, and a couple areas of California. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I do not include much in the way of technical information, except for grapes, or historical and geographical data. The intent is to pique your interest and whet your palate quickly. Actually, I just realized what a great case of mixed red wines this group would make as a gift, to yourself or someone else, to consume through this Summer and into Fall. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.

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Vino dei Fratelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2011, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Italy. 12.5% alc. 100% montepulciano grapes. Dark ruby color with a violet rim; young, intense, grapey; raspberries, plums, mulberries, hint of spice and brambles; goes down smoothly and easily but quite tasty; bright acidity with light tannins for structure. A decent quaffer with pizza or spaghetti and meatballs. Very Good. About $12, for buying by the case.
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Le Veli Passamante 2012, Salice Salentino, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% negroamaro grapes. Dark ruby-purple color; black and red cherries and raspberries with a wild note of mulberry, hints of cloves and sandalwood; quenching acidity keeps you coming back for another sip, while barely perceivable tannins keep the wine upright; dry but delicious with deep black and red fruit flavors, fleshed out with spice and a hint of briers and graphite. A terrific pizza quaffer, now through 2015. Very Good+. About $12, a Can’t Miss bargain.
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Adobe Red 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.7% alc. From the Clayhouse division of Middleton Family Wines. Zinfandel 23%, petite sirah 22%, cabernet sauvignon 21%, malbec 17%, petit verdot 10%, tempranillo 4%, syrah 3%. Dark ruby color; black cherries, plums, blueberries, undercurrents of briers, brambles and graphite; rollicking spicy element and bright acidity; very dry, moderate tannins, even-tempered and fun to drink. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $14, representing Real Value.
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Cachette 2012, Cötes du Rhöne. 13.5% alc. 70% grenache, 10% each syrah, carignan and cinsault. Dark ruby color with a magenta tinge; ripe, meaty and fleshy; blackberries, blueberries, plums with a hint of wild berry; notes of leather, lavender and white pepper, loam and graphite; spicy black and blue fruit flavors, a vein of potpourri and bitter chocolate, hints of cedar and dried thyme; very dry, lively, spicy finish. Good job! Would make a respectable house wine for drinking into 2016. Very Good+. About $15.
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Coltibuono “RS” 2011, Chianti Classico, Italy. 14% alc. 100% sangiovese. Medium ruby color; potpourri and pomander; oolong tea; red and black currants and plums; amenable and amiable but does not lack an acidic backbone and deftly shaped slightly leathery tannins with a touch of dried porcini about them; very dry spice-and-mineral-laced finish. Now through 2015 or ’16. Particularly appropriate with sausage pizza. Very Good+. About $15.
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Prazo de Roriz 2010, Douro, Portugal. 13.5% alc. Tinta barroca 37%, “old vines” 18%, touriga nacional 16%, touriga franca 15%, tinta amarela 7%, tinta cao 7%. Dark ruby color; bay leaf, sage and cedar; a lift of spiced and slightly roasted currants, plums and raspberries with a wild, exotic note; background of graphite and bitter chocolate; serious structure, very dry with relentless yet soft and chewy tannins and a foundation of polished wood and granitic minerality; but delicious with a blend of fresh and dried raspberries and plums with a hint of fruitcake. You might want to forgo a burger for a medium rare ribeye steak in this case. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $16, Great Quality for the Price.
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Viña Maquis Carménère 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 100% carménère. Dark ruby-purple color with violet tones; ripe and fleshy, spiced and macerated black currants, raspberries and plums; briers and brambles, graphite, notes of lavender, bay leaf, thyme and black olive; very dry in the bitter chocolate, walnut-shell, dried porcini range of polished tannic density; arrow-straight acidity cuts a swath; black fruit flavors open with hints of exotic spice. Lots going on here; you’ll want that burger with bacon, grilled onions and jalapeño. Now through 2016 to ’17. Very Good+. About $19.
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Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy Grenache 2013, Monterey County. 14% alc. 77% grenache, 18% syrah, 5% mourvèdre. Dark ruby-magenta color; grapey, plummy, notes of black currants and raspberries; cloves and pomegranate, bright acidity, undertone of loam and graphite but mainly tasty and delightful. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $20.
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Garzon Tannat 2012, Uruguay. 13.8% alc. Dark ruby; robust and rustic, quite lively and spicy; deep and intense blackberry and currant scents and flavors, a bit roasted and fleshy; loam and mocha, a crisp pencil line of lavender and graphite minerality; gritty tannins make it dense and chewy; dry fairly austere finish. You’ll want that burger nicely charred, with a side of brimstone frites. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $20.
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Vizcarra Senda del Oro 2012, Ribero del Duero, Spain. NA% alc. 100% tempranillo. Intensely dark ruby-purple; plums and mulberries, dried red currants, hints of iodine and iron; the whole shelf of exotic dried spices; potpourri and lavender; very tasty, deep flavors of black and blue fruit, with an acid backbone and mild tannins. Straightforward and hard-working. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $20.
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Michael David Bechthold Vineyard Ancient Vine Cinsault 2011, Lodi. 13.5% alc. How “ancient”? These vines were planted in 1885; it’s the oldest producing vineyard in Lodi. 100% cinsault. Dark cherry color; cloves and sandalwood, red and black cherries and currants, hints of fruitcake, pomander and loamy graphite, but clean, bright and appealing; lithe and supple texture, black and red fruit flavors with touches of dried fruit and flowers, lively acidity and moderately dense tannins with a faint undertone of granitic minerality. As tasty as it sounds with a slight serious edge. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $24.
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Vina Valoria Crianza 2010, Rioja, Spain. 70% tempranillo, 20% graciano, 10% mazuelo. Dark ruby color; a combination of fresh and dried fruit, plums, lavender, hints of sandalwood and coriander, touch of bay and black tea; leather, mulberries; slightly dusty graphite-flecked tannins with elements of walnut shell and dried porcini add depth and some austerity to the finish. Delicious, well-made, some seriousness to the structure. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $25.
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Actually, it’s unseasonably chilly today in my neck o’ the woods, but that doesn’t stop me from drinking rosé wines and posting about them. Here we touch the South of France, Spain’s Rioja region and two areas of California for pale wines that are light-hearted yet versatile, quaffable yet good with all manner of fare, especially if you’re on a picnic or sitting on the porch or patio. These are quick notices, not intended to bother your pretty little heads about technical, historic or geographical data but desiring to picque your interest and whet the ol’ palate. Enjoy! These wines were samples for review.
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Marc Roman Rosé 2013, Vin de France; the postal code on the bottle indicates Caunes-Minervois, northeast of Carcassonne. 12.5% alc. 100% syrah. Pale pink-salmon color; ripe and fleshy, strawberries and raspberries, fairly spicy; notes of potpourri and orange rind; quite dry, with snappy acidity and a hint at a stony structure. I like this version of 2013 a bit better than the 2012. Very Good. About $11, a Fine Value.
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Pedroncelli Signature Selection Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 13.2% alc. Bright rosy-pink color with a magenta tinge; robust for a rose, very spicy and floral, scents and flavors of red currants, raspberries and red cherries; hints of limestone and flint, enlivened by vibrant acidity; medium body woven of delicate supple strands; tasty, thirst-quenching; lots of personality and appeal. Excellent. About $12, a Great Bargain.
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El Coto Rosado 2013, Rioja, Spain. 13% alc. A 50/50 blend of tempranillo and garnacha. Medium salmon-copper hue; rose and violets, lightly macerated strawberries and raspberries with a touch of tea and orange zest; hint of dried thyme; clean, fresh, dry; good acidity though a moderately lush texture; could you a bit more tautness, still quite enjoyable and better than I remember. Very Good. About $13.
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Paul Jaboulet Aîné Parallèle 45 Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône. 13% alc. Grenache 50%, cinsault 40%, syrah 10%. Pale salmon-copper color; tender and robust, lithe, taut and tart; nervy, attractive; raspberries and red currants, blood orange, touch of what Keats calls “the warm South” in its dried herb, sunny, slightly saline nature; all qualities strung on a line of limestone and flint buoyed by brisk acidity. Very tasty. Excellent. About $15.
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M. Chapoutier Belleruche Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône. 13% alc. Unspecified blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault. Slightly ruddy onion skin hue; lively and engaging; cloves, spiced tea, orange zest; ripe and dried red currants, raspberries, hint of cherry; rose petal and lilac; good body, even a bit lush yet light on its feet and fleet with vibrant acidity; very clean and refreshing. Excellent. About $15.
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Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2013, Central Coast. 13% alc. Grenache 55%, mourvèdre 23.5% roussanne 10%, cinsault 7% carignane 2.5%, grenache blanc 2%. Very pale pink color; beguiling aromas and flavors of strawberries, raspberries and red currants with a faint flush of blood orange and violets; a transparent filigree of limestone lends a crisp yet talc-like aura to the structure while tense acidity keeps it lively and appealing. Beautifully made. Excellent. About $18.
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Our ideal of and faith in the minuteness of soil variations is formed by Burgundy, where vineyards separated by only a stone wall or the width of a country lane are assumed to evince subtle differences in wines made from the same grapes, either pinot noir or chardonnay. Why, then, wouldn’t a difference in 200 feet elevation produce some deviation in wines made from cabernet sauvignon grapes, all other aspects being equal?

That’s the question that two 100 percent cabernet wines from Anakota in Knights Valley asks. Winemaker Pierre Seillan, who also makes the Verite wines for Jackson Family, produces these wines from the Helena Dakota vineyard, which lies at 750 feet elevation, and the Helena Montana vineyard, 200 feet higher at 950 feet elevation. Knights Valley, nestled in the western reaches of the Mayacamas range, is the warmest AVA in Sonoma County as well as the most isolated and least populated, at least by wineries and vineyards. The landscape is dominated by the 4,339-foot peak of Mount St. Helena, located just west of the cusp where Lake, Sonoma and Napa counties meet. In the 1840s, the vast area of what was then Mallacomes Valley formed the hunting grounds of Jose de los Santos Berryessa, whose lodge still stands. When California became part of the United States in 1850, Berryessa returned to Mexico; Thomas B. Knight purchased a large portion of the ranch and eventually the valley was named after him. Beringer and Kendall-Jackson own most of the vineyard acreage. Just north of Anakota is the Peter Micahel Winery and its Les Pavots Estate Vineyard.

While only 200 feet — 2/3 of a football field — separate Helena Dakota and Helena Montana, they are also divided by Yellowjacket Creek and a rocky ridge, geographical or geological factors that must have some influence on the make-up of the vineyards. Below the creek, Helena Dakota consists of red-brown silty loam, and vine roots tend to be deeper; above the creek, Helena Montana contains yellow-white sandy soil and gravelly loam, and the vines are shallow and stressed. Both wines — this pair is from 2009 — see 15 months aging in new French oak barrels; both exhibit 14.5 percent alcohol. The first vintage of these wines was 2001.

These wines were samples for review. The label images below display previous years.
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The color of the Anakota Helena Dakota Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, is deep ruby-purple with an opaque center; aromas of dust, briers and graphite, cloves and allspice, lavender and bitter chocolate are tightly wound around notes of intense and concentrated dark plums, currants and cherries. This is a deep, dark and dusty cabernet, gird by polished tannins, granitic minerality and a slightly austere finish with a hint of a charcoal edge, yet the whole package is vibrant and resonant. I knocked the cork back in the bottle and reopened the wine 24 hours later; it had opened beautifully, adding more spice, more graphite minerality, though also softer and more macerated fruit and a touch of anise. Still, the structure was forthright and rigorous. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Excellent. about $75.
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So, a clamber over the rocks, jumping the mountain stream and a short stroll upward, and here’s the Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, not so much a different wine as an intensification of all the virtues of its lower elevation cousin. The same opaque ruby hue, yes, but a wine that’s deep and powerful yet expressive, almost elegant in its litheness and sleekness, its chiseled minerality — this sounds like the guy you don’t want to work out next to at the gym; you certainly feel the dusty mountain roots, translated as leather and loam and earth, and something cool and distant, aloof, even; yet the wine is wrapped around a seductive ash, lavender, bitter chocolate core that only hints, sparely and obliquely, 24 hours later, at the ripeness of its intense black and blue fruit character. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $75.
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Founded in 1883, Wente Vineyards is the oldest family-operated wine operation in California; winemaker is the fifth-generation Karl D. Wente. I say “operation” rather than “winery,” because Wente owns vast tracts of vineyards not only in Livermore Valley, where German immigrant Carl H. Wente (1851-1934) was a pioneer, but in Monterey County, where in the 1960s the family also was an early developer. Wente was the first winery to bottle varietally-labeled chardonnay and sauvignon blanc and for several decades both before and after Repeal sustained a reputation as the finest producer of white wines in California. Naturally, in a company with a 130-year history there have been ups and downs, and for Wente Bros. — the name was changed to Wente Vineyards in 1996 — the down occurred during the expansion and acquisitions of the 1980s, when quality slipped. More rigorous standards apply today, though, and Wente offers a range of attractive and fairly serious red and white wines from all its properties.

Today’s Wine of the Week hails from the red side of the roster. This is the Wente Vineyards “Southern Hills” Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay*, and if you don’t find the aromas entrancing, you just don’t have a heart. The color is dark ruby with a medium ruby rim; notes of star anise, lavender and graphite, black olive, cedar and a hint of caramelized fennel leap from the glass, amid a welter of ripe, spicy black cherries and currants. The wine aged 14 months in a combination of neutral** French, American and Eastern European*** oak barrels, a tactic that lends supple and mildly spicy support to tasty blue and black fruit flavors nicely balanced by vibrant acidity, lightly dusted tannins and some slightly ashy iron/iodine minerality on the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Loads of personality and just gets down on its knees and begs to be drunk with a fat juicy bacon-cheeseburger. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.

A sample for review.

*The ridiculously far-ranging San Francisco Bay AVA was approved in 1999, largely due to the efforts of Wente Vineyards. It gathers under one region not only the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Alameda and parts of San Benito and Santa Cruz but the city of San Francisco and San Francisco Bay. You can leave your heart in San Francisco and sell your wine everywhere else.

**Meaning already used, as many as two or three times, so the wood influence is very subtle.

***”Eastern European” oak generally refers to Romanian, Slovakian, Slovenian or Hungarian oak barrels.

Three pinot noirs, two cabernet sauvignons, one syrah; a nice sense of symmetry, n’est-ce pas? Five from California, one from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. All rated Excellent. One more costly than most of us can afford, the others more reasonable. All offering many virtues and confidences of the vineyard, the grape, the winemaker’s gentle and genial art. Quick notices here, eschewing technical matters and such geographical and historical information as much stimulate our fancies; the idea is that these notes — not as full-bodied as actual reviews — will inspire your interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Olema Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. (The second label of Amici Cellars.) Radiant ruby-magenta color; plums, mulberries and cranberries, brier rose; hints of cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate; dense, supple and satiny; ripe and lightly spiced red and blue fruit flavors; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of roses and violets, leather and tobacco; undertones of graphite, earth and mild tannins. Really lovely. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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Elizabeth Chambers Cellar Winemaker’s Cuvée Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.9% alc. Transparent medium ruby color; quite spicy and lively, with macerated red currants and cherries, seductively ripe but balanced by a spare structure and long elegant lines; hints of cloves, cola and rhubarb, leather and loam, subdued oak; lovely satiny texture, but again that sense of reserve and delicacy, with acidity that lays an arrow across the palate. I could drink this one all day long and almost did. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Syrah 2011, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. With 5% viognier. 780 cases. Dark ruby color; deliriously spicy; notes of
macerated and slightly fleshy black currants, blackberries and raspberries, roughened by brambles and underbrush elements; robust, dynamic, powered by bright acidity, graphite minerality and sleek tannins; quite dry but flavorful, deft balance of spareness and rigor with generosity and expressiveness; finish packed with woody spices, granite and lavender. Perfect with pork chops coated with cumin, urfa pepper and chili powder. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Entrancing ruby-magenta hue; nicely layered aromas of cloves and allspice, hint of sandalwood; macerated red currants, plums and cranberries; notes of rhubarb and pomegranate; gently sifted tannins over loam and slightly granitic minerality; a touch of lightly candied red cherry; lithe, supple, sinewy; exhibits terrific confidence and authority without being ostentatious. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $45.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. With 8% each merlot and cabernet franc. 1,302 cases. Dark ruby color; rigorous structure with mountain roots but such a pretty surface, violets and lavender, cassis, plums and black cherries, note of licorice; stout, robust tannins and dusty oak bastions; walnut shell and underbrush; gets dustier and more austere but still scrumptious; lithic chambers of blueberries, sweet smoke, soy sauce and barbecue; iodine, iron, resonant acidity. Drink 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Always one of Napa Valley’s best and most characterful cabernets. Excellent. About $45, representing Great Value for the Quality.
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Hestan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. 400 cases. An exemplary Napa Valley cabernet, and at the price it ought to be. Dark ruby-purple hue; iron and iodine, lavender and violets; black currants, black cherries and raspberries with a graphite/ancho chili edge, a hint of black olive, a dusting of dried rosemary; glossy tannins and a polished oak superstructure, all enlivened with brisk and elevating acidity; a long, dense yet lithe finish. If you have on hand a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the charcoal grill, introduce it to this wine. Now through 2020 to 2025. Excellent. About $110.
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One of the most gratifying aspects of the job, the vocation, the quest of writing about wines on this blog is the sort of email I receive in which small wineries, mostly in California, ask if they may send products for me to review. This is a great way to learn about the wide diversity of wineries and the efforts of individuals or families that make amounts of wine that might not otherwise get attention. (I always emphasize that I cannot guarantee the outcome of a tasting or review.) One of those messages arrived recently from Ryan Sherman, winemaker for Fields Family Wines in Lodi. This winery defines what we mean by “small” and “family-owned.” The total number of cases produced for the four wines mentioned in this post is 625. The winery is owned by Russ Fields, an attorney in Sacramento, and his wife Melinda; Sherman, a real estate agent, is a partner, and both families and their children are involved in running the company. The wines receive very little or no new oak; they are bottled unfined and unfiltered. Alcohol levels are kept fairly low, for this group of wines 14.2 to 14.8 percent. Finally, these reds lean more toward elegance, refinement and nuance than blatant qualities of over-ripeness and blockbuster tannins; balance and harmony are the keywords. Those interested in purchasing any of these wines — I recommend the Old Vine Zinfandel 2011 and the Tempranillo 2011 — should contact the winery at https://fieldsfamilywines.com or call 209-896-6012.

These wines were samples for review.
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The vines mentioned in the Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2011 are 55 to 60 years old and are found in the Sherman Family Vineyards in the Mokelumne River American Viticultural Area, located in the southwestern part of the overall of Lodi AVA. Mokelumne River was established as an AVA in 2006, though it was the first region in the county to be planted to vines. The wine aged in French and Hungarian oak barrels, less than 35 percent new; the number of months is not specified. The Fields Family Old Vine Zinfandel ’11 offers a dark ruby-mulberry color and pungent scents of briers and brambles, white pepper, spiced and macerated black and red currants and cherries with an undertow of plum; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of lavender and lilac, cloves and sandalwood. Moderate tannins keep her steady as she goes, providing plenty of foundation for bright acidity and delicious black and red fruit flavors but never as a dominating factor. Lovely balance and integration. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 200 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $24.
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The Fields Family Tempranillo 2011, Lodi (Mokelumne River), evinces the transparent and radiant ruby color you see in glasses of wine in Dutch still-life paintings. The wine aged 20 months in neutral French barriques, a process that lent almost subliminal subtlety and suppleness to the structure. This is ripe and meaty, delivering red and black currants and raspberries, both fresh and dried, with smoky, roasted notes and hints of pomander and potpourri, then conjuring fruitcake and toasted walnuts. A silky texture and mellow but spicy black fruit flavors belie the leathery and slightly dusty tannins that take an hour or so to emerge, along with a hint of graphite minerality for backbone. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 100 cases, so good luck, though this wine was my favorite of the quartet. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $22.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________The Fields Family Il Ladro 2011, Lodi, is an unspecified blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes, 10 percent from Napa Valley. The wine aged in used French and American oak barrels. The color is dark ruby-purple. The wine begins with attractive scents of spiced and macerated red and black currants and plums highlighted by orange zest and black tea, lavender and potpourri. There’s lovely delicately velvet-like weight and texture (moderately dense and dusty) balanced by lip-smacking acidity and slightly tarry, leathery tannins, all in the service of tasty black and red fruit flavors. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was fewer than 175 cases. Now through 2017 or ’18. An enjoyable blend, certainly, but I wish it offered more stuffing and complexity. Very Good+. About $25.
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There wouldn’t be a darned thing wrong with the Fields Family Syrah 2011, Lodi (Mokelumne), if it were, say, a particularly intense pinot noir from Santa Lucia Highlands. What I’m sayin’ is that this is a thoroughly enjoyable and delicious wine but not very syrah-like, not even in the sense of a more restrained syrah. The wine aged about 16 months in French oak, less that 25 percent new barrels. The color is a deep purple-magenta; the bouquet teems with quite spicy red and black cherries underlain by hints of smoke, tar and violets. It’s rich and succulent and satiny, a bit too sophisticated for syrah, but — I’ll say it again — quite a tasty glass of wine. 14.2 percent alcohol. 150 cases were made. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $22.
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