Chardonnay


For the 18th entry in this series about chardonnay and pinot noir wines, mainly from California but occasionally from elsewhere, I offer 15 reviews that mention wines whose geographical origins range from Anderson Valley and Mendocino Ridge in the north, in Mendocino County, to Santa Maria Valley in the south, in Santa Barbara County. Some threads of the grapes’ innate characters run through the wines — certain central and peripheral fruit scents and flavors, certain spice notions, some earthy, minerally qualities — with differences among the wines derived from radical and inevitable variations in climate, elevation, exposure and soil type, the elements that comprise terroir. The issue of oak is involved, of course, with winemakers making decisions about how long to age their wines in wood and what percentage of new oak barrels to use. I prefer wines with a light oak (or no oak) thumbprint, so I’m pleased to say that none of these wines — 13 pinots, 2 chardonnays — is swamped by an overbearing oak influence. The wines considered today are all pretty terrific, a few more terrificker than the others, but I promise you would not turn any of them down. The order is alphabetical.

These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform you by ruling of the Federal Trade Commission.
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The first vintage from this celebrated vineyard for the winery, the Black Kite Cellars bk-pinotGap’s Crown Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, displays a dark ruby-magenta hue and riveting scents of cranberry and pomegranate, black cherries and raspberries, sassafras and sandalwood, all strung on a line of rooty, loamy elements and graphite minerality. This is a remarkably clean, fresh and bright pinot noir yet also dusty, musky and bosky — three of the Seven Dwarves — and burgeoning with deeply spiced black and red berry flavors. It’s sleek and smooth, animated by brisk acidity and founded on layers of moderate tannins flecked with notes of iodine and iron. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 273 cases. Drink now through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $55.
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The pale gold Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia bk-chardHighlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, and I would say that regimen was just right, because this is a chardonnay of righteous and star-like purity and intensity. Notes of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are infused with hints of cloves, almond skin and toasted hazelnuts; a few minutes in the glass bring out elements of lilac and jasmine and lustrous limestone minerality. On the palate, this chardonnay adds a bit of peach to the citrus flavors, all enclosed by a talc-like texture riven by bright acidity and lacy, etched layers of flint and damp stones; the whole package feels impeccable, beguiling and authoritative in tone, presence and character. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to 2024. Production was 212 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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The Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Carneros, aged 14 months in French oak, 60 donum-estate-grown-carneros-pinot-noir-napa-county-usa-10332775percent new barrels. The color is dense, dark ruby; aromas of black and red currants, cherries and plums are deeply imbued with notes of cloves, nutmeg, allspice and sandalwood, together exuding hints of the exotic astringency of woody Asian spices. In the nose and on the palate, the fruit feels slightly brandied, as in a macedoine, and also a bit ripe, fleshy and roasted. The complexity of the nuances and layers is heady and seductive. Super satiny in texture, suave and supple, this pinot noir partakes of leather and loam, pomegranate and beetroot, buoyed by lively acidity yet rather brooding through the finish. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink through 2020 through 2023. Winemaker was Dan Fishman. Excellent. About $72.
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The Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, aged in French oak, 70 percent new barrels, number of months undetermined. The color is a transparent medium ruby-magenta hue; the wine is reticent and slow to yield its character, though it opens to reserves of intense and concentrated black cherries, raspberries and plums infused by cloves and bittersweet chocolate, brambles and underbrush, iodine and loam. A few moments in the glass reveal notes of lavender and violets. This pinot noir is dense, almost chewy and feels pretty damned rigorous in its tannic-mineral nature. Try from 2018 through 2024 or ’25. Production was 890 cases. Excellent (potential). About $72.
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Mendocino Ridge is one of the rare vineyard regions in the world in which the geographical components are not contiguous, the only such AVA in the United States. Instead, this AVA runs along a series of mountain peaks above 1,200 feet elevation. While the total area encompasses about 262,000 acres, actual vines amount to 237 acres, divided among 17 vineyards. The Ferrari-Carano Sky High Ranch Pinot Noir 2014, Mendocino Ridge, offers a dark ruby hue shading to a lighter magenta rim; aromas and flavors tend toward the more shadowed, exotic and spicy side of the grape, replete with sassafras, cloves, sandalwood and lavender in a foundation of ripe, dusky black cherries and currants and a dash of pomegranate. The texture is satiny with a sensuous drape on the palate, though enlivened by buoyant acidity. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 42 percent new barrels. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020. Excellent. About $52.
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Another example from this vineyard in Sonoma County’s Petaluma Gap, the Gary Farrell Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, aged 14 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. Offering a transparent medium ruby hue shading to mulberry, the wine delivers intense aromas of black cherries and raspberries coated with talc and loam and opening after a few moments in the glass to notes of melon and sour cherry, cloves and pomegranate, sassafras and sandalwood; the wine is dense and supple on the palate, lively and engaging in its acidity and finely balanced between ripe succulent black fruit flavors, brooding tannins and graphite minerality. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Theresa Heredia. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Production was 495 cases. Excellent. About $70.
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The J Vineyards and Winery Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, is the best bottling of the winery’s “regular” pinot noir that I have tasted in years. Winemaker is Nicole Hitchcock. The wine aged nine months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is an entrancing medium ruby flushed with magenta; aromas of red and black cherries and currants, with infusions of sour cherry and cherry pit, are imbued with briery-brambly elements and exotic notes of smoke, sassafras and sandalwood; a few moments in the glass bring out hints of leather and tobacco. This is a bright and feral pinot noir, deep, savory and super-satiny in texture; it’s quite dry but packed with the sweet ripeness of red and black fruit married to the rigor of dusty, graphite-slicked tannins and undertones of loam, roots and branches. 14.3 percent alcohol. A terrific balance of the ethereal and the earthy. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. E & J Gallo purchased J Vineyards and Winery in March 2015. Excellent. About $40.
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The Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, aged 11 months in French oak, 29 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby fading to a transparent magenta rim; this is a deep, spicy, minerally and powerful expression of the pinot noir grape, loaded with elements of black plums and cherries, pomegranate and cranberry, white pepper, cloves and sassafras. It’s dense, sleek, supple and satiny on the palate, brimming with dark ripe fruit and burgeoning with briery-brambly qualities marked by leather and forest floor, cedar and tobacco and a touch of dried sage and thyme. While the wine could, from my lights, use more grace and finesse, it’s a good example of pinot noir in its more muscular guise. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $32.
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Lazy Creek Vineyards in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, is owned by Don and Rhonda Carano, owners of the better-known and much larger Farrari-Carano winery in Sonoma County. Winemaker for Lazy Creek is Christy Ackerman. The Middleridge Ranch vineyard lies at 1,200 to 1,400 elevation. The Lazy Creek Middleridge Ranch Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, aged 10 months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; intense and concentrated aromas of black cherries and plums are infused with notes of cloves and sassafras, rhubarb and sandalwood, rose petals and violets, altogether forming an exotic and seductive aura. Exquisite balance between succulence and a velvety texture, on the one hand, and a spare effect based on vital, lively acidity and a bracing brambly-branchy element on the other, lends the wine an exciting sense of tension and resolution. The finish brings up dry leathery tannins and hints of black cherries cloaked in bittersweet chocolate. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 418 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
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The AVA is one of those intricate ones, a small “valley,” characterized primarily by cool macphail-logoclimate and fog, nestled at the southwestern border of a larger “valley” that lies within the broad Sonoma County AVA (American Viticultural Area). The MacPhail Sundawg Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, aged 16 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. The beguiling color is transparent medium ruby shading to an ethereal mulberry rim; this is a dark, spicy smoky pinot noir — I immediately thought of it served with seared duck breast, braised fennel and turnips — that features ripe and slightly macerated, roasted black and red cherries and plums permeated by notes of sassafras and rhubarb. The wine flows like satin drapery over the palate, where it feels animated by bright acidity and shadowed by elements of briers, brambles and forest floor, lending an autumnal cast to the proceedings, and lightly sanded and dusted tannins. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink now through 2019 through ’22. Excellent. About $49.
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The Three Sticks Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Maria Valley, aged 3-bien-nacido10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby from center to slightly faded rim; the bouquet is intensely floral, opening to notes of red and black cherries, pomegranate and cranberry and displaying discreet tones of loam, cloves and rhubarb, with earthy briers and brambles in the background. The texture is quite sleek and satiny but not voluptuous, and despite juicy black and red fruit flavors, the wine is dry and a little foresty. A few minutes in the glass bring in hints of rose petals and sandalwood, mocha, leather and graphite, lending a slightly exotic air to the whole delicious enterprise. 13.9 percent alcohol. Lovely allure and complexity. Production was 243 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
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The Three Sticks “The James” Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, aged 10 months 3-jamesin French oak, 35 percent new barrels. It begins with an enchanting transparent medium ruby-magenta hue that fades to an invisible rim; at first it feels like all spices, with notes of cloves and sassafras, but it quickly unfurls black cherries and raspberries permeated by rose petals and lilac, smoke and graphite. This is a supremely satiny and mouth-filling pinot noir of sweetly succulent black fruit flavors nestled in a lip-smacking texture and dusty velvety tannins. Sounds too opulent? Fortunately, the whole package is propelled by penetrating acidity that keeps it honest and on an even keel. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 547 cases. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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The Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Valley, 3-originfermented in concrete eggs and aged 10 months in stainless steel tanks; yes, there is great wine without oak! The color is a mild gold hue; classic aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are infused with notes of lilac and fennel, quince and ginger, all animated by a snap of gunflint. This chardonnay is vibrant and resonant on the palate, enlivened by bright acidity that cuts a swath through an appealing dusty, talc-like texture; citrus flavors open to a touch of peach and green tea. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 398 cases, and I wish I had a few of them. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $48.
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Bob Cabral, now at Three Sticks, made these wines. Don’t look for them or any of the — let’s say it — legendary Williams Selyem single-vineyard chardonnays and pinot noirs in stores; they’re sold only by allocation through the winery’s mailing list.

The Williams Selyems Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, derived from two of ws-rrvthe winery’s estate vineyards plus the well-known Bacigalupe Vineyard. It aged 11 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby hue shading to a delicate magenta rim; macerated black and red cherries, currants and plums are sifted with extravagant notes of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood, pomegranate and leather, lavender and violets; I defy anyone not to be mesmerized by these seductive aromas. Fortunately, on the palate, this pinot noir reveals more rigor in the form of bright acidity that plows a furrow through a dusty, satiny texture and sleek tannins imbued with graphite and shale. A few minutes in the glass bring out touches of lilac, red licorice and mint and more earth and loam. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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The Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River ws-westside-roadValley, is an autumnal, feral, foresty pinot noir that follows an amazing evolution in the glass. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 62 percent new barrels, and while that may seem like — as it does to me — a lot of oak influence for pinot noir, these grapes soaked up that wood and turned it into remarkable shapeliness, suppleness and subtlety. The color is a not quite transparent medium ruby-mulberry hue; the wine takes a little time to open from its initial state of earthy, loamy layers that feel a bit funky to woody spices like cloves, allspice and sandalwood, unfurling then its bounty of macerated and lightly stewed red and black cherries and raspberries imbued with notes of sour cherry and melon, briers and brambles. The sense of presence and heft is impressive, as is the sleek, suave texture, the lively acidity and the slightly dusty, graphite-ridden tannins. Give this wine an hour or more to allow its mint-eucalyptus-iodine character to emerge, its notes of resiny rosemary and pine, its layers of damp flint. I would call this pinot noir a monument except that it delivers its ultimate qualities with elegance and finesse. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink through 2025 to 2030. Exceptional.
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It’s not often that a wine writer or blogger gets to use the word “delightful” in reference to a chardonnay — which too often in California come across as heavy and dour — but I’m here to ChardFrnttell you that the Toad Hollow Unoaked “Francine’s Selection” Chardonnay 2015, Mendocino County, is as delightful as chardonnay gets. Though designated Mendocino County, the wine includes grapes from Monterey (12 percent) and Sonoma (10 percent). It’s made completely in stainless steel, and for 2015 malolactic fermentation was reduced to 80 percent, resulting in a wine even more clean, fresh and crisp than usual. The color is bright medium gold; aromas of green apples and pears, with backnotes of pineapple and grapefruit, are lightly spiced and delicately threaded with a leafy, sunny floral element tending toward jasmine and honeysuckle. This chardonnay is dry, but juicy with ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors supported by decisive acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. 13.9 percent alcohol. No, this won’t challenge any of the world’s great chardonnay wines for preeminence, but for sitting out on the porch or patio, for taking along on a picnic, you can’t beat it. Very Good+. About $15, representing Real Value.

A sample for review.

There’s no better time to drink Champagne or sparkling wine than anytime it happens to be that you feel like it. I devote considerable space to those categories late in December and early in January in my annual “12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series, but why not do a mid-year survey? Though actually I will probably wish that I had saved some of these examples to use then. Oh well. Unless otherwise indicated — most of the Champagnes included today were purchased locally — these products were samples for review. All except one were made in the traditional Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. A couple from Italy should attract the eye of bargain-hunters. Drink up! Enjoy! Be careful!
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Champagne Breton Fils “Tradition” Brut nv. 12.5% alc. 1/3 each chardonnay, pinor noir, pinot meunier. Pale straw-gold hue; a beautiful upward surge of tiny swirling silver bubbles; a bit loamy and musky; baked apple, peach, almond skin; toasted hazelnuts and a touch of toffee; dense and almost chewy in texture, impressive heft and presence; heather and salt marsh, quince and ginger, slightly honeyed in effect but quite dry; arrow-straight acidity midst limestone and chalk minerality. Excellent. About $60, a local purchase.
Imported Heritage LLC, Corona, Calif.
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Champagne Canard-Duchêne Brut Rosé nv. A lovely color that blends pale onion skin with smoky topaz and delicately tarnished silver; a froth of glinting tiny bubbles; a spare, elegant brut rose Champagne, all steel, smoke and limestone, offering wisps of strawberry and tangerine, orange zest and almond skin, with a hint of pear, heather and lightly buttered cinnamon toast, all ensconced in a lovely, light, lithe effervescent texture. No great depth, but plenty of substance and pleasure. Very Good+. About $46, a local purchase.
Imported by Thiernot USA, San Rafael, Calif.
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cleto rose
Cleto Chiarli Brut Nero Rosé nv, Emilia Romagna, Italy. 12% alc. 100% grasparossa grapes. Made in the cuve close method. An entrancing light-coral-cotton-candy-pink hue; very dry but foams through the mouth like a cloud of ripe raspberries and strawberries; notes of fresh biscuits, almond skin and gardenia; a touch of rose petals; fleet acid structure with a hint of flinty minerality. Nothing to worry your pretty little head about, my dear, just drink up and be glad you’re alive. Very Good+. About $15, marking Good Value.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Champagne Forget-Brimont Premier Cru Brut nv. 40% each pinot noir and pinot meunier, 20% forgetchardonnay. Pale pale gold color, enlivened by an incessant stream of incandescent bubbles; roasted lemon, lemon balm and spiced pear; if platinum had a scent of smoke and steel, this Champagne would be it; lovely body and mouth-feel; lush and creamy but cut by keen acidity and limestone minerality; brings up notes of buttered toast and brioche with a hint of cloves; lip-smacking acidity and a mineral edge. Excellent. About $45.
Imported by HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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Champagne Laurent-Perrier Demi-Sec nv. 12% alc. 50% chardonnay, 35% pinot noir, 15% pinot meunier. “Demi-Sec” means “half-dry,” in other words, sweet (in varying degrees), but this elegant and majestic example feels just a shade sweeter than a typical brut-style Champagne, a factor revealed in a slightly riper fashion of citrus and stone-fruit. Pale gold hue, enlivened by a plethora of energetic tiny bubbles; hints of peach, pear and tangerine, a touch of spice cake; creamy on the palate but cut by vivid acidity and a dynamic limestone and chalk element; a bone-dry finish, all bracing seashell salinity and minerality. Excellent. About $45.
Laurent-Perrier USA, Long Island City, New York.
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La Valle Primum Brut nv, Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy. 12.5% alc. Chardonnay, pinot nero, pinot bianco, aged two years on the lees in bottle. Very pale gold color; lovely and exuberant effervescence; heather, lemon balm, spiced peach and baked apple; notes of fresh bread and brioche, limestone and steel; quite dry but ripe and juicy; brings in hints of jasmine and roasted lemon; gets pretty toasty on the finish. Very Good+. About $40.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection, Winebow Group, New York.
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Barone Pizzini Bagnadore Riserva 2008, Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy. Half and half chardonnay and pinot noir; this zero dosage-style sparkling wine spent five years on the lees. 1,356 cases. Lustrous pale gold; freshly baked bread and brioche, smoke and steel, toasted almonds and almond skin, quince and ginger; very dry, heaps of limestone and flint, bracing acidity and salinity; touches of toffee and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; high-toned and elegant with real depth of character. Drink through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $60.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection, Winebow Group, New York.
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Barone Pizzini Naturae Edizione 2011, Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy. 12% alc. 70% chardonnay, 30% pinot noir. Also a zero dosage style sparkling wine, it spends 30 to 40 months on the lees. Pale pale platinum blonde; a great froth of yearning bubbles; every aspect of lemon — roasted lemon, lemon balm, lemon drop, preserved lemon — with spiced pear, toasted hazelnuts and lightly buttered brioche; wreathes of smoke, limestone and flint, energized by vivid acidity; wholly balanced and integrated but exciting and a bit feral. Drink through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection, Winebow Group, New York.
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Champagne Louis Roederer Brut Premier nv. 12% alc. 40% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay, 20% pinot meunier. Pale straw-gold animated by lively effervescence; fresh-baked biscuits, toasted hazelnuts, roasted lemons and spiced pears, hint of jasmine; very crisp and clean, displaying exquisite poise in bridging lushness and creaminess with spare elegance and incisive acidity and crystalline limestone minerality; brings in notes of cloves and ginger, smoke and steel. Excellent. About $50, a local purchase.
Imported by Maisons Marques & Domaines USA, Oakland, Calif.
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Rotari Brut Rosé nv, Trento, Italy. 12.5% alc. 75% pinot noir, 25% chardonnay. You might think width="250"at the price that this winsome sparkling wine, made in the traditional method — it spends two years on the lees in the bottle — would be no more than a kissy-face little crowd-pleaser, but it offers more character than you would suspect. Very pale salmon-copper color; relentlessly effervescent; blood orange, raspberry, almond skin; sea-shell, limestone and a hint of peach; very dry, tending toward austere on the finish, but brings up hints of rose petals and macerated strawberries. Very Good+. About $15, representing Real value.
Prestige Wine Imports, New York.
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Steorra Brut nv, Russian River Valley. 12.2% alc. 55 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir. This is the first sparkling wine made by Joe Wagner, for his Copper Cane Wines & Provisions. Wagner created the immensely popular Meiomi label, which he sold last year to Constellation for a staggering $315 million. The color is a very pale straw-gold hue, enlivened by a fine, energetic bead; spiced pears and roasted lemons, delicate and subtle, with notes of quince and ginger, buttered toast and caramel; it’s quite dry, loaded with chalk and limestone minerality, a bit savory and saline, nicely balanced between creaminess and brisk acidity; the flaw is a finish that falls a little short. Very Good+. About $23.
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Sterling Vineyards Brut 2012, Carneros. 12.3% alc. (No mention of this product on the winery’s website, no tech info, no image. Perhaps it doesn’t really exist.) Pale gold shimmering with a hail of tiny bubbles; very clean and fresh, spiced pear and roasted lemon, hints of smoky heather and hay; steel, flint, almond skin; charming and scintillating, elegant and energetic; very dry, with a firm yet attractive element of limestone minerality that surges through the chiseled finish. Excellent. About $50.
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O.K., not a totally A to Z line, but the roster for today’s Weekend Wine Notes runs from albariño to zinfandel, with several alphabetical stops between those points, nine of them including a couple of real bargains, though all represent good value. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew the plethora of technical, historical, geographical and personnel data that we dote upon so dearly for the sake of quick and incisive reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy!

With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
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Arios Albariño 2014, Rias Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. Pale pale straw-gold hue; roasted lemons and ariospears, dried thyme and heather, white flowers and a touch of flint; very dry, scintillating with pert acidity and a brisk limestone element; lovely lemon and peach flavors, lightly glossed with cloves and honey. Super attractive and eminently drinkable. Very Good+. About $15.
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FEL Wines Chardonnay 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; FEL-Logo_850x500roasted lemon, lemon drop, pineapple and grapefruit; beguiling notes of jasmine and gardenia, quince and ginger, with flint in the background; marked purity and intensity, vibrant and resonant with keen acidity and limestone and chalk minerality, yet seductive in its supple, talc-like texture that laves the palate; ripe citrus flavors with a touch of baked stone-fruit; a beautifully shaped, high-minded and crystalline chardonnay, for drinking through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $28.
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Vento di Mare Nerello Mascalese 2013, Terre Siciliane. 13% alc. Deep ruby-purple; robust and CMYK basehearty, featuring intense aromas of violets and lavender, dark spicy cherries, with something of cherry skin and pit pungency and bitterness; plums and currants; leafy, woodsy notes of cedar and dried rosemary, with the latter’s characteristic resinous nature; shaggy tannins, dense and chewy; penetrating acidity and granitic minerality. Perfect for full-flavored pizzas and pasta dishes, burgers with bacon and cheddar cheese, grilled pork chops with a Southwestern rub; you get the idea. Very Good+. About $12, so Buy It by the Case.
Imported by Middleton Family Wines, Shandon, Calif.
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Giesen The Brothers Pinot Noir 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand. 14.5% alc. 500 cases imported. Medium transparent ruby color; ferrous and sanguinary, with notes of iodine and mint, pomegranate and cranberry, baked cherries and raspberries; deep and warm, spicy and savory; a definite foresty element animated by fleet acidity; fairly tannic for a pinot noir, dusty and almost velvety, but reigned in by sleek elegance; polished oak stays in the background, giving the wine shape and suppleness. Drink through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $30.
Imported by Constellation Brands, Gonzales, Calif.
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2012PastoralRouge
Two Shepherds Pastoral Rouge 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 45% grenache, 30% mourvedre, 25% syrah. Production was 200 cases. Medium ruby hue shading to garnet; smoked plums, bruised raspberries and a touch of blueberry, hints of red licorice, leather and loam; slightly spicy and tea-like, meaning black tea; lithe and expressive on the palate, very clean, a bit chiseled in its graphite-tinged minerality and lightly dusted tannins that take on more heft through the finish; a southern Rhône-style blend that’s elevating and balletic rather than dense and earth-bound; “pastoral,” indeed, in its irresistible, meadowy appeal to life and eating and drinking al fresco. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $36.
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La Domitienne Rosé 2015, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France. 12.5% alc. 50% each cinsault and grenache. Pale la_domitienne_rose_GWP_2015_label-no-guidescopper-onion skin color; delicate and slightly leafy strawberry and raspberry scents and flavors, though it’s a wild and bosky rosé, suave and fairly robust, savory and saline, dry and flinty, and lively in its bright acidity. A real thirst-quencher, with surprising complexity for the price. Very Good+. About $10, a Raving Bargain.
Imported by Guarachi Wine Partners, Woodland, Calif.
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Star Lane Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County. NA% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; star-like clarity of grapefruit, lime peel and papaya, with spiced pear and hints of lemongrass and lilac; bright acidity paired with clean limestone-flint minerality, yet a fairly earthy sauvignon blanc, with seeming connections to the loamy soil from which it sprang. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $22.
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Illahe
Illahe Viognier 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; jasmine and gardenia, pears and green apples, hints of lanolin and bee’s-wax; very dry, spare, but with a ravishing silken texture and flavors of lightly spiced and macerated pear and peach; crystalline acidity and a hint of a limestone edge, leading to a touch of grapefruit on the finish. Really lovely. Excellent. About $17. (A local purchase at $20.)
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Dry Creek Vineyards Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2014, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 78% zinfandel, 20 2014_Heritage_label_rgbpercent petite sirah, 1% each primitivo and carignan. Dark ruby; blackberries, currents and plums, notes of cloves and black pepper, orange rind and oolong tea; quite dry, an evocative woodsy zinfandel, seething with briers and brambles, a hint of damp leaves, supported by dusty, graphite-tinged tannins and lip-smacking acidity; a supple, spice-laden finish. gratifyingly balanced and layered for drinking through 2019 or 2020. Excellent. About $22.
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I have long been a fan of the pinor noir wines from Pfendler Vineyards, a small producer located in the Petaluma Gap area of the Sonoma Coast AVA. I rated the 2010 and 2012 Exceptional and the 2013 Excellent; all appeared on the list of “50 Great Wines” of the appropriate review year. Oddly, though, the only chardonnay I have written about from Pfendler is the 2010. Here is that mention, in the Weekend Wine post for March 22, 2013:

Pfendler Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Medium straw-gold color; bold and rich but not creamy or tropical; well-integrated flavors of pineapple and grapefruit infused with ginger and quince and a hint of peach; very dry but really lovely, elevating and balletic; oak comes through from mid-palate back, yet the whole package reflects a hands-off approach; final touch of jasmine and roasted hazelnuts. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.

The key to the wine seems to be a sense of risk — “bold and rich,” “oak comes through from mid-palate back” — combined with an effort toward elegance and balance. I wish I could say the same for the version under review today.
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I don’t know if the oak regimen at Pfendler changed recently; the winery’s website is still on pfendler chard2013. It seems to me that winemaker Greg Bjornstad has always favored a hands-off approach, though the Pfendler Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, exhibits a strangely marked presence of wood. The color is bright medium straw-gold, and the initial aromas consist of attractive notes of green apple, grapefruit and pineapple tinged with fresh coconut and lemongrass. A few minutes in the glass, however, bring in touches of oak-influenced toffee and burnt-match, and on the palate the wine displays a stridently spicy character that leads to an astringent finish. No balance or elegance here. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Not recommended. About $38.
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No such worries about the Pfendler Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, an exemplar from beginning to pfendler pinotend. The color is an entrancing transparent medium cranberry-mulberry hue shading to an invisible rim; I could read my handwritten notes through this wine. It’s a bosky pinot noir that offers notes of foresty herbs and flowers, briers, brambles and loam, all to support scents and flavors of ripe and dried black cherries with currant and plum undertones; as the moments pass, this wine develops hints of cloves and rhubarb, lilac and rose petals. Bright acidity cuts a swath through a super-satiny texture, serving as counterpoint to elements of graphite and mildly dusty tannins; plenty of lithe, supple structure here, but not at the expense of generous fruit flavors or a mineral-flecked finish. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22 with roasted chicken, pork tenderloin, rabbit and duck terrine. Excellent. About $45.
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These wines were samples for review.

The Rodney Strong Vineyards Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma County, was fermented and then aged 12 months in new and used French oak barrels, except for three percent; that dollop went chalk hill chardinto stainless steel. Whatever the effect of wood and stainless steel on the wine was, it’s a chardonnay of lovely balance and integration that offers surprising depth and dimension for the price. The color is palest gold; aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, lime peel, quince and pear assert themselves with crystalline purity and intensity, adding, as moments pass, layers of limestone and flint minerality. The wine flows across the palate in a winsome blend of moderate lushness and pert acidity, poised between elegance and energy; ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors are imbued with notes of cloves, limestone and heather, the latter tone opening to a authoritative finish that brings in a slightly earthy quality and a tinge of grapefruit bitterness. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemakers were Rick Sayre and Justin Seidenfeld. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. You could sell the hell out of this chardonnay in bar and restaurant by-the-glass programs. Excellent. About $22, representing Good Value.

A sample for review.

I don’t often use the word “charming” to describe a chardonnay wine, but I’ll unlimber that EQ_Chardonnay_Labelcritical term for the Matetic EQ Chardonnay 2014, from Chile’s San Antonio Valley. The wine region is south of the well-known Casablanca Valley, about 55 miles west of Santiago and in proximity to the Pacific Ocean. The grapes are certified organic and were fermented with native yeast in French oak barrels of various sizes, only 15 percent new oak; a minimal percentage of malolactic fermentation occurred, while the wine aged in barrels for 11 months. The result is a chardonnay that displays a pale straw-gold hue and lively aromas of green apple, roasted lemon, pineapple and grapefruit, elevated by subtle notes of cloves, mango and damp flint. It strikes the palate in a clean, fresh and engaging manner, offering bright acidity and a spare, lithe texture that grows more dense as the moments pass; this is a very dry chardonnay, animated by ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors that burgeon with quince and ginger, all leading to a finish packed with limestone and chalk. 14 percent alcohol. Drink this enticing chardonnay, lightly shaded by oak, through 2017 or ’18 with seafood risottos, shrimp or chicken salad, grilled or seared fish. Excellent. About $26.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

Typically around the middle of April, I and my fellow wine writer/blogger colleagues begin rose brutreceiving marketing messages about brut rosé Champagnes and sparkling wine for Mother’s Day. Not long after, the suggestions about Port for Father’s Day gifts begin to pour in. It’s as if there’s some sacred PR tenet that dictates Pink for Moms and Port for Dads, in some sort of Venus/Mars dichotomy. Now I truly love Brut Rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines — and I like Port too — so I don’t mind playing along with the game, though my real inclination is not to limit these products to the days that honor our individual parents but to indulge all year round. Here, then, are six brut rosé examples from a variety of countries and regions, mostly composed of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, but featuring some outliers too. Prices range from $18 to $70. Your mothers will thank you. With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
Image from traveleatlove.com.
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The Vilarnau Brut Rosé Reserva, nv, Cava, is a blend of the indigenous red trepat grape, commonly used for rosé wines in Catalonia, (90 percent) with the remainder pinot noir. It spends 12 months or more in the bottle before disgorgement. A delightful, dry and delicious brut rosé, it offers a very pale copper-salmon color, with a supercharged surge of tiny bubbles, and pert aromas of strawberries and orange zest, somewhat tea-like and floral, and a slightly candied note of orange marmalade. The wine is lively with bright acidity and a keen-edged limestone element. 12 percent alcohol. Quite charming. Very Good+. About $18.
Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago.
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A blend of 75 percent pinor noir and 25 percent chardonnay, the Rotari Brut Rosé 2013, Trento, Italy, offers a very pale onion skin hue and attractive aromas of strawberries, orange rind, apple peel and almond skin. This sparkling wine is very dry, spare, almost elegant, with crystalline acidity and chiming limestone-and-flint minerality, all enlivened by a sort of spanking fresh seashell-sea breeze salinity and savoriness. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.
Imported by Rotari USA,
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The Szigeti Pinot Noir Brut Rosé, nv, Burgenland, Austria, is 100 percent varietal and aged on the yeast 12 months in the bottle. The color is a soft salmon-copper hue, energized by a constant stream of tiny bubbles. This is a very attractive and rather exotic sparkling wine that along with the usual elements of orange zest and strawberries includes notes of cloves and red currants, brambles and rose petals, in a dry, tart package framed by flint and chalk minerality. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Winebow, Inc., New York.
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La Valle Brut Rosé 2011, Franciacorta, Italy, sees no oak or malolactic fermentation, the philosophy being to produce a sparkling wine that reflects freshness and purity and the influence of the vineyard. I can’t speak about the last aspect, but as to the first two, yes, this is a wonderfully fresh and pure brut rosé, sporting a classic pale onion skin hue and a fabulous frothing of tiny bubbles. (It’s 100 percent pinot noir and spent 30 months on the lees in the bottle.) It’s a sparking wine that depends on delicacy and elegance for its effects, yet hinges on a display of tensile strength in its crisp, vibrant, austere, stony-steely structure. A lovely nuance of faint raspberry, orange zest and brioche completes the picture. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020. Excellent. About $55.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection for Winebow Inc., New York.
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The current issue of the Champagne Veuve Fourny et Fils Premier Cru Brut Rosé, nv, is a blend of 85 Fourny_Rose_nonvintage(12)_webpercent chardonnay (30 percent of which is reserve wine) and 15 percent pinot noir. It rested on the lees in the bottle two years before release. The wines are primarily 2011, with portions of 2010, ’09 and ’08. The color is an entrancing pale copper-salmon hue, animated by a torrent of glinting bubbles; dried strawberries and raspberries and permeated by notes of toasted almonds and almond skin, heather, apple peel and orange rind. This is a juicy, close to delicious but very dry Champagne of ice and snow, bolstered by ample limestone minerality and vibrant acidity that push it toward glacial, Olympian heights and crystalline purity. 12 percent alcohol. Always a favorite in our house. This recent release, disgorged in 2014, should drink well through 2020 to 2024. Excellent. About $65, a local purchase.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Calif.
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The color of the Möet et Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2008 is vivid blood-orange-red with a sheen of tarnished silver; blood orange shows up, too, in aromas redolent of that fruit, with notes of raspberry, heather and wildflowers, a touch of orange liqueur and the vibrancy of damp limestone. This Champagne is quite dry, savory and saline, with a depth of clove spiciness, macerated strawberries, seashell minerality and a distinct flint-chalk element; a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of apple peel, heather and peach fuzz. It’s taut with acidity yet generous and enveloping, and it finishes slightly briery and with a yin and yang suggestion of orange marmalade, both the faint sweetness and the echo of bitterness. 12.5 percent alcohol. This is a blend of 46 percent pinot noir, 32 percent chardonnay and 22 percent pinot meunier; the wine aged seven years on the lees in bottle. Now through 2020 to 2025. Wonderful weight, presence and tone. Excellent. About $70.
Imported by Möet Hennessy USA, New York.
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Today’s post is about wine and women, friendship and family. The wines are chardonnay and pinot barbara_0noir from Cambria Vineyards and Winery and WindRacer. The women include Barbara Banke, chairwoman and proprietor of Jackson Family Wines (image at right); her daughters, Katie and Julia Jackson; winemakers Denise Shurtleff and Elizabeth Grant-Douglas; and Banke’s longtime friend and business partner, Peggy Furth. Together, they carry on the legacy of Barbara Banke’s husband and Katie and Julia’s father, Jess Jackson (1930-2011), who founded what was known as Kendall-Jackson in 1982. Through fairly aggressive marketing and acquisitions and different manifestations of the company and its name, Kendall-Jackson eventually became Jackson Family Wines.

One of Jess Jackson’s purchases, occurring in 1986, was about 700 acres of the Tepusquet vineyard in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. The estate was the site of a Mexican land grant in 1838. Vines were planted here in 1970 and ’71 by the Lucas brothers, who sold to Jackson and Banke after financial reverses. In 1989, Jackson built a large winery at Tepusquet and named it Cambria. The vineyard, as in most of the rest of Santa Maria Valley, was planted primarily to chardonnay and pinot noir. The wines were issued as “Katherine’s Vineyard” for chardonnay and “Julia’s Vineyard” for pinot noir, though for the current releases reviewed below those designations became the catch-all “Benchbreak.” Katie and Julia Jackson are described on the winery’s website as “family spokespersons.” Winemaker is Denise Shurtleff.

WindRacer is a chardonnay-and-pinot-noir-only brand born of an on-going discussion between Barbara Banke and her friend Peggy Furth about the merits of those grape varieties in Anderson Valley and Russian River Valley, Banke championing Anderson Valley, Furth advocating for Russian River Valley. Furth is a partner with Banke in WholeVine Products, a company that produces grapeseed oil, gluten-free cookies and grapeseed and skin flours; she is former co-proprietor of Chalk Hill Vineyards. While the conventional view might be that Anderson Valley (in Mendocino County) is cooler, so the wines will be more focused on structure, and Russian River Valley is warmer, so the wines will be riper and richer, I found these chardonnays and pinot noir wines to be more complicated, with more wealth of detail and dimension, than that assessment would dictate. Winemaker is Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, who also makes excellent pinot noir at Maggy Hawk, another Anderson Valley pinot noir producer contained within Jackson Family Wine’s Spire Collection of top-flight labels.

These wines were samples for review. Image of Barbara Banke from jacksonfamilywines.com..
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The Cambria “Benchbreak” Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, derives from 15 vineyard blocks cultivated individually. The wine aged six and a half months in 76 percent French oak, 14 percent new barrels; we are not told but I assume the balance aged in stainless steel. The color is pale gold; pert aromas of green apple and spiced pear offer freshness and immediate appeal, while a few moments in the glass bring in deeper notes of pineapple and peach; a clean, earthly line runs through it. The wine is quite dry, riven by bright acidity and a scintillating limestone element, while delivering juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors, with a bare hint at the tropical; the oak influence remains on the periphery, subtle but persistent. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or 2020. Very Good+. About $22.
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The Cambria “Benchbreak” Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley, aged eight months in French oak, 27 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby shading to a nearly invisible rim; this is an incredibly attractive pinot noir that opens with notes of black cherry, cranberry and rhubarb, cloves, sandalwood and potpourri, tied off with a tinge of violets; a few moments in the glass add hints of loam, pomegranate and sauteed mushrooms. The lovely texture drapes the palate with satiny grace, while a finger of acidity stirs in the depths; it’s a sleek, suave and delicious wine burnished by a backwash of bristly tannins, smoke and graphite. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $25.
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The WindRacer Chardonnay 2012, Anderson Valley, aged 14 months in French oak, 26 percent new ECM187824barrels. It offers a pale straw-gold hue and quickly noticeable aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince, talc and lilac, with a slender hint of mango. It’s a very dry chardonnay, enlivened by lip-smacking acidity and limestone-chalk minerality and altogether a wine of beautiful shape, presence and tone. It’s pretty dense on the palate, with a slightly powdery texture that remains crisp and clean and fresh. The oak lends nuance and layering, coming out more prominently on the finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 513 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $40.
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So, is the WindRacer Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, a mirror of its Anderson Valley cousin, a simulacrum or its opposite? The color is pale gold, and the aromas of jasmine and mango open to more incisive elements of pineapple and baked grapefruit; the wine is a touch creamy, with notes of baked pear, roasted lemon and lemon balm. Still, I was pleased with the decisive acidity and limestone minerality that characterize this chardonnay’s structure and keep it from being too rich and lush; in fact, you detect the oak a bit more in this wine than in the previous chardonnay, particularly (but not dominantly) from mid-palate back through the shimmering, slightly sinewy finish. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 1,015 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Very Good+. About $40.
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Give the WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, a few minutes in the glass and it becomes ECM187824extravagantly floral, displaying winsome notes of rose petals, lilac and lavender. Before that panoply — with its transparent medium ruby hue shading to a pale, delicate rim — the wine offers aromas of smoky black cherries and raspberries, permeated by cloves and pomegranate, sassafras and loam. The texture is dense, passionately satiny, intense and talc-like yet deeply imbued with elements of briers and brambles, graphite-tinged tannin and straight-arrow acidity; there’s a sense of interior rigor and energy that brings ultimate balance to the package. The finish is quite dry, layered with flint, dried blueberries and something dark, rooty and tea-like. 14.5 percent alcohol. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Production was 1,007 cases. A marvel of nuance and expressiveness. Exceptional. About $50.
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And as to that wine’s Russian River Valley counterpart? While the WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is, as expected, bolder, denser and more exotic than its Anderson Valley stablemate, it’s also even more rigorous, with a healthy dose of dust and graphite, a woodsy, loamy pinot noir that’s supple and satiny and fairly surprising in its mineral-laden tannins. The wine practically smells velvety — the color is dark ruby with a glowing magenta rim — and it delivers seductive notes of smoky black cherry and raspberry with a touch of plum and hints of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and violets and an interesting bit of almond skin. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 28 percent new barrels; you feel a dollop of that oak through the penetrating, vibrant finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,527 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $50.
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Jordan Winery’s decision, all these years, to maintain a focus on only two wines — chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon — is one that I wish more producers would follow. Often I feel that Jordan-Winery-Russian-River-Valley-Chardonnay-2014-WebDetailwineries try to be all things to all consumers, dividing their attention and efforts into too many products at myriad levels of intent and price. That said, winemaker Rob Davis made a change in how the Jordan Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, was treated in the winery. While the 2013 version, for example, aged six months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, and only 18 percent of the wine went through “malo” — the so-called malolactic fermentation that transforms sharp malic (“apple-like”) acid to creamier lactic (“milk-like”) acid — this present release was barrel-fermented 60 percent in stainless steel tanks and 40 percent in new French oak, aged five and a half months in all new French oak and went through 30 percent ML. The result is a wine that is moderately richer and more full-bodied than the chardonnays from Jordan that I tasted in the past, while it retains the emphasis on elegance, purity and intensity. The color is brilliant medium straw-gold; classic aromas of slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit open to bare hints of mango, quince and ginger and, after a few minutes airing, to beguiling scents of honeysuckle and lilac. Supple and lithe, staying on the safe side of lushness, the wine displays a structure defined by bright acidity and a vibrant limestone element, resulting in very attractive heft and substance on the palate, all while delivering tasty and spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors; a whiff of gun-flint and lavender emerges, as the finish concludes with a teasing sense of crystalline minerality. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22 with seared salmon or swordfish, grilled trout with capers and brown butter or seafood risottos. Excellent. About $32.

A sample for review.

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