Chardonnay


What more is there to say after “delightful and charming”? These are wines designed to provide your weekend — or the whole week, for that matter — with pleasure, deliciousness and elegance. We range widely in this post: Greece, Germany, Oregon, California, Long Island, Mendoza and Chablis. All single-variety wines, their grapes include assyrtiko, indigenous to the island of Santinori; pinot gris, not that common in the Rhineland; riesling and sauvignon blanc; gruner veltliner and pinot blanc; semillon and chardonnay. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I largely eschew technical, historical and geographical data for the sake of quick, incisive reviews meant to pique your interest and whet your palate. With one exception, the wines were samples for review. Enjoy! (In moderation, of course.)
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argyros
Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2015, Santinori, Greece. 14% alc. This one will make you wish you were sitting in a little cafe looking out at the wine-dark Aegean Sea. It sees 20 percent French oak and was made from 150-year-old ungrafted vines. Very pale straw hue; dusty, dry marsh and seashore grasses and herbs; roasted lemon and faint spiced peach; quite ethereal and summery but displaying bracing acidity, notes of limestone-seashell minerality and an aura of yellow meadow flowers. Very Good+. About $25.
Athenee Importers and Distributors, Hempstead, N.Y.
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binz
Weingut Binz Nackenheimer Pinot Gris Kabinett 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany. 12% alc. Bright straw-gold color; jasmine and camellia, preserved lemon and lemon balm, lime peel and pear skin; a hint of mango-like tropical character; crisp and tart, taut with vibrant acidity, very dry yet ripe and juicy on the palate; long, lean, lithe finish. Truly delightful and lots of personality. Excellent. About $14, marking Great Value.
Winesellers Ltd, Niles, Illinois.
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brooks riesling
Brooks Riesling 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold; a direct hit of petrol and rubber eraser, followed by notes of heather and meadow, peach and lychee, with burgeoning hints of jasmine and quince and, after a few moments, ginger beer; limestone minerality offers a tremendous presence for a sense of dimension, without diminishing such fine details as bay leaf and nuances of mango and guava; the whole enterprise feels etched with bright, dry acidity. Just great. Excellent. About $20, representing Wonderful Value.
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2016SauvBlanc
Freemark Abbey Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa Valley. 13.4% alc. Very pale straw-gold color; notes of lime peel, grapefruit, lemongrass and spiced pear, highlighted by hints of pea-shoots, hay and heather and undertones of sunny, leafy figs; really lively, vibrant, super drinkable, yet spare, dry, lithe, nothing flamboyant or over-done; a finish chiseled from limestone and flint but wreathed in lilac. Excellent. About $24.
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Illahe Estate Gruner Veltliner 2016, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. 650 cases. Very pale straw-gold; classic ILLAHEHEADER_famowned notes of hay, lilac and pine, with roasted lemons and yellow plums, a hint of lime peel and peach; very crisp, lively and engaging, with clean acidity and crystalline minerality cutting through a juicy, talc-like texture; terrific personality and appeal. Excellent. About $17.
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Lieb Cellars Reserve Pinot Blanc 2015, North Fork of Long Island. 11.9% alc. And this one will make you wish you were sitting on a terrace in the Hamptons, gazing out at the cerulean Atlantic. Very very pale, almost invisible in the glass; notably clean, fresh and spare, quite crisp and vibrant, with delicate strains of peach and spiced pear, rose petals and candied lime peel and a tremendous volume of limestone minerality; slightly herbal and resinous finish. Lovely character. Excellent. About $22.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Medium green-gold hue; sunny, leafy figs Santos_SM_NV_labeland guava, apple skin and lightly baked pear; a haze of smoke and jasmine; quite clean, spare and elegant, with a beguiling texture that balances moderate lushness of fruit with zinging acidity and flint-graphite minerality, though that aspect emerges on the finish. Wholly delightful and pleasingly complex for the price. Excellent. About $16, marking Good Value.
Global Vineyards, Berkeley, Calif.
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chablis
Christian Simon Petit Chablis 2014, Chablis, France. 12% alc. Drinking beautifully at about two and a half years old. Pale straw-gold; shimmers with steel and limestone and a snap of gunflint, lustrous with lightly spiced lemon and apple; a texture both dense and powdery, lithe and supple; warms to subtle floral notes; lovely shape and resonance. Excellent. About $22, a local purchase.
Matinicus Wines, Beverley Hills, Fla.
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No, film buffs, I am not referring to the great and controversial film by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, released in 1990, but to this pair of wines that feature tied-up and chained captives on their labels, reproductions of etchings by Goya, and are named The Prisoner and Blindfold. Not surprisingly, the wines, a red and a white, are bold, passionate and vivacious, qualities that work for the red but not, as you will see, for the white. As often happens in California, the tale of The Prisoner is complicated. Dave Phinney created this popular zinfandel blend shortly after founding Orin Swift Cellars in 1998, increasing sales to about 80,000 cases annually. He sold the brand to Huneeus Vintners early in 2010, who in turn sold The Prisoner Wine Company to Constellation Brands in April 2016 for about $285 million. Meanwhile, Phinney sold Orin Swift to E&J Gallo in June last year. There’s a lot of money flowing around the West Coast, I’d say. Winemaker for The Prisoner Wine Company is Chrissy Wittmann; consulting winemaker is Jen Beloz. These wines were samples for review.
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First, the good, and My Readers will be surprised, because I don’t typically endorse a wine bearing alcohol degrees of 15 percent or higher. The Prisoner Red Wine 2015, Napa Valley, is a bold and exuberant blend that emphasizes zinfandel with the fairly unusual addition of cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah, syrah and charbono; the wine aged an unspecified amount of time in French and American oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is opaque black-purple with a magenta rim, dark as a dungeon, you might say; a big snootful of graphite, lavender and wood-smoke assails the nose, woven with very ripe and spicy black currants, blueberries and plums; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of cherries, iodine and fruitcake, with the latter’s component of figs, dried fruit, brandy-soaked raisins and baking spices. The wine displays undeniable grip and power, a tide of bright acidity, rollicking velvety dust-and-leather-girt tannins and a granitic edge, all the while allowing its elements of ripe black and blue fruit flavors plenty of play. 15.2 percent alcohol. Grilled ribs, perhaps, or pork chops rubbed with cumin and smoked paprika? Here’s your wine. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $47.
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The Blindfold White Wine 2014, carrying a general “California” designation, is predominantly chardonnay, with some chenin blanc and a coalition of Rhone varieties — roussanne, viognier, grenache blanc and marsanne. The wine aged for 10 months, 85 percent in a combination of French and Hungarian oak, 25 percent new barrels, and the rest in stainless steel. Sounds like a recipe for an interesting, even intriguing white wine, n’est-ce pas? Unfortunately, this one embodies everything that I abhor about overblown, exaggerated white wine from the Golden State, exhibiting all the unbalanced qualities of strident spice, cloying floral nature, over-ripe tropical character, butterscotch, toffee and burnt toast that make such wines undrinkable. Someone must like them, but I am not a member of that cohort. Not recommended. About $32.
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And here’s a tasty, accessible chardonnay for Wine of the Day, No. 257. The Martin Ray Chardonnay 2016, carries a Sonoma County MR-16-SC-Chard-frtdesignation, featuring grapes that derive from the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Valley and Carneros AVAs. Any wood influence is minimal, more in the shaping spirit of subtlety and suppleness; the wine sees 35 percent new French oak barrels. The color is very pale straw-gold; it’s a fresh, clean and crisp chardonnay that offers classic notes of clove-inflected pineapple and grapefruit, with hints of quince and ginger and a lovely, lively texture that feels as if you’re sipping liquid quartz, so, yes, there’s a tantalizing mineral aspect. The wine is quite dry but juicy on the palate with citrus and stone-fruit flavors, all leading to a bright, spicy, limestone finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Now through 2018, maybe ’19, and a shoo-in for your house chardonnay, especially during the Summer, and for restaurant and bar by-the-glass programs. Very Good+. About $17.

A sample for review.

Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t hate the chardonnay grape, I just despise and am frequently saddened by what is done to the grape in wineries in California. And it’s true, as I have remarked many times on this blog, that I hate the over-oaked, brassy, blatantly ripe, stridently spicy, dessert-and-tropical-flavors-dominated chardonnays that I often receive as samples for review. I find such wines drastically unbalanced, harsh yet sweet, and undrinkable. Today, however, I post for your delectation and edification reviews of 12 chardonnay wines that I found to be splendid examples of the intensity and purity of form and flavor that come from thoughtful fidelity to the grape and, possibly, to a particular patch of land. I have always felt that richness, whether in food or wine, is not a virtue in itself, and you will notice that while most of these examples display sufficient or even marked richness of fruit, that aspect is balanced and supported by clean, bright acidity and minerality. I don’t mind wines that provoke and take risks, but ultimately the governing principle is equilibrium of all the qualities that compose the whole package. With one exception — an online purchase — these chardonnays were samples for review, mainly 2014s and ’15s and one 2013. Geographically they range along the vertical axis of winemaking in the Golden State, from Santa Barbara County in the south to Mendocino in the north. Technically, they illustrate an interesting gamut of possibilities, from the lightest touch of neutral oak and no malolactic to (surprisingly) full barrel-fermentation, 100 percent new French oak and malolactic. Too often, we encounter wines — not only chardonnay — fashioned along the lines of the winemaker or producer’s ego and prescribed expectations, but in the models I describe today, it feels as if purity, sensitivity and integrity won the race.
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BK chard
The Black Kite Cellars Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, the rest one-year-old. The color is pale gold; aromas of baked apples and spiced pears are woven with layers of grapefruit and pineapple that are ripe and spicy but controlled on the palate by scintillating acidity and limestone-flint minerality; some moments in the glass bring in hints of gardenia, smoke and jasmine. The wine is quite dry, energized by its crystalline clarity and intensity and a lithe supple texture. The finish is packed with elements of damp stones and bright yellow stone-fruit flavors. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Jeff Gaffner. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Production was 201 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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The Nielson Vineyard, the first commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County, was planted in 1964. Ken Brown, who acquired the 432-acre vineyard in 1989 after founding Byron Wines, started replanting in 1991. Jackson Family Wines purchased the winery and vineyard in 2006. Winemaker is Jonathan Nagy, who puts the Byron Winery Nielson Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, through 100 percent barrel fermentation, aging in 54 percent new French oak and full malolactic. To my palate, that regimen could be a recipe for disaster, but Nagy manages to fashion a high-impact chardonnay that offers lovely purity and intensity, texture and structure, a rich, ripe wine that isn’t stridently spicy or cloying with oak. The color is very pale gold with a faint green tinge; notes of green tea and lemongrass infuse aromas and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit that open to suggestions of clover, peach and quince. The wine is deftly balanced and integrated, and what might feel florid and forward in its approach is leavened by bright acidity and a lingering coastal shelf of limestone, flint and sea-salt. Tremendous vitality, verve and presence. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 848 cases. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
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The Edna Valley Vineyard Winemakers Series “Fleur de Edna” Chardonnay 2014, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County, sees only neutral oak barrels. The wine is very clean and fresh, offering a pale gold hue and pert aromas and flavors of green apple and pear, pineapple and grapefruit, all lightly spiced and macerated; lip-smacking acidity sends a bright arrow through a lean and lithe structure honed by limestone and flint minerality. The wine gradually opens to notes of smoke, lilac and honeysuckle, peach and quince, gently expressed. While this chardonnay makes no great display of itself, it asserts real confidence and character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. (The 2015 is also available now.) Excellent. About $27.
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fel chard
Winemaker Ryan Hodgins gave the FEL Chardonnay 2015, Anderson Valley, nine months in neutral French oak barrels and limited malolactic fermentation. The result is a chardonnay of lovely delicacy and elegance that features a pale straw-gold hue and elusive aromas of honeysuckle and jasmine; a few moments in the glass add classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit and subtle hints of cloves and roasted lemon. The wine is sleek and supple on the palate, juicy with ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors buoyed by a burgeoning limestone quality and fresh, bracing salinity on the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $32.
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Winemaker Todd Graff put the Frank Family Wines Chardonnay 2014, Napa-Carneros, through nine months in French oak, 1/3 each new, one-year-old and two-year-old barrels. The grapes derived from the winery’s Lewis Vineyard, where 68 acres of chardonnay vines and 10 acres of pinot noir are subject to the maritime influence of San Francisco Bay’s cool temperatures, fog and wind. The color is pale gold; the wine feels as if you’re sipping crushed gravel minerality with a cool flint chaser, these elements at the service of spiced pear and roasted lemon with notes of jasmine, cloves, honeysuckle and heather. This vibrant chardonnay offers texture and juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors galore, edging a bit toward flamboyance but still nicely restrained by crisp acidity and its prominent mineral component; real personality and energy here, animating a finish packed with grapefruit and graphite. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $35.
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Rob Davis has made every vintage of Jordan chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon since the winery was launched in 1976. That’s a record for 2015-Jordan-Russian-River-Valley-Chardonnay-Label-WebThumblongevity, dedication and knowledge almost unsurpassed in California. For the Jordan Vineyards Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley, the grapes fermented for 17 days in 47 percent stainless steel tanks and 53 percent new French oak barrels, and then aged six months — not a long passage — in 100 percent new French oak. Did I read that right? 100 percent? Mais oui, mon lecteurs. How did the wine turn out? Delicate, elegant, steely, filled with tantalizing nuance. The color is pale straw-gold; white floral aromas are ethereal, while notes of pineapple and grapefruit and a hint of peach are spare and subtle, opening gradually to touches of heather and seashell. The limestone and chalk minerality settles in for the long haul, lending this chardonnay an extraordinary sense of presence and gravity, buttressed by an arrow-bright line of chiseled acidity. You could say that this is a very Chablis-like chardonnay for Russian River Valley; I just say that it’s great. 13.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $32.
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The Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast, is a bright, bold chardonnay whose tendency toward richness took my 2014-CHARD-FreestoneLABELtolerance right to the edge — but held back from the plunge by incisive acidity and a profound depth of limestone and chalk minerality. The oak regimen is interesting, the wine aging 13 months in French oak barrels and puncheons, 35 percent new, 65 percent two and three years old. A puncheon is typically about twice the size of a traditional barrique, or approximately 123 U.S. gallons to 59 U.S. gallons, though, truly, different interpretations as to the size of a puncheon exist from country to country and region to region. Anyway, this wine offers a mild gold hue and an initial impression of daunting mineral elements that make it quite spare and austere; as the moments pass, it opens and softens to the extent that notes of lime peel and roasted lemon emerge, with attendant touches of baked pineapple and grapefruit, mango and bananas Foster, all tempered by acid and a mineral nature that practically glitter in the glass. What’s most compelling here is the exquisite sense of tension and risky balance among all these qualities, making for a drink that’s both satisfying and exciting. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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The Mayacamas Vineyards The Terraces Special Bottling Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley, is simply one of the best chardonnay wines I have 2013 Mayacamas Terraces CH Front Labelever tasted. It was made from a high-altitude 60-year-old vineyard that will not be used again, so this one is a rare treat. The color is pale straw-gold; notes of ginger and quince, guava and yellow plum and peach are woven with a slightly piney-resinous element and a tincture of lilac; it feels like liquid quartz on the palate, animated by chiming acidity and an aura both propulsive and dignified; ripe and spicy stone-fruit flavors nestle in a texture that’s soft as talc yet lithe and a little muscular, all devolving to a finish loaded with tangerine, lemongrass and grapefruit pith. 14.25 percent alcohol. A chardonnay of stunning and crystalline balance, tone and presence. for drinking through 2021 to ’25. Exceptional. About $95, an online purchase and Worth a Search for devotees of varietal purity and intensity.
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Though the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, saw 100 percent barrel-fermentation and aging in 100 smlabel_lr_chard_14percent new French oak barrels — that a lot of wood in my book — the wine feels as if it had been chiseled from the bedrock of the 42-year-old, dry-farmed vineyard whence it originated, while the oak influence feels almost subliminal in lending the wine shape, size and subtle spice. It’s a beautifully proportional chardonnay in every aspect — made from a 42-year-old dry-farmed vineyard — displaying a pale straw-gold hue and enticing aromas of cloves, ripe pineapple and grapefruit with a touch of mango and guava and back-notes of quince and crystallized ginger; these elements segue seamlessly to the palate, where the wine feels etched by bright acidity that cuts a swath and a deeply-hewn, scintillating limestone quality. 14.2 percent alcohol. One of my favorite chardonnays to taste in any and every year. Production was 850 cases. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $32.
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New oak was kept to a minimum in the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Karia” Chardonnay 2015, Napa Valley, which aged seven months in 30 percent new French barrels. The color is pale straw-gold; hints of peaches and spiced pear, quince and ginger waft from the glass in an effect that’s delicately floral and both faintly smoky and slightly candied, as in just a note of caramelized grapefruit lightly touched with mango, the whole impression being beguiling and intriguing. This chardonnay is quite dry but offers a vibrant, vital presence in a lithe supple texture that flows over a keen edge of limestone-flint minerality; citrus and stone-fruit flavors are ripe and moderately spicy, bold without being overdone. A really lovely chardonnay. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $35.
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The grapes for the Stony Hill Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, were grown on dry-farmed vines from 23 to 32 years old, at elevations ranging stony chardfrom 800 to 1,500 feet. Winemaker Mike Chelini uses only neutral oak for the winery’s chardonnays and inhibits malolactic. The result is a chardonnay whose innate richness and generous nature are buttressed by a powerful limestone and flint element and enlivened by riveting acidity. The color is medium straw-gold; aromas of slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit are shot through with notes of quince and cloves, acacia and heather, a hint of yellow plum and a faint whiff of lilac. This chardonnay offers true grace, elegance and spareness, with a lithe, lightly powdered texture brightened by vibrant crispness and scintillating minerality that feels filigreed and transparent through the finish. 13 percent alcohol. Drink this exquisite yet powerful wine through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $48.
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2014-CHard
If you’re looking for a taut, vibrant chardonnay that admirably balances fruit and floral elements, acidity and mineral power, Trione Vineyards and Winery River Road Ranch Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, is your baby. Deriving from the winery’s 115-acre estate vineyard, the wine features a shimmering pale gold hue and lovely aromas of apple and pear, quince and ginger and slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, all heightened by notes of cloves and a hint of quinine; there’s a gradual blooming of honeysuckle and jasmine. This chardonnay is fleet and fluent in all aspects, quite dry but delivering a beguiling talc-like texture riven by clean acid and a burgeoning limestone quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $34.
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The last time I posted an entry in this series was October 10, 2016, and, coincidentally, that post involved the Sarah’s Vineyard Estate sarahChardonnay 2014 and Estate Pinot Noir 2014, from Santa Clara Valley, 28 acres in the cool climate “Mt. Madonna” district of the southern Santa Cruz Mountains. Today it’s the turn of the winery’s straight-forward Santa Clara Valley offerings from 2014, a pair that is less expensive than the estate wines and produced in fairly larger quantities. This line was previously called the “Central Coast Series,” and still carries a Central Coast appellation. Owner and winemaker Tim Slater, who acquired the winery from founders Marilyn Clark and John Otterman in 2001, practices minimal intervention, especially in the barrel program, where new oak is kept strictly in the minority position.

These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform My Readers at the bidding of the Federal Trade Commission. This injunction does not apply to print writers, because they obviously are more trustworthy than bloggers.
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Aged 11 months in primarily neutral French oak barrels, the pure medium gold-colored Sarah’s Vineyard “Santa Clara Valley” Chardonnay 2014 is effusive in its classic pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors that feel slightly baked, a little crisp around the edges in its crystalline clarity and purpose; notes of white flowers, cloves and a hint of mango flesh out the effect. A very subtle oak patina bolsters the richness on the palate, while bright acidity and an element of limestone minerality keep the wine on an even keel, allowing a lovely tension between juicy flavors and dryness. The finish opens to touches of ginger and quince and a coastal shelf of flint. 13.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 or ’19. Production was 459 cases. Excellent. About $20, marking Good Value.
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The Sarah’s Vineyard “Santa Clara Valley” Pinot Noir 2014 aged 11 months in French oak, only 10 percent new barrels. The color is an entrancing limpid medium ruby hue, transparent at the rim; the wine is both woodsy and meadowy, by which I mean that it partakes of elements of forest floor and dried mushrooms as well as heather and potpourri, these aspects winsomely supporting notes of black and red cherries and currants infused with cloves, sandalwood and sassafras. This pinot noir is supple, lithe and sinewy on the palate, animated by acidity that cuts a swath and a clean mineral edge under tasty cherry flavors opening to notes of cranberry and pomegranate. The finish is spare and elegant. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Production was 1,211 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Valentine’s, the most fraught day of the year, when everybody in America is going to be as romantic as hell or die trying, and what’s more loveromantic than that? In case you — meaning any person of whatever gender fluidity, age, religion, political stance, food preference or IQ — forgot to lay in a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine, here is a brief roster of examples, all Brut Rosés, that register at various levels of delectability on the palate and dent-free on the pocketbook; in other words, delicious and not too expensive. (I understand that “expensive” is a relative concept.) Though actual Champagne is not included here, that is, bubbly made exclusively in the Champagne region of France, these models are produced in the famed “Champagne method” of second fermentation in the bottle, the same bottle it will be sold in, after some length of time resting on the lees in said bottle before being finished with the cork and wire. The process is a tad more complicated, of course, but I’m into simplification today so I can get a bottle of sparkling wine into your hands before it’s too late. Two of these selections are from France — Loire Valley and Burgundy — and two from California — Russian River and Napa-Carneros. So, drink up, have fun, dance a step or two and give him or her or him/her a smooch for me.

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

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

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

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

A sample for review.
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The sparkling wine Crémant de Bourgogne may be made from any of the grape varieties allowed in Burgundy, meaning predominantly chardonnay, aligoté and pinot noir, but including gamay and pinot blanc. The product must be fashioned in the “Champagne method” of second fermentation cremant de bourgogne mapin the bottle it’s sold in. The Crémant de Bourgogne appellation is extensive, reaching from Chablis down through Burgundy proper, Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Beaujolais and encompassing 365 communes in four départménts. Grapes intended for Crémant de Bourgogne are generally cultivated separately from grapes that go into the great village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines of Burgundy and Chablis; that land is too precious and those grapes too expensive to sideline into sparkling wine, though that was often the practice at great estates before 1975, when the appellation regulations were laid down. Until 1975, the product was known as Borgogne Mousseux. A great deal of Crémant de Bourgogne is produced by cooperatives or by estates that specialize in effervescence; on the other hand, some of Burgundy’s best-known domaines, such as Yves Boyer-Martenot, Duc de Magenta and Jean-Noel Gagnard, still engage in the practice. In truth, many domaines are so small that they don’t have room for producing Crémant.

The house we look at today is Domaine Louis Picamelot, founded in 1926 in Rully, a village — population about 600 — in the Côte Chalonnaise. The domaine is still in family hands, in the third generation, but run by sons-in-law. Picamelot draws chardonnay, aligoté and pinot noir grapes from its own 10 hectares of vineyards in Côte Chalonnaise and Côte de Beaune but also from vineyards under long-term contracts reaching from Beaujolais to Chatillonnais, a region (not an appellation) lying between Chablis and the Côte d’Or that contributes heavily to Crémant de Bourgogne. I found the four examples from Picamelot reviewed here to be beautifully made, very sophisticated and mostly worthy of giving lower-priced Champagne — or higher-priced, for that matter — a run for its money. The sparkling wines of Domaine Louis Picamelot are imported by Ansonia Wines, Newton, Massachusetts. These wines were samples for review. Map of Crémant de Bourgogne from bourgogne-wines.com, a very informative website.
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The medium straw-gold Louis Picamelot Le Terroirs Brut, nv, Crémant de Bourgogne, is a blend of 57 percent pinot noir, 32 percent chardonnay and 11 percent aligoté, aged at least 12 months on the lees. Elements of limestone and seashell surround notes of baked lemons and pears that open to stone-fruit compote, cloves, heather and toffee; it’s surprisingly dense and viscous on the palate, gathering an array of mineral-tinged textural elements and glimpses of yellow fruit that neatly balance bright acidity with a slightly creamy nature. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.
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Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, the Louis Picamelot Les Terroirs Brut Rosé, nv, Crémant de Bourgogne, aged at least 12 months in the bottle on the lees; the grapes came from vineyards in the Côte Chalonnaise. The color is pale salmon-copper; energetic bubbles stream upward in a steady surge. Aromas of raspberry, peach and orange peel open to hints of raspberry leaf and cinnamon bread, over a limestone and steel character; on the palate, this is fine-boned and tensile, slightly briery, clean and elegant while offering a dynamic veracity of bright acid and a scintillating mineral element. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $24.
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The Louis Picamelot Terroir de Chazot Blanc de Noir Brut, nv, Crémant de Bourgogne, is also 100 percent pinot noir, this from a designated vineyard situated on the higher hillsides of St. Aubin in the Côte de Beaune. It aged at least 18 months in the bottle on the lees. The color is very pale straw-gold, while the persistent stream of tiny bubbles is satisfying and exhilarating. Notes of roasted lemon and pear nectar open to hints of tangerine and lime peel, almond skin and lightly buttered cinnamon toast and a sort of fragile seashell-limestone element of chiseled minerality. That honed and hewn quality persists on the palate, where its chalk and flint character defines a spare, elegant package of lovely nuance and subtlety. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30.
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The Louis Picamelot Cuvée Jean Baptiste Chautard Brut 2012, Crémant de Bourgogne, is a blend of 77 percent chardonnay and 23 percent aligoté, qualifying as a blanc de blancs. A pale gold hue is animated by a teeming torrent of frothing bubbles; it’s a clean, spare, elegant sparkling wine that features notes of roasted lemons and spiced pears with undertones of quince and ginger, chalk and lightly toasted brioche. This builds character and substance in the glass, layering pertinent limestone minerality with brisk acidity and hints of baked stone-fruit flavors, all wrapped in a lively effervescent nature that doesn’t emphasize any element unduly; balanced yet exciting. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $38.
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tellus
Tellus is a label from the Falesco estate in Umbria, founded by brothers Riccardo and Renzo Cotarella in 1979. The brand explores international grape varieties produced to sell inexpensively. The Tellus Chardonnay 2015, Umbria, was made all in stainless steel; it proclaims its freshness and immediate appeal with subtlety and delicacy. The color is very pale straw-gold, and the aromas express an essence of ripe and slightly honeyed pineapple and grapefruit, touched with nutmeg and acacia, quince and ginger, with hints of limestone and flint. This chardonnay flows across the palate in a sleek, lithe and supple manner, boosted by crystalline acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. Yes, it’s quite dry and spare, yet deeply imbued with charming elements of deftly spiced citrus and stone-fruit flavors. 12.5 percent alcohol. Perfect with lighter fish and seafood appetizers and main dishes. Production was 2,000 cases. Very Good+. About $16.

A Leonardo Locascio Selection, imported by Winebow Inc., New York. A sample for review.

Limoux is a wine region in Languedoc, lying about 40 miles south of the walled city of Carcassonne, in the foothills of the French Pyrénées. It encompasses four AOCs, three for sparkling wine and one, more recently defined, for red wine made predominantly from merlot. The major white grape of the area is the indigenous mauzac, followed by chenin blanc and chardonnay. Apparently, Limoux bertrandis the site of the first sparkling wines fashioned by second fermentation in the bottle, precisely dated, by historians, to 1531 and therefore preceding its discovery in Champagne. Whatever the case, Limoux is a source for delightful sparkling wines generally available at reasonable prices. Such a one is the Gérard Bertrand “Cuvée Thomas Jefferson” 2013, Crémant de Limoux, a blend of 70 percent chardonnay, 15 percent chenin blanc, 10 percent mauzac and 5 percent pinot noir. Why “Cuvée Thomas Jefferson”? Because when that most Francophile of American presidents died, the only sparkling wines found in his cellar were from — guess! — Limoux. The color is pale straw-gold, somewhat like Rapunzel’s hair, I should guess. A pretty and persistent surge of tiny bubbles animates the proceedings, while aromas of roasted lemon, lemon balm and baked pear entice the nose; a few moments is the glass unfold notes of jasmine and almond skin and touches of hay and heather. These elements segue seamlessly onto the palate, where the wine displays a flinty notion of limestone minerality as edgy yet fragile as a seashell, an example of vivid tensile power married to thoughtful delicacy. O.K., let’s not overplay this; what I chiefly mean is that the Gérard Bertrand “Cuvée Thomas Jefferson” 2013, Crémant de Limoux, is a real charmer that offers a lithe and scintillating scale of mineral-and-acid texture and structure. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Excellent. Prices around the country run from about $16 to $21.

Imported by USA Wine West, Sausalito, Calif. A sample for review from the local distributor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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