California


The history of Laetitia Vineyards and Winery begins in 1981, when a joint venture between Deutz Champagne and the old Beringer Estates established a facility for making sparkling wine — they were good, too — in San Luis Obispo’s Arroyo Grande Valley, until the partnership was rent asunder in 1996. The next year, Jean-Claude Tardivat acquired the property and named it Laetitia, after his daughter; the name means joy or happiness in Latin. Tardivat’s tenure was brief; in 1998, he sold the winery to a partnership that included Selim Zilkha, who became sole owner, with her daughter Nadia Wellisz, in 2001. The concentration at this large estate — 1,900 acres with 620 acres of vines — is on pinot noir and sparkling wines, the latter production meaning that chardonnay is also grown, produced both as a still wine and for blending in sparking wine. My focus today is on Laetitia’s reserve and single-vineyard pinot noirs, some of which I tasted as recent review samples and others on a visit to the winery late in April this year. The pinot noirs from Laetitia do not fall into the category of delicate and elegant; these are full-bodied and substantial pinots, tending even toward muscular, yet they are never over-ripe or too high in alcohol. Ultimately, they are primarily well-balanced and integrated. Winemaker is Eric Hickey, son of Laetitia’s sparkling winemaker, Dave Hickey, who has been in that job since 1990.

Image of the Laetitta tasting room from winelinesonline.com.

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Laetitia Reserve du Domaine Pinot Noir 2011, Arroyo Grande Valley, San Luis Obispo County. The grapes are a selection from the best areas of the winery’s vineyards. The wine aged 11 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a tinge of magenta; aromas of intensely fragrant black cherries and raspberries are permeated with notes of cranberry, pomegranate and rhubarb, with underlying layers of briers and brambles and forest floor. This is the point at which to mention the dynamic and muscular character of Laetitia’s pinot noirs, qualities this example prominently displays, though the spicy black and blue fruit flavors and the texture are almost succulent but cut with a line of bracing acidity and graphite minerality. The model here is nothing delicate or ephemeral, yet you would not mistake the wine for anything other than pinot noir. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 1,200 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.

Of the 2010 version of this wine, tasted at the property on April 26, I noted: “acidity cuts a swath and minerality plows the furrows… one from the dark side of pinot noir.” 14.3% alc.
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Laetitia La Coupelle Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Grande Valley. This wine aged 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby, a lighter hue than the previous wine; the aroma profile leans in a different direction, with red and black currants, plums and leather, dust and graphite and just a note of violets. It’s dense and chewy in the mouth, a pinot noir with lots of presence, but it’s not significantly earthy or briery; despite its substantial nature this pinot exudes an aura of radiant varietal purity and intensity, with a super-satiny texture buoyed by bright acidity and well-spiced and slightly macerated red and black fruit flavors. 14.7 percent alcohol. 311 cases were produced. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $60.

Of the 2009 redition of La Coupelle, tasted at the winery on April 29, I wrote, “big one… more aggressive, a little tighter [than La Colline 09]… very deep, lots of spice… a real edge… great.” 14.7% alc.
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Laetitia Les Galets Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Grande Valley. This wine aged 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is a sultry ruby-mulberry hue; scents of black cherries, black raspberries and plums are infused with hints of rose petals, rhubarb and pomegranate, and the whole package is invested with a subtle earthy element. This is a supple, lithe pinot noir, more sinewy than muscular and propelled by blade-like acidity; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of dusty graphite, while ripe black fruit flavors are slightly roasted and fleshy and supported by touches of sleek tannins and polished oak. Lovely tone and balance. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 233 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $60.
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Laetitia La Colline Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Grande Valley. Aging for this wine was 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels, obviously the standard for this group except for the Reserve du Domaine. The color is medium ruby with a slight magenta cast, a fitting color for a wine that offers beguiling aromas of red currants, blueberries and mulberries, heightened by notes of cherry cola, cloves and graphite with a hint of lilac. Despite the mildness of the alcohol content — 13.3 percent — and the similarity of the oak regimen, La Colline 2010 feels a bit rough-shod and perhaps a little more rigorous than the three wines mentioned above; possibly it simply needs time for the elements to come together and achieve balance. Try from 2015 through 2020. Production was 190 cases. Very Good+. About $60.

And of La Colline 2009, tasted at the property on April 26, I said, “lovely medium cerise color, brambly raspberry and blueberry, touch of cranberry, rhubarb and sassafras… gets hints of tannin and underbrush in mid-palate.” 13.8% alc.
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Randall Grahm, irrepressible owner and winemaker of Bonny Doon Vineyards, will have his way with us, won’t he? Take his new wine, A Proper Claret 2012, bearing a California designation. Now Grahm hasn’t made a cabernet sauvignon-based wine since 1985; he’s a perennial critic of the full-blown, over-ripe, high alcohol fashion that prevails in many of the Golden State’s wineries. In a sense, then, A Proper Claret 2012 functions as a rebuke to the high-flown cabernet style. (“Claret” is the historic term in the British Isles for the red wines of Bordeaux.) What would a proper claret be? From Bordeaux’s Right Bank communes — think of Pomerol and St.-Emilion — it would be a blend of merlot and cabernet franc, with perhaps a dollop of cabernet sauvignon; from the Left Bank — Margaux, Pauillac, St.-Julien, St.-Estephe — it would be predominantly cabernet sauvignon and merlot with perhaps varying degrees of cabernet franc and petit verdot. What, then, Readers, is the blend of A Proper Claret 2012? First, we have 62 percent cabernet sauvignon, to which is added 22 percent petit verdot. What next? A quite improper 8 percent tannat, 7 percent syrah and 1 percent petite sirah. Every proper claret-loving English person is not amused. Grahm, however, is chuckling behind the scenes, well aware that the visual joke on the label gives the game away. The proper English gentleman depicted there, relaxing in his library, glass of wine and decanter at hand, wears, under his dressing gown, red fishnet stockings supported by a garter belt. The joke is on us.

There’s nothing joky about the wine, though. A Proper Claret 2012 sports a radiant dark ruby-purple color with a violet rim; the bouquet is a melange of black cherries, raspberries and plums permeated by notes of briers, brambles and cedar, wood smoke, lavender and licorice, iron and iodine and a trace of blueberry tart. Plenty of ripe but not sweet black fruit flavors hang on a fairly rigorous yet approachable structure of soft but dense and slightly dusty tannins, dusty graphite minerality and vibrant acidity, all seamlessly arrayed in fine balance. The wine is quite drinkable, even lovely, though it has a serious aspect too. The alcohol content is an eminently manageable 13.2 percent. Now through 2015. We happily drank this wine with Saturday night’s pizza and guessed at a price at least $10 more than it actually costs. Excellent. About $16, a Great Bargain.

This wine was a sample for review, as I am required to inform you by dictate of the Federal Trade Commission.

Last week, Jenn Louis, chef and owner of Lincoln Restaurant and Sunshine Tavern in Portland, Oregon — I follow this Food and Wine magazine Best New Chef 2012 religiously for her inventive cuisine — posted this picture to her Facebook page. It’s a sandwich of goat liver and pancetta on sour rye bread with pickled chili aioli. I “liked” the image and said that I wondered what kind of wine would be appropriate; her reply was “crisp white.” So I looked through my notes and came up with the roster of eight crisp and savory white wines that might pair nicely with this unusual item as well as such fare as charcuterie, pork chops braised with sauerkraut and apples, veal roast and hearty seafood pastas and risottos. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, I reduce technical, historical and geographical information to a minimum in order to offer blitz-quick reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palates. These wines were review samples. They are all, coincidentally, wines made from a single grape variety. Enjoy!
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Amayna Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Leyda Valley, Chile. % alc. Pale gold color; very bright, clean, fresh, with scintillating limestone minerality; notes of roasted lemon and peach, lemongrass, ginger and quince with a touch of cloves; the body and power build incrementally, adding chalk and loam and hints of dried herbs; faintly grassy; chiseled acidity. A great performance. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
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Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; fresh, clean and spicy; lemon and lemon balm, lime peel, hint of peach; lively and acutely crisp but with a sensuous texture that’s moderately lush; still, lots of stones and bones, in the Alsace fashion, limestone and flint, with a surge of cloves and allspice and stone-fruit savor. Delicious. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $24.
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Balverne Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.7% alc. Light gold color; fresh, clean, pert, sassy and grassy; lemon, tangerine and pear, hints of mango, roasted lemon and spiced peach, notes of mint, thyme and tarragon; slightly earthy background, limestone and slate; lithe, flinty but supple texture and crisp acidity buoying a sort of bracing sea-salt element. Very attractive. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $25.
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Fred Loimer Lois Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria. 12.5% alc. Pale pale gold color; at first this wine seems a tissue of delicacies, almost fragile but it gains character and depth in the glass; yes, clean, fresh and crisp but spicy, earthy, savory and saline; green apple, spiced pear, roasted lemon; grapefruit and candied rind; limestone and damp gravel, lovely drapery of texture shot with exhilarating acidity; hints of dust, powdered orange peel and cloves in the finish. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $16, representing Great Value.
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Harney Lane Albariño 2012, Lodi. 13% alc. 716 cases. Pale gold color; clean as a whistle, fresh and invigorating, with bright, intense acidity and an appealing combination of spicy, savory and salty qualities; roasted lemon, grapefruit and spiced pear; hints of dried thyme and rosemary and a touch of leafy fig; dry and spare but with a suppleness from partial aging in neutral French oak barrels; lots of depth, subtlety and dimension. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $19.
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Gustave Lorentz Réserve Gewurztraminer 2011, Alsace, France. 13% alc. Pale gold color; rose petals, lychee and white peach; quince, ginger, white pepper and cloves; hints of melon and fig; beautifully wrought, exquisitely balanced among rigorous acidity, assertive limestone minerality and juicy citrus and slightly candied stone-fruit flavors; lovely sense of tension and resolution of all elements. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $24.
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Sequoia Grove Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. % alc. 350-400 cases. Mild gold color; all about persistence: jasmine, lilac, trace of fig and banana, thyme and tarragon, roasted lemon and lime peel, touch of grapefruit; a few minutes bring in lemongrass and mango; truly lovely wine with an engaging character and a sense of lift along with some earthiness, chalk and limestone; lip-smacking acidity. Drink now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
Image from Bills Wine Wandering.
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Tascante Buonora 2012, Terre Siciliane, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% carricante grapes. Very pale gold color; clean and fresh, bracing as a brine-laden sea-breeze; roasted lemon, thyme, almond and almond blossom; lovely silky texture enlivened by brisk acidity; lime peel, yellow plum, hint of almond-skin bitterness on a finish packed with dried spices and limestone minerality. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $20.
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Here’s a tasty and well-structured red wine for quaffing with hearty meals as the weather turns colder. The Pennywise Petite Sirah 2011, carrying a California designation (and sporting a radically new label design for the brand), is a blend of 86 percent petite sirah grapes, 8 percent merlot and 6 percent tannat. It earned its California moniker by drawing grapes from Lodi (mainly), Mendocino, Clarksburg and (way down south) Paso Robles. The color is medium ruby with a tinge of magenta; aromas of black and red currants, black raspberries and blueberries are touched with notes of cloves, graphite, lavender and licorice. A modicum of slightly dusty, mineral-flecked tannins and a swinge of acid allow for appropriate framing of juicy, spicy and cedary black and blue fruit flavors. The wine is dry and delicious and perfect for simple braised meat dishes, burgers and flavorful pasta preparations. It won’t knock your socks off or sing the birds out of the trees, but that’s not its aim. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $10 to $12, marking Great Value.

A sample for review.

Josh Jensen worked two harvests in Burgundy — at Domaine Dujac and Domaine de la Romanee-Conti — and became convinced that he could make great pinot noir wines in California if he could find the right limestone-based terroir. After a couple years search, he found what he wanted in the Gavilan Mountains, high on Mt. Harlan above the city of Hollister, in San Benito County. He planted four vineyards and founded Calera Wine Company, named for an old limestone kiln on the property, in 1976. His intuition was correct. The pinot noirs that issue from Calera’s original vineyards and several planted subsequently are not only among the best in California but among the best in the world. Jensen utilizes natural yeasts and doesn’t overwhelm the wines with new oak. He pushes for vibrant acidity and fairly rigorous structure, with the result that Calera pinot noirs deliver plenty of character but exhibit long aging potential. The wines under review today I purchased locally, paying about $4 or $5 above the suggested retail prices, which I list with the individual reviews. I received samples from Calera only once, four bottles from the 1995 vintage that I wrote about in my weekly syndicated wine column on June 30, 1999. I thought that it would be interesting to read these reviews from 15 years ago and see how consistent the wines are over time:

It was not merely a pleasure, it was an epiphany to taste the 1995 pinot noirs from Calera Wine Co., whose four pinot vineyards are perched in the Gavilan Mountains in San Benito County. Owner Josh Jensen, dedicated to a Burgundian vision, has been a pioneer of great pinot in California since 1972. The wines carry a Mt. Harlan appellation.

The gorgeous Calera Jensen Pinot Noir 1995 smells like old English churches – rich, dusty, floral, imbued with incense – and brandishes an extraordinary scent of baked plums and black cherries combined with sweet oak and a meaty, animal quality; it offers incredible weight and density, luscious cherry-cranberry flavors that pull up leather and dried herbs and a dim circumference of brown sugar. Exceptional. About $38.

Where the Jensen is warm, the Calera Reed 1995 is cooler, more minerally but also funkier, more “barnyardy”; it brims with cranberry and cola flavors rimmed with brown sugar and trimmed with deft, spicy oak. Excellent. About $35.

If garnets had a flavor, it would be embodied by the Calera Mills 1995, a pinot noir more reticent, more intense and concentrated than its cousins. Provocative smoke curls at the core, while at the top of its range shimmers a floral scent almost like camillas; currants and plums, wheatmeal and beet-root, thyme and lavender teem in the mouth. Exceptional. About $35.

Finally, the Calera Selleck 1995 is an example of utter purity and richness, seamless balance and integration; its hallmark is not intensity but completeness and generosity. Excellent. About $38.

Winemaker at Calera is Mike Waller, who has been at the winery since 2007. Image of Josh Jensen from The Underground Wineletter.

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Calera “Ryan” Pinot Noir 2009, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County. The Ryan Vineyard consists of an upper portion of 9.4 acres, planted in 1998, and a lower portion of 3.7 acres planted in 2001. The wine aged 18 months in 30 percent new French oak barrels. The color is medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim; the bouquet burgeons with exotic spice, fresh and dried red currants and raspberries with a hint of blueberry and a note of violets; the texture is spare and lithe, and acidity cuts a swathe on the palate; more than an any other of this quartet, the influence of fine-grained tannins and oak and graphite minerality is apparent, creating a slight rasp or sense of resistance in the wine’s flow. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now or wait until 2015 and consume through 2019 to ’21. Production was 2,218 cases. Very Good+. About $42.
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Calera “Mills” Pinot Noir 2009, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County. The 14.4-acre Mills Vineyard was planted in 1984; an additional acre was planted in 1998. The wine aged 18 months in 30 percent new French oak barrels. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry tinge; this is a subtle and supple pinot noir, highly structured but displaying plenty of spicy fruit scents and flavors in the range of red currants, red cherries and plums; the mode of the wine, however, is earthy and lithic, cool and minerally; it’s half juicy, half rigorous. The Calera “Mills” 09 offers great depth of character and dense, almost chewy tannins that feel legitimately hard-earned. Delicious stuff, but demanding too. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 1,599 cases. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $48.
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Calera “Reed” Pinot Noir 2010, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County. The 4.4-acre Reed vineyard was planted in 1975. The wine aged 16 months in 30 percent new French oak barrels. The entrancing color is limpid medium ruby; aromas of cloves, cola, rhubarb and cranberry feel slightly macerated and roasted. This is a delicate, elusive and haunting pinot noir with a supremely satiny texture and keen acidity that combs the palate; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of briars and brambles and forest floor, with notes of graphite and loam, every quality combined with elegance, tensile strength and inevitability. 13.6 percent alcohol. 398 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Exceptional. About $55.
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Calera “Jensen” Pinot Noir 2010, Mt. Harlen, San Benito County. Jensen, 13.8 acres, was planted in 1975. The wine spent 16 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of dark plums, red currents and potpourri are wreathed with notes of old leather, lavender, potpourri and a trace of pomegranate and cola; the real thing, heady yet subtle, nuanced and balanced. Matters become a bit more structured in the mouth, where acidity plows a straight furrow and elements of leather and spicy oak emerge more prominently; the texture is satiny smooth, supernally so, but lithe and sinewy, so you feel the bones and muscles of its essence as well as the supple smoothness. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 1,072 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $75.
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I was going to write up more cabernet sauvignon wines from California for this edition of Weekend Wine Notes — Sunday is still the weekend — but I realized that this blog has been top-heavy with red wines for the past few months, so instead I offer a diverse roster of white wines with a couple of rosés. We hit many grapes, regions and styles in this post, trying to achieve the impossible goal of being all things to all people; you can’t blame me for trying. As usual with the weekend wine thing, I provide little in the way of historical, technical and geographical data; just quick reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. Prices today range from $8 to $24, so blockbuster tabs are not involved. These were samples for review, except for the Mercurey Clos Rochette 2009, which I bought, and the Laetitia Chardonnay 2012, tasted at the winery back in April. Enjoy! (Sensibly and in moderation)
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Domaine de Ballade Rosé 2012, Vin de Pays des Gascogne. 13% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Pale copper-salmon color; raspberries and red currants, very spicy and lively; vibrant acidity; spiced peach and orange rind; slightly earthy, with a touch of limestone minerality. Tasty and enjoyable. Drink up. Very Good+. About $12, meaning Good Value.
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C.H. Berres Treppchen Erden Riesling Kabinett 2011, Mosel, Germany. 11% alc. 100% riesling. Luminous pale gold color; green apples and grapefruit, hint of mango; delicately woven with limestone and shale and spanking acidity; very dry and crisp but an almost cloud-like texture; ripe flavors of pear and peach, hint of tangerine. Now through 2015 to ’17. Delightful. Very Good+. About $20.

I borrowed this image from Benito’s Wine Reviews.
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Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. This winery’s first release of sauvignon blanc. Pale gold color; lemongrass and celery seed, quince and cloves, hint of ginger and mango, a fantasia on grass, hay and salt-marsh savoriness; flavors of ripe pear, pea shoots, roasted lemon; brisk acidity cutting through a burgeoning limestone element; lots of personality, almost charisma. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Halter Ranch Rosé 2012, Paso Robles. 13.5% alc. 68% grenache, 15% mourvèdre, 12% picpoul blanc, 5% syrah. 1,200 cases. Beautiful pale copper-salmon color; pure strawberry and raspberry highlighted by cloves, tea leaf, thyme and limestone; lovely texture, silky and almost viscous but elevated by crisp acidity and a scintillating limestone element; finishes with red fruit, hints of peach and lime peel, dried herbs. Drink through 2014. Excellent. About $19.
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Hans Lang Vom Bunten Schiefer Riesling 2009, Rheingau, Germany. 12.5% alc. 100% riesling. Very pale gold color; lovely and delicate bouquet of lightly spiced peach and pear with notes of lychee, mango, lime peel and jasmine, all subdued to a background of limestone and an intense floral character; still, it’s spare and fairly reticent, slightly astringent, quite dry yet juicy with citrus and tropical fruit flavors; exquisite balance and tone. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $22.
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Inama Vigneti di Foscarino 2010, Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% gargenega grapes. Medium yellow-gold color; spicy and savory; roasted lemon, yellow plums, almond and almond blossom, acacia, dried mountain herbs; Alpine in its bracing clarity and limestone minerality; spare and elegant but with pleasing moderate lush texture and fullness. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. A superior Soave Classico. Excellent. About $25.
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Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris 2011, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; lemon balm, yellow plums and grapefruit zest; spare but not lean texture, enlivened by zinging acidity; crisp and lively and lightly spicy; quite delicate overall; finish brings in more grapefruit and a touch of limestone. Quite charming to drink through Summer of 2014 on the porch or patio or on a picnic. Very Good. About $8, a Bargain of the Decade.
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Laetitia Estate Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, San Luis Obispo County. 13.8% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale gold color; pungent and flavorful with limestone, pineapple and grapefruit with hints of mango and peach, jasmine and lightly buttered toast; sleek and supple, seamlessly balanced and integrated, oak is just a whiff and deft intimation; lively with fleet acidity and a burgeoning limestone element. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Mercurey Clos Rochette 2009, Domaine Faiveley, Chalonnaise, Burgundy. 12.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale gold color; ginger, quince, jasmine, talc; grapefruit and a hint of peach; very dry wine, crystalline limestone-like minerality; note of gun-flint and clean hay-like earthiness; grapefruit, pineapple, spiced pear; lovely silky texture jazzed with brisk acidity; sleek, charming. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $24 (what I paid).
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Cascinetta Vietti Moscato d’Asti 2012, Piedmont, Italy. 5.5% alc. Very pale gold color, with a tinge of green, and modestly effervescent, which is to say, frizzante; apples and pears, smoky and musky, soft and slightly sweet but with driving acidity and a limestone edge; notes of muskmelon, cucumber and fennel; a few moments bring in hints of almond, almond-blossom and musk-rose. Delicate, tasty, charming. Now through Summer 2014. Very Good+. About $16.
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Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2011, Alsace. 14% alc. Certified biodynamic. Pale straw-gold color; very dry but ripe and juicy; peach, pear, touch of lychee; incisive and chiseled with chiming acidity and fleet limestone minerality yet with an aspect that’s soft, ripe and appealing; slightly earthy, with a hint of moss and mushrooms; a pleasing sense of tension and resolution of all elements. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $22.
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Clos du Val gets it right for its first commercially released sauvignon blanc, made all in stainless steel and 100 percent varietal. Took long enough; the winery was founded in 1972. Senior winemaker is Kristy Melton. The color of the Clos du Val Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley, is a shimmering pale gold. Aromas of pear, jasmine and cloves are highlighted by ginger, quince and lemongrass and a hint of freshly mown grass and damp straw. The wine is so suave, supple and spicy that one might think it had seen the inside of a few French oak barrels, but that’s not the case; a subtle and sunny leafy-fig element overlays notes of pear, yellow plum and lightly roasted peach and lemon, all wrapped around a vibrant core of steely acidity and limestone-flecked minerality. I’m quite happily having a glass right now with the tuna salad I made for our lunches. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 3,500 cases. Drink now through 2015. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review.

This is a follow-up to last week’s Weekend Wine Notes that presented brief reviews of 12 Napa Valley cabs. Today, we’ll make do with seven examples, five from vintage 2010, two from 2009. These were samples for review except for the Sequoia Grove 2010, tasted at the winery in August. No mention here of history, geography, oak regimen and other technical matters or the personalities involved. These Weekend Wine Notes, sometimes transcribed directed from my tasting notes, other times expanded, are intended to pique your interest and whet your palate (or not) quickly. Enjoy …

Next week, I plan a similar post about cabernet sauvignon wines from regions of California other than Napa Valley.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. With 5% merlot. Dense ruby-purple shading to magenta at the rim, fantastic vibrant color; rich, warm, spicy; black currants, black raspberries and plums, roots and branches, moss and wheatmeal; cedar, thyme, black olives; new leather, hints of cranberry and rhubarb; cleansing, not to say chastening, acidity; dense and chewy but not ponderous or obvious; you feel the dusty iron-like mountain underpinnings; long finish packed with minerals, oak and dry fairly austere tannins, but not astringent; gets more profound as the moments pass. 2016 or ’17 through 2024 to ’28. Exceptional. About $80.
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Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. With 7% cabernet franc, 5% merlot, 2% petit verdot. Deep and radiant ruby-mulberry color; rich, ripe, warm and spicy; graham cracker with a hint of fruitcake (the baking spices and dried fruit); violets, thyme and cedar; sleek, lithe and chiseled, like a great athlete; cassis, black cherry, hint of cherry tart; core of graphite, bitter chocolate and licorice, all permeated by finely-milled, slightly granitic tannins; power and elegance not quite in blissful harmony; try 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’25. Or tonight with a hot and crusty medium rare ribeye steak right off the grill. Excellent. About $38.
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Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon grapes. Intense ruby-purple color; broad and generous scents and flavors of black currants, black cherries and plums; deeply spicy and minerally, woven with iodine and iron and graphite; touches of walnut shell and wheatmeal in the oak and tannins that impose real structure on the wine; still, this is sleek and elegant, with beguiling hints of lavender, black olives and cedar; long, fairly tight finish. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $40.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With dollops of merlot, petite sirah, petit verdot and syrah. Dark, intense ruby-purple color; cassis, black cherry, plums; very dusty graphite and iron-like minerality; deep dusty tannins, earth and loam; pretty tight and stalwartly structured; this needs breathing space and elbow room to soften and grow more expansive. 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Perhaps Excellent potential. About $34.
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Parallel Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. Dark ruby color with an opaque center; very intense and concentrated, with dusty, earthy velvety tannins and a profound iodine-iron-graphite component; ultimately, the tannins and oak are numbing, and one hopes for a glimmer of fruit; altogether austere, vigorous, potentially long-lived. Try 2015 or ’17 through 2024 to ’26. Very Good+. About $60.
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Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. Radiant dark ruby color with an intense magenta rim; black raspberry and cassis, plums and fruitcake, ripe, roasted and fleshy; succulent black fruit flavors but dry and with a rigorous structure — iron and iodine, graphite and granitic minerality, dense tannins; still manages to be attractive and drinkable, now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $38.
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Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. Dark ruby color; cassis, black cherry and blueberry, spicy, ripe and roasted; a big wine, highly structured but balanced; drenched in chewy, dusty, fairly austere tannins; dry, vibrant with acidity; long graphite and spice-infused finish. Needs a steak. Try 2015 through 2020 to ’24. Very Good+. About $38
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This series is dedicated to cabernet sauvignon wines produced by wineries founded 1980 or before.

Few wineries in Napa Valley or in all of California’s wine-making regions could claim to be as old-school, particularly for cabernet sauvignon, as Beaulieu Vineyard. The winery was founded in 1900 by Frenchman Georges de Latour (1858-1940), whose first business interest in California was cream of tartar (potassium tartrate). After buying vineyard acreage in Rutherford, in Napa Valley, de Latour began using the Beaulieu name in 1906. A zealous entrepreneur, de Latour obtained a contract supplying sacramental wine to the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1908; he was well-prepared when Prohibition came into effect in 1919 to expand the altar-wine business nationwide, a fact that kept his winery not only open during prohibition but profitable. When Prohibition was repealed, he was ready with a national distribution system, well-tended vines and name recognition. Perhaps the smartest move de Latour made was hiring the Russian enologist Andre Tchelistcheff in 1938. Tchelistcheff did not create the Beaulieu Vineyards Private Reserve wine; credit for that goes to previous winemaker Leon Bonnet, who produced the first model in 1936. Tchelistcheff, however, refined the technique, introduced American oak barrels — an interesting choice considering his French training and background — and generally overhauled practices in the vineyard and winery. He was with BV until 1973 but returned in 1991 as an advocate of French oak instead of American and of altering what had been a 100 percent varietal wine with a dollop of merlot. Tchelistcheff died in 1994, at the age of 90.

BV was sold to Heublein in 1969, and that company greatly expanded production and the label line-up; perhaps coincidentally, the Private Reserve suffered a checkered reputation in the 1970s and early 80s. After a series of buy-outs and transfers complicated enough to make your head spin, BV is now owned by Diageo. Winemaker is Jeffrey Stambor; consultant is –who else? — Michel Rolland.
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Beaulieu Vineyard Georges De Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, offers a dark ruby-purple color that’s almost opaque at the center. The wine contains four percent petit verdot and aged 22 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels; long gone is the American oak that gave this classic wine its distinct spicy edge. BV PR 09 is dense, intense and concentrated in every sense, delivering hints of black currant and plum scents and flavors that are ripe, barely macerated and roasted and touched with vanilla, toast and a tinge of caraway. The wine smells like iron and oak, and indeed the structure is rock-ribbed, with dusty, iron-like tannins, burnished oak and a tremendous granitic, lithic quality; the austere finish is packed with graphite, shale, toast and underbrush. The alcohol content, making for a slightly over-ripe and hot character, is a staggering 15.7 percent. Where are the subtlety, the elegance and nuance that made this wine, particularly in the 1950s and ’60s and again in the 1980s, so harmonious yet deep, the qualities that made it, for me, the Lafite of Napa Valley cabernets? Every aspect here adds up to just one of a hundred other Napa Valley cabernets. It ain’t so old-school anymore. Very Good+ and perhaps Excellent potential (say 2020 to ’25) but with reservations. About $135 a bottle.

A sample for review.
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The Balverne label has quite a pedigree. Its parent winery, Windsor Oaks, occupies land that was part of the Rancho Sotoyome grant in Sonoma County later acquired by Antonio Perelli-Minetti (1882-1976), the Italian immigrant who eventually headed the 20-million gallon California Wine Association near Delano in Kern County. Though Antonio Perelli-Minetti first planted grapes on the property south of Healdsburg, in Russian River Valley, the estate was primarily used as the family’s summer residence. It was purchased in 1972, named Balverne, and the vineyards were replanted; winemakers who came on board in 1978 were recent UC-Davis graduates Doug Nalle and John Kongsgaard, neither of whom, as they say, need any introduction to devotees of fine California wine, having gone on to found their own highly regarded wineries. The 710-acre estate was acquired in 1992 by current owners Bob and Renee Stein, who renamed it Windsor Oaks Vineyards and Winery. Windsor Oaks sold grapes to more than 35 wineries before turning back to wine production in 2005. Last year, the Steins reintroduced the Balverne label and kept the pedigree going by hiring as winemaker Margaret Davenport (Simi, Clos du Bois) and as consulting winemaker, Doug Nalle, creating a sort of full-circle homecoming.

So, today, I offer as Wine of the Week the Balverne Rosé of Sangiovese 2012, from Chalk Hill, a sub-appellation within Russian River Valley. The wine is a estate-grown blend of 88 percent sangiovese and 12 percent grenache grapes and is made completely in stainless steel tanks; no oak influence here. The color is a lovely shade of russet-Rainier cherries, slightly darker than pink or onion skin. Speaking of cherries, notes of red cherries, strawberries and mulberries dominate a bouquet that subtly unfurls its hints of rhubarb, cloves and limestone. This rosé is tart on the palate, bright and lively, and here the red fruit, with tinges of sour cherry and melon, takes on a slightly riper and macerated tone, though the wine is spare, bone-dry and permeated by limestone and chalk minerality. The finish brings in a touch of dried orange rind and pomegranate. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink through 2014 as an aperitif or with simple picnic or luncheon fare. Excellent. About $20.

A sample for review.

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