California


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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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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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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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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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.

Gary Andrus founded Pine Ridge Vineyards in 1978, acquiring 50 acres, planted mainly to chardonnay vines, on the Silverado Trail in Stags Leap District. After planting cabernet sauvignon vines and purchasing other vineyards, logo-Pine-Ridge-VineyardsPine Ridge earned a reputation for its full-bodied, multi-dimensional cabernet sauvignon wines, as well as chardonnay and, later, a popular and inexpensive chenin blanc-viognier blend that pays the rent. Anders put the winery on the market in 2000, and it was purchased by The Crimson Wine Group, which also owns Archery Summit, in Oregon, and Seghesio, in Sonoma County. Pine Ridge owns vineyard acreage in many parts of Napa Valley, and produces limited bottlings of wines from these classic AVAs. Under review today are the examples from Rutherford, Oakville District and Stags Leap District. Rutherford and Oakville stretch across the central Valley floor, while Stags Leap, backing up to the Vaca Range, is hillier, even fairly steep in places.

These three wines receive the same oak regimen, 18 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels, but it’s interesting that the blend on each is different, making accommodations to the vineyards and the landscape and micro-climates involved. Wimemaker and general manager is Michael Beaulac. These are stalwart — and expensive — cabernets, that seem to me to epitomize what makes Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon so well-known in the world of both casual drinkers and astute wine collectors: the sense of acute minerality; the poised and rugged tannins; the deep black fruit permeated by the unique combination of tea, dried herbs, loam and dust; the ultimate balance and integration, in the best years. The vintage in question here, 2012, though a warm year, is undeniably one of the best.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Pine Ridge Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, is a blend of 76 percent cabernet sauvignon and 24 percent petit verdot. With its intensity and concentration, its huge, dynamic lithic structure and its exquisite balance that paradoxically verges on elegance, this wine conforms to my ideal of an Oakville cabernet. The color is very dark ruby with a tinge of purple at the rim; taking some time to swirl the wine and sniff allows whiffs of black fruit shading to blue and dried meadow flowers to emerge, almost reluctantly it seems, while the big build-up is in the precincts of dust and graphite, iodine and iron. Still, tannins are plush on the palate, and the wine, despite its depth and dimension and the tautness of its acidity, flows through the mouth with lively aplomb. A wine that needs some time to open, though it would be tempting with a medium-rare strip steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’34. Excellent. About $85.
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The Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, offers a dark ruby hue with a glowing magenta rim; the nose is distinguished by incisive graphite minerality that bears hints of iodine and iron, ancho chili and bitter chocolate, opening gradually to deeply spiced and macerated red and black currants and raspberries; these aromas take on an incredibly floral aspect, blending lavender, violets and lilacs with a twist of black licorice. Though rigorous in structure, supported by bastions of dry, dusty tannins, this Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is lively, vital and vigorous, almost engaging, though a few minutes in the glass give it burgeoning depth and dimension; oak stays firmly on the periphery, yet the influence is undeniably there. The finish is long, dense and freighted with a kind of powdery granitic quality. The blend is 82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15 percent malbec, 3 percent petit verdot. 14.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $85.
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Stylistically, the Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, bears resemblance to its cousins also mentioned in this post but feels even denser, more stringent, bottomless, as if it siphoned up all the bedrock of the steep hillside vineyards where it was born. It’s a blend of 77 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent malbec. The color, of course, is dark, almost opaque ruby that shades to a lighter mulberry rim; the bouquet is a stirring melange of graphite, tar, ancho chili and bitter chocolate, roasted fennel and ripe, macerated red and black currants and cherries; a bit of time brings in notes of cloves, sage and rosemary. Yes, it’s massive on the palate, deeply tannic, yet fleet of foot too, aided by plangent acidity and a deft touch with oak, which feels polished and lightly sanded. It will need a few years aging to bring out more of the black fruit flavors, so try from 2017 to ’19 through 2030 to ’35. 14.7 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $125.
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The joke about Bonny Doon’s A Proper Claret is, of course, that it’s a highly unproper example, even a parody, of APC13C_front_300dpiclaret, that is, of a red wine from Bordeaux. Birthed by the fervid, fevered imagination of winery owner, winemaker and celebrated punster Randall Grahm, the latest release, the Bonny Doon A Proper Claret 2013, carrying a California designation, contains 46 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent merlot and 14 percent petit verdot, all veddy proper for a Bordeaux, but the balance is filled by 15 percent tannat, 8 percent syrah and 1 percent petite sirah, grapes that would made all the Rothschild ancestors and cousins spin in their graves, now and forevermore. To say that the result is unique doesn’t begin to cover the bases. The color is dark ruby-purple; at first, the aromas are red fruit — mainly cherries and currants — that take on hints of black and blue as the minutes pass, all permeated by notes of mint and iodine, briers and brambles, a hint of dried porcini mushrooms and a remarkably intense floral element, like a bouquet of fresh and dried meadow flowers. On the palate, this is woodsy, musky and dusty, with ripe and spicy raspberries, currants and plums bolstered by firm yet pliant tannins and a dense supple texture enlivened by brisk acidity. Graphite and loam serve as foundation for an earthy element that broadens across the spectrum with meaty, feral, ferrous dimension. Quite a performance; loads of tantalizing and ineffable personality. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018. Excellent. About $16, marking Great Value.

A sample for review.

The Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2012, North Coast, isn’t all “noirs”; to its 88 percent pinot noir grapes it adds 12 percent chardonnay. It’s clearly North Coast, drawing grapes from Sonoma (44 percent), Mendocino (33 percent),Schramberg-Vineyards-Blanc-de-Noirs-Label Napa (19 percent) and Marin (4 percent) counties. The color is an ethereal pale gold, enlivened by a steady swirling stream of tiny bubbles. The first notes from the glass blossom with freshly baked biscuits and toasted hazelnuts, hints of lemon and pears spiced with ginger, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and touches of mango, melon and orange blossom, clean, high and elegant. This sparkling wine indeed sparkles on the palate with crisp acidity and a scintillating limestone element that burgeons through the sleek, chiseled finish; slightly macerated citrus tones dominate the flavor profile but in a spare cool fashion that allows the structure to express itself fully. 11.8 percent alcohol. A superb aperitif but also appropriate with such dishes as duck, pork and rabbit terrines, roasted veal and (more humbly) fried chicken. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $41.

A sample for review.

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