Carneros


No limp, wimpy red wine here, the Clos Pegase Mitsuko’s Vineyard Merlot 2015, Napa Valley-Carneros, sings of its character is full-throated ease, with rippling muscles and lithe structure, like the person on the treadmill next to you at the gym. If you drive along Highway 29, the central thoroughfare in Napa Valley, Clos Pegase is unmistakable. Designed by well-known architect Michael Graves, the winery, founded in 1984 just south of Calistoga, resembles a post-modern rendition of a Mayan temple. Owner Jan Strem, also an active collector of contemporary art, sold the winery (but not the art) to Vintage Wine Estates in 2013. The vineyard in Carneos was named for Strem’s wife. The wine is a blend of 90 percent merlot and five percent each petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon; it aged 16 months in French oak, 32 percent new barrels. It’s as opaque a black-ruby hue as a wine can be, alleviated by a glowing purple rim; the wine’s aromas of crushed black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of iodine and loam, smoke and graphite, with high-tones of lavender and licorice, dried thyme and rosemary (with some of the latter’s hint of woodsy astringency). Oh, it’s a brawny one all right, but sleek and polished and deeply flavorful, borne on a strain of arrowing acidity and dusty, velvety tannins. The finish is all briers and brambles and granitic minerality. 14.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2023 to ’25 with a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the coals. Excellent. About $40.

A sample for review from the local distributor.

Jed Steele is assured a place in the annals of the California wine industry — and in the chronicle of American consumer taste — because he formulated the character of the Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, a ripe, slightly florid and slightly sweet chardonnay that tickled American palates to the tune of millions of cases. The wine was introduced in 1982, when proprietor Jess Jackson was getting started in the business. Steele had worked at Stony Hill and Edmeades and brought a wealth of knowledge, as well as instinct and intuition, to Kendall-Jackson, an ever expanding winery for which he worked until 1991, when Jackson fired Steele amid contentious accusations leading to suits and counter-suits. Jackson asserted that the “formula” for the Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay was a trade secret owned by the company, not by the man who created the wine. Surprisingly, a court agreed with Jackson. Water under the bridge, right. That year, the winemaker started Steele Wines, based in Lake County but drawing grapes from the breadth of California’s wine regions. While he makes a dizzying array of wines from multiple grape varieties, Steele produces several pinot noirs, both on a regional basis and from the single-vineyard standpoint. In today’s post, we look at an inexpensive and approachable example from Lake County, under the Shooting Star label; models from 2013 and ’14 from Santa Barbara County and Carneros; and a single-vineyard offering from the well-known Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Barbara. No one would mistake these wines for anything other than pinot noir, yet Jed Steele imprints his individuality on each one, allowing the grape to express itself while keeping to his vision of what the grape can be.

These wines were samples for review.
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Let’s start with the Shooting Star Pinot Noir 2015, Lake County, under a label that’s one of Steele Wines’ subsidiary (and competitively priced) efforts. The wine aged nine months in French and Hungarian oak barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a magenta rim; aromas and flavors of black cherries and currants are lightly spiced with sassafras and cloves, with a note of red cherry in the background. The texture is silky smooth and animated by brisk acidity; the finish brings in hints of loam and graphite. 13.8 percent alcohol. Very Good+. A Real Bargain at about $14.
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The Steele Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Barbara County, aged eight months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby, shading to a medium transparent rim; the beguiling and seductive bouquet offers notes of violets and rose petals, spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants, with a complex weaving of sassafras, rhubarb, sandalwood and cloves and tantalizing hints of cranberry and sour cherry. The texture is supernally satiny, but make no mistake, this pinot noir delivers a real mouthful of loamy-spicy black and red fruit flavors and vivid acidity, while the finish brings in elements of new leather and graphite. 14.5 percent alcohol. An exotic and highly individual pinot noir drinking beautifully at four years; it should develop well through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $21, representing Great Value.
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Steele Wines Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Barbara County. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent rim; this pinot noir is dense with black and red fruit and exotic spice, feeling macerated and slightly fleshy and roasted; black and red cherries and currants display a hint of plum; a ballooning floral element wreathes violets and rose petals, while a penetrating graphite quality arrows through the svelte, succulent texture; lip-smacking acidity keeps the whole package lively. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $21.
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The Steele Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Carneros, aged 10 to 12 months in French oak, 10 percent new barrels, a percentage I like. The color is medium ruby-garnet with a transparent rim; the impression is of spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants, fairly ripe and fleshy and permeated by notes of an element slightly resinous and herbal, like fresh rosemary, and by deeper hints of cranberry and pomegranate, violets and dusty loam. The texture is irresistibly satiny-smooth. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Excellent. About $21.
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As with the other pinot noirs in this post, the Steele Wines Pinot Noir 2014, Carneros, delivers a well-modulated, almost subliminal oak presence that doesn’t interfere with its aromas — both lovely and intense — of red cherries and currants permeated by blossoming notes of violets and lavender, sassafras and sandalwood or its expansive flavors of ripe red and black fruit that after a few minutes in the glass take on hints of loam and new leather, bittersweet chocolate and graphite. The whole package is driven by acidity that cuts a path on the palate. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $21.
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The Steele Wines Bien Nacido Vineyard Block N Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Barbara County, aged 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. An entrancing medium transparent ruby hue shades to a delicate rim; very pure, intense yet generous black and red cherry and currant scents and flavors are permeated by pronounced elements of pomegranate and cranberry, sandalwood and sassafras. On the palate, this pinot noir is lithe, supple and suave, animated by bright acidity and given a firm mineral backbone of graphite and loam. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 150 cases. Should drink beautifully through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $36.
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Let’s say this right up front: These four chardonnays from Grgich Hills Estate are world-class wines, competitive with chardonnays from any country and any region. They embody everything about the marriage of grace and power that characterizes the best examples of the grape, as well as the volumes of intuition, knowledge and experience required to produce such wines. The use of oak barrels is particularly thoughtful and deft. While the talented and skillful winemaker for Grgich Hills is Ivo Jeramaz, over all hovers the benign and venerable presence of Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, one of Napa Valley’s great pioneers. Devotees of the finest chardonnay wines will want these in their cellars.

These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform My Readers by dictate of the Federal Trade Commission.
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The lean, tight and focused Grgich Hills 40th Anniversary Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, was fermented and aged 10 months in the standard 60-gallon French oak barrique, in this case 70 percent new barrels, the rest neutral. It’s a chardonnay of magnificent power and range, detail and dimension; it was shaped to offer a sense of poise and dignity that leans close to austerity while also delivering the complete package of juicy pear, pineapple and grapefruit flavors (slightly macerated and roasted) and encompassed in a texture that deftly balances incisive crispness with talc-like softness. I cannot emphasize enough what an impression of dynamism and completeness this wine makes on the palate or how powerful the influence of limestone minerality is from beginning to end, making for a chardonnay that feels perfectly poised between crystalline vibrancy and delicacy, on one hand, and the potent earthiness of smoke, ash and loam, on the other. 14.1 percent alcohol. A wonderful achievement, commemorating the winery’s 40th anniversary in 2017. Now through 2024 to ’28, if properly cared for. Exceptional. About $50.
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The Grgich Hills Miljenko’s Selection Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley-Carneros, was fermented (with native yeast) and then aged 11 months in 900-gallon oak casks, and in case My Readers wonder about the size of the barrels, think in comparison that the standard barrel, the one you see when you tour wineries or in atmospheric photographs of aging cellars, contains 60 gallons. The color is pale straw-gold; it’s permeated by yellow fruit and flowers — pears, peaches and quince; jasmine and honeysuckle — bolstered by definitive notes of limestone, flint and graphite, heather and damp dusty roof tiles. Boy, this chardonnay offers tremendous presence on the palate; it’s dry and dense, even chewy, bursting with energy and vitality yet, withal, beautifully knit, almost elegant in its balance, this character lasting through the long, vibrant, mineral-laden finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 882 cases. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $62.
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The Grgich Hills Miljenko’s Selection Chardonnay 2015, Napa Valley-Carneros, received the same oak treatment as its cousin from 2014, also with fermentation induced by native yeast — the yeast that naturally occurs in the vineyards and on the grapes — and did not undergo malolactic. In a testimony to consistency, these stablemates are very similar in character, though the 2015 possibly offers a slightly more refined, brighter aspect. The color is light straw-gold; aromas of pineapple and grapefruit are permeated by notes of mango and toasted coconut, apple and spiced pear, graphite and gun-flint. The lovely balance the wine displays is exquisite; all elements feel strung along a finely wrought line of fleet acidity and delicately chiseled limestone. A few moments in the glass bring out hints of lilac and camellia, while the structure, nicely dense yet lithe and supple, leads to a mineral-packed finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 875 cases. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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Talk about lots of oak! The Grgich Hills Paris Tasting Commemorative Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, fermented in and then aged 12 months in French barriques, 70 percent new, and then six more months in French oak foudres, that is barrels that hold 1,500 gallons, though foudre is a flexible term. How did the wine emerge from this regimen? Crystalline with chiming acidity, scintillating with limestone minerality, vibrant, resonant, earthy and powerful, yet elegant, almost delicate in its marshaling of detail: notes of slightly baked pineapple and grapefruit, pear compote, smoke and cloves, mango, jasmine and almond skin. The color, by the way, is light gold; the wine is quite dry, yet so sleek, suave and supple that the texture comes close to being luxurious; its heft on the palate is glamorous and dynamic. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 942 cases. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Exceptional. About $94.
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Valentine’s, the most fraught day of the year, when everybody in America is going to be as romantic as hell or die trying, and what’s more loveromantic than that? In case you — meaning any person of whatever gender fluidity, age, religion, political stance, food preference or IQ — forgot to lay in a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine, here is a brief roster of examples, all Brut Rosés, that register at various levels of delectability on the palate and dent-free on the pocketbook; in other words, delicious and not too expensive. (I understand that “expensive” is a relative concept.) Though actual Champagne is not included here, that is, bubbly made exclusively in the Champagne region of France, these models are produced in the famed “Champagne method” of second fermentation in the bottle, the same bottle it will be sold in, after some length of time resting on the lees in said bottle before being finished with the cork and wire. The process is a tad more complicated, of course, but I’m into simplification today so I can get a bottle of sparkling wine into your hands before it’s too late. Two of these selections are from France — Loire Valley and Burgundy — and two from California — Russian River and Napa-Carneros. So, drink up, have fun, dance a step or two and give him or her or him/her a smooch for me.

Credit: Leslie Barron, Big Love, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 24 by 48 inches. Courtesy of L Ross Gallery, Memphis, Tennessee.
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De Chanceny Brut Rosé nv, Crémant de Loire, is a product of Alliance Loire, a cooperative founded in 2002 to take advantage of vineyard 17385--de-chanceny-cremant-de-loire-rose-brut-label-1426983098connections that range from Muscadet in the west to the appellations of Touraine in the center. This is 100 percent cabernet franc, aged on the lees at least 12 months. The color is an attractive pale copper-salmon hue, enlivened by a steady stream of tiny bubbles. Aromas of strawberry and raspberry are touched with the slight astringency of mulberry, fleshed out by orange zest and a hint of cloves. This Crémant de Loire is dry, crisp and lively, animated by pert acidity and a deft limestone edge. 12.5 percent alcohol. Truly charming. Very Good+. I paid $15 locally, but prices around the country vary from about $13 to $19; don’t pay that much, My Readers.

Signature Imports, Mansfield, Mass.
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Founded in 1831, Domaine Albert Bichot produces Burgundy wines that encompass the complete geographical and hierarchical aspects of the region. Today, however, we look not at any of the domaine’s Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines but at its quite satisfying non-vintage Albert Bichot Brut Rosé Crémant de Bourgogne, composed of chardonnay, pinot noir and gamay grapes. The color is pale copper-pink, the essential bubbles active and energetic. Notes of blood orange, cloves, tangerine and red cherry are given a serious touch by an element of limestone minerality. It’s quite dry but displays lovely bones and a deceptive quality of tensile strength. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.

European Wine Imports, Cleveland, Ohio. A sample for review.
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The J Vineyard Brut Rosé nv, Russian River Valley, is a blend of 66 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay and 1 percent pinot meunier; it aged two years en tirage, that is, on the lees in the bottle. This is all flushes, blushes and nuances, from its very pale copper-sunset hue, to its slightly fleshy, subtly ripe notes of orange zest, raspberry and lemon rind touched with almond skin, to its steely, chiseled structure. The bubbles, however, are nothing discrete, being a dynamic upward surge like a fountain. This sparkling wine is elegant and fine-boned, finishing with an intriguing hint of grapefruit bitterness. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.
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The Frank Family Vineyard Brut Rosé 2012, Napa Valley-Carneros, a blend of 76 percent pinot noir and 24 percent chardonnay, offers a pale copper hue flushed with rose-petal pink; the tiny bubbles teem like a glinting tempest in the glass. This is a focused and intense sparkling wine that displays burnished notes of blood orange and tangerine, red raspberries and currants wrapped in a package of lightly toasted brioche and limestone steeliness, managing to be both generous and austere. Lip-smacking acidity and effervescence and scintillating minerality keep it appealing and dynamic, while innate elegance makes it lithe and attractive. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. Drink through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $55.

A sample for review.
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So, here it is, My Readers, the annual “50 Great Wines” roster, presently for the past year, that is, 2016. Not the “Greatest” of all wines or the “Best” of all wines, but a selection of 50 products that struck me as embodying everything we want in a wine: freshness, balance, appeal; depth, personality and character; an adherence to the nature of the grapes and, where possible, the virtues of the vineyard and climate. These are wines that leave aside the ego of the winemaker and producer for an expression of — not to sound too idealistic — an ideal of what a wine should be. I won’t belabor the process by which I arrived at this list of 50 wines, except to say that every wine I rated “Exceptional” during 2016 is automatically included. Did I leave out wines that I truly admired? Indeed, I did, because this list focuses on wines that I truly loved. Enjoy!
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Acorn Heritage Vines Alegria Vineyard Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 78 percent zinfandel, 12 percent alicante bouschet, 8 percent petite sirah and 2 percent a combination of carignane, trousseau, sangiovese, petit bouschet, negrette, syrah, black muscat, cinsault and grenache. A real field blend. Production was 548 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Alfred Gratien Brut Rose nv, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $65.
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Arrow&Branch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $35.
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Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Production was 212 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2012, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. Exceptional. About $50.

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R. Buoncristiani Vineyard Orentano Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 305 cases made. Excellent. About $40.

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Les Cadrans de Lassegue 2012, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux. Merlot and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $35.

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Champ de Rêves Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Exceptional. About $45.

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Chartogne-Taillet “Heurtebise” Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $65 to $80.

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Domaine Chignard “Beauvernay” 2014, Julienas, Beaujolais Cru. Excellent. About $22.

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Cornerstone Cellars Michael’s Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. Production was under 250 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

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Erath Winery Prince Hill Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $50.

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Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills. Exceptional, About $45.

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Eve’s Cidery Essence Ice Cider, Finger Lakes, New York. 390 cases produced. Exceptional. About $28.

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Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2013, Lodi. 250 cases made. Excellent. About $28.

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Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

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Tenute Cisa Asinari Marchesi di Grésy Martinenga Camp Gros Riserva Barbaresco 2010, Piedmont, Italy. Exceptional. About $106.

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Inman Family OGV Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $73.

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Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $75.

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Luscher-Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 200 cases produced. Excellent. About $80.

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Lutum La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills. Production was 225 cases. Excellent. About $50.

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MacPhail Wightman House Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $55.

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Frederic Mallo Vielles Vignes Rosacker Riesling 2010, Alsace Grand Cru. Excellent. About $23.

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Merisi Wines Denner Vineyard Petite Sirah 2013, Lake County. 100 cases produced. About $35.

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Chateau Montelena Riesling 2015, Potter Valley. About $25.

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Chateau La Nerthe 2014, Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc. 40 percent each grenache blanc and roussanne, 10 percent each clairette and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $65.

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Patz & Hall Vineyard Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros-Napa Valley. Excellent. About $70.

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Pine Ridge Le Petit Clos Chardonnay 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $75.

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Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve Brut Rose 2004, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $80-$100.

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Prieure de Montezargues 2014, Tavel Rose. 55 percent red and white grenache, 30 percent cinsault, 13 percent clairette, 2 percent melange of syrah, mourvedre, carignane and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $24.

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Red Newt Cellars Tango Oaks Vineyard Riesling 2013, Finger Lakes, New York. About $24.

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Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Josephshoff Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.

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Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley. 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent cabernet franc, 2 percent each malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Excellent. About $60.

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Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $24.

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Saxon Brown Durell Vineyard Hayfield Block Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. Fewer than 100 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

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Sedition Chenoweth Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 230 cases produced. Exceptional. About $75.

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The Seed Malbec 2014, Altamira District, Uco Valley, Argentina. 59 cases made. Excellent. About $60.

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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Production was 806 cases. Exceptional. About $32.

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Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $35.

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Stony Hill Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley. Production was 1,852 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 585 cases produced. Exceptional. About $65.

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Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. Production was 125 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

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Troon Vineyards Vermentino Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon. 80 percent vermentino, 20 percent sauvignon blanc. 176 cases produced. Excellent. About $24.

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Two Shepherds Catie’s Corner Viognier 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Production was 75 cases. Exceptional. About $26.

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Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc 2013, Russian River Valley. 12.9% alc. Roussanne 50%, marsanne 25%, viognier 13%, grenache blanc 6%, grenache gris 6%. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $30.

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Two Shepherds Trimble Vineyard Carignan Rosé 2015, Mendocino County. Production was 50 cases. Exceptional. About $22.

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Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $55.

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Guillaume Sorbe “Les Poëte” 2014, Quincy, Loire Valley, France. Sauvignon blanc. Exceptional. About $30.

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WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 1,007 cases produced. Exceptional. About $50.
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Zena Crown Vineyard Conifer Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Production was 240 cases. Excellent. About $75.

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For the first Wine of the Day for the fledgling 2017, I offer the ZD Winery Founder’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2013, Carneros, not a cheap one but certainly a great one. A distinction the winery owns is that its initial release, a pinot noir from the vintage 1969, was the first wine to carry the designation “Carneros” on the label. ZD was founded by aerospace engineers Norman deLeuze and Gino Zepponi. After Zepponi died in 1985, deLeuze and his wife Rosa Lee acquired their late partner’s share in the winery. Norman deLeuze died in 2007, and the second and third generations operate every aspect of the winery now. Winemaker is Chris Pisani; assistant winemaker is Brandon deLeuze.

The ZD Winery Founder’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2013, Carneros, displays a medium transparent ruby hue that shades to delicate garnet at the rim; it’s an exotic and seductive pinot noir whose aromas are like a macédoine of marinated red cherries and currants, cranberries and pomegranates infused with sassafras and sandalwood, all highlighted by notes of cherry skin and melon drops and a kind of resinous/cedary loamy character. Pretty damned heady stuff, all right. The wine spent about 15 months in French oak barriques, resulting in a pinot noir of lovely suppleness and satiny weight on the palate, as well as blithe hints of cloves and cumin. It’s quite dry, a little foresty, a little untamed but beautifully balanced and finely wrought, as power and energy underlie its ultimately elegant nature in seamless equilibrium. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Production was about 800 cases. Exceptional. About $75, and definitely Worth a Search.

A sample for review.

Frank Family Vineyards, owned by Rich Frank, former president of Disney Studios, and his wife Leslie, produces a wide range of still wines bub_res_champ— cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, zinfandel, chardonnay and such — which lean toward the side of power and dynamics, and a handful of sparkling wines, always among my favorites from California’s growing roster of wineries that make sparkling wines. FFV now releases its first reserve effort in sparkling wine, the Frank Family Lady Edythe Reserve Brut 2010, carrying a Carneros-Napa Valley designation. It’s a blend of 52 percent chardonnay and 48 percent pinot noir, aged in bottle on the yeast for almost five years before disgorgement. The color is a medium gold that shimmers with the tempestuous upward flow of tiny bubbles; aromas of toasted brioche, lightly buttered cinnamon toast, roasted lemon and spiced pear are enlivened by notes of quince, hazelnuts and almond skin and hints of toffee and limestone, this array all beautifully balanced and harmonious. While quite dry, Lady Edythe 2010 is zesty and energetic on the palate, matching, to a degree, the power evinced in FFV’s still wines, though feeling finely-etched and detailed with its undertow of chiseled flint and chalk, its sense of transparency and filigree. Still, the somewhat theatrical finish brings a bracing tide of marsh-grass and seashell salinity. 12 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Winemaker was Todd Graff. Excellent. About $110.

A sample for review.

Gloria Ferrer is owned by Freixenet, the Spanish company that introduced us to cava decades ago in the deep recesses of our gf-bt-bdb-nv-1flaming youth. Centered in the Carneros region of California, Gloria Ferrer produces a consistently well-made range of non-vintage and vintage sparkling wines that reflect careful methods in vineyard and winery. Our selection for the Second Day of Christmas is the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs, a non-vintage 100 percent chardonnay sparking wine that carries a Carneros designation and was fashioned in the Champagne style of second fermentation in the bottle. The color is pale straw-gold, enlivened by a steady but not heedlessly frothing stream of tiny bubbles; this is exceedingly fresh, clean and crisp, endowed with notes of green apples and spiced pears, quince jam and crystallized ginger, with hints of lightly buttered cinnamon toast and seashell salinity. Lip-smacking acidity and an etched limestone element cut through a fairly lush pear compote character, creating a pleasing sense of tension and poise. 12.5 percent alcohol. A super attractive sparkler. Very Good+. Prices are all over the retail map for this wine, look for $18 to $22.

A sample for review.

Etude Wines was founded in 1982 in Napa Valley by Tony Soter to focus on cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir made from purchased grapes grown in highly regarded vineyards. After a series of purchases, acquisitions and transformations, Etude is owned by Treasury Wine Estates, along with a rather astonishing roster of properties in California, Australia and other regions. The winery still concentrates on pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, usually produced from named vineyards in small quantities. Under review today are six of Etude’s single-vineyard pinot noir wines from 2014, touching AVAs in Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills in California; Yamhill-Carlton in Willamette Valley; and Central Otago in New Zealand. Winemaker is Jon Priest. These are, let me just say, splendid examples of the pinot noir grape and the resonance rung upon it by specific locations. Priest sensibly employs a minimal amount of oak, as well as keeping alcohol levels to reasonable levels. These are all worth searching for.

Samples for review.
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The Etude Ellenbach Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, aged 13 months in French oak, percent new barrels. The steeply sloping vineyard sits at around 800 feet elevation, just above the morning fog line, four miles east of the Pacific Ocean. The color is dark ruby-mulberry with a slightly paler rim. A burst of cloves, allspice and sandalwood precedes notes of a compote of black and red cherries and plums, wreathed with loam and graphite, mint and iodine, presided over by high-tones of pomegranate and cranberry; pretty heady stuff, all right. On the palate, this pinot noir brings in more red fruit — cherries and currants — its deeply spicy character buoyed by slightly flinty minerality, dusty tannins and lively acidity that cuts a swath on the tongue. The finish delivers a polished melange of spice, graphite tinged minerals and an element of heathery meadow flowers. 14.8 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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The Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2014, Carneros, aged 12 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. Located at the northwest corner of the Carneros AVA, the vineyard features various types of well-drained, rocky volcanic soils and is influenced by breezes from the Pacific. The color is medium mulberry-magenta shading to a transparent circumference. Scents of red and black cherries are permeated by notes of sassafras, pomegranate and cranberry, talc, lilac and rose petals; the perfume grows deeper and more redolent as the moments pass. This pinot noir embodies beautiful shape and substance, flowing on the tongue like perfection in a lithe, supple stream of satiny texture; there’s a touch of baked plum in the red and black fruit flavors and a strain of dusty graphite minerality to the subtle yet skillfully chiseled tannins. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $45.
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The superlative transparent violet-magenta hue of the Etude North Canyon Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Maria Valley, belies the seriousness of its frame and foundation and its earthy, loamy character. The vineyard, planted in calcareous clay sandstone, lies in a secluded canyon that’s a bit more exposed to sunlight and a bit warmer than the rest of the valley. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels, the least oak influence of these six wines. A complex array of spicy effects — cloves, sassafras and cumin — heightens elements of ripe red and black cherries that open to notes of wild berries and oolong tea, pomegranate and cranberries. A profoundly earthy, loamy character penetrates the entire enterprise, lending deep roots for its graphite-tinged tannins and minerality. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $45.
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Location is everything, n’est-ce pas? For example, the Fiddlestix Vineyard lies in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA that is part of the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA, all encompassed by Santa Barbara County. The hills and ranges run east and west here, unusual for California where the typical etu_12fiddlestix_pinot_nv_400x126 mountainous orientation is north-south, and a configuration that allows a direct inlet for fog and cooling ocean breezes. The vineyard receives its share of those daily climatic events but stands low enough against the hills to be sheltered from strong afternoon winds. The combination of exposure and protection with well-drained clay-loam and calcareous marine shale soils results in pinot noir wines of great depth and finesse.

The Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, aged 12 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby-magenta hue of transfixing radiance; aromas of rhubarb, sassafras and sandalwood, pomegranate and cranberry, smoky black cherries and plums achieve a Platonic level of loveliness, while on the palate the wine is lithe, supple and satiny. juicy black and red cherry flavors reach down to elements of some rooty black tea, talc and chalk and a kind of gravelly condensation of graphite minerality. A few minutes in the glass bring out notes of rose petals and lavender. Redolent, even pungent; deeply spicy and flavorful; elegant and fine-boned yet with a dynamic of bright acidity, lightly dusted tannins and the shaping force of subtle oak — this is one of the most complete and wholly beautiful pinot noirs I have tasted this year. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’24. Exceptional. About $45.
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This wine takes us to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Approved in 2004, the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA is a horse-shoe shaped region that includes only acreage that lies between 200 and 1,000 feet elevation, where marine sediments compose some of the oldest soil in Willamette Valley. The vineyard from which this wine is derived stands at 600 feet. The Etude Yamhill Vista Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Yamhill-Carlton District, aged 13 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby shading to a mulberry rim; to notes of black cherries and plums, pomegranate and cranberry, the wine adds touches of tobacco and black tea, mint and iodine, as well as the deep loamy character typical of Willamette Valley pinot noir. The texture is superbly satiny, though powered by swingeing acidity and energetic tannins; the wine is quite dry, revealing an immediacy of granitic minerality that leads to a brooding, chiseled finish. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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Talk about far afield, this wine takes us to New Zealand and Central Otago, the world’s southernmost wine region. The Etude Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2014, Central Otago, spent 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. I found this to be an extremely fine-grained, richly detailed and slightly exotic pinot noir. The color is transparent magenta-mulberry with a delicate rim; aromas of macerated and lightly stewed red and black cherries are permeated by notes of cloves and allspice, red licorice and violets, loam and damp wood ash; after 15 or 20 minutes, the bouquet unfurls hints of cedar, iodine and rosemary. Nothing opulent or flamboyant here, the wine is spare and honed, riven by arrows of acidity and borne by gravel-like minerality and layers of loam and foresty elements. 13.8 percent alcohol. I loved it. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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We are inching our way toward the most festive season of the year, a hectic, expensive, exhausting and frequently joyful stretch that encompasses Thanksgiving, My Birthday, Christmas, bottle-etoile-roseNew Year and Twelfth Night. Call it Yuletide 2.0. To slide into the proper spirit, I offer as Wine of the Day, No. 201, the Domaine Chandon Étoile Rosé, a non-vintage sparkling wine from the company that’s pretty much the grand-daddy of sparkling wine in California. By “non-vintage,” the common parlance, I really mean “multiple-vintage,” since this product and virtually all non-vintage Champagnes and sparkling wines contain wine from the current year as well as reserve wines from previous years, the point being to lend depth and character to the product from wines that have aged for several years. Now Chandon is surprisingly reticent about information for this sparkler and others I received recently. I can tell you, for example, that the grapes for the Domaine Chandon Étoile Rosé were grown in the cool Carneros region of Napa and Sonoma counties and that the blend includes chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, but not in what proportion. I can tell you that the sparkling wine rested on the lees in the bottle for “at least three years,” but I cannot be more specific. I can also tell you that the Domaine Chandon Etoile Rose is beguiling and irresistible. The color is ruddy salmon-copper, animated by a steady frothing stream of tiny bubbles. A cool rush of orange rind and strawberry compote is twined with smoke and seashell-like salinity with hints of cloves and lightly toasted brioche. This is lively on the palate, even sprightly and balletic, yet it delivers depths of limestone and chalk minerality, as well as flavors of roasted lemons, spiced pears and a hint of red currant. 13 percent alcohol. A very attractive and enticing brut rose. Excellent. About $50.

A sample for review.

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