Central Coast


I encountered the cabernet sauvignon wines of L’Aventure at the “Cabs of Distinction” events mounted by the Paso Robles CAB Collective — CAB = “Cabernet and Bordeaux” — April 26 and 27. The fledgling organization is dedicated to promoting the idea that the Paso Robles region, long known as an area fit for Rhone variety grapes and cabernet sauvignon wines of the (ahem) cheaper sort, is capable of producing great, expressive, long-lived cabernets. I was impressed by many of the cabernets I encountered that Friday and Saturday, on a sponsored trip to Paso Robles, and I’ll write about those wines and the possibilities for Paso Robles cabernet soon.

Today, however, I want to focus on L’Aventure, a winery founded in the late 1990s by Stephan Asseo, a Frenchman who founded Domaine Courteillac in Bordeaux in 1982 and whose family owns Chateau Fleur Cardinal and Chateau Robin in Côtes de Castillion. Asseo’s thorough background in French wine and his French education, at L’Ecole Oenologique de Macon, give him the ability to work with the demanding terrain and climate of Paso Robles, in the Santa Lucia Range, and make wines that are rigorous, mineral-influenced and highly structured yet packed with spice and delicious flavors. In these reviews you will find — I hope repeated not too often — the words “beautiful,” “supple,” “balanced” and “formidable.” In fact, those terms pepper my notes on the L’Aventure cabernets from the Paso Robles CAB Collective barrel tasting of barrel ssamples from 2012 — only six or seven months old and still with aging ahead — and from the Grand Tasting event the next day. A few weeks later, back in Memphis, I discovered at a local trade tasting that L’Aventure is represented by a distributor here, though the wines I tried that afternoon were Asseo’s Rhone-style Côte à Côte and his cabernet-syrah blends Estate Cuvée and Optimus.

Some wines quickly strike me with their sense of immediacy, completeness, power and elegance, and that’s how I felt about these chiseled, faceted yet deeply sensuous wines from L’Aventure. They’re not cheap, and they’re not plentiful, but they’re certainly worth seeking out.
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First, the barrel-sample of L’Aventure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Paso Robles, tried at the Paso Robles “Cabs of Distinction en Primeur” tasting on April 26. The wine is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon; it will age about 15 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels. The color is inky-purple; beguiling aromas of cassis, rhubarb tart, blueberries and fruitcake are penetrated by scintillating notes of iodine and iron; this is a dynamic wine that displays tremendous depth of tannic power, granitic minerality, resonant acidity and an absolutely beautiful fruit character. It is soaking up the spicy oak and turning it into something subtle, supple and elegant. Alcohol content not available. Production will be 300 to 500 cases. Best from 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to 2030. Excellent. About $80 to $85.
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Now let’s look at L’Aventure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon in its versions from 2010, 2007 and 2006, tasted at the Paso Robles “Cabs of Distinction” event on April 27. Each followed the winery’s standard regimen for this wine of aging 15 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels. The rendition for 2010 is 100 percent cabernet; it offers an expressive nose of ripe black and blue fruit packed with graphite, cloves, pepper and lavender, while at not quite three years old it leans greatly on its lithe and lithic structure. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’25. Production was 425 cases. The 2007 contains five percent petit verdot. Perhaps it’s the three year advantage over the 2010, but the ’07 feels riper, just a bit softer and more approachable, more floral and spicy, more “Californian,” yet classically Bordeaux in its cedar-bay leaf-black olive elements and its still formidable tannic-granitic essence. About 1,075 cases produced. The 2006, ah yes, what exquisite balance and poise and integration, albeit a deeply earthy wine, layering its succulent and spicy black fruit flavors with notes of briers and brambles, graphite, a hint of mushroom-like soy sauce; tannins are still close to formidable but shapely, finely-milled; acidity throbs like a struck tuning-fork. Alcohol content and production unavailable. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Exceptional. These three cabernets each $80 to $85.
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The three wines from L’Aventure that I tasted in Memphis fall into a Rhone Valley mode, or at least that seems to be the inspiration, though batteries of cabernet sauvignon are deployed here too.

L’Aventure Estate Côte à Côte 2010 is a blend of 42 percent grenache, 34 percent syrah and 24 percent mourvèdre; the wine aged 14 months in a combination of half new French oak barrels and half one-year-old barrels. The color is radiant dark ruby; boy, what a lovely wine ensconced in a taut yet generous and beautiful structure; this features aromas and flavors of ripe, roasted and fleshy blackberries, blueberries and plums deeply imbued with lavender and licorice, briers, graphite and cloves, with backnotes of fruitcake and dried rosemary, with that pungent herb’s slightly resinous quality. The wine feels chiseled from oak, granite and tannin, yet even now it’s expansive, expressive and very drinkable, now through 2018 to 2020. How can it feel so perfectly balanced at 16.1 percent alcohol? Production was 900 cases. Excellent. About $85.

L’Aventure Estate Cuvée 2010 is a blend of 42 percent each syrah and cabernet sauvignon with 16 percent petit verdot; the wine aged 15 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels. The color is deep ruby-mulberry with a kind of motor-oil sheen; again a ripe and fleshy wine but permeated by smoke and spice and nervy graphite-like minerality; it’s very intense and concentrated, dusty with minerals and tannins that coat the palate, dense and chewy and tightly packed, rigorous but a bit succulent and opulent too. 15.7 percent alcohol. 1,350 cases. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $85.

Still available in my local market and elsewhere, I assume, is the nicely aged L’Aventure Optimus 2006, a blend of 50 percent cabernet sauvignon, 45 percent syrah and 5 percent petit verdot. The wine offers a dark ruby color with a slightly lighter magenta rim; again I find myself waylaying the adjective “beautiful” for this occasion, because Optimus 06 delivers lovely poise and equilibrium and a seamless amalgamation of ripe slightly stewed black currants and blueberries, fine-grained tannins, polished oak and vibrant acidity, all pierced by the great abiding character of these wines from L’Aventure, a lean, lithe lithic quality that sustains, challenges and gratifies. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.

I’m quoting suggested retail prices; in my neck o’ the woods prices may be $5 to $10 higher.
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Let’s have another rosé wine for Wine of the Week. This one’s a beauty, and it’s delicious too. Clos LaChance is a family winery, owned and operated by Bill and Brenda Murphy — her maiden name was LaChance — and their two daughters. Director of winemaking is Stephen Tebb. The Clos LaChance Dry Rosé 2012, Central Coast, is a blend of 65 percent grenache, 16 percent mourvèdre, 7 percent each zinfandel and pinot noir and 5 percent syrah; it’s like a Rhone-style blend with a touch of California. The color is a riveting blue-tinged cerise-melon hue, not the traditional pale copper but not extracted either. The association with the color is sympathetic, because the aromas surge from the glass in a welter of pure cherry and watermelon with hints of strawberry and raspberry and undertones of orange rind, dried thyme and limestone. This is juicy and tasty, brisk with zesty acidity that balances slightly macerated strawberry and melon flavors, all wrapped in a deftly poised, even lightly tense package that delicately combines elegance and savory powers. The final word is “lovely.” 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. Production was 2,000 cases. Excellent. About $15.

A sample for review.

In the minds of many thoughtful and fun-loving Americans, Memorial Day represents the unofficial (or perhaps really official) opening of the outdoor cooking or grilling season. In honor of the day and of the entire concept of charring meat and vegetables over hot coals, I offer nine red wines of varying degrees of robustness, heartiness, rusticity and whack-’em-upside-the-head flavorishiness. We touch many bases here in terms of grape varieties, countries and regions, but you will see no merlot, pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon, just because that’s the way I feel today. Let’s shine a little light on bonarda, barbera and petite sirah! (I slightly modify what I said about cabernet; there’s a touch in a blend of one of these wines. As usual with the Weekend Wine Sips, the focus, the intensity, the concentration is on the wines themselves, characterized in brief but pithy and, I hope, provocative reviews. So light that fire, throw on a haunch of goat and enjoy the beginning of summer. These wines were samples for review or were tasted at trade events.

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Concannon Conservancy Petite Sirah 2009, Livermore Valley. 14.2% alc. Dark ruby-purple with an opaque center; dark in every sense but quite drinkable; black olive, leather, fruitcake; black currants, black raspberries and plums; graphite and grainy tannins permeate luscious black fruit flavors; lively and dynamic. A heavy-lifter but light on its feet. Needs a steak or a burger, preferably with bleu cheese and grilled onions. Very Good+. About $15.
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Bocelli Sangiovese 2011, Rosso Toscana, Italy. 13% alc. 100% sangiovese. Produced by the family of the well-known performer Andrea Bocelli; though he is a tenor, this wine devolves to bass-notes; starts with a medium ruby color; fresh, bright, spicy and appealing; then robust, dense and chewy, lots of weight for the plum, black and red currant fruit; fairly tannic and earthy; demands hearty fare, like sausages grilled to a turn or barbecue ribs. Very Good+. About $15.
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Greg Norman Shiraz 2010, Limestone Coast, Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color with a magenta rim; deep, warm, spicy; large-framed, intense and concentrated, yet deftly balanced and well-knit; very ripe and spicy black fruit scents and flavors imbued with hints of leather, tobacco, mint, bitter chocolate and graphite; pretty damned sleek, highly appealing and drinkable but with a foundation of dusty tannins. Excellent. About $15, representing Good Value.
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Luca Bosio Barbera d’Asti 2011, Piedmont, Italy. 13% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Lovely medium ruby color; very charming, made all in stainless steel for freshness and brightness; red and black currants with a touch of plums; moderately spicy and herbal in the cloves and dried thyme ranges; manageable tannins lend support, keen acidity keeps it honest. Grilled chicken with a coffee-cumin rub perhaps? Very Good+. About $16.
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Borsao Berola 2009, Campo de Borja, Spain. 14.5% alc. 70% garnacha, 20% syrah, 10% cabernet sauvignon. Tightly focused and intense, dusty tannins and grippy iron-iodine mineral elements; still, there are ripe, dark, spicy black and blue fruit flavors, hints in the bouquet of dried currants and baking spices; foresty, with touches of moss underbrush; savory, rolls on the palate. Begs for a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Very Good+. About $16 in my neck of the woods; priced from $12 to $17 around the country..
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Artezin Zinfandel 2011, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color; blackberries, black currants and plums, backnotes of rhubarb and boysenberry, but nothing sweet or over-ripe; richness tempered by bright acidity, sleek tannins and graphite-like minerality; bracing freshness, full-bodied, spicy with touches of lavender and violets. An attractive zinfandel to drink with steaks and burgers and grilled leg of lamb. Very Good+. About $18.
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Paolo Manzone “Ardi” Rosso 2012, Langhe, Piedmont. 13% alc. 60% dolcetto, 40% barbera. Brilliant medium ruby color, darker in the center; complex bouquet of red and black cherries and currants with touches of plum, cloves and orange zest and undertones of graphite and leather; medium body but rollicking tannins and acidity for liveliness; tasty cherry and raspberry flavors with hints of tar and lavender, sour cherry and violets. Super attractive. Very Good+. About $23.
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Mairena Bonarda 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.7% alc. Deep opaque purple-black; dense, chewy, robust and rustic, a little chunky and cheeky and somehow irresistible for its punk-like bravado; very dark black and blue fruit flavors, smoldering with leather and licorice, lavender and smoke and hint of cloves and black olives. I’m thinking grilled pork chops with a spicy Southwestern rub. Very Good+, perhaps edging closer to Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2010, Central Coast. 12.8% alc. Always reliable and filled with character. Very dark ruby-purple color; balances a polished, honed exterior with intensity and concentration and deep focus on black currant, blackberry and plum scents and flavors and a scintillating granitic mineral element; robust, furry tannins and vibrant acidity bolster details of black olives and oolong tea, leather and lavender and a touch of the grape’s trademark wet dog. Excellent. About $26.
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Weekend Wine Sips and it’s only Friday afternoon. If you live in the Northeast, you probably won’t be able to get to a liquor and wine store tonight — two feet of snow? 50- to 75-mph winds? — but for the rest of the country, time’s a-wasting! There’s one wine in this post that I strongly do not recommend, otherwise these range from pleasant to impressive to memorable. Six eclectic white wines and four reds today, ranging in price from about $13 to $25, with a couple that merit ranking as Bargains and Values. As usual, little in the way of historical, geographical or technical detail; instead I offer quick reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. These were all samples for review, and the order is alphabetical.
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Angelini Sangiovese 2008, Colli Pesaresi, Marche, Italy. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; lovely warm sangiovese nose of dried red currants, cloves, black tea and orange zest; pert acidity, an element of graphite-like minerality and a rather lean structure contribute to a sense of spareness and angularity, though the wine never loses its charm and appeal. Drink through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $16.
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Brancaia “Tre” 2010, Toscana, Italy. …% alc. 80% sangiovese, 20% merlot and cabernet sauvignon, from three estates, hence “Tre.” Deep ruby color; intense and concentrated; dried red and blue fruit, dried flowers (lavender and potpourri), dried spices like cloves and allspice; hints of thyme, rosemary with its slightly resiny quality, earthy and slate-like minerality; black tea and black olives; the oak comes out on the finish a bit obviously, but lots of personality. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.
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Edna Valley Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Central Coast, California. (Owned by Gallo since 2011) 13.9% alc. Very pale straw color; scintillating bouquet of lime peel, lemongrass, kiwi, tarragon and grapefruit; segues smoothly to the palate, enhanced by rousing acidity and a keen limestone edge. Now through the end of 2013. Totally attractive. Very Good+. About $15.
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Franz Keller “Schwarzer Adler” Pinot Blanc 2010, Baden, Germany. 13% alc. Pale straw-gold color; pear and peach with a trace of lychee and spicy backnotes; very crisp, lively and flinty; vibrant acidity, taut, clean, fresh; touch of limestone-laced earthiness to buoy the ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors; svelte, elegant, lots of authority yet charming. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
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Hooker Betsy’s Vineyard “Home Pitch” Syrah 2010, Knights Valley, Sonoma County, California. 14% alc. Deep ruby color with a magenta rim; robust, intense and concentrated, roasted and fleshy, smoke and ash, damp mossy earth and leather; ripe blackberry and black currant scents and flavors with notes of wild raspberry and plums; a little nutty and toasty; builds power as it goes, accumulating layers of graphite, licorice, bitter chocolate, briers and brambles. Pretty darned classic. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $24.
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Poliziano Lohsa 2010, Morellino di Scansano, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. Unusual blend of 80% cabernet sauvignon and 20% alicante, petit verdot and carignano (carignane). Dark ruby color; black currants and plums, touch of red cherry, deeply imbued with spice and brambly elements, notes of oolong tea, mushrooms and sour cherry; neatly balanced rusticity with pleasing poise and integration; slightly shaggy tannins abound. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Santiago Ruiz 2011, Rias Baixas, Spain. 13% alc. 70% albariño, 15% loureiro, 10% caiño, 5% treixadura and godello. Pale straw color; spanking fresh and clean as new ironed sheets, with a savory, bracing sea-salt, sea-breeze exhilaration as well as a stony and steely backbone; thyme and mint, peach, kumquat and quince, touch of bay leaf; deftly handled texture halfway between prettily lush and bony spare; very polished sense of heft and presence. Now through the end of 2013. Excellent. About $17, a True Bargain.
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Treana 2010, Central Coast, California. 14.5% alc. (Hope Family Wines) 50% each marsanne and viognier. Again and again, I try to like this wine but cannot. Two grapes that are capable of lovely finesse and ardent dimension are treated in such manner that the wine comes out brassy, over-ripe and florid, stridently spicy, candied and over-blown. Oh, and way too oaky. I know that people love this wine, but I don’t recommend it. About $23.
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Wente Riverbank Riesling 2011, Arroyo Seco, Monterey, California. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; a very appealing riesling at the right price; a touch of sweetness in the entry tones down to just off-dry across the palate; jasmine, lychee, pear and a hint of ripe peach; a little fleshy but good acidity; a hint of grapefruit on the finish. Now through Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $13, representing Real Value.
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William Hill Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, California. 14.5% alc. (Gallo acquired William Hill from Beam Wine Estates in 2007.) Pale gold color; a generous and expansive version of the grape, fresh and vibrant with enticing personality and authority; dry, crisp and bright, with moderately ripe pineapple and grapefruit flavors barely touched by mango and jasmine and what people like to describe as “a kiss of oak”; nothing bold or brassy here, just clean balance and integration and, through the finish, a hug of limestone minerality. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $25.
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Perhaps the title of this post should read “Bonny Doon’s Syrahs & Rhone-Style Blends,” but few wineries in California are more informed by and associated with a single powerful personality than Bonny Doon is by owner and winemaker Randall Grahm, a tireless shape-shifter, guru, mage and humble servant of the vineyard and the grape. In the mid 2000s, Grahm divested himself of several brands, such as Ca’ del Solo and the Big House wines — and boy did Big House plummet after that! — to focus on where it seems his heart had been all along, with Rhone Valley grapes and models (he still makes a nebbiolo and albariño). What we review today are 100 percent syrah wines from designated vineyards in Santa Maria Valley and San Luis Obispo and blended wines from the Central Coast under Bonny Doon’s well-known Le Cigare Volant label, all from 2007 and 2008. I’ll point out that while several of these wines are quite tannic, even fiercely so, they primarily do not ravage the mouth astringently and stay light on their feet and elegant; Grahm seems to be after structure that’s indubitably there but a function of agility and nerve.

Most of these wines were tasted at home, as samples for review, in September 2011 and November 2012, with a few recapitulated or anticipated in August 2012 with Grahm (and a small but restless and eager crowd) in a hotel room at the Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Portland, Oregon.
(I don’t know who took the splendid image of Randall Grahm, and I wish I could acknowledge the photographer, but I borrowed it from eventbrite.com.)

First, the 2007s.
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Bonny Doon Alamo Creek Vineyard Syrah 2007, San Luis Obispo. The color is dark inky-purple; the bouquet is fleshy, meaty, packed with scents of dried fruit and dried flowers with notes of fresh blackberries and black raspberries and hints of pomegranate, leather and graphite; in the mouth, finely meshed and grainy tannins take control and along with polished, slightly rustic oak and robust acidity impose a sense of formidable structure on the wine, which concludes with dusty, almost ecclesiastical severity and austerity. 13.3 percent alcohol. Production was 662. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County.. The difference between the “Bien Nacido” Syrah 07 and the “Alamo” Syrah 07 lies in this wine’s overwhelming freshness and its modicum of accommodation; it drinks a bit more like a wine intended to be consumed this year rather than a lifetime down the pike. Present is the full complement of fresh and dried black and red fruit scents and flavors, potpourri and lavender, hints of black tea and leather, thinking of leather’s earthy, sweaty component and its firm suppleness; present also are dusty, almost powdery tannins that burgeon from mid-palate back through the finish, piling up the granitic minerality and underbrush-like austerity. 13.5 percent alcohol. 657 cases. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant “en demi-muid” 2007, Central Coast, and Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant “en foudre” 2007, Central Coast. A demi-muid is a 500-liter wood puncheon; a foudre is a 10,000-liter upright wood tank; the wine in the smaller vessel (which is slightly more than twice the size of the standard barrique at 225 liters) will get more wood exposure than the wine in the much larger container. Other than the oak regimen, the wines were treated the same and are each a fairly classic Rhone Valley-style blend of 50 percent grenache grapes, 32 percent syrah, 4 percent mourvèdre and 4 percent cinsault.

The “en demi-muid,” a medium ruby-megenta color, is ripe, fleshy and meaty, with a bit of charcoal edge to the notes of red and black currants and generous portions of leather, black pepper, briers and brambles; the whole package is quite lively and vibrant, and a few moments in the glass bring in hints of cloves and sandalwood and allspice as well as an impressive presence of dusty, austere tannins and woodiness that never, fortunately, reach the point of astringency. Tasted 24 hours later, the wine was dense and robust, deeply spicy but still inarguably oak-and-tannin-girt. Fashioned as a vin de garde, a wine intended for laying down, this will be more integrated from 2014 through 2020 to ’22. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 559 cases. Excellent. About $45.

The “en foudre” rendition — and the aging period for both was 20 months — begins all warm and spicy, with a softer bouquet than its cousin’s and appealing touches of red and black currants and plums infused with cloves and leather, espresso and moss, but I was surprised at how tannic and oaky the wine felt, and 24 hours later that tannin and oak were still working away diligently. Vin de garde, indeed, and I would estimate 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22 to curb the margins of its austere character. 14.4 percent alcohol. 559 cases. Very Good+. About $45.
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And the 2008s.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2008, Central Coast. For ’08, Bonny Doon’s “regular” Cigare Volant is a blend of 45 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah, 13 percent mourvèdre, 7 percent cinsault and 5 percent carignane. This is just lovely, a smooth, supple, well-balanced and integrated wine freighted with lavender and violets, potpourri, spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries with a blackberry backnote; it takes 45 minutes to an hour for the finely-milled tannins and subtly spicy oak to assert themselves and remind us that the wine possesses a firm, innate structure that along with vibrant acidity gives it some class and some sass. 14.3 percent alcohol. 2,751 cases. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $38.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve “en bonbonne” 2008, Central Coast.The blend of grapes is the same as for the previous Le Cigare Volant, but the aging is unique. After a short time in barrel and after assembling the blend, the wine was placed in five-gallon glass carboys, also called demijohns or bonbonnes, of the sort typically employed in home brewing and winemaking, where it remained for 23 months. (This process must be incredibly labor-intensive.) The result is both supernal mellowness and a resonant, burstingly packed-in sense of depth and breath of fresh and dried black and red fruit (especially black cherries, mulberries and red currants), dried baking spices, potpourri and pomander with an intriguing hint of pomegranate, all supported by supple, graphite-tinged tannins. Terrific personality and presence. 14.2 percent alcohol. 436 cases. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $65.
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Bonny Doon Alamo Vineyard Syrah 2008, San Luis Obispo. Dark ruby-purple color shading to magenta; a whole snootful of woody spices — the lilt of cloves, the headiness of sandalwood, the dark side of allspice, saturnine black pepper — and then fresh, ripe red and black currants with dried raspberries and dusty plum skin; the wine is large-framed, generous and expansive but laden with the weight of fine-grained tannins, graphite and damp earth, lavender and leather; it’s quite dry yet juicy under a swelling tide of tannins and granitic minerality; real grip and persistence here, filling the mouth with darkness. 13.5 percent alcohol. 572 cases. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2008, Santa Maria Valley. Dark ruby with a violet edge; intense and concentrated in every sense yet somehow enjoyable in its potency. Aromas of sage and thyme, cherry-berry and dried lavender are woven with black fruit and more black fruit and a little blue, the complete effect fleshy, meaty, spicy and slightly macerated; while the Alamo Vineyard rendition is a fairly warm wine, at least initially, this Bien Nacido X Block is all cool, swathe-plowing acidity, cool graphite and obsidian-faceted minerals, tar, bitter chocolate, licorice and black tea. Boy, and more tannic, too, deep, dry, dusty and velvety, leading to some austerity in the finish. 13.9 percent alcohol. 573 cases. Now through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $42.
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All right, after consulting with my board of directors and executive committee and conducting a straw pool among undecided voters in swinging states, I decided to change the name of the “Friday Wine Sips” project to “Weekend Wine Sips,” mainly because I more often post this entry on Saturday or even Sunday than on Friday. At least I don’t have to feel guilty, which for me is a blessing since I would confess to the assassination of the Queen of Romania if pressed to do so; whew, don’t have to worry about that for a while. Anyway, today we have red wines that range from lighthearted to impressive, from drink-right-now to wait-a-few-years. We touch Argentina, Italy, France and California; we have organic wines; we have blends and 100 percent varietal. What we don’t have are reams of technical and historical information, the purpose of these Friday Wine Sips, oops, Weekend Wine Sips being to provide lightning quick appraisals designed to strike to the heart of the wine. These were samples for review or tasted at trade events. Ratings vary from a sad “Good Only” to “Excellent.”
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Cavicchioli Lambrusco Dolce, nv, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. 7.5% alc. Startling bright cherry-mulberry color; mildly effervescent; pure cherry and raspberry, sweet and quite ripe initially but vibrant acidity dries the wine from mid-palate back, without subtracting from its dark juiciness; intriguing contrast and balance between the ripeness of the red fruit and the hints of spice and slightly earthy minerality; avoids the Kool-Aid® aspects of so many lambruscos. Quite charming and you’d be surprised how well it goes with savory food. Very Good. About $9, a Great Price.
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Cecchi Chianti Classico 2009, Tuscany, Italy. 13% alc. 90% sangiovese, 10% colorino Toscano. Rough and rustic, shaggy tannins, leans toward the anonymous, generic side of sangiovese. Should be better. Good only. About $13.
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Bonterra Merlot 2010, Mendocino County. 13.6% alc. Certified organic. “With added touches of petite sirah, syrah and carignane.” Dark purple with a lighter ruby-magenta rim; smoke, black currants and blueberries; quite dense and chewy with dusty tannins; barest hint of black olives and cedar; bright acidity, earthy finish where you feel the oak. Very Good. About $16.
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Bonterra Zinfandel 2010, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Certified organic. With “a little petite sirah.” Beautiful ruby-magenta color; nice mouthful of wine but could be cabernet or merlot; what are the distinguishing characteristics, except for a bit of ripe, berryish vitality? Good+. About $16.
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Wild Horse Merlot 2010, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. With 5% malbec, 2% cabernet sauvignon and 4% “other red.” Dark ruby color; black currants and plums, lavender and roasted fennel, cedar, black tea and loam; firm yet supple structure, sustaining acidity, almost succulent but balanced by slightly grainy tannins; no great depth but an attractive individual rendition. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $19.
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Wild Horse Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. With 1% syrah. Dark purple shading to medium ruby rim; cedar and tobacco, mint and eucalyptus, spicy black currants and plums; smooth, velvety, slightly dense and chewy; backnotes of oak and dusty tannins; clean, lively finish. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $20.
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Chakona Estate Selection Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple, close to opaque at the center; a strapping wine, deep and broad; formidable structure balances grainy tannins, spicy oak and vibrant acidity for a complete package — purposeful and dynamic — that doesn’t entirely conceal lovely character and breeding. Now (with grilled meat) or from 2014 to 2018. Excellent. About $25.
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Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zinfandel. Deep ruby-purple color; fresh, bright and fruit, spicy and savory; not a blockbuster but immediately drinkable; black currants, plums and blueberries with hints of briers and brambles, tar and graphite; pulls up squinchy, mouth-coating tannins and adds some mineral-fueled power through the finish. Now through 2014. Production was 212 cases. Very Good+. About $25.
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Artezin Zinfandel 2010, Dry Creek Valley. 14.8% alc. With 3% petite sirah and 1% syrah. Dark ruby-purple; deep, rich and spicy; blackberries and plums with a hint of boysenberry and blueberry tart; a few moments in the glass bring up touches of fig paste, tapenade and soy sauce; very dry, with well-knit tannins and integrated, spicy oak; black and blue fruit a little fleshy; a strain of earthy, graphite-laden minerality dominates the vibrant and slightly austere finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 360 cases. Excellent.
About $25, representing Great Value.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.1% alc. 58% merlot, 22% cabernet sauvignon, 18% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot. From Margerum Wine Company. Consumed at a restaurant, later tasted at a trade event. Dark ruby color; seductive bouquet of black cherries and currants, touch of plums and black mulberries, deeply spicy and savory; lavender, violets, graphite; black olive and thyme; deep foundation of dusty, lithic tannins and smoky oak, coats the mouth and laves the palate with ripe and velvety black and blue fruit flavors that never get blatant or slushy; firm, gripping hand of vital acidity cuts a swath. Frankly delicious. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Hecht & Bannier Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2009, Languedoc, France. 14.5% alc. 55% grenache, 25% syrah, 15% mourvèdre, 5% carignan. Dark ruby with a lighter ruby rim; meaty and fleshy red and black currants, wildly spiced and macerated, over hints of roses and violets; vibrant, lively, engaging yet deeply imbued with dense dusty tannins and a powerful earthy, graphite-like mineral character; smoke, brambles, touch of moss through the finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $26.
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Marziano Abbona Barbera d’Alba Rinaldi 2010, Piedmont, Italy. 14.5% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Dark ruby color; dried spices and flowers, lavender and potpourri, hint of pomander, red and black fruit scents and flavors; deeply foresty and earthy, brushy and briery tannins, precisely balances succulence with a strict regimen of acidity and granitic minerality. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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Sorry that I produced no “Friday Wine Sips” last week, but here we are again and on a Friday as it should be. Eclecticism reigns, with three versions of pinot gris/grigio, a sauvignon blanc from Washington and an albariño from California’s Central Coast. For reds, there a blend dominated by syrah from Paso Robles, an “international” blend from Tuscany and a pure and intense pinot noir from Anderson Valley. No geeky technical information here, just blitzkrieg reviews designed to take no prisoners on the way to your hearts and minds and palates. There’s a quibble here and there but mainly these are all attractive wines. These were samples for review.
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Bivio Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2001, Italy. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; almond, sea-salt, roasted lemon and thyme; clean, vibrant acidity, heaps of limestone-like minerality; spiced pear, citrus, touch of jasmine; very dry, fairly stony finish, which falls a tad short. Still, quite enjoyable. Very Good. About $14.
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Barrymore Pinot Grigio delle Venezia 2011, Italy. 12% alc. Barrymore as in Drew. Very crisp and lively, powerful limestone and flint elements, very stony and austere; pushes the elegance and spareness at the expense of fruit, spice and floral aspects that would soften acidity and minerality. Very Good. About $17.
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Domaine Paul Blanck Pinot Gris 2010, Alsace, France. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; very attractive tone and presence, smells good, feels good, tastes good; spiced pears, cloves and clover, quince and a hint of crystallized ginger; a golden wine, almost honeyed but quite dry, loaded with limestone and flint, but nothing bleak or austere. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $22.
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Cadaretta SBS 2011, Columbia Valley, Washington State. 13.1% alc. Sauvignon blanc 76%, semillon 24%. Graceful, balanced, restrained; both scintillating and elegant, almost spare; spiced lemon and pear, thyme and tarragon, hint of leafy fig, notes of jasmine and honeysuckle; very attractive texture, lushness modulated by crisp acidity and an urgent limestone element; long, drawn-out, spicy finish, wrapped up by a touch of bracing grapefruit bitterness. Now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $23, and Worth a Search.
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Bonny Doon Vineyard Albariño 2011, Central Coast, California. 13.2% alc. Gosh, what a treat. Pale straw color, faint green highlights; so deftly polished, balanced and harmonious; roasted lemon and lemon balm, hints of verbena, jasmine, yellow plums and an invigorating breeze-borne sea-salt element; practically shimmers with resonant acidity and a clean limestone-shale element. Now through 2013 or ’14. 527 cases and one wishes there were more. Excellent. About $18, a Definite Bargain.
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Clayhouse Syrah 2010, Paso Robles, California. 13.5% alc. 77% syrah, 23% petite sirah. Medium to dark ruby color with a tinge of blue; black and red currants and plums, pepper, black olives, lavender and a hint of black licorice; heaps of earthy briers and brambles, dry, dusty and slightly leathery tannins but tasty red and black fruit flavors wrapped around tar and potpourri; medium-length finish. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, representing Real Value.
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Tenuta di Biserno Insoglio del cinghiale 2010, Toscana, Italy. 14% alc. Cabernet franc 33%, syrah 32%, merlot 30%, petit verdot 5%. Smooth, burnished and polished, suave and elegant but plenty of earthy, loamy structure; plums, black currants and cherries, graphite, lavender, potpourri; touch of what the French call garrigue, implying the scent of warm, dusty, slightly resinous wild herbs; a bit velvety but buttressed by vibrant acidity and agreeable tannins. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $32.
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Champ de Rêves Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, California. 14.5% alc. Entrancing medium ruby-violet color; cranberry, black cherry, hints of rhubarb and pomegranate, cloves and sassafras; lovely satiny texture, almost lush but with the essential acidity to lend cut to the palate; smoky black cherry and red currant flavors; supple, spicy oak in the background. Very seductive. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $40.
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Perhaps Bonny Doon’s Le Pousseur Syrah is thus named because it’s a trickster or con man disguised as an actual syrah-based wine from France’s Rhone Valley. I’ll say that for 2009, Le Pousseur exudes such deep earthy aromas and flavors that it feels as if it sprang from the ancient, stony soil of one of those steep Northern Rhone hillsides rather than from a selection of sites in California’s vast Central Coast appellation, including the well-known Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm also makes a single vineyard syrah from Bien Nacido.

Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2009, Central Coast, sports a deep ruby-purple color with a dark jewel-like center that approaches motor-oil black in opacity. No mistaking what grape is the heart and soul of this wine; classic syrah aromas of black pepper, wet dog fur, blackberries and blueberries are woven with elements of briers and brambles, smoky potpourri and profound mossy-earthy qualities. In the mouth, the wine — aged in French oak — is as sleek as satin, bright and vibrant, yet slightly roughened by fine-grained tannins that dig tenaciously into the palate for an essential factor of grip and grit; both generous and focused, the ripe black and blue fruit flavors are broadly imbued with touches of exotic spices — sandalwood, allspice — lavender, bitter chocolate and graphite. This panoply is seamlessly bound by resonant acidity and a finish that extends into lithic realms. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 953 cases. We drank this with pork chops coated with a dry rub of cumin, chili powder and coffee spices and grilled over hardwood coals. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $22, though you see it on the Internet as low as $18.

A sample for review.

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