Chardonnay


I taste — not drink — a great deal of chardonnay wines made in California. Much of them are well-made and serve as exemplars of the grape, but far too many reveal signs of being over-manipulated in the winery with barrel-fermentation, malolactic, lees stirring and long aging in barrel. The result is often chardonnays that I find undrinkable because of their cloying viscosity and dessert-like character, their aggressive spiciness, their flamboyant richness and over-ripeness and basic lack of balance. This is why, when LL and I sit down to a dinner that requires a white wine, I generally open a sauvignon blanc or riesling, a Rhone-inspired white, a pinot blanc or an albariño. Looking for respite from tasting California chardonnays, I purchased a bottle of the Domaine Perraud Vieilles Vignes Mâcon-Villages 2013 from a local retail store. This is made completely from chardonnay grapes from 45-year-old vines; it sees no oak, and it’s a shimmering graceful beauty. Mâconnais lies south of Burgundy proper, between Chalonnais and Beaujolais and considerably smaller than either. The soil tends to be limestone and chalk and is best on the south-facing hillsides about 800 or so feet elevation. This wine spends eight to 12 months in stainless steel tanks, resting on the fine lees of dead yeast cells and skin fragments. The color is very pale gold; beguiling aromas of roasted lemon and lemon balm, lime peel, jasmine and verbena are highlighted by bright notes of quince and ginger; a lovely, almost talc-like texture is riven by a blade of clean acidity and bolstered by layers of chiseled limestone minerality, all at the service of delicious citrus and stone fruit flavors tempered by a concluding fillip of bracing grapefruit vigor. Utterly fresh, beautifully poised between elegance and delicacy, on the one hand, and presence and gravity on the other. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. We had this last night with a dinner of broiled catfish with boiled potatoes and salsa verde, green beans on the side. What’s the lesson here? Chardonnay does not have to be bold, brassy, brash and buxom. Excellent. About $20, a Great Value.

Imported by North Berkeley Wine, Berkeley, Calif.

Come on, you know that your sainted mother deserves some Champagne or sparkling wine on Mother’s Day, especially after all the trouble, toil, stress and tears you put her through. Remember how she bailed you out of jail at 3 a.m. that time? (And then docked your allowance forever.) Remember how she wrote your term paper on Moby Dick after the dog ate your notecards? Remember how she stood up for you against the imprecations of the king your father and ensured your claim to the Throne of the Recalcitrant Kingdoms? You owe her, dude! (Or dudette!) Here, in honor of Mother’s Day, is a roster of seven sparkling wines and Champagnes to tempt every palate and soothe every spirit. Four are from California, three from France, including two real and actual Champagnes. Prices start at about $22, though you can find stores around the country that discount radically. Since this is the Weekend Wine Notes post, I eschew a plethora of technical, historical and geographical data in favor of brief and incisive reviews designed to pique the interest and whet the palate. I will mention that all of these products are made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. Unless pointed out specifically, these bottles were samples for review. Enjoy! (In health and moderation.)

Whistler’s “Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1″ hangs in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
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Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs nv, Carneros. 12.2% alc. 92% pinot noir, 8% chardonnay. Very pale copper-onion skin hue; pert and lively, with a pleasing froth of glinting bubbles and attractive aromas of red currants and raspberries, touches of cloves, orange peel and peach, and hints of hazelnuts and cinnamon toast; bracing acidity; very nice intensity and body, with a lively texture and finish. Very Good+. About $22, a local purchase.
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Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé nv, Crément d’Alsace. 12% alc. 100% pinot noir. Shimmering copper-salmon hue; a fountain of glittering tiny bubbles; raspberries and lime peel, blood orange and orange blossom; spiced tea and limestone; almost tart but full and round; delicate yet steely; slightly austere, saline mineral-laced finish. Real style and racy character. Very Good+. About $22.
Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.
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Mirabelle Brut Rosé nv, California (from Schramsberg). 12.8% alc. 53% chardonnay, 47% pinot noir. Medium salmon-peach hue; dependable stream of tiny bubbles; notes of strawberries, raspberries and orange zest; very crisp and and animated; very dry and a bit chiseled with elements of limestone and flint but with a lovely texture that deftly balance spareness with moderate lushness. Delightful. Very Good+. About $26.
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Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2011, North Coast. 12.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Platinum blond color, befitting a “white from whites” sparkling wine; a swirling torrent of tiny bubbles; roasted lemon and spiced pear, quince and ginger, cloves and a hint of mango; touches of toasted brioche, lemon balm and almond blossom; decisive limestone minerality and incisive acidity make it fresh and clean, vibrant and lively, all finely-tuned and lithely toned; the finish is fine, elegant, a little austere. Always a favorite in our house. Excellent. About $38.
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Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut nv, Napa and Sonoma counties. 48% chardonnay, 46% pinot noir, 6% pinot meunier. Pale gold color; a fountain of tiny shimmering bubbles; apples and lemons, spiced pear, hint of brioche and a touch of toffee; savory and saline; quite dry but expansive and generous; lots of chalk and limestone minerality; a large-scale sparkling wine that balances tasty roasted lemon and toasted hazelnut flavors with lip-smacking acidity; all devolving to an elegant finish packed with flint, cloves and grapefruit. A great performance, refined, generous and integrated. Excellent. About $40.
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Champagne Canard-Duchêne Authentic Brut nv. 12.5% alc. 45% pinot noir, 35% pinot meunier, 20% chardonnay. Pale gold color; steady stream of tiny bubbles; grapefruit and roasted lemon, lightly toasted brioche and lemongrass, notes of spiced pear, quince and ginger; very dry, heaps of smoke, chalk and limestone but expansively fitted with citrus flavors and hints of peach; crisp, almost tart, certainly lively and engaging. Our new favorite Champagne at home. Excellent. About $40, a local purchase.
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Nicolas Feuillette “D’Luscious” Demi-Sec Rosé nv. 12.5% alc. 60% pinot noir, 30% pinot meunier, 10% chardonnay. Lovely dusty topaz hue; not so much sweet — demi-sec means “half-dry” — as slightly voluptuous in texture and bursting with ripe fruit in the strawberry and raspberry range; the off-set is provided by notes of yeast and fresh biscuits, almond skin, limestone minerality and brisk acidity; a touch of orange zest is a bit candied. More balanced than I would have thought; quite lovely and enjoyable. Excellent. About $59.
Imported by Ste Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Washington.
Image from somminthecity.com.
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I have been reviewing the pinot noir wines of Black Kite Cellars since the vintage of 2007 was released, but recently had the opportunity to try the winery’s chardonnays for the first time, as well as its flagship “Angel Hawk” pinot noir. Winemaker Jeff Gaffner makes the Black Kite wines from separate blocks of the estate vineyards in Mendocino County as well as from vineyards in Sonoma Coast and Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands. Gaffner is also proprietor and winemaker for Saxon Brown, whose wines I have been tasting recently and will report about soon.

These bottles were samples for review.
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Black Kite Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Soberanes Vineyard, nestled in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Range, is owned by Gary Franscioni and Gary Pisoni, both from farming families long rooted in Monterey County. From this vineyard, and others they own in the Highlands, they supply notable wineries with chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah grapes. This aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. It’s a bold, ripe and spicy chardonnay, displaying a medium gold hue and forthright aromas of roasted pineapple, caramelized grapefruit, lightly buttered cinnamon toast, cloves and a hint of toasted coconut, all accumulating in what long-time readers of this blog will recognize as not my favorite manner of chardonnay. It’s quite dry but juicy with citrus flavors, pear and lemon oil; dense, viscous, almost talc-like in texture but saved by a fundamental quality of brisk acidity and limestone minerality. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 195 cases. Perhaps this requires a year or two in bottle to calm down a bit and resolve itself. Until then, Very Good+. About $45.
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Black Kite Cellars Gap’s Crown Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast. The 138-acre Gap’s Crown Vineyard lies in the cool and windy Petaluma Gap area in southwest Sonoma County; elevation varies from 300 to 800 feet above sea level. First planted in 2002, it supplies primarily pinot noir grapes (and some chardonnay) to a roster of California’s best pinot producers, Bill Price purchased the vineyard in January 2013. Price owns one of California’s best-known vineyards, Durell Vineyard, which he purchased in 1998. He co-founded the private equity firm Texas Pacific Group in 1992 and sold his share back to the company in 2007, and that, friends, is a lesson in how you get into the vineyard and winery business. Price is chairman of Kosta Brown Winery and Gary Farrell Winery — you know those names — and has interest in Kistler, another name you know. This chardonnay marks the first wine from the vineyard for Black Kite. It aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 40 percent new and presents a more classic restrained version of chardonnay than the example from the Soberanes Vineyard mentioned above. Still, this is quite pronounced in its expression of pineapple and grapefruit scents and aromas, highlighted by notes of ginger, quince and spiced pear. The texture is pleasingly dense, not viscous or oily and it offers more acidity and limestone minerality by several degrees. In fact, this is a chardonnay of crystalline clarity and eloquence that culminates in a long, compelling finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 236 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $45.
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Black Kite Cellars “Angel Hawk” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. This wines derives from vines that owners Rebecca and Tom Birdsall and winemaker Jeff Gaffner consider the best of their estate vineyards. And while my heart sinks to read that a pinot noir wine aged 19 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels — I think that’s typically too much new oak for too many months for pinot noir — this model handily absorbed that influence and turned into a deep, supple, lithe and super satiny wine. The color is deep ruby with a transparent rim; rich aromas of spiced and macerated black cherries, currants and plums are permeated by notes of pomegranate, rhubarb and loam; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of cloves, white pepper, leaf smoke and tobacco. This layered panoply of sensation segues smoothly to the palate, where the wine flows purposefully to a graphite-packed, slightly tannic finish. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 190 cases. This is obviously no evanescent, ephemeral, elegant pinot noir; rather, it draws on the grape’s potential for power and substance, helped a bit in the cellar, of course, though it still beautifully captures its essential character. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $85.
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While other wineries attempt to be all things to all consumers — “Maybe we better make a moscato, they’re hot now!” — Jordan Vineyard and Winery goes right on doing what it has always done since starting in 1976, producing chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon wines from its estate vineyards, Alexander Valley for cabernet, Russian River Valley for chardonnay. These are not opulent, flamboyant, super-ripe or over-oaked wines. Alcohol levels are kept low — see the wines reviewed below — and new oak is employed thoughtfully. Jordan’s wines drink exceptionally well with food, and while in some quarters such an assertion is greeted with disdain, that factor seems to me to be the highest purpose and achievement of wine. Jordan also fields a website almost unparalleled in California for its usefulness, range and flow of information and accessibility. Pay heed, all you wineries that cannot manage to get your latest releases on your websites.

These wines were samples for review.
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Two-thirds of the Jordan Chardonnay 2013, Russian River Valley, was barrel-fermented, one-third fermented in stainless steel. The wine aged six months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels; 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 — thus retaining most of the wine’s crisp, vibrant character. The color is bright but pale gold; classic aromas of pineapple and grapefruit are highlighted by notes of cloves, quince and ginger, with tinges of mango and jasmine lingering in the background. This is quite fresh, lively and appealing, poised among spicy citrus and slightly roasted stone-fruit flavors, a scintillating limestone element and a texture just lush enough to add some sensuality to its spare elegance. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or 2020 with seared salmon or swordfish, trout with brown butter and capers, seafood risottos. Excellent. About $30.
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The Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Alexander Valley, is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent merlot, 3 percent petit verdot and 1 percent malbec. Interesting that 85 percent of the grapes derived from Alexander Valley; 14 percent came from Mendocino County and a scant 1 percent from Dry Creek Valley; this is called choosing your sources carefully. The wine aged 12 months in 73 percent French oak barrels and 27 percent American oak, a total of 37 percent being new barrels; it spent 22 months resting in bottle before being released. The color is a transparent medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim; the wine is unusually intense and concentrated on structure, with aromas of briers and brambles and loam permeating notes of black currants, cherries and plums, accented by hints of cloves and allspice, with the latter’s element of exotic woodsy astringency. On the palate you taste the spicy black fruit flavors wrapped around a firm core of iodine and iron etched with lavender and violets and a touch of bitter chocolate; the texture is lithe and supple, while the whole package, animated by bright acidity, is dense and chewy with dusty, graphite-tinged tannins. While this cabernet may display a tad less elegance than Jordan cabernets typically do, it feels imbued with more dignity and character; consider it a triumph from a difficult year. 13.8 percent alcohol. Try with steak or grilled veal or pork chops from 2016 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $53.
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It’s not easy to grow European wine grapes in hot and humid Brazil, and in fact the center of the vast country’s wine industry lies in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, as far as you can get away from the Equator (marked in red on the accompanying map) and still be in Brazil. In that state, most of the vineyards and wineries are in the hilly region of Serra Gaúcha. Wherever grape-growing occurs in Brazil, mostly what is produced are table grapes of American origin; the most widely grown grape in the country is Isabelle, a cultivar of the species Vitis labrusca, the native American grapes. Attempts made to introduce European or Vitis vinifera grapes beginning in the 16th Century were largely unsuccessful. The advent of Italian immigrants in the 1870s brought greater success to establishing vineyards and making wine, but it took another 100 years before truly serious efforts began, mainly because of the infusion of capital from European companies like Moët & Chandon, Seagrams, Domecq and Martini & Rossi.

Another problem that winemakers face in Brazil is that it is not a wine-drinking nation, suffering from low per-capita consumption and a general attitude that wine is not part of everyday culinary culture. In addition, the different taxing situations among Brazil’s states make dealing with logistics difficult.

Still, the industry seems to be growing, and perhaps because of that factor, I introduce the first Brazilian wines that I have ever reviewed, not only on this blog but in my entire career writing about wine. This pair issued from the country’s oldest winery, Vinicola Salton, which traces its origin to 1878, when Antonio Domenico Salton, an immigrant from Italy’s Veneto region, arrived in Rio Grande do Sul. His seven sons took over the business in 1910 and established the winery and vineyards on a firmer viticultural basis. Salton is still operated by the family, in its fourth generation. The products of Vinicola Salton are brought to American by A & M Imports in Baltimore. These wines were samples for review.

So, the Salton Intenso Brut, Serra Gaúcha, is a delightful but not particularly intense blend of 70 percent chardonnay and 30 percent riesling grapes. Made in the Charmat method in which the second fermentation is induced in large tanks, this sparkling wine displays a pale gold color and a constant stream of small bubbles. Aromas of green apples and spiced pear, with hints of seashell and roasted lemon, tantalize the nose; the wine is crisp and lively, slightly tropical — guava and pineapple — and just off-dry on the palate though the finish is a bit drier; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of almond and almond blossom. Similar to prosecco but with more body and presence. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $15 to $17.

The Salton Classic Tannat 2013, Serra Gaúcha, is pretty much what you would expect from a red wine at the price — robust, acidic, a bit rough around the edges but a decent drink with the right food. The color is dark ruby, the bouquet delivers vivid notes of blueberries and red and black currants with touches of graphite, violets and bitter chocolate, and in the mouth the wine strikes a swath of tannin and acid on the tongue. 13 percent alcohol. Reserve this for burgers, barbecue, braised meat and rustic pasta dishes. Good+. About $10 to $12.

“Brazil State RioGrandedoSul” by Raphael Lorenzeto de Abreu – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brazil_State_RioGrandedoSul.svg#/media/File:Brazil_State_RioGrandedoSul.svg

Newspaper reporter Davis Bynum began making wine at home in Berkeley in 1951. He became sufficiently adept that in 1973 he purchased 84 acres in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley that turned into the home of his eponymous winery. Ready to retire in 2007, after making wine for some 60 years, Bynum sold the brand to Tom Klein, owner of Rodney Strong Vineyards. Present winemaker is Greg Morthole, with the ubiquitous David Ramey serving as consulting winemaker. The Davis Bynum winery today focuses on pinot noir and sauvignon blanc from Jane’s Vineyard and chardonnay from the River West Vineyard. I’m a fan of the pinot noirs, both the “regular” bottling and the clonal selections, and the cool, clean, crisp and herbal sauvignon blanc from Virginia’s Block; I am not a fan of the over-wrought chardonnay, as you will see in the review that follows. Jane’s Vineyard lies on Fulton Road, west of Highway 101, northwest of the city of Santa Rosa. The soil is gravelly loam, shallow and fast-draining. The vine rows run east-west, so clusters on the south side receive more sunlight than those on the shadier north side of the rows. These sorts of nuances of exposure lend complexity to the final product.

These wines were samples for review.
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Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way first. The Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, was made in exactly the manner that produces chardonnays that set my teeth on edge. The grapes were barrel-fermented; the wine went through full malolactic fermentation, the chemical process that transforms crisp malic (“apple-like”) acid into soft creamy lactic (“milk-like”) acid; the wine aged 11 months in French oak barrels, of which 29 percent were new, not a bad regimen, but the wine rested sur lie, on the residue of spend yeast cells, and received “plenty of batonnage,” that is, stirring to agitate the lees and promote richness in the wine. The result is a chardonnay that is bold, bright, brassy, stridently spicy and imbued with dessert-like qualities of creme brulee, lemon meringue pie and caramelized pineapple. At the same time, a paradoxical austerity from mid-palate through the finish contributes to the wine’s fundamental lack of balance, integration and integrity. This is a chardonnay that’s not about a vineyard and the grapes but about pumping up an extraneous character through the devices of its making. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not recommended. About $25.
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Now, on to happier matters.
The Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, derives from selected blocks within the vineyard. The wine spent 10
months in French oak barrels, 30 percent of which were new. The color is a limpid medium ruby-garnet hue; aromas of black and red cherries and plums are highlighted by notes of sour cherry candy and melon ball, with hints of cloves, sassafras and exotic sandalwood and a burgeoning element of violets and rose petals, altogether a most enticing bouquet. On the palate, the wine offers a super satiny and polished texture for its spicy and moderately succulent cherry and currant flavors, while earthy underpinnings in the form of fresh loamy qualities provide foundation. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. A real pleasure. Very Good+. About $ .
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________The Davis Bynum Dijon Clone 115 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, aged 10 months in French oak, 31 percent new barrels. The color is an entrancing medium ruby with a light cerise robe; scents and flavors of cranberries and pomegranate, with a hint of cherry and plum compote, are riven by bristling elements of briers and brambles and undertones of loam; a few moments in the glass bring up notes of violets and lilac and a beguiling whiff of talcum powder. Lovely drag and flow over the tongue induce a feeling like silky static, and while the wine is darkly tasty, it’s quite dry and almost tannic in effect; the wine grows earthier and more burnished as time passes. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 480 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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The oak treatment for the Davis Bynum Dijon Clone 667 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is slightly different from that of its Clone 115 stablemate mentioned above; for this wine, it’s 11 months in French oak, 32 percent new barrels. Another difference is that this pinot noir is a bit more reticent, rather more spare and structured than the 115. The color is medium ruby with a transparent rim; aromas of cranberries, black cherries and plums open to subtle notes of lavender and sage and nuances of violets and cloves. Surprisingly, the wine is fairly tight on the palate, with a prominent display of slightly dusty tannins and an earthy, almost granitic and austere finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 507 cases. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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Sojourn Cellars was launched in 2001 with 100 cases of cabernet sauvignon. The winery, based in the town of Sonoma, was founded by Craig and Ellen Haserot with winemaker Erich Bradley. The (not uncommon) idea was to produce limited quantities of pure and intense chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir wines from excellent vineyards. Judging from my experience with a selection of chardonnays and pinot noirs from 2010 — link to my reviews here — and these examples from 2012, the team succeeds in their aim. As you will see, the chardonnay from the Durell Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast AVA was a bit flamboyant for my palate, but I find the pinot noirs to be perfect models of the grape’s delicate yet tensile marriage of power and elegance. All the wines are fermented by native yeasts; the pinots see 50 percent new French oak barrels. Though the length of time in oak was not specified in the technical information I received with these samples, the influence of the span spent in the new and used barrels resulted in wines of lovely suppleness and nuance.
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The Sojourn Cellars Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast, is a “3 Bs” chardonnay: Not Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, but bold, bright and brassy. The color is luminous medium gold; forthright aromas of lightly roasted and caramelized pineapple and grapefruit are permeated by notes of cloves and ginger and hints of mango and orange rind; a quadrille of ripe and macerated stone-fruit parades across the palate, and I wish it revealed a bit more of a limestone and flint element and brisk acidity to balance the richness. Still, it’s not blatantly tropical, it’s not dessert-like, it’s not stridently spicy, though it’s a little over the top for my taste. The wine was barrel-fermented in 40 percent new French oak and underwent malolactic fermentation while aging. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 275 cases. Very Good+. About $54.
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The color of the Sojourn Cellars Wohler Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is an entrancing medium ruby-mulberry hue, while the hypnotic bouquet wreathes notes of cranberry and sassafras, black and red cherries, lavender and crushed violets with undertones of oolong tea and orange rind and hints of loam and mushrooms. These intoxicating elements segue seamlessly onto the palate, where they drape and flow like a dense satiny fabric of luxurious cost, though there’s nothing heavy or obvious here; this is a pinot noir that whatever its heft retains an essential grasp on the ineffable. The aromas deepen as an hour or so passes, and the wine grows increasingly floral and spicy; it’s quite dry, however, with a long finish that’s surprisingly mineral-flecked and tannic. Exquisite proportions, 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. Drink now through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Sojourn Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, is characterized by racy acidity, and while the wine is delicate and elegant, it offers plenty of vitality and cut. The color is medium ruby-magenta; aromas of cloves and sassafras, red cherries and currants blend with hints of pomegranate and cranberry and notes of dried fruit and sandalwood, yes, there’s incense-like pungency in the glass. Despite a touch of cherry-berry succulence, the wine pulls up an element of briery-brambly earthiness and underbrush-infused loam for depth under its savory, slightly macerated black and red fruit flavors. Despite those factors, the wine feels poised, graceful and delectable. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,150 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $54.
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The Sojourn Ridgetop Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, offers a limpid medium ruby-mulberry hue with a transparent rim; this is the earthiest of this trio of single-vineyard pinot noirs, displaying a full complement of briers, brambles and loam under layers of redness: I mean red cherries and raspberries, a hint of cranberry, a touch of red licorice. Vibrant acidity cuts a swath on the palate, making for a texture that’s spare and lithe though not meager; this, like its stablemates, remains generous and expansive in terms of fruit and spice while making rather serious demands in terms of its tannic and mineral-flecked structure, making it the most Burgundian of these examples, not that the comparison matters, but it indicates to me a certain style and philosophy. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 450 cases. Best from 2016 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $59.
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Sometimes all we require from a white wine is that it be clean, fresh, cold and tasty and that it goes down like a sea-breeze. Other times, however, we desire a white wine with more weight, with more character and savor, especially that latter quality. So today I offer 10 such white wines, produced from many wine regions and from a variety of grapes, a couple rather unusual. These are the white wines that stimulate the palate as well as refresh the spirit. As usual with these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew a recital of technical detail, historical perspective and geographical data — all of which I adore — to present quick and incisive reviews designed to pique your interest and whet the old taste-buds. These wines, all rated Excellent except for one Exceptional, were either samples for review or were tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event. Enjoy, but with good sense and moderation.
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Abbazia di Novacella Kerner 2013, Valle Isarco, Alto Adige, Italy. 13.5% alc. (You may add kerner to your list of obscure grapes.) Medium straw-gold hue with a faint green cast; roasted lemon, notes of quince and ginger, thyme and pine resin, touch of peach and a tantalizing hint of iris and lilac; slightly dusty and buoyant texture, focus on bright acidity and clean limestone minerality; spiced pear and yellow plum flavors with a saline edge. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $19, marking Good Value.
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Alois Lageder Haberle Pinot Bianco 2013, Sudtirol, Alto Adige, Italy. 13% alc. Pale gold color; every aspect of lemon: lemon peel, lemon balm, lemon curd, with hints of green apple, peach and grapefruit, a whiff of almond blossom and rosemary; a savory and saline pinot blanc, trussed by limestone and flint minerality that devolves to a bracing finish featuring a bite of grapefruit bitterness. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $23.
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Éric Chevalier Clos de la Butte 2013, Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu Sur Lie, Loire Valley, France. 11.5% alc. 100% melon de Bourgogne grapes. Pale straw-gold hue; unusually sizable and savory for Muscadet, with a lithe, sinewy structure based on fleet acidity and glittering limestone and flint minerality; pert and redolent with lemon and lime peel and a hint of almond blossom; notes of pear and apple; overall, glistening and glassy, delicate and finely-knit but with impressive heft. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $16, a Real Bargain.
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Clemens Busch Grauen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2012, Mosel, Germany. 12% alc. Shimmering pale gold color; distinct aromas of lychee and rubber eraser, cloves, lime peel and grapefruit and a pert gingery quality, touch of jasmine; blazing acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; quite dry but with inherent citrus and stone-fruit ripeness; lovely lithe texture with elegant heft; a hint of loamy earthiness in the finish. A brilliant riesling. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $30.
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Etre Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County. (Saxon Brown’s unoaked chardonnay.) 13.5% alc. 447 cases. Medium straw-gold color; ripe and spicy pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors; an intriguing whiff of toasted oats; cloves and orange rind; all ensconced in lime peel and limestone minerality; bare hint of honeysuckle and mango; notes of spiced pear and roasted lemon; lively but not crunchy acidity; seductively lush texture but nothing opulent or obvious. Why would this need oak? Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $28.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc grapes. Certified organic. Pale gold hue; lime peel and lemongrass, grapefruit and jasmine, mint and heather, a touch of guava, all seamlessly wreathed with a sort of breathless ease; lime and a note of peach in the mouth, a hint of thyme and timothy, lovely supple refined structure, a golden core of quince and ginger; finish is all flint, limestone and grapefruit rind. Now through 2017 or ’18. Exceptional. About $30.
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Kennedy Shah Dubrut Vineyard Reserve Riesling 2012, Yakima Valley, Washington. 13.3% alc. Pale gold color; penetrating and provocative aromas of petrol, lychee, peach and spiced pear, top-notes of lemongrass and lime peel; crushed gravel and shale; very dry but luminously fruit-filled and animated by bright acidity and a vibrant limestone presence; notes of lime pith and grapefruit bitterness on the finish. A chiseled, multi-faceted riesling with plenty of appeal. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $25 .
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André & Michel Quenard Les Abymes 2013, Savoie, France. 11% alc. 100% jacquere grapes (to be added to your roster of obscure grapes). Very pale gold color; cloves, cedar and mint, roasted lemon and spiced pear; vibrant acidity with a crisp edge, and more steel than limestone; clean and refreshing but with a woodsy aura and a touch of mossy earthiness on the finish. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $20.
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Saxon Brown Fighting Brothers Cuvee Semillon 2012, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. 334 cases. Pale gold hue; beeswax, fig, quince and ginger; slightly leafy and herbal; candied orange peel, hint of mango; back-notes of spiced and brandied stone-fruit; wonderful sleek, silken texture, slides across the tongue like money; quite spicy and savory on the palate, with lip-smacking acidity and a wisp of limestone minerality. Pretty damned irresistible. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $28.
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Schloss Schonborn Riesling Trocken 2010, Rheingau, Germany. 11.5% alc. Crystalline and transparent in every sense, with marked purity and intensity; very pale gold color; winsome jasmine and honeysuckle, ripe and spicy pear, peach and lychee; hints of lemon balm and lemon curd; incisive acidity and decisive limestone and flint elements; slightly candied lime and grapefruit peel, cloves and ginger; the finish is all hewn limestone, a little austere and aloof. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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I wrote about the FEL Wines Chardonnay 2013 and Pinot Noir 2012, carrying Anderson Valley designations, in Part VI of this series about chardonnay and pinot noirs wines from the same producer. For this entry, we go to single vineyard versions of these wines. The idea behind issuing wines from a single vineyard source, instead of a more general regional or county/valley-wide source, is that a single vineyard will offer more character and individuality in the finished wine than a broader designation would. That sounds fine in theory, but it doesn’t always work out that way, especially when techniques in the winery mute or obliterate whatever qualities may have been inherent in the grapes and the soil and micro-climate from which they derive, as seems to be the case with this chardonnay. Richard Savoy, owner of a well-known bookstore in San Francisco, planted the vineyard that would bear his name in 1991. It lies at the mid-point of Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, just west of the town of Philo, occupying an area that slopes gently toward the southwest. He sold the vineyard in 2011 but continues to advise on farming for Ryan Hodgins, winemaker for FEL wines.

These bottles were samples for review.
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The FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, aged 14 months in French oak, 56 percent of which were new barrels.The color is dark but vivid ruby; subtle notes of loam and graphite support enticing aromas of black cherries, currants and plums infused with cloves and allspice — with a hint of the latter’s woodsy astringency — sassafras and potpourri, all amounting to a sensuous panoply of complicated but deftly melded effects. Matters are a bit more ambiguous in the mouth, as the palate feels cleansed by bright acidity that drives spicy black fruit flavors through a lithe, supple and satiny texture to a finish that demands attention with a nod to dry slightly dusty tannins and notes of leather and underbrush. Great authority here, as well as spare elegance, exactly what I want in well-made pinot noir. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 645 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $65.
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The FEL Savoy Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Anderson Valley, pushes every wrong button in my relationship to chardonnay and how it is too often made in California. It was fermented in French oak barrels, 50 percent new, and aged 15 months sur lie, that is, on the residue of yeast cells. The color is bright medium gold; bold and vivacious aromas of ripe and roasted pineapple and grapefruit are permeated by notes of cloves, quince and ginger and hints of papaya and mango. It’s a super sleek chardonnay whose citrus and stone-fruit flavors are saturated by obtrusive elements of toffee, baked apple, caramelized lemon curd and orange scented creme brulee, all cloying and stridently spicy. I’ve asked this question a thousand times: Why would anyone make chardonnay like this, and why would anyone drink it? 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 138 cases. Not recommended. About $48.
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The small, family-owned house of Champagne J. Lassalle is named in honor of its founder, Jules Lassalle, who established the firm in 1942 in the village of Chigny-Les-Roses. The patriarch died in 1982, and his wife Olga and her daughter Chantal Decelle-Lassalle took the reins. Chantal Decelle-Lassalle and her daughter, Angeline Templier, now run the house, the latter joining the estate as winemaker in 2006, spanning three generations of mothers and daughters. J. Lassalle produces about 12,500 cases of Champagne annually; the estate’s vineyards are farmed by organic methods. The production is very traditional, all done by hand, and the various cuvées tend to age three to five years in bottle before disgorgement. The wines go through full malolactic fermentation, so they tend to be quite rich.

The J. Lassalle Cuvée Preference Premier Cru Brut in this present disgorgement is a blend of wines from 2009 and 2010. It’s a combination of approximately 60 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent each pinot noir and chardonnay — “approximately,” because the house does not reveal exact percentages — and it aged 48 months on the lees in bottle. The color is pale gold with a cast of slightly tarnished silver, an effect that continues as swirls of tiny glinting bubbles surge to the surface; notes of lemon balm and roasted lemon are buttressed by intriguing scents of roasted grain and lightly buttered cinnamon toast. This is a very dry and stylish Champagne, animated by limestone and chalk elements and given a sense of attentiveness by its fleet-footed acidity; though substantial and fully fleshed out with an array of spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors, it’s neither heavy nor obvious. In fact, the focus intensifies from mid-palate through the finish tinged with hazelnuts and just-baked bread and hints of sea-salt and grapefruit rind. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. This was a local purchase, about $45. Prices around the country range from $35 to $50.

Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants, Berkeley, Calif.

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