Chardonnay


As you make your celebratory imbibing plans for the holiday season that runs from Thanksgiving to Epiphany — and happens to include my birthday — don’t forget Schramberg Vineyards, a Napa Valley-based producer of sparkling wines that has been around for 50 years and might be in danger of flying under the radar of all the other sparkling wine makers in California that emerged after its pioneering efforts. I rated three of these recent releases Excellent and one Very Good+, a better than decent outcome. In fact, I enjoyed these wines immensely and heartily recommend them for your Yuletide revels. Samples for review.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
schram-b-de-b
The Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2013, North Coast, is 100 percent chardonnay, a blend of grapes from Napa County (63 percent), Sonoma (30 percent), Mendocino (4 percent) and Marin (3 percent), hence the North Coast designation. A blanc de blancs is the first sparkling wine that the producer made, in 1965, and the touch remains deft and fluent. The color is very pale gold, and the tiny, glinting bubbles are exuberantly effervescent; beautifully layered aromas of roasted lemon, lemon balm, spiced pear and toasted and lightly buttered brioche are twined with acacia blossom and almond skin. A few moments in the glass bring up a bright edge of flint and chalk bolstered by vivid acidity, both elements lending this sparkling wine tremendous verve and appeal, while notes of slightly candied quince and ginger round out the citrus-stone fruit flavor profile. 12.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $39.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
schram-b-de-n
The opposite of blanc de blancs — “white from white” — is blanc de noirs — “white from black” — through the Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2012, North Coast, blends 12 percent chardonnay with the balance of pinot noir. Counties of origin are Sonoma (44 percent), Mendocino (33 percent), Napa (19 percent) and Marin (4 percent). The color is very pale gold, enlivened by a surging flurry of tiny bubbles; this is pure lemon in all its aspects, married to fresh bread, cloves, ginger and quince, with a dry scent like dusty heather and a deep bell-note of currant. It’s a high-toned and elegant sparkling wine, vibrant with energy, full-bodied, almost lush except for the rigor of prominent limestone-flint minerality and a seam of resonant acidity. 12.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $41.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
schram-rose
The Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2013, North Coast, is composed of 61 percent pinot noir and 39 percent chardonnay. The county make-up is 41 percent Sonoma, 26 percent Mendocino, 25 percent Napa and 8 percent Marin. The ravishing color is pale copper salmon, with abundant bubbles swirling upward; aromas of macerated strawberries and raspberries open to notes of dried red currants, lime peel, melon and sour cherry, with follow-up hints of cloves and orange rind. You might think that this sparkling wine is all about sensual appeal, which it obviously does not lack, but there’s real structure, too, with elements of chiseled limestone and chalk minerality borne by chiming acidity; it flows across the palate with crisp vitality. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 through ’23. Excellent. About $44.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
shrams-cremant
The Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec 2012, Napa Valley — a departure from the winery’s usual North Coast designation — is a blend of 74 percent flora grapes, 16 percent pinot noir and 10 percent chardonnay. Flora is a crossing of gewürztraminer and semillon, created in 1938 by Harold P. Olmo (1909-2006), a professor of viticulture at University of California, Davis, who pioneered the crossing of vinifera grapes for warm climate regions; among his other creations are ruby cabernet and symphony. To 85 percent Napa Valley grapes, this sparkling wines adds 10 percent from Sonoma and 5 percent from Mendocino; that 85 percent allows the Napa Valley designation. The color is pale straw-yellow; the bubbles are tiny but gentle, a stream but not a froth. Scents of green apple, peach and apricot are delicately floral and lead to a sweet entry — in fact sweeter than I thought it would be. This sparkling wine offers elegance in body and texture, a lively impression from clean acidity and flint-limestone minerality for background and a touch of dryness from mid-palate through the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’22. At 2,387 cases, this product has the smallest production of this quartet. Very Good+. About $40.
__________________________________________________________________________________________

The wine aged ……… The color is pale straw-yellow

We are inching our way toward the most festive season of the year, a hectic, expensive, exhausting and frequently joyful stretch that encompasses Thanksgiving, My Birthday, Christmas, bottle-etoile-roseNew Year and Twelfth Night. Call it Yuletide 2.0. To slide into the proper spirit, I offer as Wine of the Day, No. 201, the Domaine Chandon Étoile Rosé, a non-vintage sparkling wine from the company that’s pretty much the grand-daddy of sparkling wine in California. By “non-vintage,” the common parlance, I really mean “multiple-vintage,” since this product and virtually all non-vintage Champagnes and sparkling wines contain wine from the current year as well as reserve wines from previous years, the point being to lend depth and character to the product from wines that have aged for several years. Now Chandon is surprisingly reticent about information for this sparkler and others I received recently. I can tell you, for example, that the grapes for the Domaine Chandon Étoile Rosé were grown in the cool Carneros region of Napa and Sonoma counties and that the blend includes chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, but not in what proportion. I can tell you that the sparkling wine rested on the lees in the bottle for “at least three years,” but I cannot be more specific. I can also tell you that the Domaine Chandon Etoile Rose is beguiling and irresistible. The color is ruddy salmon-copper, animated by a steady frothing stream of tiny bubbles. A cool rush of orange rind and strawberry compote is twined with smoke and seashell-like salinity with hints of cloves and lightly toasted brioche. This is lively on the palate, even sprightly and balletic, yet it delivers depths of limestone and chalk minerality, as well as flavors of roasted lemons, spiced pears and a hint of red currant. 13 percent alcohol. A very attractive and enticing brut rose. Excellent. About $50.

A sample for review.

I prefer my chardonnays untainted by the specter of toasty new oak and creamy malolactic, and if 2014-morgan-metallico-chardonnayyou inhabit the same camp, you probably already know about Morgan Winery’s un-oaked chardonnay called Metallico. If not, here’s a chance to be introduced. The Morgan Metallico Un-Oaked Chardonnay 2014, Monterey, derives from vineyards in the specific Santa Lucia Highlands and Arroyo Seco AVAs and the broader Monterey appellation. It aged five months in stainless steel tanks, seeing no oak and no malolactic fermentation. The color is bright medium gold; bold aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, green apple and mango burst from the glass in a welter of cloves, quince and ginger and a defining limestone edge. That strain of flinty minerality continues on the palate, where the wine is animated by crisp, lively acidity and characterized by ripe, spicy (and fairly rich) citrus and stone-fruit flavors; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of jasmine and honeysuckle, with bass-tones of loam and sea-shell, all encompassed by a lithe supple texture. The alcohol content is a pleasant 13.5 percent. Drink through 2017 with all manner of fish and seafood dishes. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

Sarah’s Vineyard traces its history to the late 1970s, when Marilyn Clark and John Otterman 13-pinotnoir-estate-thumbnailbought a 10-acre property in the Santa Clara Valley, about 30 miles south of Santa Cruz. They produced their first wines in 1983. They sold the winery to polymath Tim Slater in 2001. The estate occupies 28 acres in the cool climate “Mt. Madonna” district of the southern Santa Cruz Mountains. I cannot offer details about winemaking and the oak regimen for this Chardonnay 2014 and Pinot Noir 2014 because the winery website is several vintages behind on information. I will say that if you love pinot noir, this one is Worth a Search.

These wines were samples for review.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
The color of the Sarah’s Vineyard Estate Chardonnay 2014, Santa Clara Valley, is bright medium gold, and, in fact, that adjective “bright” applies to every aspect of this slightly too florid chardonnay. It’s a bold and spicy wine, golden with baked pineapple and grapefruit flavors elevated by notes of cloves, quince and ginger and touched with a hint of wood smoke and dried mountain herbs. Bright acidity provides an even keel for the richness of the macerated stone-fruit flavors emboldened by a limestone and oak structure that burgeons through the drying finish. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 198 cases. I would give this chardonnay another year in bottle to achieve balance and integration. Very Good+. About $32.
_______________________________________________________________________________________
I have no such caveats about the Sarah’s Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Clara Valley. The color is perfect, a medium ruby hue shading to a transparent garnet rim; aromas of rhubarb and sassafras, black and red cherries and plums, cloves and sandalwood are beautifully balanced and integrated, as is, in truth, every element of the wine. While it’s ripe and delicious, even tending toward succulent, on the palate, this pinot noir pulls up loamy and briery qualities, along with foresty touches of moss and dry leaves, all of which animate a texture that’s both satiny and a little muscular. My final note was , “Lordy, how beautiful!” 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Production was 415 cases. Excellent. About $40.
____________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
_______________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________________
2014_sky_high_304x773
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.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________________
13_gaps_pn_product
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.
______________________________________________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________________________________________
rrvpnproduct-220x680
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.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
_______________________________________________________________________________________
jackson-estate-anderson-valley-pinot-noir-2014
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.
____________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
lcv-mrpn-281x659-low-e1437508121615-280x652
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.
________________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
______________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
__________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________________________________________________

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!
___________________________________________________________________________________
breton-fils-brut-tradition-aoc-champagne__91536.1416051974.1280.1280
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.
_______________________________________________________________________________________
canard
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.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
laurent demi
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.
_______________________________________________________________________________
La_Valle_Primum
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.
_______________________________________________________________________________________
barone 2
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.
_____________________________________________________________________________________
barone
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.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
brut premier
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.
_______________________________________________________________________________________
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.
________________________________________________________________________________________
steorra
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.
_____________________________________________________________________________________
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.
___________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
Giesen-The-Brothers-Pinot-Noir-no-vintage-168x4921
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.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_______________________________________________________________________________________
slsb_lg_thumb
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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
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.)
_________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________
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.

Next Page »