Carneros


It may surprise My Readers to know that it’s even more difficult to decide on the “25 Great Wine Bargains” than it is the “50 Great Wines.” I could probably, from 2012, have compiled a completely different roster of 25 bargain wines, but after much cogitation, meditation and drinking, I thought, No, just leave it alone, because these are all terrific wines. The break-down is 18 white wines, 6 reds and 1 rose; by country or region: California 9, Argentina 4, Spain 4, Chile 3, Washington state, Italy, France and Hungary each 1. Go for it. The order is alphabetical; no hierarchies here.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Airfield Estates Riesling 2010, Yakima Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $16.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Apaltagua Envero Gran Reserva Carménère 2010, Calchagua Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $14.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Aventino Tempranillo 2007, Ribera del Duero, Spain. Excellent. About $13.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2010, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy. Excellent. About $16.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Vineyard Albarino 2011, Central Coast, California. Excellent. About $18.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Burgo Viejo Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain. Excellent. About $19.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bodegas Carchelo “C” 2010, Jumilla, Spain. 40 percent each monastrell and syrah, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $16.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Callia Alta Torrontés 2011, Valle de Tulum, San Juan, Argentina. Very Good+. About $9.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cima Collina Cedar Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. Excellent. About $16.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Count Karolyi Grüner Veltliner Veltliner 2011, Tolna, Hungary. Very Good+. About $11.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hess Allomi Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $16.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

J Pinot Gris 2011, California. Excellent. About $15.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lee Family Farm Silvaspoons Vineyard Verdelho 2010, Alta Mesa, Lodi. Excellent. About $15.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Meli Dry Riesling 2011, Maule Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $13.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Michele Chiarlo Le Orme 2010, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. Excellent. About $15.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Mittnacht Fréres Terre d’Etoiles Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $19.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Morgan Winery R&D Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $18.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Navarro Pinot Grigio 2011, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $16.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Numero III Rosado de Monastrell 2011, Bulles, Spain. Excellent. About $12.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Quirvira Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $15.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

St. Clement Chardonnay 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $19.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

San Huberto Malbec 2010, Castro Barnas, La Rioja, Argentina. Excellent. About $11.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Terrazas Reserva Torrontés 2011, Cafayate Terrace, Salta, Argentina. Excellent. About $15.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ventisquero Queulat Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $18.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

So, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” in the edition for 2012. Why 50? It’s a nice comfortable round number, but it also makes me work hard to determine those 50 great selections.

I reviewed 642 wines on this blog in 2012, so 50 choices represent only 7.78 percent of the wines I reviewed. Wines that I rated as “Exceptional” automatically make the cut. In 2012, I ranked 16 wines “Exceptional,” or only 2.5 percent of all the wines I reviewed. How did I ascertain the other 34 wines? That’s where the task got difficult. I read all the reviews of wines that I rated “Excellent” and wrote down the names of 68 that seemed promising, but of course that was already way too many wines; I had to eliminate half of that list. I went back through the reviews and looked for significant words or phrases like “an exciting wine” or “a beautiful expression of its grapes” or “epitomizes my favorite style” or “I flat-out loved this wine,” terms that would set a wine apart from others in similar genres or price ranges, even though they too were rated “Excellent.” By exercising such intricate weighing and measuring, by parsing and adjusting, by, frankly, making some sacrifices, I came to the list of wines included here, but I’ll admit that as I went over this post again and again, checking spelling and diacritical markings and illustrations, there were omissions that I regretted. You get to a point, however, where you can’t keep second-guessing yourself.

Notice that I don’t title this post “50 Greatest Wines” or “50 Best Wines.” That would be folly, just as I think it’s folly when the slick wine publications select one wine — out of 15,000 — as the best of the year. The wines honored in this post are, simply, 50 great wines, determined by my taste and palate, that I encountered and reviewed in 2012. Some of them are expensive; some are hard to find. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, though, at how many of them are under $40 or even in the $20 range; the price of a wine can be immaterial to its quality, and I mean that in both the positive and the negative aspects. Where I know the case limitation, I make note. With wines that are, for example, chardonnay or pinot noir, you can count on them being 100 percent varietal; in other cases, I mention the blend or make-up of the wine if I think it’s necessary.

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Except for Santa Lucia Highlands, which I’m still working on as some separate posts since I published this post on October 12. Represented today though are Russian River Valley, Monterey, Cienega Valley, Carneros, Sonoma Coast and Edna Valley, as well as one example with a general California designation; all are from 2010 or 2009. I don’t burden the “Weekend Wine Sips” (formerly the “Friday Wine Sips”) with technical detail, narrative sweep, personnel histories or geographical and geological grandeur; these are brief notes, often transcribed directly from the pages of my notebooks, designed to give you a quick glimpse into the essence of the wine. These were samples for review.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pietra Santa Pinot Noir 2009, Cienega Valley, San Benito. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby, slightly brickish color; ripe and spicy black and red cherries, cola and cloves and sassafras; a little fleshy, with hints of dried fruit and spices, earthy, loamy, satiny; you feel the sticks and briers in the slightly austere underbrushy finish, which falls a bit short. Drink up. Very Good+. About $18.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, California. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; a pretty pinot noir, bright and spicy red with blue fruit scents and flavors, a pleasing smooth texture and plenty of smooth-grained tannins for structure. Through 2013. Very Good. About $19.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Crema Pinot Noir 2010, Monterey. 13.5% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) A real mouthful of pinot noir, rich and very berryish, dark, spicy; cranberry-magenta color; cherries galore, very clean, pure and intense, lipsmacking acidity, quite dry; the oak comes up a bit in the finish, but a well-made and appealing wine. Through 2013. Very Good+. About $20, representing Good Value.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Toad Hollow Goldie’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.9% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color; black cherries, red currants and plums, nicely balanced between richness and spareness, touches of rhubarb and cloves; undertone of brown sugar or something slightly caramelized; smoke and satin, sweetly succulent yet dry, a little sanded and burnished in effect; an edge of foresty austerity through the finish. Through 2014. Very Good+. About $20, Excellent Value.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
Rodney Strong Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; beetroot, cloves, sassafras and coloa under black cherries and plums; satiny, slick and sleek; oak influence subdued to balance and integration; sapid, supple, savory; dense and almost viscous but cut by bright acidity and smooth-bore tannins; finish permeated by briers and brambles. Through 2014. Excellent. About $25.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Crema Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 13.9% alc. Medium ruby color; earthy, briery style, moss, mushroom, leather and the clove-cola-sassafras syndrome with black and red cherries and a hint of rhubarb; large-framed, dense, lithe, lively, pronounced tannins though polished and well-knit; succulent without being opulent; long fruit-and-spice packed finish with a final edge of graphite. Through 2015.
Excellent. About $25.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; entrancing bouquet of currants and plums, smoky and softly ripe, a little fleshy, touches of fruitcake, rhubarb and lilac; slightly roughened tannins boost the texture; very dry though tasty; leather and loam in the finish where the wood comes up. Through 2013. Very Good+. About $27
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Frank Family Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros-Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby with a slightly lighter ruby rim; rich, warm and spicy, more syrah-like in heft and flavor than is good for its supposition as pinot noir; a muscular manner that blunts nuance. Very Good. About $35.

(Eight others follow)
(more…)

In the deep backward and absym of time, I used to receive samples from Robert Mondavi Winery, usually twice a year in the form of a case of new releases. After Constellation bought Robert Mondavi at the end of 2004, though, for whatever reason, I stopped receiving samples from the winery; was it something I said, or perhaps it had to do with my switching from a weekly newspaper column to my own website (the old KoeppelOnWine.com, which operated from December 2004 to April 2008). In any case, I was happy to open a two-bottle box recently delivered to my threshold and find the Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2010 and Pinot Noir 2010. Even more happily, the wines are terrific models of their kind, and while the products featured in “Pairs of Great Wines” are often rare and expensive, these represent high quality for not exorbitant prices and are widely available. Director of winemaking for Robert Mondavi is Genevieve Janssens.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I found the Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, entrancing, and of course it didn’t hurt that the wine is an example of precisely what I want chardonnay to be: stony and steely but with plenty of tasty fruit and chiming acidity and a texture that balances lushness with litheness. So, there’s the review right there, but I’ll expand on the theme a bit so you’re familiar with the technical thinking behind it. Seventy-seven percent of the juice was fermented in French oak barrels, 15 percent new, with the remaining 23 percent fermented in stainless steel tanks; these lots aged for 10 months on the lees, that is, the residue of used-up yeast cells, a process that can add depth and character to a wine. The color is radiant pale gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit open to notes of baked pear, ginger and quince and hints of jasmine and limestone; a hint of mango adds complexity. In the mouth, this chardonnay at first is spare, almost lean with its dominant limestone and steel qualities and vibrant acid nature, but the citrus and stone fruit flavors offer burgeoning spice and smoke over a mounting oak presence (from mid-palate back) that contributes firmness and a pleasing, almost powdery finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

My first note on the Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, is “absolutely beautiful.” The wine spent only seven months in French oak, 34 percent new barrels, so the wood influence is almost subliminal, yet it’s there, shapely and suavely spicy. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry-magenta cast. Aromas of smoky black and red cherries are infused with cola and cloves, pomegranate and rhubarb, all singing over bass-notes of slightly earthy briers and brambles. In the mouth, ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors (and a touch of dried fruit) exist in complete harmony with the wine’s super-satiny texture, but this is no kissy-face pushover; instead, the Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, avoids plushness or opulence through the agency of bright acidity and the presence of finely-knit tannins. Above all, the impression is of a lovely marriage of spareness and elegance in the service of delicious pinot noir authenticity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $27.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Seven white wines and one rosé; seven Californians and one Spanish wine (not the rosé). Several chardonnays and a viognier made exactly in the fashion I like best. And some irresistible bargains. I do it all for you. No technical data, no paeans to place, no exploring the byways of personnel and personality; just brief reviews designed to perk up your interest and whet your thirst. Enjoy. These were samples for review.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pepi Chenin Blanc Viognier 2011, California. 13% alc. 66% chenin blanc, 34% viognier. Pleasant enough and drinkable but the grape varieties get lost in each other; a little citrusy, a little spicy, pleasing texture; no great shakes, but you can’t beat the price. Good to sip when you don’t want to hurt your brain too much. Good+. About $10.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sumarroca Temps de Flors 2011, Penedes, Spain. 12% alc. 48% xarel-lo, 40 % muscat, 12% gewurztraminer. Pale straw-gold color; very attractive but with some spareness and slight astringent factor, like little white mountain flowers that don’t take any crap from you, thank you v. much; pear, yellow plum, hint of white peach; acacia with a touch of honey and bees’-wax; lovely, lively, lithe and totally charming. Now into Spring 2013. Very Good+. About $14, offering Great Value.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
St. Clement Chardonnay 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. Pale straw-gold color; just lovely; slightly smoky and steely pineapple- grapefruit scents and flavors, clove and limestone-flecked and with a beguiling trace of honeysuckle; spiced apples and pears, hint of citrus, sleek, smooth, supple and tingling with brisk acidity, superb balance between tense and teasing nervous energy and lightly honed richness, the finish laved with damp limestone and flint. My style. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $19, a Terrific Value.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ventana Dry Rosato 2011, Arroyo Seco, Monterey. 13.5% alc. 500 cases. 90% grenache, 10% syrah. Pale melon color; strawberry, dried cranberries and mulberries, hint of dusty limestone; supple texture with crisp acidity; a delightfully delicate and well-knit rosé with pleasing heft for drinking through Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $22.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ventana Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Arroyo Seco, Monterey. 14.2% alc. Pale straw-gold color; notably clean and fresh; lemon and pear, dried thyme and tarragon, hints of honeysuckle, lemongrass and gooseberry; vibrant, lively, spicy, engaging, but dry, spare, almost elegant. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $22.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ventana Chardonnay 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; pineapple and grapefruit, a bit of mango, a few minutes bring up notes of greengage and quince and cloves; crisp and lively, texture moderately lush but tempered by acidity and a burgeoning limestone element; very nicely balanced, holds the richness of fruit in check for the essential structure. Through 2013. Excellent. About $22.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Chamisal Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2010, Edna Valley. 13.9% alc. Very pale gold color; fresh clean aromas of candied quince and ginger, grapefruit and pineapple with a backnote of mango and delicately smoky oak; flavors of green apple and pineapple are boldly framed by baking spice, slightly woody dried spices (and a trace of dried flowers) and a hint of baked lemon; all held in check by bright acidity and a scintillating limestone element. This qualifies as radiant. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $28.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Stags’ Leap Winery Viognier 2011, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Pale gold color; vibrantly clean, fresh, lissom, elegant; a wine of stones and bones with a hint of jasmine and tarragon laid over tart lemon and pear flavors bolstered by taut acidity and a bracing sea-salt and grapefruit finish; paradoxically, the texture is seductive and enveloping. For people weary of the overwhelming floral style of viognier. Now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $30.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Though the concept of an etude could legitimately refer to any area of technical study, we are mainly familiar with its use in the realm of music, where an etude is a miniature piece designed to exercise a particular aspect of skills, such as, for the piano, playing runs with double octaves or developing speed and accuracy in chromatic passages. The most famous sets of etudes are Chopin’s Opus 10 and Opus 25, published in 1833 and 1837 respectively, brief works of fiendish difficulty and often ravishing melody, though some of the pieces are profound in their depths of fervor and bravado. It’s almost a paradox, then, that when well-known winemaker and consultant Tony Soter launched Etude Wines in 1985 he named the winery for an idea based on exercises that seek for mechanical proficiency, though Chopin demands emotional and psychological commitment from his performers, as Soter always did, in a sense, from his consumers. Whatever the case, these examples of a chardonnay and pinot noir from Etude reveal an extremely high level of proficiency and dedication. Winemaker is Jon Priest. Soter sold Etude’s brand and inventory — there was no winery facility — to Beringer Blass in 2001. Through a demerger from the Fosters Group in 2011, Etude (and a host of other interesting or important brands in California and Australia) is owned by Treasury Wine Estates.

These wines were samples for review.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Etude Chardonnay 2010, Carneros, rated a “just beautiful” as my first note; this is exactly what I want chardonnay to be: cool, spare, elegant, pure and transparent yet displaying inner richness and succulence restrained by dazzling acidity and scintillating mineral elements. The wine aged 10 months in neutral French oak, meaning barrels that have been used for aging wine several times so that their effect on a wine is subtle and nuanced. Notes of green apples, spiced pears and grapefruit are buoyed by hints of limestone and flint and a bit of jasmine; this is wonderfully suave, smooth and supple, with an abundance of intensely ripe and spicy stone fruit and citrus flavors that are both off-set and highlighted by a crisp vibrant acid presence and an almost crystalline edge of limestone and chalk. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

All right, so my first note on the Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros, was “OMG!” As with the Etude Chardonnay 2010 reviewed just above, this exemplary model embodies exactly what I want a New World pinot noir to be: satiny and savory, with power and elegance married in equal measure and with a sense of delicacy bringing restraint to its intent and purposefulness. Many of the Etudes in Chopin’s Op. 10 and Op. 25 deliver a metaphorical sense of ineffable tinsel supported by the backbone of tensile strength, and this eminently drinkable yet somewhat age-worthy pinot noir feels the same. Under the lovely effects of pure and intense black cherries, black currents and plums permeated by hints of rhubarb and pomegranate, blueberry and sassafras, this wine delivers a lash of vivacious acidity and an undercoat of graphite and shale, all leading to a finish packed with the resonance of deep, spicy black and blue fruit flavors — there’s a hint of fruitcake, too, and a whiff of smoke and a bit of lavender — and the welcome earthiness and slight austerity of briery, brambly qualities. Now through 2015 or ’17. Excellent. About $42.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Here are reviews of 10 wines — one syrah, two sauvignon blancs, three chardonnays and four pinot noirs — that I tasted late in the afternoon of Monday, September 10, at the Holman Ranch in Monterey County’s Carmel Valley, a beautiful setting for trying mainly excellent wines. As usual in these Friday Wine Sips I forgo the technical data of history, geography, vineyard practices, winemaking and personalities in which I typically indulge for the sake of straightforward reviews of a more incisive nature. These producers — Dawn’s Dream, Cima Collina, Silvestri — are small in scale, each making between about 2,500 to 3,500 cases annually, but large in talent. Enjoy…
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Dawn’s Dream Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 13% alc. Very pale straw color but shimmering radiance; grapefruit, limestone and gunflint; jasmine and honeysuckle, pears and lemons, mildly herbal and grassy, subtle and supple but crisp and lively acidity with scintillating limestone minerality; finish is sleek, elegant, more spicy. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $24.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Dawn’s Dream Chardonnay 2011, Arroyo Seco. 14.1% alc. Very attractive chardonnay in the spare, lithe fashion; very dry, bursting with cloves, ginger and quince, hints of grapefruit and pineapple; a floral element grows, twining itself around ripe fruit; mainly structure through, lots of stones and bones; finish falls a tad short. Drink through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $24.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Dawn’s Dream Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. 14.1% alc. This will be the last Carneros pinot noir that Dawn Galante makes. Purple-magenta color; very spare, dry, almost sinewy, black and red currants and hints of cranberry and rhubarb permeated by cola and tobacco over layers of briers and brambles, underbrush, spicy oak and dry, brushy tannins; acid cuts a swath; nothing overdone, obvious or voluptuous but capturing the essential cool-climate character of the grape. Now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $24.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Dawn’s Dream Alyssa Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.1% alc. Entrancing light cherry-magenta color with a faint violet rim; rhubarb, pomegranate, sassafras, cloves; another dry, slightly foresty/slightly feral rendition, with a lean, keen graphite edge, plangent acidity and just a little too much oak on the finish, still quite enjoyable and a little challenging. Now through 2015 to ’17. Very Good+. About $24.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cima Collina Cedar Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Arroyo Seco, 14.7% alc. 320 cases. Pale straw-gold color; remarkably full-bodied, rich and spicy for an all stainless steel sauvignon blanc; scents and flavors of roasted lemons and spiced pears, hints of dried herbs and a slight tendency toward a grassy-meadowy character; quite dry yet juicy with macerated stone fruit flavors; brisk and bracing acidity, touch of sea-salt. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $16 and Worth a Search.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cima Collina Chula Vina Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Monterey County. 14.4% alc. 318 cases. Big, bright and bold; perfectly balanced and integrated; seething with limestone and flint minerality and vibrant acidity yet bears itself with calmness and dignity; a great example of a chardonnay wine seamlessly segueing from youth to maturity; flavors of spicy yellow plums, quince, ginger and pineapple arrow through a finish supple with grapefruit and a hint of oak. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $33.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14% alc. 325 cases. Enticing color of moderate ruby-mulberry with a tinge of violet-magenta at the rim; wow, what a perfect pinot noir, with exquisite balance, tone, harmony and elegance (and seductive spicy red and black currant and rhubarb flavors) yet supported by an almost rigorous structure of graphite-washed minerality; earthy, slightly mossy elements of underbrush, briers and brambles; and acidity the plows a row or two on the palate. Now through 2016 or ’17. Exceptional. About $48 and definitely Worth a Search for fans of SLH pinot noir from one of my favorite vineyards.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Silvestri Vineyard “Bella Sandra” Chardonnay 2009, Carmel Valley. 14.1% alc. 968 cases. Despite the spicy, slightly vanilla-tinged oak in the background, this manages pleasing restraint and decorum in a subtle, supple package; embellished with burgeoning floral elements and limestone-shale minerality; roasted lemon, spiced pear flavors with hints of bright pineapple and grapefruit that extend through a mineral packed finish; fresh and vibrant at three years old. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $20, a Remarkable Value.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Silvestri “Rising Tide” Pinot Noir 2009, Carmel Valley. 14.3% alc. 1420 cases. Dark ruby-magenta color; red and black currants and plums, mocha and sassafras, touch of cranberry; foresty briers and brambles, rooty and minerally, very dry, resonant almost resolute acidity; close to sleek above the touch of robust rusticity, and you feel the oak a bit in the finish. Try from 2013 or ’14 through 2017 to ’19. Very Good+. About $32.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Silvestri Syrah 2009, Carmel Valley. 14.5% alc. 200 cases. Dark ruby-purple with a motor-oil black center; very pure and intense, riveting graphite-like minerality that bursts through lavender, licorice and leather, blackberries, blueberries and plums; slightly fleshy and meaty with a touch of wet dog and black pepper, all wrapped around a core of dry, grainy tannins and bitter chocolate. If this is what people can do with syrah in Carmel, they ought to plant more. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $18, and they’re practically giving it away.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


So, it’s a beautiful mild Saturday afternoon in Memphis, Tennessee, after a wild night of high winds and thunderstorms, so it must be time for the “Friday Wine Sips,” today focusing on groups of pinot noir wines from Laetitia Estate, MacPhail Family Wines, Donum Estate and Sanford. Locations range from the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County to Arroyo Grande Valley in San Luis Obispo to Anderson Valley in Mendocino. As usual, I eschew the typical reams of technical, historical and geographical info — interesting though I find that stuff — for the sake of brevity and insight. These wines were samples for review.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Grande Valley. 14.1% alc. Intense medium ruby color; classic nose: black and red cherries, cranberry and rhubarb, cola and loam; wonderful balance and integration; super satiny texture; woody spice and briers and brambles at the circumference while the interior glows with cherry and blueberry flavors with potpourri and bitter chocolate; draws elemental earthiness and oak from the fringe and gathers them for a more somber, slightly austere finish. Through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25, representing Great Value.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Laetitia Reserve du Domaine Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Grande Valley. 14.3% alc. Deeper, darker, a little more concentrated in every sense than its cousin mentioned above; the structure more evident but still suave, smooth and satiny, a lovely drape on the tongue; slightly fleshy (not quite meaty), lip-smacking acidity cuts a swath; wonderful weight, presence and tone; elegance with fundamental power. Through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $40.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacPhail Family Wines Sangiacomo Vineyards Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast. 14.3% alc. The Hess Collection acquired the MacPhail in 2011. Medium ruby-cranberry color; unusually ripe, fleshy and meaty for pinot noir; spiced and macerated black and red currants, cherries and plums; lush and satiny but bracing with vibrant acidity; prominent graphite/underbrush quality, dense and chewy, a little feral; you feel the polished oak and slightly muscular tannins through the finish. 325 cases. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $49.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacPhail Wildcat Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby color; very spicy, fleshy and meaty; spiced and macerated red and black currants, plums and cranberries, touch of rhubarb and pomegranate, smoke and tobacco, a hint of spiced apple; super-satiny, almost voluptuous, oak and tannin come through from mid-palate back asserting some control but this doesn’t have quite the balance or integration of the other two. 325 cases. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $49.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MacPhail Frattery Shams Vineyard PInot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. More black and blue fruit and more blue/magenta to the color; not so flamboyantly ripe, fleshy and florid, more graphite and earthy minerality and more balanced structure; hints of sassafras and cloves, candied apple; lovely, lithe, bright and clean. Delightful with an undercurrent of seriousness. 200 cases. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $49.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Donum Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. Not feeling the pinot love or the complex layering that I should here; perhaps this needs a year or two to meld; the nose is gorgeous, offering the full spectrum of spice, flowers, fruit and minerals, but you feel the oak as rather ostentatious on the palate and the finish is a little hot. Try from 2013 to 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $65.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Donum Estate Grown West Slope Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. 14.4% alc. Dark ruby color; initially nicely balanced among barnyard earthiness, oak, bright acidity and mildly dense tannins; black and blue fruit flavors; the oak element grows more prominent after 20 or 30 minutes and especially in the finish to which it brings a touch of astringency, as the tannins add a dry, dusty, brambly quality; still, there’s that billowing satiny texture. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $85.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Donum Estate Grown Thomas Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. 14.4% alc. Best of this Donum Estate trio. Dark to moderate ruby color; sour cherry, cranberry and blueberry, hints of root beer, cloves and rhubarb; the most perfectly balanced of these three with a seductive satin drapery texture made a little rigorous by deep slatey minerality, scintillating acidity and smooth but slightly earthy tannins; altogether reticent, subdued, supple and subtle, with gratifying detail and dimension. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $100.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sanford Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. 14.5% alc. This is a blend of the Sanford & Benedict and La Rinconada vineyards. Vibrant and radiant medium to dark ruby color; cranberry, cola, red cherries and cloves, hint of brown sugar; full-bodied, a sinewy, muscular style with a measure of grace and elegance and a lovely satiny texture; takes a few minutes in the glass for all elements to cohere but structure comes through resolutely. Quite beautiful. Now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $40
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sanford Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Rita Hills. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby with a darker ruby/magenta core; black cherry, beetroot, rhubarb, briers and brambles; a lot of power and structure but true to the grape; succulent but just enough spareness and litheness not to be obvious or opulent. Another beauty. Now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $60.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sanford & Benedict La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Rita Hills. 14.6% alc. Dark ruby shading to a medium ruby/violet rim; robust, muscular, powerful, viscous; dense and chewy; dark spicy slightly stewed black and red fruit flavors; this is where pinot noir walks on the wild side; you feel the alcohol a bit in the slightly hot finish. I’d like to try this one in a year or two. Very Good+. About $54.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


It was a casual Friday night. We had been to an art exhibition opening and were home again about to watch the last episode of The Borgias on DVD– it’s like The Sopranos set in late 15th Century Rome but better — and LL said, “Let’s do something with eggs,” and faster than you could say “La plume de ma tante” we had a beautiful salade Lyonnaise. My assignment was poaching the eggs. (Also with bacon, green beans, little potatoes, pieces of ripe tomato on a bed of baby kale, doused with a vinaigrette.) Ah, but what to drink with the notoriously hard-to-match-with-wine eggs? No problem, as waiters say incessantly today, a classic, dry rosé, but one made from grapes grown in California’s Los Carneros region.

The Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros, is a true vin gris (“grey wine”) color, a light, slightly copperish onion skin hue. The wine is not made by bleeding off juice from the crushing of red grapes; this one is whole-cluster pressed, carefully, and then taken off the skins to leave that pale pigmentation. This is, I’ll assert right out loud, a world-class rosé, not just spicy but savory, not just fruity but flavorful, not sweet at all but bone-dry and yet almost luscious in texture. Aromas of dried red currants and raspberries are woven with hints of orange rind, camellia, limestone and a sort of dusty slate aspect; a few minutes in the glass bring in an intriguing grassy/dried thyme note. In the mouth, you feels layers of complexity, red fruit, of course, but touches of rhubarb, beet-root and peach skin, cloves, warm stones, the lithic edge of slate and a citric tang to the scintillating acidity. Immensely attractive and pleasurable, a rosé with an unusual marriage of energy and elegance, and a great drink with the salade Lyonnaise. 13.8 percent alcohol. Now through summer 2013. Excellent. About $28; I paid $30 locally. Very limited production, so mark this Worth a Search.

Wine image from robertsinskey.com.

After a career in the publishing business, John Shafer moved his family to the Napa Valley in 1972, purchasing a 210-acre estate — with 50 acres of vines — in what is now the Stags Leap District AVA, officially designated without an apostrophe. The first crush occurred in 1978. The winery’s vineyard property gradually increased to 205 acres, with 79 acres in Stags Leap, 60 acres just south of SLD in Napa Valley and 66 acres in Carneros. By variety, the breakdown is 97 acres devoted to caberet sauvignon (Napa’s great hero grape), 66 of chardonnay, 24 of syrah, 12 of merlot and 6 of petite sirah. John Shafer’s son Doug became winemaker in 1983; when he was elevated to company president in 1994, assistant winemaker Elias Fernandez became winemaker, a position he still fills today.

Shafer is one of Napa Valley’s elite wineries, and if California possessed a system similar to the classification of Bordeaux — don’t worry, that will never happen, at least not “officially” — it would certainly be listed among the First Growths. The commitment is to cabernet sauvignon, though forays into chardonnay and syrah have proved highly successful. The wines tend to see a boodle of new French oak, 100 percent new oak for some of the wines, but they seem to absorb that wood and make it an integral part of the package; I have never tasted a wine from Shafer tainted by the blatant, smoky vanilla qualities of new barrels. The winery is making an effort to enumerate more accurately the alcohol content of its wines, once listed as a blanket 14.8 percent. Since federal regulations allow a one-degree leeway, an indication of 14.8 percent could mean anywhere from 13.8 to 15.8. The degrees indicated now represent an attempt to tell consumers what they’re actually getting.

Tasted at a trade event.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay 2010, Carneros, is an absolutely exquisite and classic representation of the grape. The wine aged 14 months in 75 percent new French oak barrels and 25 percent stainless steel tanks. Since it does not go through what’s called malolactic fermentation, the wine delivers a sense of grace, purity and intensity that does not involve the extraneous and often cloying creamy, dessert-like aspects that the process can produce (and which some wine publications unaccountably dote upon), while the oak influence is subtly revealed only in the wine’s sleekness and suppleness and its spicy nature. The color is pale gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are tinged with quince and ginger and hints of cloves and limestone. In the mouth, ripe and spicy stone-fruit flavors are ensconced in a texture that’s almost lush and powdery, though balanced, indeed cut, by powerful limestone and flint minerality and the scintillating effect of crystalline acidity; tremendous presence, heft and tone, yet exquisitely drawn and finely detailed, right through the spare, elegant finish. 14.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 or ’17, well-stored. Excellent. About $48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sometimes I think that I would rather drink hot grease than another merlot from California, but then an example like the Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley, comes along to gladden my heart and make the world seem fit to live in. This is a merlot of jewel-like transparency, detail and definition; I mean, it feels effortless, though there’s nothing delicate or evanescent about it. (There’s 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec in the blend.) The wine aged 20 months in French oak, 75 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby-purple; aromas of ripe and macerated mulberries, black raspberries and blueberries are highlighted by notes of rose petals and brambles, white pepper, bittersweet chocolate and penetrating graphite-like minerality. The heft and balance, the absolute confidence and insouciance of this merlot are truly lovely, though the wine does not neglect the important aspects of a rigorous tannin and acid structure that lends a sense of tension and grip. It you love merlot and sometimes despair of its fate, don’t fail to get a few bottles of this quite beautiful model. 15.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’20. Exceptional. About $48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
You could call the Shafer Relentless 2008, Napa Valley, a blend of 75 percent syrah and 25 percent petite sirah, a blockbuster — I kept using the word tremendous in my notes — except that it displays so much finesse; its, um, tremendousness feels like an inextricable weaving of infinite strands of subtlety and nuance bound by, er, tremendously huge tannins and tautly wrought acidity. (The wine aged an astonishing 30 months in 100 percent French oak barrels.) The color is deep, dark ruby-purple; the bouquet bursts from the glass in a dynamic welter of black and blue plums, black currants and blueberries, mocha and black pepper, violets and lavender and the classic Northern Rhone notes of wet fur, tar and hot stones; if ever a bouquet could be called muscular, it’s this one. Still, for all its tannic and oaken power and its iron-like minerality (and shall we mention 15.6 percent alcohol content and the bravado ripeness of its black and blue fruit flavors?), the wine does not feel ponderous or overbearing; it takes a lot of skill and experience to assemble these components into a balanced, coherent wine that feels utterly faithful to its constituent grapes. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Shafer One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Stags Leap District — 98 percent cabernet with 2 percent petit verdot — offers a deep almost opaque purple color and burgeoning aromas of cassis and black raspberry, smoke, bittersweet chocolate, underbrush, iodine and iron. (This aged 20 months in 100 percent new French oak.) There’s a great deal of depth and grip and forceful tautness here, an energetic element that makes the wine lively and resonant — the tannins, at least, are finely milled, seeming well-oiled and seamless — yet of the five wines under review here, this is the one that feels the least integrated. Perhaps it’s simply the earthiest (I wouldn’t say rustic) and just needs a couple of years to come together, say 2014 to ’15 and then drinking until 2020 or so. 15.3 percent alcohol. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $70.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shafer’s flagship wine is the Hillside Select, Stags Leap District, which for 2007, the 25th Anniversary vintage, brings together all the virtues of place and grape for a virtuoso performance. This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon; the wine aged 32 months in all new French oak barrels. Real weight, heft and substance here, stupendous earthy-granitic minerality, roiling acidity and deeply-rooted grainy tannins; this is not about elegance or finesse, but it is about power, balance and total integration of all elements into dynamic, resonant completion, the whole package feeling as if it had been lightly sanded and burnished. There’s some toughness here, too, dense, tense, a little truculent for the next few years, yet, paradoxically, the wine is almost voluptuous in texture, a fitting cushion for heady and penetrating qualities of ripe, bright cassis, black cherry and dark plum flavors. 15.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to 2025. Exceptional. About $225 (a bottle).
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

« Previous PageNext Page »