Chardonnay


We can’t drink great wine all the time. Contrary to what My Readers may think, I certainly don’t. In fact, a diet of perfection would become cloying and wearisome, n’est-ce pas? Well, perhaps not, but let’s assume that most people really just want a decent bottle of wine to accompany a simple meal. Here, then, are two white wines and four reds designed to be to consumed with, say, a tuna sandwich or seafood risotto, on the one hand, or a burger or steak, on the other. Prices range from $12 to $17, with quality fairly evenly portioned along the Very Good to Very Good+ range. Will these wines — especially the reds — lodge in the memory as some of the best wine you’ve tasted? certainly not, but they get the job done, or better, at a reasonable price. If only everything in life turned out that way. Quick reviews here, intended to pique your interest and whet the palate. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.

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Stepping Stone Rocks! White Wine 2013, North Coast, California. 13.3% alc. (Stepping Stone is the second label of Cornerstone Cellars; Rocks! is, well, the second label of Stepping Stone.) “Mystery” blend of chardonnay, viognier and muscat canelli. Very pale gold color; lilac, lemon-lime and pear, slightly grassy and herbal, hint of lemongrass; quite clean, crisp, fresh and dry, with a kind of gin-like purity and snap; taut, vibrant, lean but a pleasing, cloud-like texture; crystalline acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; slightly earthy finish. Extremely attractive white blend for short-term drinking. Very Good+. About $15, representing Excellent Value.
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Tomero Torrontes 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; jasmine and gardenia, spiced pear and lemon balm, lime peel and a touch of grapefruit, a few minutes in the glass bring in whiffs of lavender and lilac, though this is not overwhelmingly floral, all is subtle and nuanced; pert citrus and stone fruit flavors; lovely body, crisp, lithe and lively yet imbued with an almost talc-like texture that slides across the palate like silk; hint of grapefruit bitterness on the finish. A superior torrontes for consuming over the next year. Very Good+. About $17.
Imported by Blends, Plymouth, Calif.
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Mandolin Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Central Coast. 13.8% alc. Brilliant dark ruby with a flush of mulberry at the rim; unfolds layers of cedar,
thyme and black olive, black currants and plums, hint of wild berry; notes of iodine and graphite; trace of wood in the slightly leathery tannins, quite dry but juicy with herb-inflected black fruit flavors; sleek and supple texture, lively acidity; spice-and-mineral-packed finish. Now through the end of 2015. Great personality for the price. Very Good+. About $12, an Amazing Bargain.
Image from brainwines.com.
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Esprit du Rhône 2013, Côtes du Rhône, France. 13.5% alc. 60% grenache, 30% syrah, 5% carignan, 5% cinsault. 1,000 cases imported. Medium-dark ruby color shading to a transparent rim; aromas of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plum with notes of cloves, briers and leather; fairly dense and robust tannins and bright acidity keep the texture forthright and lively for the sake of tasty, spicy black fruit flavors. Now through 2016. Very Good. About $12.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. Image from vivino.com.
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Nieto Senetiner Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple; briery and brambly blackberry and plum fruit deeply imbued with cloves, mocha and licorice; moderate and slightly chewy tannins for structure, an uplift of acidity; tasty black fruit flavors in a rustic, graphite-laden package. Now into 2015. Very Good. About $13.
Imported by Foley Family Wines, Sonoma, Calif.
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Tercos Bonarda 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. (From the winery of Ricardo Santos). 13.8% alc. Dark ruby hue, almost opaque; spicy and feral, blackberries and plums with notes of wild cherry, tar, graphite and licorice; heaps of rough-hewn tannins make for a sturdy mouthful of wine, though nothing heavy or ponderous to detract from ripe, delicious blackberry and blueberry flavors; loads of personality. Now through the end of 2015. Very Good. About $14.
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Landmark Vineyards was founded in 1974, in Windsor, Sonoma County, California, by Bill Mabry. In 1988, with the winery threatened by urban sprawl, operations were moved to a new facility in Sonoma Valley near Kenwood, at the western base of the Mayacamas range. At some point control of the winery passed to one of its investors, Damaris Deere Ford, great-great-granddaughter of inventor John Deere. The winery concentrated on chardonnay, with its proprietary “Overlook” Chardonnay first produced in 1991. The timeline on the winery’s website skips from 1997 to 2014. At least part of what occurred in that interval was that the winery was sold, in 2011, to Roll Global, owner of Fiji Water and Pom Wonderful, among other brands, including Justin Vineyards and Winery. An addition to the Landmark roster is an Overlook Pinot Noir, released this year from the 2012 vintage. The Overlook Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are multi-county blends, intended, therefore, not to showcase a particular region, much less a single vineyard, but to create a sense of one-variety wines in their purity and complexity, with the various sites contributing different factors. The wines are fermented by native yeasts; each ages 10 months in French oak barrels. I regularly gave high ratings to the Landmark Overlook through the 1990s into the early 2000s, but had not tasted the wine in at least a decade before this 2012 showed up at my door. I’m pleased to find that the style remains consistent, from the time that Helen Turley was consulting winemaker in the early and mid 1990s. Winemaker now is Greg Stach.

These wines were samples for review as I am required to disclose by ruling of the Federal Trade Commission.
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Landmark Vineyard Overlook Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County 83 percent, Monterey County 11 percent, Santa Barbara County 6 percent. This multi-county chardonnay draws on 22 separate vineyards for its grapes; it spent 10 months in French oak barrels, percentage of new barrels not specified. The color is medium gold; aromas of smoke with a hint of toffee permeate slightly spiced and roasted stone-fruit and citrus in the pineapple-grapefruit range and touches of mango, peach and banana. This is, in other words, a bright, bold and rather florid chardonnay that displays rich, vivid flavors reined in by striking acidity and a clean limestone-and-flint element, all qualities nestled in a supple talc-like structure molded by slightly dusty oak. However bold it is, though, the wine is precisely balanced and integrated. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to ’18 with seafood risottos, grilled or broiled fish. Excellent. About $22.50.
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Landmark Vineyard Overlook Pinot Noir 2012, San Luis Obispo County 53 percent, Sonoma County 40 percent, Monterey County 7 percent; aged in French oak barrels 10 months. The color is medium ruby-magenta; penetrating scents of rose petals and violets, cloves and sassafras are woven with notes of slightly stewed red and black currants and cherries and a touch of briers and brambles. The texture is supernally satiny, dense and flowing as drapery yet somehow light and lissome; spicy red and black fruit flavors open to elements of earth and loam and a hint of graphite minerality, though the overall effect is of grace and elegance, balance and proportion. 14.5 percent alcohol. Consume now through 2018 to ’20 with roasted chicken or veal chops. Excellent. About $25.
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For today’s entry in this series devoted to chardonnay and pinot noir wines made by the same producer, we shift from California to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where Cornerstone Cellars established an outpost in 2010. The Napa Valley-based winery has come a long way since 1991 when two doctors from Memphis bought some surplus Howell Mountain cabernet sauvignon grapes from Randy Dunn and started their own label. Great reviews poured in for Cornerstone’s cabernets, and continue to do so, issued under Napa Valley and Howell Mountain designations. The producer has a second label, Stepping Stone, while a recent addition to the roster is an even less expensive line, the punningly labeled Rocks. Cornerstone has expanded in several directions under the leadership of managing partner Craig Camp, and one of the directions is a collaboration with Oregon star-winemaker Tony Rynders (10 years at Domaine Serene, consultant to a flock of small wineries) to produce Willamette Valley chardonnays and pinot noirs for the Cornerstone and Stepping Stone labels. Under review in this post are the Cornerstone Chardonnay 2012 and Pinot Noir 2011. These wines were samples for review.
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I will confess that when I read that the Cornerstone Cellars Chardonnay 2012, Willamette Valley, was 100 percent barrel-fermented and went through 100 percent malolactic and spent 15 months in French oak barrels (28 percent new), I felt considerable dismay. “This chardonnay,” I thought, “is going to be one creamy, stridently spicy oak-bomb.” I am also happy to admit, however, that I was wrong. It’s certainly a powerful expression of the grape, but one composed more of wreathed hints, nods and nuances than oratorical orisons and flamboyant gestures. The grapes for the wine derive from vineyards in two of Willamette Valley’s sub-appellations, Chehalem Mountain and Yamhill-Carlton. The color is pale gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are highlighted by notes of ginger and quince that feel crystalline in their clarity and verve; a few moments in the glass bring up hints of lemon balm and limestone. Oak provides shadings of spice and wood in flavors that delicately shift from citrus to stone-fruit, while brisk acidity lends liveliness to the limestone and flint elements that grow more profound with every sip. The finish is clean, dense, earthy and, somehow, exhilarating. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Production was 300 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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The Cornerstone Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, is a broad cross-appellation wine that draws on five of Willamette’s six sub AVAs: Yamhill-Carlton (29 percent), Eola Amity (29 percent), Dundee Hills (25 percent), Chehalem Mountain (11 percent) and Ribbon Ridge (six percent), omitting only the McMinnville AVA. The wine spent 14 months in French oak barrels, percentage of new oak not specified. The color is medium ruby with a transparent rim; fairly pert aromas of cranberry, red cherry and rhubarb offer hints of cloves and cinnamon, lavender and menthol and that slightly iodine-and-beet-root-tinged loamy earthiness that I associate with Willamette Valley; a little time in the glass brings in notes of dusty plums and new leather. In the mouth, this pinot noir is super-satiny and sensual but riven by an edge of acidity that cuts a swath on the palate and packed with burgeoning qualities of moss, forest floor and graphite. Though the wine is now three years old, I would wait six months to a year before drinking and then consume through 2018 to 2021. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,500 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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The brand-spanking-new FEL Wines is a project of Cliff Lede — pronounced “lay-dee” — owner of the Cliff Lede winery in Napa Valley. This Anderson Valley facility, named for the proprietor’s mother, Florence Elsie Lede, is devoted to chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir. Under review today, in this series dedicated to wineries that produce chardonnay and pinot noir, are the FEL Chardonnay 2013 and Pinot Noir 2012; winemaker Ryan Hodgins also produces each variety in a single vineyard version. Both of these wines are clean, ripe and forward — classic California, you might say — but well-balanced and endowed with multiple nuances of earth and minerality appropriate to the grape. Nothing shy here, though the final analysis tends toward elegance (especially for the pinot) as well as dynamism.

These wines were samples for review.
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The FEL Wines Chardonnay 2013, Anderson Valley, spent nine months in neutral French oak barrels and underwent what is described as “very limited” malolactic fermentation, both of which sound perfect to me; keep the oak and malo to a minimum, I say. The color is radiant medium gold; a very pure and intense bouquet of pungent pineapple and grapefruit is infused with cloves and lime peel, hints of jasmine and limestone and a back-tone of slightly woody spice. The wine is ripe, bright and lush, quite dry with its burgeoning elements of chalk, flint and limestone and scintillating acidity; notes of smoke and toffee add intrigue to the citrus and stone-fruit flavors that lean toward tangerine and peach, while a structure that’s dense, chewy and almost tannic segues into a spice-and-mineral-packed finish. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,201 cases. Quite a performance. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $28.
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The FEL Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, aged 14 months in French oak, 44 percent new barrels, offers a lovely, limpid ruby-magenta hue and beguiling aromas of cranberries and red and black cherries and currants that open to notes of menthol and violets, leather, briers and brambles with hints of graphite and loam; after a few minutes in the glass, the wine emits touches of pomegranate, sassafras and cloves. Reader, you could eat it with a spoon. The supple texture is satin lifted to the supernal mode, though this pinot noir also delivers a slight mineral rasp and after an hour or so builds incrementally layers of soft-grained oak and finely-milled tannins. Bright acidity provides liveliness and propulsive energy through a wine that, however gorgeous its spiced and macerated black and red fruit flavors, feels like an entity of earth, moss, terrain, geology. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 2,923 cases. A true marriage of power and elegance. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $38.
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The pinot noirs of Kosta Browne Winery regularly earn the highest ratings from reviewers for the big publications, an occurrence that brings a great deal of attention to these highly allocated wines. In fact, the winery’s waiting list comes with a two- to three-year wait for the “Appellation” wines and — I’m not kidding — a five- to six-year wait for the Single Vineyard wines, of which there may be up to 10 separate bottlings depending on the vintage. The idea for the winery was born in 1997 when Dan Kosta and Michael Browne, then working at a restaurant in Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, decided to venture into winemaking. They began with a half-ton of pinot noir grapes, a used barrel and a surplus stemmer-crusher. In 2001, Kosta and Browne brought in Chris Costello, from a family involved in commercial real estate and development, as the business end of the enterprise; through the Costello family, the partnership gained contacts, contracts and management acumen. Browne is executive winemaker, with assistant winemakers Jeremiah Timm and Nico Cueva. Kosta Browne draws on vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast AVAs in Sonoma County and Santa Lucia Highlands AVA in Monterey County. There is no tasting room, and the winery in Sebastopol is closed to the public.

Under consideration today are two of Kosta Browne’s Appellation wines, the One Sixteen Chardonnay 2012 and the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012, in this series dedicated to the examination of chardonnay and pinot noir wines from the same producer. These wines were samples for review.
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The Kosta Browne One Sixteen Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, is a blend of grapes derived from seven vineyards that total 12 different chardonnay clones, the notion being a sort of ideal balance of all the attributes those clones contribute to the wine. It’s named for the Gravenstein Hwy. 116 that cuts through the town of Sebastopol in the Russian River Valley sub-appellation of Green Valley. This AVA is the coolest and foggiest vineyard area of Russian River Valley, situated in the southwest corner where the Pacific Ocean influence is readily apparent. When I tell My Readers that this chardonnay went through barrel-fermentation and aged 15 months in oak, they will respond, “Uh-oh, FK is not going to like this chardonnay.” I’ll admit, though, that I was surprised at how much I liked this wine, and while I don’t normally find words of praise for what I think of as the Bold California Style of Chardonnay, this example was little short of thrilling.

Kosta Browne One Sixteen Chardonnay 2012 was indeed barrel fermented, 93 percent, the other 7 percent being in concrete. The wine did age 15 months, but only in 41 percent new oak. The color is medium gold, and the aromas define this chardonnay as bold, bright and rich, with ripe, slightly caramelized pineapple, grapefruit and mango highlighted by notes of cloves, vanilla, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and — faintly — lime peel and flint. The wine is supple and boisterously fruity and spicy on the palate, with hints of creme brulee, roasted lemon and baked pear. This sensuous panoply is both abetted and balanced by clean, vibrant acidity and a scintillating limestone element. My favorite style of chardonnay? No, but certainly a model of the type that I found surprisingly poised, energetic and delicious. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $58.
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The Kosta Browne Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, derives from three vineyards in the south of the Sonoma Coast AVA, lying straight in the path of the Petaluma Wind Gap that allows a distinct maritime influence, and one vineyard in the northwestern coastal area of the AVA. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 46 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby with an almost transparent rim; the amazingly complex and layered nose offers a seamless amalgam of cloves and menthol, violets and rose hips, with hints of loam, briers and iodine bolstering macerated black and red cherries and currants with a touch of cranberry. On the palate? Imagine supernal satin infused with velvet through which vivid acidity cuts a swath and earthy graphite minerality stakes a supporting claim; the influence of oak and tannin, both feeling slightly sanded and dusty, gradually seeps in, providing firm foundation for spicy black and red fruit flavors that seem ripe and juicy yet spare, elegant, a bit exotic. I re-corked the wine and tried it eight hours later, at which time it had closed down a bit, becoming more reticent, quite dry, with emphasis on structure. Even the next day, now open for more than 24 hours, this pinot noir kept its integrity and balance. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $64.
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The Grant and the Eddie of Grant Eddie Winery in North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, are Grant Ramey and Edward Shulten. Their label was called Ramey Shulten until a letter came from the well-known Ramey Wine Cellars in Sonoma County that said, in essence, “Oh no, boys, you’re treading on our trademark.” That’s when the brand became Grant Eddie. Ramey, a North Yuba native (on the right in this photo), was for many years the vineyard manager at Renaissance Vineyards and Winery. He began making wine at home from selected sites among the Renaissance hilltop vineyards in 1986. Shulten, originally from the Netherlands, was a well-traveled winemaker and sommelier; he is now winemaker for Renaissance, replacing Gideon Beinstock, who concentrates on his Clos Saron project. Ramey, who knows the acres of Renaissance better than anyone, leases some of the best sections for cabaernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, grenache and other red varieties.

Production is tiny at Grant Eddie, perhaps 700 cases annually, and the quality is very high, especially in the red wines. Alcohol levels are kept below 14 percent; the words “new oak” are not uttered unless in disparagement, though Ramey and Shulten are too polite to be disparaging. Vineyards are tended organically; grapes are fermented naturally and sulfites are kept to a minimum. When I was in California’s Sierra Foothills region back in June, I sat down with Grant Ramey and tasted through a wide range of Grant Eddie wines. I would encourage My Readers to look for the syrahs and the grenache wines particularly, though the zinfandels and cabernets thoroughly reward consideration; the cabernets tend to need five to seven years to shed their tannins. The whites — fewer than 200 cases altogether each year — are highly individual wines that lean toward eccentricity yet are interesting enough to merit a try.

Where are these wines? Distribution is very limited outside California. The wines are available through the website — grantedwinery.com — or if you happen to be in the area, you can find Grant Ramey at local farmer’s markets on weekends. Yes, in the Golden State wineries can offer tastings and sales of wines at these institutions.
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First, the white wines, all made half in French oak, half in stainless steel, the lees stirred once a week for five or six months. The white production at Grant Eddie is so small — about 200 cases altogether — that the wines seem almost superfluous, though because of their individual, even idiosyncratic character they’re worth exploring, especially the Semillon 2012 and the White Pearl from 2010 and ’11.

Semillon 2012. Medium gold color; roasted lemon, yellow plum, figs, leafy and savory; very dry, dusty, notes of loam and limestone; lovely texture, almost lush but cut by tremendous acidity; super attractive for drinking through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $22.
White Pearl 2010, a blend of 60 percent semillon and 40 percent sauvignon blanc that spent seven or eight months in two-to-four-year-old barrels. Medium gold color; very ripe, a little earthy; creamy fig, roasted lemon, a note of dried thyme; hint of creme brulee; quite dry, though, with a lovely moderately lush texture cut by fleet acidity; fairly austere on the finish. Excellent. About $22
White Pearl 2011. Moderate gold color, an idiosyncratic wine, highly individual and not quite fitting into any set of expectations; notes of roasted lemon, lime peel and and slightly over-ripe mango; very spicy, lively; very dry, with a taut acid-and-limestone structure, yet generous, yielding, a bit buxom. Very Good+. About $22.
Chardonnay 2013. Medium gold color; pineapple, grapefruit, mango; florid, bold, fairly tropical; quite dry, very spicy, doesn’t quite hang together. Very Good. About $22.
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Now the reds, first grenache, about 100 cases annually. From Ramey Mountain Vineyard.

Grenache 2011. Dark ruby, opaque; very earthy, briery and loamy; ripe, very spicy, a little wet-dog-funkiness; sweetly
ripe and intense blackberry-blueberry-raspberry flavors; fairly dense and chewy tannins but light on its feet; svelte, supple. Best after 2015, then to 2019 or ’20. Excellent.
Grenache 2010. Deep ruby color; intoxicating evocative bouquet of dried flowers, dried spices, fresh and macerated black and red fruit; clean and incisive, briers and brambles, loamy earthiness and graphite minerality; pinpoint acidity; dusty tannins; a supple, shapely grenache. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent.
Grenache 2007. Medium ruby hue; ripe, warm, spicy, a little fleshy; macerated and slightly roasted red and black currants and plums; lovely texture, sapid, savory; lip-smacking acidity in perfect balance with fruit, oak and gently dusty, leather-clad tannins; great length and tone. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent.

Sangiovese, about 50 cases annually.

Sangiovese 2011. 13.3% alc. Ramey Mountain Vineyard. Dark ruby-purple; wholly tannic, needs three to four years to learn company manners. Very Good+. About $22.
Sangiovese 2007. 13.6% alc. Whitman’s Glen Vineyard. Medium ruby color; raspberries, red and black currants, cloves, orange rind, black tea, hint of olive; fresh, agile, elegant; lovely fluid texture; classic. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent.

Zinfandel, 50 to 60 cases annually.

Zinfandel 2012. 13.9% alc. Ramey Mountain Vineyard. Deep purple with a magenta rim; clean, fresh, lithe; very pure and intense; blackberries, blueberries, black currants with a vein of poignant graphite minerality; perfectly managed tannins for framing and foundation, a little austere on the finish. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $27.
Zinfandel 2007. 13.5% alc. Whitman’s Mountain Vineyard. dark ruby with a garnet rim; ripe, meaty, fleshy, warm, spicy; macerated black fruit; vibrant, resonant structure, lively and vital, drinking beautifully. Through 2017 or ’18. Excellent.

Merlot, from Ramey Mountain Vineyard

Merlot 2011. 13.6% alc. Deep ruby-purple; very minerally, earthy and briery, distinct graphite and iodine element; large-framed, dense, dusty, chewy, fairly muscular tannins and bright acidity; will this evolve into something like merlot or more like cabernet? Try 2016 through 2020 to ’22. Very Good+. About $27.
Merlot 2008. 13.6% alc. Deep ruby-purple color but softer and riper than the ’11, almost luscious, but cut by iron-like tannins and arrow-bright acidity; black currants, blueberries and plums; clove and allspice build in the background over lavender and biter chocolate; needs more time, say 2015 or ’16 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent.

Syrah, this winery’s strength. “Syrah takes a while to even come to the beginning of something,” Ramey told me. You have to work with nature and the demands it makes on you.”

Syrah 2009. 13.7% alc. Ramey Mountain Vineyard. Deep ruby color; incredible concentration and intensity of variety, confidence and purpose, though almost pure graphite and granitic minerality now and draped with dense dusty tannins; youthfully inchoate, needs three or four years to find balance, but the depths of character are apparent. Try from 2015 or ’17 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $27.
Syrah 2007. 13.8% alc. Whitman’s Mountain Vineyard. Dark ruby with a slightly lighter garnet rim; a tad riper and more approachable than the ’09 but lots of dusty minerality, iron and iodine; the purity and intensity of black fruit are impressive and alluring; quite dry, the finish a bit austere. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent.
Ramey Schulten Syrah 2004. 13% alc. Meadow’s Knoll Vineyard. This is beautiful, such depth and layering, such a combination of character and personality, with pinpoint and vibrant fruit, acidity and graphite minerality; such a feeling of poise and expectation, though still huge, dense, chewy, with real edge, grit and glamor. A masterpiece, to drink through 2018 to ’20. Exceptional.

Cabernet sauvignon.

There are two Grant Eddie cabernet sauvignon wines for 2012, one that’s 100 percent cabernet, the second a blend that includes four percent merlot and three percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Not necessarily predictably but it turned out that the 100 percent version features an almost pure graphite-granitic-iron-and-iodine character with tannins that are hard, lithe and dusty but not punishing. Give this one until 2018 or ’20 and drink until 2028 or ’30. The alternate rendition is fairly burly and tannic but offers notes of cassis, black cherry, lavender and cloves as concession. Excellent potential for each, and each about $28. The 2009 and 2007, each from Ramey Mountain Vineyard and delivering 13.7 percent alcohol, and not nearly ready to drink, offering penetrating minerality and acidity. Give them three or four more years’ aging.
Let’s go back, however, to the Ramey Schulten Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, a blend of 50 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent syrah and 15 percent each cabernet franc and merlot, for a wine of gorgeous shape and proportion that displays sweetly ripe black and red fruit scents and flavors, evocative spice and mild herbal qualities and deep foundational tannins and resonant acidity for essential structure. This and the Syrah 2004 were the best wines of an extraordinary tasting.

Grant Eddie also produces 75 to 100 cases of port (or port-like) wine every year, made from the classic Douro Valley grapes, of which the inky-purple California Port 2012 is young, bright, vigorous and intensely minerally, with soft elegant tannins (about $33); the Ramey-Schulten 2001 is lightly spiced and macerated, a bit sweet and plummy; and the gently faded Ramey Schulten 1992 — a real treat — offers notes of fruitcake, toffee, figs, cloves and orange zest in supple and mildly tannic structure.
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Here’s a winsome sparkling wine to ease you from Summer into Autumn. The Gérard Bertrand “Cuvée Thomas Jefferson” Brut Rosé 2012 is designated Crémant de Limoux, meaning that it hails from the countryside around the little town of Limoux — pop. 9,781 souls — a commune and subprefecture in the Aude department in the vast Languedoc-Roussillon region. Limoux lies a mere 30 kilometers or 19 miles south of the celebrated castle-city of Carcassonne, nestled in the French foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. Limoux — motto: “We Were First!” — claims its right as the birthplace of sparkling wine, for some reason focusing on the exact year of 1631. Be that as it may, most of the wine produced around Limoux — pronounced lee-MOO — is sparkling, either in the guise of Blanquette de Limoux, made principally from the indigenous mauzac grape, or Crémant de Limoux, which allows chardonnay and chenin blanc in the blend. Why Cuvée Thomas Jefferson? Because when that most Francophile of American presidents died, the only sparkling wines found in his cellar were from — guess! — Limoux.

The Gérard Bertrand “Cuvée Thomas Jefferson” Brut Rosé 2012, Crémant de Limoux, a blend of 70 percent chardonnay, 15 percent chenin blanc and 15 percent pinot noir, displays a very pale onion skin hue and a silvery torrent of tiny glinting bubbles. Faint notes of peaches and spiced pears offer a lightly floral aura and touches of hay and dried field herbs; way in the background there are undertones of orange rind and pomegranate. This is crisp, lively and buoyant on the palate, with cleanly etched acidity and more than a whisper of limestone minerality. On the palate, the wine delivers more citrus than stone-fruit, and it finishes with hints of grapefruit, roasted lemon and flint; it’s dry but with appealing ripeness and fine balance. 12.5 percent alcohol. Charming and delightful. Very Good+. About $22, my purchase.

Imported bu USA Wine West, Sausalito, Calif.

Three Sticks Wines was founded by Bill Price III — get it? his surfer handle was Billy Three Sticks — who also 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. He met winemaker and fellow-surfer Don Van Staaveren (image at right) in 1996 when TPG acquired Chateau St. Jean from Suntory, and in 2004 Price asked Van Staaveren to come aboard as winemaker at Three Sticks. (I’m condensing history quite a bit here.) The “winery” occupies space in an industrial/warehouse area in Sonoma, a practical measure since no one has to worry about tasting rooms, landscaping, high-end facilities, jazz concerts, picnic grounds, executive chefs and so on, though a great deal of organizational logistics is required. Van Staaveren, who created the sensational Cinq Cepage cabernet sauvignon for Chateau St. Jean, indeed resembles nothing more nor less than a gracefully aging, if slightly craggy, California boy; when I visited Three Sticks in the Summer of 2013, he wore a cast on one arm, the result of a surfing mishap. The wines he creates from the Durell Vineyard and other vineyards are thoughtfully made and embody tremendous personality and character. Unfortunately, they are produced in limited quantities and are available only on an allocation list. They are worth a visit to the winery’s website threestickswines.com to sign up. These examples were samples for review.

This post is the fourth in a series devoted to wines made from two grapes that seem to occur together, chardonnay and pinot noir, on the model of Burgundy.
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The Three Sticks One Sky Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Mountain — the first Three Sticks release for this wine from a vineyard that remains anonymous — was treated in a manner traditional for California chardonnay: barrel fermentation; 14 months aging in French oak barrels, 50 percent new; full malolactic fermentation. The color is medium straw-gold; classic aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit feel infused by quince and ginger, spiced pear and toasted hazelnuts, amid a background of limestone minerality. This is a supremely rich chardonnay, slightly creamy but not buttery or tropical, and its lusciousness is tempered by bright acidity and that scintillating limestone element; citrus and stone-fruit flavors are highlighted by notes of orange marmalade and a hint of grapefruit pith. Altogether, this is a round, supple, mouth-filling chardonnay that displays lovely, if a bit florid, balance and tone. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 222 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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The winemaker took a completely opposite approach to the Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Valley. This wine was fermented in giant concrete egg-shaped vessels and aged 14 months in small steel barrels; not a smidgeon of oak touched it, and it did not go through malolactic. The grapes derived from two areas in the Durell Vineyard, “Old Wente 5,” on a northwest-facing slope of light soil, and “V9,” one of the rockiest and windiest parts of the vineyard. The color is medium straw-gold; the first impression is of something earthy, highly structured, almost tannic in effect, but with a core of remarkable resonance and vitality that animates captivating scents and flavors of quince jam and crystallized ginger, candied grapefruit and spiced pear with hints of lemon oil and lime peel, the whole package conveying the feeling of a lacy transparency of fruit over a dense, almost talc-like texture and a vibrant structure of limestone, damp gravel and chiming acidity. All in all, amazing energy, presence and tone, a wine that gives new meaning to “no-oak chardonnay.” 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 266 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Exceptional. About $48.
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The Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast, took grapes from three blocks of the estate vineyard, all of which greet the sunrise: The Extension, a steep slope that falls mainly east but a little to the south; the Terraces, an area of slightly terraced rows running north-south and with an eastern exposure; Block R, a cool, windy location of light soil with red volcanic deposits that falls on a slight slope to the east. The grapes fermented in open-top vessels, and the wine aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 50 percent new. The color is a translucent and luminous medium ruby hue; beguiling aromas of pomegranate, rhubarb and cranberry are permeated by notes of cloves and allspice, loam, briers and brambles and a hint of graphite; a few moments in the glass bring up hints of smoky red and black cherries, rose petals and sandalwood. This is a substantial pinot noir, blessed with a sense of total confidence and completion, though whatever character it possesses of power and dynamism is complemented by qualities of grace, delicacy and elegance. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 170 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $65.
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Few wineries in Napa Valley and indeed in California are as iconic, both physically and metaphysically, as the Robert Mondavi Winery. Its mission-style facility on Hwy 29 on Napa Valley is unmistakable. The story has often been told of how Robert Mondavi (1913-2008), in a feud with his brother Peter about the operation of the Charles Krug winery, left that business and launched his own winery in 1966, eventually becoming a wine-juggernaut of world-wide innovation and influence. As they say, the rest is history, though the history of the winery related on a timeline on the company’s website skips from 2002 to 2005, omitting the fact that the over-extended family sold the kit-n-kaboodle to Constellation Brands in November 2004 for a billion dollars. The wise move that Constellation made was to retain Genevieve Janssens as director of winemaking, a position she has held since 1997, thus lending a sense of continuity and purpose. Modavi continues to release a dizzying array of products — a rose! a semillon! (neither of which I have seen) — but the concentration is on the varieties that made its name, often produced at levels of “regular” bottlings, single-vineyard and reserve: cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Today, in this series, I consider the Robert Mondavi Reserve Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, from 2012.

These wines were samples for review.
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Let’s start with red, this one being my favorite of the pair. The Robert Mondavi Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley, spent 10 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels, and to my mind that’s a lot of new oak for pinot noir. Despite my opinion, however, the grapes soaked up that oak, and the wine came out sleek and satiny; this is no ethereal, evanescent pinot noir, but a wine of substance and bearing. The color is dark ruby with a purple/magenta tinge; aromas of black cherry and raspberry are bolstered by notes of pomegranate and sassafras, oolong tea, graphite and loam, all in all retaining a winsome quality in the earthiness. Nothing winsome on the palate, though; while the texture is wonderfully supple and attractive, and the black and red fruit flavors are deep and delicious, this is a pinot noir that takes its dimensions seriously, as elements of new leather, briers and brambles and slightly woody spice testify. 14.5 percent alcohol. At not quite two years old, the Robert Mondavi Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley, is still in its formative years; try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
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Unfortunately, the Robert Mondavi Reserve Chardonnay 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley, pushes all my wrong buttons as far as the chardonnay grape is concerned. The color is medium straw-gold; with its rich and ripe mango-papaya trajectory, this is more tropical than I would want a chardonnay to be, not even accounting for its creamy elements of lemon curd and lemon tart, its vanilla and nutmeg and touch of lightly buttered cinnamon toast. The wine aged a sensible 10 months in French oak barrels, 58 percent new — that’s the sensible part — but its over-abundant spice and its nuances of toffee and burnt match detract from the grape’s purity of expression, and it lacks by several degrees the minerality to give the wine balance and energy. I know, I know, many of My Readers are going to say, “Well, look, FK, this is an argument about style, not about whether this is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ wine,” and I will reply, “Yes, I’m aware of that fact, but a style of winemaking that obscures the virtues of the grape is folly.” This is, frankly, not a chardonnay that I would choose to drink. 13.5 percent alcohol; that’s a blessing. Now through 2017 or ’18, but Not Recommended. About $40.
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I wrote about Kathleen’s Inman’s wines produced under the Inman Family Wines label last year in October; check out that post for information about the history of the winery and Inman’s philosophy. Suffice to say that in this second entry in my “Pinot and Chardonnay” series, I offer a pair of wines that strike, to my palate, the perfect notes of balance and integration, purity and intensity, power and elegance. These wines were samples for review.
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The Inman Family Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, is not made from estate vines but from grapes purchased from the Pratt-Irwin Lane Vineyard. Native yeast was employed. The wine matures 40 percent in new French oak and 60 percent in small stainless steel barrels, both portions going through malolactic fermentation. The color is pale gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, jasmine and acacia, limestone and flint. The whole package is characterized by perfect tone and balance, with its spare and elegant qualities poised against scintillating limestone minerality and bright acidity. The kind of chardonnay that makes me happy to drink chardonnay. 11.6 percent alcohol; you read that correctly. Drink now through 2016. Production was 493 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Allow me to say right here that 21 months in oak seems like doom to pinot noir to me, but the Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley, displays, as I said about its stablemate mentioned above, perfect tone and balance of all elements, while retaining, as Kathleen Inman’s pinot noirs tend to do, something wild and exotic. The color is dark to medium ruby-magenta; beguiling and ineffable scents of cranberry, pomegranate and rhubarb are permeated by heartier, earthier notes of briers, brambles and loam, while after a few moments in the glass a whiff of intense black cherry and cloves comes out. On the palate, the wine is warm and spicy, with a wonderfully satiny drape to the texture that’s bolstered by straight-arrow acidity, a hint of graphite minerality and moderate yet certainly present tannins. Another minute or two of swirling and sipping produces touches of rose petals, lilac and sandalwood. Criminy, what a beautiful pinot noir! 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 517 cases. Drink through 2017 to ’19 with roasted chicken, veal or seared duck. Excellent. About $68.
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