Chardonnay


Wine has been made in the state of Virginia since about 1607, beating the Spanish missions in California by some 160 years. The early English colonists produced wine — or “wine” — from indigenous grapes. It was Thomas Jefferson, perhaps American’s first wine connoisseur, who famously brought vinifera grapes from France and planted them (unsuccessfully) at Monticello. The climate seems iffy; Virginia is, of course, The South, and the growing season is hot and humid. Such factors as fungal diseases don’t discourage the truly dedicated, however, because if people are determined to grow cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay grapes where it might seem inappropriate, they’re just gol-darn gonna do it. Many traditional vinifera, i.e., European grapes are cultivated in Virginia, though many wineries also rely on native or hybrid grapes. I have heard and read that in some of these regions and AVAs such white grapes as viognier and petit manseng perform surprisingly well, but I have not tried these wines.

The state is organized into nine regions and seven official American Viticultural Areas — AVAs — with such colorful names as Rocky Knob and Northern Neck George Washington’s Birthplace. According to the very helpful virginiawine.org, there are 248 wineries in the state. Virginia is the country’s fifth largest wine-grape producer and fifth in the number of wineries. How many people outside of Virginia have tasted wines from the Blue Ridge State? Not many, I would guess. In fact, until recently, I had not tried a single wine from Virginia, and that’s when Stinson Vineyards, a small producer in the Blue Ridge Mountains sent me a few bottles.

How small is the operation? The estate encompasses 12 acres, of which five are in vines. In a winery converted from an old three-car garage, father and daughter Scott and Rachel Stinson make minute quantities of wines that follow, they say, a French model, particularly of Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. Stinson’s historical feature is Piedmont House, seen in the evocative image to the right, built in 1796 and expanded in the 1840s.

These wines were samples for review.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Stinson Mourvèdre Rosé 2012, Monticello, was my favorite of these three wines. The color is classic pale copper-salmon; the wine is quite fragrant and evocative, offering hints of apple and gardenia, melon and dried red currants. It has that Provençal thing going on: dusty roof tiles, a hint of dried rosemary, warm rocks, zinging acidity, with final hints of raspberries and limestone, all delicately knit in a pleasing slightly lush texture. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 220 cases. Drink through Summer 2014. Very Good+. About $17.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The bright gold color of the Stinson Chardonnay 2012, Monticello, seems like a pretty good indication of the ripeness of its pineapple and grapefruit flavors, though perhaps I’m being metaphorical. In any case, this is a very ripe, slightly smoky chardonnay whose fruit feels rather roasted and candied, with a spicy overlay and a hint of ripe fruit sweetness — peach and lemon balm — from mid-palate back through the finish. Still, for the price, you get a lot of burnish and style, though I would prefer more restraint. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 200 cases. Now through 2016. Very Good. About $22.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Stinson Cabernet Franc 2012, Virginia, offers a luminous medium ruby color and attractive aromas of blueberries, black currants and plums, highlighted by notes of cloves and dried thyme; bright acidity enlivens tasty black and blue fruit flavors set into a moderately tannic structure. 12.8 percent alcohol. Production was 100 cases. This is a truly delicious and drinkable wine, but its relationship to what the cabernet franc grape does best is fleeting. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $23.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sunday night I cooked the Smoked Catfish with Sweet-and-Sour Fennel and Kumquat Sauce from Charlie Trotter’s book The Kitchen Sessions (10 Speed Press, 1999), in which the recipes are more manageable for home-cooks than is the case with his earlier series of large-format, full-color manuals. I’ve done this dish three times for LL and me and once for a dinner party, and like most of Trotter’s recipes it involves a sequence of different preparations with all elements assembled just before serving. And speaking of serving, what wine did I choose for the dish? One that was not a review sample but rather purchased at a retail store: the Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011. Those of you who are fanciers of Burgundy wines will say, “Mâcon-Verzé? But Leflaive is one of the greatest producers of white Burgundy. Why would you bother with Mâcon?” Well, My Readers, Leflaive is indeed among a handful of the greatest producers of white Burgundy at the Grand Cru and Premier Cru levels in Puligny-Montrachet, but quantities are minutes and prices high. This Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011 was there, on a shelf at a retail store, and I bought it.

The chapter on Domaine Leflaive in Clive Coates’ Côte d’Or: A Celebration of the Great Wines of Burgundy (University of California Press, 1997), is unsurpassed in its research, acumen and judicial enthusiasm. In quick summary, the family traces its origin to the 15th Century, and the beginning of the domaine to 1717. In accordance with French law, though, with the death of each patriarch, the vineyards were divided among the heirs, until all that remained to the family by 1905 was two hectares of vines (5.14 acres). Joseph Leflaive (1870-1953), a mechanical engineer — he helped design the first French submarine — saw opportunity in the depression that followed the phylloxera disaster and started buying tiny portions of Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards in Puligny-Montrachet, totaling about 20 hectares (some 51.5 acres). Proprietorship passed to brothers Joseph Leflaive (1908-1982) and Vincent (1912-1993), and then, when Vincent retired in 1990, to his daughter Anne-Claude and nephew Olivier, who now operates his own negociant company. Anne-Claude Leflaive began experimenting with biodynamic methods in selected parcels in 1990, and now the entire domain is operated on those techniques.

In 2004, the domaine acquired five sections of vines in the Mâcon-Verzé appellation. These vineyards are farmed biodynamically, and the wine is made by Eric Remy, Domaine Leflaive’s estate manager. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts; the wine spent 15 months in barrels. The vines are 26 years old.

The Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011 displays a clean light gold color and offers exceedingly attractive aromas of jasmine and lilac, talc, roasted lemon, yellow plums and lemongrass; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone. This is a wine — 100 percent chardonnay — of tremendous tone and presence that still embodies all we desire in the way of harmony, delicacy and elegance. The lovely texture is almost powdery in effect yet enlivened by bright vibrant acidity and scintillating flint-and-limestone minerality. The finish — very dry, a little austere — delivers spare elements of cloves, lemon balm and shale. 12.5 percent alcohol. The Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011 is drinking beautifully now and will through 2016 or ’17 and perhaps go longer. Excellent. I paid $50, the full asking price, but the wine is being discounted around the country to $35 or so as the 2012 version becomes available.

Imported by Wilson Daniels, St, Helena, Calif.

Call me a romantic, but I was raised on Keats and Tennyson, Chopin and Brahms; how could I be anything else? So, here I am again, offering a roster of brut rosé Champagne and sparkling wines for your Valentine’s celebration. Yes, the idea is trite, but it’s also right for the occasion. We hit Italy, Spain, France and California in this post and offer prices that range from a highly manageable $15 to the elusive $100. Whatever the differences in price and character, these are all very satisfying — and in some instances, exciting — products. Pop the cork (carefully) and pour (carefully) into tall flute-style glasses, gaze upon the vivid colors, revel in the effervescence, enjoy the lively flavors and the tingle on your palate. Above all — share with someone you love.

These products were samples for review. Image from clipartguide.com.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

When a sparkling wine bottle comes robed in pink, my first thought is “Gack, sweet!” The Anna Codorníu Brut Rosé, Penedès, Catalonia, Spain, however, feels crisp and bone-dry. Composed of 70 percent pinot noir grapes and 30 percent chardonnay, “Anna” is made is the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, as the regulations for Cava dictate. The color is fiery copper; aromas of blood oranges, raspberries and dried red currants are heightened by notes of cloves and orange rind; dry and crisp, yes, but leavened by juicy orange, lemon and strawberry flavors that arrow in to a lively grapefruit zest, lime peel and limestone finish. 12 percent alcohol. This estate goes back to 1659, when Anna Codorníu married Miquel Raventos; their descendants still run the company. Very Good+. About $15, a Distinct Value.

Imported by Aveníu Brands, Baltimore, Md.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Juvé y Camps Brut Rosé, Penedès. Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, this crowd-pleaser offers a brilliant ruby-garnet hue and a fount of tiny bubbles; notes of pure strawberry and raspberry with a hint of pomegranate lead to a dry, crisp yet juicy and delicious sparkler that provides plenty of crisp acidity and flint-like minerality for body and structure. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16 and Worth the Price.

Imported by Winebow, New York.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cavicchioli & Figli Vigna del Cristo 2011, Lambrusco di Sorbara, is made completely from lambrusco di Sorbara grapes in Italy’s Emilia- Romagna region. The grapes derive from the Cavicchioli family’s original 12.5-acre vineyard; though in the grape-growing business for over a century, the family first bottled its own wines in 1928. For this example, 50 percent of the free-run juice undergoes second fermentation in tank, lending the wine a mild but very pleasing effervescence. Unlike many lambrusco wines, which manifest a dark ruby-purple hue, the color of the Cavicchioli & Figli Vigna del Cristo 2011 is a ruddy copper-flame color; enticing aromas of ripe strawberries and rose petals open to a background of raspberries and a slight earthy rasp to the texture; the wine is very dry, and a surprising limestone and flint element emerges, as well as an autumnal aura, just a touch over-ripe and mossy. All this adds up to a delightful wine with a hint of seriousness. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Very Good+. About $17.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The latest release of the J Vineyards Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, is a blend of 66 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay and 1 percent pinot meunier; it’s made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. The color is a radiant coral-topaz hue, energized by a gentle upward swirl of tiny silver bubbles. Strawberry shortcake in the bouquet is balanced by notes of raspberries, cloves and orange zest with hints of floral astringency and spiced pears. The stones-and-bones structure is both powerful and elegant, dry and crisp, with a halo of dried red currants and raspberries supported by pert acidity and an impressive limestone character. A lovely sparkler. Winemaker was Melissa Stackhouse. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $38.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Ronco Calino Radijan Rosé, Franciacorta, Lombardy, is dedicated to owner Paolo Radici’s father. The color is slightly ruddy, smoky salmon-pink; the bubbles are exceedingly tiny, fine and persistent; first impression is pure strawberry and raspberry but highlighted by notes of orange rind and grated lemon peel, limestone and steel. This is a very lively, spicy sparkling wine, truly effervescent; ripe and macerated red berry flavors are wrapped around a spine of bright acidity and clean flint-like minerality. The whole effect is sensual, charming and appealing yet with dark earthy undertones. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. The image of a piano on the label is an homage to the great pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995), to whom the estate once belonged. Excellent. About $31.

Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut Rosé, North Coast (Napa and Sonoma counties), is one of the prettiest sparkling wines you’ll find, though it has a serious, even a dramatic side too. A blend of 49 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir and 6 percent pinot meunier (slightly different than the previous release), it displays an entrancing fiery copper-peach color and a steady pulse of infinitesimal glinting bubbles. The bouquet is characterized by strawberries and red currants enlivened by orange zest and cloves and hints of fresh-baked bread, flint and steel. There’s very agreeable tension among slashing acidity, taut and crisp-edged limestone-like minerality and an almost luxurious sense of round citrus and stone-fruit nuances and irresistible seductive power. This would be a great special occasion — i.e., romantic — sparkling wine. 13 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Tom Tiburzi. Excellent. About $50.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Delamotte is owned by Champagne Laurent-Perrier (see below), and as such is a sister house to Champagne Salon, one of the greatest, rarest and most expensive of all Champagnes. Don’t worry, though, the Delamotte Brut Rosé is a special brut rosé Champagne priced reasonably for the type. The pinot noir grapes for this blend derive from Grand Cru vineyards at Montagne de Reims; the chardonnay is from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, superior pedigree all round. The color is shimmering copper-salmon, like a deepening sunset; tiny bubbles surge swirling to the surface. This is a high-toned and austere rose, built on strains of steel and limestone wreathed with orange zest, camellia, quince, ginger and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; chiming acidity and an almost crystalline flint and limestone element lend frosty if not glacial elegance, but the effect is more thrilling than forbidding. 12 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Michel Fauconnet, also cellar-master at Laurent-Perrier. Excellent. About $70, though online there’s a wide range of prices.

Imported by Vineyard brands, Birmingham, Ala.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The entrancing color of the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut, Champagne, France, is a ruddy copper-salmon color, like tarnished silver over rosy-gold, enlivened by a constant upward froth of tiny glinting bubbles; this is all pinot noir, from 10 Grand Cru villages, presented in an old-fashioned bell-shaped bottle. The initial impression is of raspberries, red currants, orange zest and lightly toasted brioche, quickened by high notes of something wildly berry-like and broadened by bass tones of flint and chalk. The balance between fleetness and suppleness is exciting, and while the whole package is beautifully woven, elegant and sleek, it harbors depths of limestone minerality and bright acidity for resonance. Intense yet buoyant and sophisticated. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $100 suggested retail price but can be found for far less on the Internet.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier U.S., Sausalito, Cal.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What I mean is, here are eight wines that I tasted in the last few months of 2013 that I wish I had written about before 2013 turned to 2014. Time, of course and unfortunately, has a way of slipping away from us, so I present these wines to My Readers today, a drippy, dreary, gloomy and chilly day (as well as several other Official Dwarves) in my neck o’ the woods, as examples of wines with total appeal in terms of presence and personality, integrity and authenticity and even, in a few cases, unimpeachable charisma. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes — oops, it’s Monday! — I forsake the technical, historical, geographical data of which I am so fond for the sake of blitzkrieg reviews, ripped from the pages of my notebooks, intended to pique your interest and whet your palates. Five are from California, two from Argentina, one from Chile; prices range from $20 to $120; that’s the breaks. Enjoy!
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Morgan Double L Vineyard Riesling 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 10.5% alc. 172 cases. Pale gold color; lightly spiced peach and pear, lime peel, notes of jasmine, mango and lychee; sleek, subtle, crystalline, faceted by bright acidity and limestone minerality, contrastingly soft as a poached peach; highlights of roasted lemon and grapefruit rind. Really lovely. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $22.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Garcia & Schwaderer “Marina” Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 300 cases imported. A beautifully integrated and harmonious sauvignon blanc. Pale gold color; cool, restrained and elegant; grapefruit and pear, pea-shoot and tangerine, notes of lime peel and lemongrass; very crisp with brisk acidity and scintillating limestone element, lithe and supple; finishes with hints of thyme and green apple. Drink through 2015. Excellent. About $25.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

MacRostie Winery and Vineyards Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma Coast. 14.1% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely and softly ripe but lean and minerally with limestone and flint and bright acidity; clean, fresh yet earthy; apple, lemon, spiced pear; touch of mango and jasmine; deeply spicy and flavorful, especially with yellow stone fruit; elegant presentation and poise; always a favorite of mine. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Catena Zapata White Stones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13% alc. Limited production. A stupendous achievement. Medium gold-yellow color; roasted lemon, spiced peach, lightly buttered toast, jasmine and lilac; limestone and gunflint; amazing symmetry, power and resonance; fills the mouth and caresses the palate but not at the expense of litheness and potent acidity; juicy and flavorful but quite dry, a little smoky, with a long finely woven finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $120.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13% alc. Limited production. Medium gold-yellow color; even more intense and concentrated than its White Stones stablemate mentioned above; the roasted lemon and peach but more pear here, a smokier chardonnay, with hints of jasmine and camellia, touch of caramel, quince and ginger; the kind of wine in which you feel the tension and energy of greatness and a white wine that’s almost tannic in depth and dimension; supple and creamy but balanced by chiming acidity and resonant limestone minerality. Drink through 2020 to ’22. Certainly the best chardonnay I have tasted from South America. Exceptional. About $120.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lee Family Farm Tempranillo 2012, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. 98 cases. Vivid ruby-magenta color; black currants and blueberries with a pert touch of mulberry, intense and concentrated; batteries of spice and graphite; dense, chewy grainy tannins and vibrant acidity; deep black and blue fruit flavors infused with cedar, tobacco, black licorice and potpourri; very pure and vital, loads of personality. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $20.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Jespersen Ranch Syrah 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. A remarkable 12.7% alc. 483 cases. Deep ruby-purple color with a magenta rim; lovely, approachable; plums, lavender, violets and leather, earthy but fresh and scintillating; blackberries and blueberries, smoke, fruitcake, graphite with a touch of charcoal edge; beautifully balanced but with burgeoning regimen of tannin, oak and granitic minerality. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40, primarily for Bonny Doon’s wine club.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

MacRostie Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby color with magenta highlights; spiced and smoky black and red cherries and plums, notes of classic beetroot and pomegranate, violets and sassafras; a kind of definitively chiseled heft and structure, with acidity that cuts a swath, slightly raspy tannins and a hint of briers and brambles, but seductive balance and integration married to its more serious aspects. Another favorite. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $34.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Well, the first one is a cheat; it’s $22, but the rest are $20 and under, I promise, with prices starting at $13. Every wine on this list is rated Excellent, and it’s an eclectic roster, first geographically, with five wines each for California and Argentina, three each for Italy and Spain, two each for Oregon and France, one each for Germany, Portugal, Chile, Austria and Australia, and by genre; there are no dominant cabernet sauvignons, merlots or pinot noirs on this list and only one chardonnay, but you will find pinot blanc and riesling and gruner veltliner, albariño and carménère, loureiro and treixadura, as well as sangiovese and syrah and the ever-popular bobal. These are wines that performed above their price range in terms of intensity and satisfaction, a quality that is, I suppose, what we wish from every wine we encounter.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Balthasar Ress Schloss Reichartshausen Riesling Spätlese 2009, Rheingau, Germany. Excellent. About $22.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Balverne Rosé of Sangiovese 2012, Chalk Hill, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $20.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Brooks Runaway White Pinot Blanc 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 244 cases. Excellent. About $15.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Catena High Mountain Vines Chardonnay 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $20.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cleto Chiarli Vigneto Enrico Cialdini 2011, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Excellent. About $15.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007, Tuscany, Italy. Excellent. About $19.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cono Sur Reserva Especial Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $15.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $18.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Finca La Linda Malbec Rosé 2012, Lujan de Cujo, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $13.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Fred Loimer “Lois” Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria. Excellent. About $16.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Greg Norman Shiraz 2010, Limestone Coast, Australia. Excellent. About $15.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Harney Lane Albariño 2012, Lodi. 716 cases. Excellent. About $19.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Inama Carménère Piú 2010, Colli Berici, Veneto, Italy. With 25 percent merlot. Excellent. About $20.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Kopke Vinho Branco 2011, Douro, Portugal. 50 percent arinto grapes, 45 percent gouveio, 5 percent rabigato. Excellent. About $16.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lee Family Farm Albariño 2010, Monterey County. 213 cases. Excellent. About $18.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, nv, Crémant d’Alsace, France. Excellent. About $20.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Manuel Manzaneque Nuestra Selección 2005, Finca Elez, La Mancha, Spain. Cabernet sauvignon 40 percent, tempranillo 40 percent, merlot 20 percent. Excellent. About $16.50.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine de Reuilly Les Pierres Plates 2012, Reuilly, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent sauvignon blanc. Excellent. About $20.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Santiago Ruiz 2011, Riax Baixas, Spain. 70 percent allero grapes, 15 percent loureiro, 10 percent caino, 5 percent treixadura and godello. Excellent. About $17.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sierra Norte Pasión de Bobal 2010, Utiel-Reguene, Spain. Excellent. About $15.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tinto Negro Co-Ferment Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. With 7 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent petit verdot. Excellent. About $20.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tolentino Pinot Grigio 2011, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $15.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $14.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Youngberg Hill Pinot Blanc 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 160 cases. Excellent. About $18.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“50 Great Wines of [The Year]” is a post I look forward to, even though its production is fraught with anxiety. “Fraught with anxiety!” you exclaim. “FK, you get to taste and write about terrific wines all year long! This task should be easy!” Look, my apostrophe-addicted friend, I started with a list of 76 potentially great wines and had to eliminate 26 of them. It was painful; it hurt my brain and my spirit. Even now, going back over this post just before I click the PUBLISH button, I am wracked by indecision and regret. On the other hand, life is about choices, n’est-ce pas, and we all have to knuckle down and make those choices, difficult as the job may be.

I reviewed 624 wines in 2013, compared to, for some reason, 642 in 2012, though I suppose 18 wines is not statistically significant in that range. Or perhaps it is; I’m not a statistician. Out of 642 wines in 2012, I rated 18 wines Exceptional. In 2013, out of 624 wines, I rated 28 as Exceptional. Did I taste that many better wines in 2013, or am I getting soft as I near my 30th anniversary as a wine writer? How did I choose, for “50 Great Wines of 2013,” the 22 examples to add to the 28 rated Exceptional? By reading again every review I wrote over the past year, by weighing the description and the language, by revisiting my memory of the wine, by looking for wines that possessed that indescribable quality of charisma, that combination of personality and character that distinguish a great wine. I could expand this post to 60 or 70 or 75 wines, but I’ll leave it as is. Suffice to say that these “50 Great Wines of 2013″ could include others, but for now, I’m sticking with these.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Artesa Vineyards & Winery Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Adelsheim Ribbon Springs Vineyard Auxerrois 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 400 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $24.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Belle-Pente Winery Belle-Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 785 cases. Excellent. About $35.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Black Kite Cellars Rivers Turn Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $52.

Image from princeofpinot.com.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Boekenoogen Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $35.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Brooks “Ara” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Calera Wine Company Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Mount Harlan, San Benito County. 398 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Capitain-Gagnerot Bourgogne “Les Gueulottes” 2009, Hautes Côtes de Beaune. 100 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $27.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Catena Zapata Adrianna Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2009, Napa Valley. Cabernet sauvignon 69 percent, merlot 15 percent, cabernet franc 10 percent, petit verdot 6 percent. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $450.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $80.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne David Léclapart L’Alchimiste Estate Premier Cru Extra Brut Rosé (non-vintage), Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $175.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine de Bernardins 2009, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Excellent. About $25 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Carneros Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003. Exceptional. About $100.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $65.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domus Aurea 2009, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. Cabernet sauvignon 85 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 5 percent, petit verdot 2 percent. Exceptional. About $60.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Drouhin Vaudon Montmains Premier Cru 2910, Chablis, France. 200 cases imported. Exceptional. About $39.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dunstan Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 391 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 291 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast. 100 percent pinot noir. 95 cases. Excellent. About $25.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Elyse Naggiar Vineyard L’Ingénue 2011, Sierra Foothills. Roussanne 52 percent, marsanne 32 percent, viognier 11 percent, grenache blanc 5 percent. 416 cases. Excellent. About $28.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Rosé Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot meunier 58 percent, pinot noir 39 percent, chardonnay 3 percent. Excellent. About $55 to $65.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Frankland Estate Netley Road Vineyard Riesling 2012, Frankland River, Western Australia. Exceptional. About $28.50.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $60.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $42.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Halter Ranch Block 22 Syrah 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. With 13 percent grenache and 11 percent tannat. 175 cases. Excellent. About $36.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 308 cases. Exceptional. About $68.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Pinot noir 49 percent, chardonnay 49 percent, pinot meunier 2 percent. 500 cases. exceptional. About $90.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Kay Brothers Amery Vineyard Block 6 Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. Exceptional. About $66.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 259 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $75.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

La Rochelle McIntyre Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 112 cases. Rose of the Year. Excellent. About $24.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

L’Aventure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 425 cases. Exceptional. About $85 (winery only).
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $60.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Morgan Winery Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 375 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $53.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Penner-Ash Riesling 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $23.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $85.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ramey Wine Cellars Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $60.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ramey Wine Cellars Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, Carneros. Exceptional. About $60.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Rombauer Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $34.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Renaissance Vineyards and Winery Granite Crown 2005, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. Syrah 60 percent, cabernet sauvignon 30 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 2 percent, petit verdot 1 percent. 74 cases. Excellent. About $40.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2010, Napa Valley. 50 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shirvington Shiraz 2009, McLaren Vale, Australia. Excellent. About $70.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 463 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Smith-Madrone Riesling 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $27.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Steven Kent Winery Ghielmetti Vineyard “Small-Lot” Cabernet Franc 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. 48 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tablas Creek Vin de Paille “Quinressence” 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 100 percent roussanne dessert wine. 100 cases. Exceptional. About $85 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Today, or this eve, is Twelfth Night, the traditional 12th Day of Christmas that heralds Epiphany on January 6, the day that the Wise Men or the Magi arrived in Bethlehem after following the brilliant star in the west. We get the symbolism; first to pay homage to the baby Jesus were shepherds, and then came the kings. The 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany were marked in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, by celebration and revelry, not to mention burlesque and ribaldry, a sequence of disguise and exchanged identity — male and female, master and servant — not unlike the elements that Shakespeare employed in his romantic comedy Twelfth Night; or, What You Will, a play dominated by star-crossed relationships. In any case, we could use a few Wise Men around these days to work some wonders. The point is, really, that today means the conclusion of the 7th annual series, “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine,” and we’ll end with a flourish of three products, a Prosecco from northeast Italy ( Veneto), a sparkling wine from California and a Champagne from that fabled region in France. Enjoy! And Happy 2014….

Image from sfstl.com, the website of the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The mid-range sparkling wine from Adriano Adami is the Bosco di Gica Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, composed of 95 to 97 percent glera grapes and 3 to 5 percent chardonnay. It’s a very pale gold hue, almost silver, and the bubbles glint like silver fireworks within. Let’s just say that this fresh, clean sparkling wine, even in its bracing steel and saline qualities, is delightful. There’s a note of green apple and apple peel, bare hints of roasted lemon and lemon balm, and a finish of limestone and almond skin. 11 percent alcohol. Great for parties and receptions. Very Good+. About $18.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Chandon Blanc de Noirs — white from black — carries a California designation, meaning that grapes wee selected from vineyards in
different parts of the state. It’s a blend of 91 percent pinot noir grapes, 6 percent chardonnay and 2 percent pinot meunier. The color is very pale gold enlivened by an enchanting and dynamic stream of tiny bubbles. This is a pert, tart sparkling wine, full-bodied and savory, almost balsamic in its depths, but highlighted by notes of red currants and lime peel. It displays lovely tone and presence and could almost be called viscous if its creaminess were not cut by crisp and incisive acidity; the finish reveals a touch of sweet red fruit ripeness. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
This is what I like in Champagne: A torrent of bubbles, a blizzard of steel; a softness of spiced pear and orange blossom; a strict regimen
of bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. The Delamotte Brut — 55 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot noir, 10 percent pinot meunier; 30 to 36 months on the lees — delivers those exhilarating qualities as well as fleeting notes of apple and grapefruit and hints of cinnamon toast and hazelnuts. Mainly though this is about elegance and austerity, fine bones, chiseled stones and impressive purity and intensity. 12 percent alcohol. It doesn’t say so on the label, but this is a Champagne derived from Grand Cru vinyards, so the price is also impressive. Excellent. About $45 to $50.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala. A sample for review.

Let’s travel back to Franciacorta in Lombardy for a fine example of the craftsmanship that can occur there. Our model is the Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007, a blend of 90 percent chardonnay and 10 percent pinot noir grapes that spent three years en tirage, to use the French term meaning resting on the lees in bottle, and another six months in the cellar after disgorgement, the rather unpleasant word for the process of releasing the accumulated yeast from the bottle. Anyway, the color is pale straw-gold, and the bubbles form a miniature tempest of persistent effervescence. Not quite a true blanc de blancs, because of the 10 percent pinot noir, nonetheless Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007 is light, delicate and supremely elegant, a highly refined sparkling wine that still does not stint on ripeness and flavor. Notes of roasted lemon and spiced pear are highlighted by lime peel and a hint of fresh bread, while a few moments in the glass bring in elements of limestone, flint and grapefruit rind. The texture is perfectly balanced between ample expansiveness and clean, bright acidity, lending the Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007 a welcome sense of vibrancy and tension, all resolved in a lacy spice-and-mineral-infused finish. 13 percent alcohol. A favorite in our house. Drink through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $32.

Imported by Masciarelli Wine Co., Weymouth, Mass. A sample for review.

Domaine Chandon marked the first incursion into California by a Champagne company, that being Moët-Hennessey, which came under the ownership of Louis Vuitton in 1987. The land in Napa Valley, across Highway 29 from Yountville, was acquired in 1973, with the impressive winery opening in 1977. The sparking line range here, originally limited to three models, has expanded enormously and includes for the nonce a nonvintage — a better term would be multi-vintage — Chandon 40th Anniversary Cuvée Rosé, a Sonoma County blend of 50 percent chardonnay grapes, 42 percent pinot noir and 8 percent pinot meunier. The wine went into second fermentation en tirage — on the lees — in May 2007 and was disgorged in January 2013, so it spend five and a half years in the bottle. The color is radiant copper-salmon, enlivened by a fine spume of tiny spiraling bubbles. This is fresh and clean, yeasty and biscuity, and it melds notes of strawberries and raspberries with rose petals, lime peel and a hint of peach. In fact, make that spiced peach, because the Chandon 40th Anniversary Cuvée Rosé is quite spicy and macerated, and while it sports plenty of crisp and vibrant acidity and the essential limestone minerality, the texture is soft and winsome, and it caresses the palate and fills the mouth like creamy silk. Yes, this is a crowd-pleaser, but with a slightly serious backbone. 13 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Tom Tiburzi. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40, at the winery or through its website.

A sample for review.

On New Year’s Eve, to accompany Royal Ossetra caviar from Petrossian, served plain on lightly toasted baguette, I opened the Champagne André Beaufort Grand Cru Brut Nature 2005, from a house in the Grand Cru village of Ambonnay that produces a total of about 2,500 cases annually. Winemaker Jacques Beaufort is, from what I understand, eccentric and reclusive, a devotee of biodynamic practices that gradually grew from organic methods undertaken after Beaufort fell ill, purportedly from contact with chemical pesticides and herbicides. He employs only natural yeast from the vineyard, and ages the wines as long as possible on the lees in the bottle. The domaine’s vineyards consist of 80 percent pinot noir grapes and 20 percent chardonnay. The sense of dedication to an ideal, even an obsession if that is not too strong a word, permeate the Champagne under review today.

The color is medium gold, the tiny bubbles steady, gentle, somehow expressive, and, in fact, the whole package here feels the opposite of the exuberant, scintillating Champagnes one often encounters; this seems thoughtful, studied, utterly harmonious. The first impression is of citrus fruit slightly roasted and slightly honeyed, though this is very dry, even austere in the farther reaches of the finish. (“Brut Nature” means that there was no added sugar in the dosage.) There’s a paradoxical note of apple skin, an element of chalk and seashell, and hints of grapefruit rind, lime peel and hazelnuts, then quince and candied ginger and a touch of cinnamon bread. André Beaufort Grand Cru Brut Nature 2005 is both rich and delicate, savory and elegant, bracing and ethereal; a saline streak highlights brisk acidity and leads to a conclusion woven of limestone minerality, clove-like spice and almost bitter grapefruit pith, altogether mildly, charmingly effervescent. 12 percent alcohol. A highly individual Champagne and one unlike any Champagne I have experienced. Excellent. I sprang for $130 locally — gasp! — but come on, it was for New Year’s Eve.

Imported by North Berkeley Wine, Berkeley, Calif.

« Previous PageNext Page »