Chardonnay


One of the best-known vineyards in Sonoma County, if not California, is the Durell Vineyard, perched at the cusp of three appellations, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Valley and Carneros, just a toe-hold in the latter, but entitled to a Sonoma Coast designation. Dedicated primarily to chardonnay and pinot noir, this vineyard supplies grapes to such labels as (perhaps most famously) Kistler, Chateau St. Jean, Patz & Hall and Robert Craig, as well as Saxon Brown, Loring, Armida, Auteur and others.

Ed Durell, a food broker in San Francisco, acquired the land in 1977, intending to raise cattle but planted vines bill-600x880instead, and, as it turns out, this area, just at the foot of the Sonoma Mountains, was prime soil and climate for those grapes. In 1998, Durell sold the 200-acre vineyard, by now a prestigious site, to Bill and Ellie Price. Bill Price III, a co-founder of TPG Capital (image at right), which bought Beringer Wine Estates and sold it to Fosters and if that’s not a great introduction to the wine business I don’t know what is, and Ellie Price divorced in 2001 but each retains ownership of Durell Vineyard. 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 purchased the well-known Gap’s Crown Vineyard in 2013.

Price’s Three Sticks label — named for his old surfing nickname — draws grapes from Durell as well as from other vineyards in Sonoma County and down to Santa Barbara County. These 2013s were made by Don Van Staaveren, who is now winemaker emeritus, having handed his former duties to director of winemaking Bob Cabral (former winemaker at Williams Selyam), associate winemaker Ryan Prichard and assistant winemaker Ashley Holland.

These wines were samples for review.
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13Chardonnay_Durell
I’m sorry to begin this series of reviews on a discouraging note, but the Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Valley, received the full in-house treatment, and it shows. Fermented in French oak barrels, aged for 15 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels, and undergoing complete malolactic fermentation, the wine came out bold, bright and brassy, dense and lush to the point of being viscous, bursting with candied and caramelized citrus and stone-fruit flavors, stridently spicy, cloying and creamy and lacking the saving grace of minerality. It is my understanding that some people like this overdone, exaggerated character in chardonnay, but not me. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 713 cases. Not recommended. About $50.

Now, on to more pleasant matters.
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12_OriginChardonnay_750-215x700-1-copy
Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Valley, fermented 28 days in concrete eggs and aged for 12 months, unusually, completely in stainless steel. No oak for this baby! It did not go through malolactic fermentation, the transformation of sharp malic (“apple-like”) acid to creamy lactic (“milk-like’) acid that can occur during barrel aging. The color is medium gold, and the first impression is of a bold, forthright but not flamboyant chardonnay that features quite spicy lemon and peach scents and flavors with notes of ripe and slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, all permeated by elements of cloves, quince and ginger. It’s a deep, almost rooty chardonnay with structure to burn and a smoky, cigarette paper character that lends depth and dimension. Crystalline acidity cuts through a supple texture and rich stone-fruit flavors enlivened by a burgeoning limestone quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 409 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $48. One of my favorite chardonnays produced in California.
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12_OneSkyChardonnay-292x10241
Unlike its stablemate Origin Chardonnay mentioned just above, the Three Sticks One Sky Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Mountain, ferments in French oak barrels and ages in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, for 15 months; it undergoes 100 percent malolactic. Sometimes that full oak treatment works out fine, thank you very much, but it has to be thoughtful and finely balanced. The color is bright, brassy gold to match the wine’s bright, brassy aromas and flavors. Lots of volume here, lots of structure and dimension, personality and character. Spiced and macerated grapefruit and pineapple have a slightly floral overlay, while the wine coats the mouth with ripe and slightly dusty citrus and stone-fruit flavors that open to hints of toffee and lightly candied and caramelized lemons, peaches and grapefruit. While the description of this panoply of sensual delights may sound overwhelming, the wine is actually deftly controlled and engaging, gliding over the palate with confidence and some fancy footwork. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 274 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $50.
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2012-RRV-PN_Bottle-Shot
The Three Sticks Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, aged 16 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby shading to a transparent rim; transporting and exotic notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras and rhubarb lend highlights to a macerated compote of cranberries and red and black cherries; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of smoke, lavender and heather. The texture is supremely satiny, with a luxurious drape on the palate that’s balanced by brisk acidity, slightly dusty tannins and touches of graphite and shale minerality, all at the service of tasty, spicy red and black fruit flavors. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 573 cases. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $60.
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2012-Sta-Rita-PN-James_Bottle-Shot
The Three Sticks “The James” Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills, gathers grapes from three familiar vineyards in this region of Santa Barbara County: Burning Creek, La Rinconada and (perhaps the best-known) Sanford & Benedict. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is an irresistible limpid medium ruby that shades to transparent at the rim; you could call this wine “cherries, cherries, cherries,” though the heady influence of black and red raspberries and currants is undeniable, along with notes of cloves and sassafras, graphite and lavender; a few moments in the glass pull up hints of pomegranate and rhubarb. It’s a supple, sleek and satiny pinot noir, whose slightly dusty tannins, clean acidity and burnished oak keep it on the sane side of succulence, though let’s admit that it’s really tasty, too. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 through 2013. Excellent. About $60.
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13Pinot_Durell
The Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, aged 16 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, but you don’t feel the oak influence until the finish, where the wood element feels sanded and burnished. The color is transparent medium ruby; aromas of sassafras and cloves, black and red cherries and currants are permeated by hints of loam and an autumnal briery-brambly quality, like some ancient root-like brew; give it a few minutes and it dredges up a mysterious and seductive floral tone, as if dried violets and lilacs had been steeped in oolong tea. It’s all quite extraordinary. In the mouth, well, taut acidity cuts a swath on the palate, leading the way for a texture that feels both delicate and tense, poignant and dynamic; deeply spiced red and black fruit flavors seem suspended in a foundation of lightly dusted tannins and an increasing lithic, graphite character. Altogether a beautiful performance, exquisitely balanced, tensile with power. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 585 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Exceptional. About $65.
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13_GapsCrownPinot
The Three Sticks Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, received the same oak regimen as the Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir ’13 mentioned just above, and for whatever reason, you feel the oak more in this wine, a persistent presence from mid-palate back through the finish. Still, this is pinot noir of fine detail and dimension, offering a light transparent ruby-magenta hue and a meaty, fleshy, roasted bouquet that pulls up fathoms of spice in the juicy, peppery red and black fruit scents. Again, the wine hints at some rooty, loamy tea steeped in bark and mushrooms, with an allusive and tantalizing floral element. Flavors of very ripe, sweet cherries and currants open to touches of cranberry and rhubarb, while a supple lithe texture runs like warm satin across the tongue. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 329 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Very Good+. About $65.
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Rombauer Vineyards is well-known for its zinfandels, which I consider among the best in California, and its rich, full-throated, California-style chardonnays, which I cannot drink. Today, however, I am happy to include, as the 2014 Romb_SB_f+b_v5100th entry in the Wine of the Day series, the Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Yes, 2015! Harvest for the grapes occurred in the second and third weeks of August last year, the wine was made and rested for a few months, 90 percent in stainless steel tanks, 10 percent in neutral French oak barrels, and will actually be released in February, so jot down one of those little remindy note things on your phone. This wine marks the first national release of a sauvignon blanc for the winery; the first vintage, the 2014, was available only through the tasting room. So, the color is a shimmering pale straw-gold with an allusive green inflection. The lively bouquet offers grapefruit, lime peel and lemongrass, gooseberry and a subliminal trace of jasmine and honeysuckle, all enveloped in a lovely dusty-sunny-leafy fig character. The wine slides across the palate with a sense of supple presence yet with litheness and lightness; spiced pear and stone-fruit dominate in the mouth with the merest touch of guava and mango. Neither the tropical nor the floral element is emphasized, lending this fairly tart, limestone-influenced sauvignon blanc a feeling of ineffable balance. The finish concludes with a wisp of bracing grapefruit peel. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review.

How do the Smith brothers do it? Normally, I would find a chardonnay that was 100 percent barrel-fermented and aged in 100 percent new French oak barrels (for eight months) undrinkable because of the influence of wood, but Charles and Stuart Smith, who produce only limited bottlings of chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and riesling, smith madrone chardonnaymanage, once again, to deliver a chardonnay notable for its bright, clean brilliance; its chiseled restraint that still allows for the grape’s natural richness; its lithe, supple juiciness. Perhaps this result has to do with the age of the mountain-side vineyard, where the vines were 41 years old for this vintage, or with the fact that the vineyard is dry-farmed, seeing no irrigation during periods of little rain, so the roots have to struggle to find nutrients and moisture, a sort of vinous variation on the “no pain-no gain” principle. In any case, the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, is a beauty. The color is pale straw-gold with a faint green tinge; classic aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit carry a thread of mango and cloves, with high notes of jasmine, talc and limestone. The intimation of limestone, and its aide-de-camp, flint, in the nose expands righteously on the palate, and combined with chiming acidity produces a chardonnay of crystalline clarity that feels lit from within. Despite the oak regimen, any wood activity lies in subtly shaping and sculpting the wine, a significance as gentle but urgent as a Summer zephyr. Flavors are more stone-fruit — peach, yellow plum — than citrus, and all elements devolve to a long, limpid and luminous finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. An essential chardonnay, exquisite in its parts, elegant in balance, dynamic in total. Production was 806 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $32.

A sample for review.

In some ways, it’s more fun to compile the “25 Great Wine Bargains” than it is to fret over the “50 Great Wines.” This present list of wines priced at $20 and under offers more geographical and varietal diversity, as well as appealing to people — most of the wine-drinkers on the face of the earth — would would rather pay $15 for a bottle of excellent wine than $150 for a bottle of exceptional wine. What’s particularly pleasing about today’s roster is that of the 25 wines included, all but two rate Excellent. The truth is that wines don’t have to be high-priced to be thoughtfully and precisely made or to embody all the characteristics of a terrific drink. An excellent sauvignon blanc for $11? Who would pass that up? These 25 Great Wine Bargains are cause for celebration, so have at it. Remember, though, that not all wines are available in every market. For bottles that can’t be found in your local retail stores, a search on the Internet may be helpful. Enjoy!

All of these selections were samples for review or were tasted at wholesaler trade events.
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kerner
Abbazia di Novacella Kerner 2013, Valle Isarco, Alto Adige, Italy. Kerner is a white hybrid grape created as recently as 1969. It is found primarily in Germany but certainly performed well in this section of Alto Adige. Excellent. About $19.
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baur
Francois Baur Brut Réserve nv, Crémant d’Alsace, France. Pinot blanc, riesling, chardonnay, pinot gris. Excellent. About $18.
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cattin riesling
Joseph Cattin Riesling 2013, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $14.
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chevalier_muscadet_2010_hi_res
Eric Chevalier Clos de la Butte 2013, Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu sur Lie 2013, Loire Valley, France. Excellent. About $16.
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Michele Chiarlo Le Madri Roero Arneis 2014, Piedmont, Italy. 100 percent arneis grapes. Excellent. About $18.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $18.
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Eguia_Rosado_FT
Viña Eguía Rosado 2014, Rioja, Spain. 80 percent tempranillo, 20 percent garnacha. Very Good+. About $12.
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cava
Isaac Fernandez Seleccíon Biutiful Cava Rosé nv, Penedes, Spain. Excellent. About $15.
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schloss-gobelsburg-gobelsburger-riesling-kamptal-austria-10224971
Schloss Gobelsburg “Gobelsburger” Riesling 2013, Kamptal, Austria. Excellent. About $18.
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Hidalgo_Fino
Emilio Hildago Fino Jerez Seco nv, Jerez, Spain. Excellent. About $14 (500 milliliter bottle).
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leitz
Leitz Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg Riesling Trocken 2013, Rheingau, Germany. Excellent. About $20.
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martini-cab
Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $20.
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masi
Masi Campofiorin 2011, Rosso del Veronese IGT, Italy. Corvino, rondinella and molinara grapes. Excellent. About $18.
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mud-house-sauvignon-blanc-marlborough-new-zealand-10126095
Mud House Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Marlborough, New Zealand. Excellent. About $17.
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pazo
Pazo San Mauro Albariño 2014, Rías Baixas, Spain. Excellent. About $19.
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ped sb
Pedroncelli East Side Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $15.
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2012_domaine_perraud_macon_villages_vieilles_vignes
Domaine Perraud Vielles Vignes Mâcon-Villages 2013, Mâconnais, France. 100 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $20.
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Amauta-Absoluto-Torrontes
El Porvenir de Cafayate Amauta Absoluto Torrontés 2012, Salta, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.
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prodigo
Prodigo Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Friuli Grave, Italy. Excellent. About $11.
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scaia-garganega
Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Bianca 2014, delle Venezia IGT, Italy. The label asserts 55 percent garganega, 45 percent chardonnay grapes. Press materials and website say 50 percent garganega, 30 percent chardonnay, 20 percent trebbiano Soave. Whatever. Excellent. About $11.
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segries
Château de Ségriès Côtes-du-Rhône 2013, Rhone Valley, France. 50 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah, 10 percent each cinsault and carignane. Excellent. About $15.
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charles_thomas_cotes_du_rhone_rouge_hq_label
Charles Thomas Côtes-du-Rhône 2013, Rhone Valley, France. (Maison Jean-Baptiste Bejot) 50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache, 10 percent mourvedre. Very Good+. About $12.
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valentina
La Valentina 2014, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Italy. Rosé of montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Very Good+. About $12.
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VR_Label_14_WHITE4_Front
Vina Robles “White 4” 2014, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara County. 54 percent viognier, 22 percent vermentino, 15 verdelho, 9 sauvignon blanc. Excellent. About $16.
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Zemmer-Pinot_Bianco_Square
Peter Zemmer Punggl Pinot Blanc 2013, Alto Adige, Italy. Excellent. About $18.
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We tend to know when a wine is great from the first sniff and taste, because it possesses that ineffable yet very real quality called charisma. Renewed sniffing and tasting confirm that assessment, while adding depth and character. These factors hold true whether a wine costs $19 or $350, the range represented in today’s 2015 edition of the annual “50 Great Wines” post. I wouldn’t pay $350 for a bottle of wine — though apparently some people would — but I appreciate the occasional opportunity to encounter one. Of the wines on today’s roster, 18 rate Exceptional and 32 rate Excellent. Often the dividing line between Excellent and Exceptional is fine indeed, with permutations and intimations running silent and deep in each direction, but since my inclination is toward distinctions, rankings and hierarchies — that’s what graduate school will do for you — I always include a rating for each wine reviewed on BTYH. On the other hand, I refuse to employ the famous 100-point system; I would rather leave room for some ambiguity and imagination.

A great wine satisfies every point of interest and essence that we desire from a wine, exuding a feeling of utter completion and comprehension. Each wine accomplishes this purpose in a different way, of course, and to varying degrees, necessitating different responses. Some of these wines I admire, gravely and humbly; others, I adore rather shamelessly. The ultimate test, I think, is that when we drink a bottle of great wine, our conclusion is thus: “I wouldn’t want it to be anything other than this,” a sentiment we might also share with works of art and love affairs.

Today’s roster is presented alphabetically. Where a wine is a blend of grapes, I include the percentages that compose the blend. I also mention the case production for wines released in limited quantities, of which many on this list, not surprisingly, are. I do not include alcohol levels or names of importers or technical, geographical or historical date That sort of information is available in the reviews. These wines were selected from examples that I wrote about during 2015. The preponderance were samples for review, for which I thank the wineries, importers and marketing people who sent them.

For whatever eccentricities this list of “50 Great Wines of 2015” embodies, blame them on my taste, knowledge, experience and intuition. That is all I — or any of us — have to go on.
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achaval-ferrer-CMendoza-2013
Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $25.
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valadorna 09
Arcanum Valadorna 2009, Toscana IGT, Italy. 85 percent merlot, 8 percent cabernet franc, 7 percent cabernet sauvignon. Exceptional. About $80.

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14537_ARG-NHRS-13-F_1
Argyle Nuthouse Riesling 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon. Exceptional. About $30.
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sangioveto
Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana 2009, Toscana IGT, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. 750 cases. Excellent. About $60.
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Benovia-2013-Russian-River-Valley-Pinot-Noir
Benovia Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $38.
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occultumlapidem2012us
Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France. 50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache, 10 percent carignan. Excellent. About $30.
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BlackKite
Black Kite Cellars Stony Terrace Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 200 cases. Excellent. About $60. (Not exactly the correct label, but this is what they look like.)
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terras gauda
Bodegas Terras Gauda O Rosal 2014, Rias Baixas, Spain. 70 percent albariño, 15 percent loureiro, 15 percent caiño blanco. Excellent. About $24.
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Riesling
Chateau Montelena Riesling 2014, Potter Valley. Excellent, About $25.
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clemens-busch-vom-grauen-schiefer-riesling-trocken-mosel-germany-10529188
Weingut Clemens Busch Grauen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2012, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $30.
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Terrunyo_Sauvignon_Blanc_Front_Label-300x218
Concha y Toro Terrunyo Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $26.
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cornerstone 11
Cornerstone Cellars The Cornerstone 2011, Napa Valley. 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet franc. 100 cases. About $150.
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duckhorn merlot
Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon, 2 percent cabernet franc, 1 percent malbec. Excellent. About $54.
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ehlers
Ehlers Estate Sylvanie Cabernet Franc Rosé 2014, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $28.
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FEL-Logo_850x500
FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 645 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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Foursight Jpeg Logo
Foursight Wines Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 224 cases. Excellent. About $46.
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FINAL 2013 ESS LABELb
Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Essence Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. 1,204 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
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Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. 485 cases. Exceptional. About $90.
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inman-rose
Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,500 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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iron-horse-brut-x
Iron Horse Brut “X” 2010, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. 69 percent pinot noir, 31 percent chardonnay. 500 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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jacquard
Champagne Jacquart Brut Rosé nv. 53 percent pinot noir, 35 percent chardonnay, 12 percent pinot meunier. Excellent. About $55.
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La Jota Vineyard Co. W.S. Keyes Vineyards Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. 296 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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cuvee rose
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rosé Brut nv. 100 percent Grand Cru pinot noir. Excellent. About $99.
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laurent 2006
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2006. Excellent. About $65.
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lokoya
Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $350.
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ember-site
Loomis “Ember” Red Wine 2012, Napa Valley. Syrah, grenache, mourvedre. 75 cases. Excellent. About $38.
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maggy
Maggy Hawk “Afleet” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 156 cases. Exceptional. About $66.

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MFW_Rose_Face
MacPhail Family Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 492 cases. Exceptional. About $22.
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loidana-nueva-imagen-def_0_0
Marco Abella Loidana 2010, Priorat, Spain. 60 percent grenache, 25 percent carignane, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $30.
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mccay zin
McCay Cellars “Trulux” Zinfandel 2012, Lodi. 479 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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mcintyre
McIntyre Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 368 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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Morgan_2012_Double_L_Chardonnay
Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 530 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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beautiful pinot gris
Mt Beautiful Pinot Gris 2014, North Canterbury, New Zealand. 1,500 cases. Exceptional. About $19.
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Pahlmeyer and Jayson Wines Line Up
Pahlmeyer Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $85.
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pfendler
Pfendler Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 350 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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post and vine
Post & Vine Testa Vineyard Old Vine Field Blend 2012, Mendocino County. 42 percent zinfandel, 37 percent carignane, 21 percent petite sirah. 143 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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quivira zin
Quivira Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. With 10 percent petite sirah, 1 percent carignane. Excellent. About $26.
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innocent
St. Innocent Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 948 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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sequoia grove cab
Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. With 11 percent cabernet franc, 10 percent merlot, 1 percent each petit verdot and malbec. Excellent. About $38.
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smith madrone 11
Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,070 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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tonella sb
S.R. Tonella Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $29.
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2014EstateSauvBlanc
Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $35.

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tanner dafoe
Tanner Dafoe Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. 141 cases. Exceptional. About $110.

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taylor
Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Porto 2012, Portugal. Exceptional. About $53.
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joon
Tin Barn “Joon” Coryelle Fields Vineyard Rosé of Syrah 2014, Sonoma Coast. 158 cases. Excellent. About $23.
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torre
Torre San Martino Vigna della Signore 2013, Colli di Faenza Bianco, Italy. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, albana grapes. Excellent. $NA.
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two shepherds logo
Two Shepherds Grenache Rosé 2014, Sonoma Coast. 90 cases. Exceptional. About $24.
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11_barolo_castiglione1-232x686
Vietti Castiglione Barolo 2011, Piedmont, Italy. 100 percent nebbiolo grapes. Excellent. About $50.
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chateau-villa-bel-air-graves-france-10213716
Chateau Villa Bel-Air 2013, Graves, Bordeaux. 65 percent sauvignon blanc, 35 percent semillon. Excellent. About $25.
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2012-Jordan-PN-300x207
Youngberg Hill Jordan Block Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley. 300 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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A day late, again, but I hope not a dollar short. I offer, in the last post of this series for 2015/2016, two Brut Réserve Champagnes of somewhat different nature, the first more steely and platinum, the second more substantial and dignified. “Réserve,” by the way, is not a regulated term on labels in France — just as it is not in the USA, but is regulated in Italy and Spain — so while you might think that the designation here implies a higher place on the roster of each house, the truth is that these models are the basic, entry-level products. No denigration suggested, though, because each of these Champagnes delivers a full complement of character and satisfaction.
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Champagne Palmer & Co. is a cooperative, founded in 1947, whose products are being reintroduced to the United palmerStates of America. The grapes derive primarily from Premier and Grand Cru vineyards — not entirely, you understand — and the final effort includes reserve wines from as long as 25 years ago, maybe like a drop or two. This Palmer Brut Réserve is a blend of 50 percent chardonnay, 40 percent pinot noir and 10 percent pinot meunier, aged for four years in bottle on the lees and another sixth months after disgorgement. A profound Champagne? No, but certainly a delightful and charming example that possesses the structure to promote a serious edge. The color is pale straw-gold, a nod to the ethereal, and the tiny bubbles are lively, almost hypnotic in their upward surge. Roasted lemon, spiced pear, notes of apple toasted hazelnuts; hints of fresh-baked bread and almond blossom characterize the attractive bouquet, while frangible sheaves of limestone, seashell and flint (and brisk acidity) build a fairly intense background for subtle stone-fruit flavors. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $55.

Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago, a division of Gonzales Byass. A sample for review.

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Charles-Camille Heidsieck founded his eponymous Champagne house in 1851, when he was 29 years old. A personage of natural ebullience, much like the product he touted, Heidsieck was well-known in the late 19th Century as “Champagne Charlie” and was particularly popular in America. As is the case with many firms in the region, the history of Champagne Charles Heidsieck unfurls a tangled web of marriage, success, decline, success and multiple charlesownership. Suffice to say that it and its sister house Piper-Heidsieck were acquired in 2011 by French luxury goods company EPI.

The Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve nv (a local purchase) is composed of equal parts chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, drawing 40 percent — an unusually high amount — on reserve wines that average 10 years old and resting on the lees in bottle for three years. The color is bright medium gold, and the bubbles put on a brilliant show of gratifying foaming effervescence. The first impression is of fresh-baked biscuits, cinnamon toast, brioche, toasted hazelnuts and almond skin, followed by notes of crystallized ginger and spiced pear; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of heather, delicate toffee and chestnut honey. Yes, it all makes for a wonderfully complex phenomenon. This Brut Reserve offers substance and weight on the palate but carries itself with lightness and elegance; while quite dry, and permeated by layers of limestone and shale minerality, it retains tremendous appeal and elan. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.

Imported by Remy Cointreau USA, New York.
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You know how it is. A wine of some type comes along and forces you — or encourages you or persuades you — to admit that it is an archetype, an avatar, a piece of wondrous architecture. Such a one for me recently was the Champagne Chartogne-Taillet “Heurtebise” Blanc de Blancs Brut, from the year 2008, though this fact is indicated only on the back label. The estate’s origins go back all the way to 1485, or at least to 1485, when records chartognemention Fiacre Taillet as a grower in the village of Merfy, in Champagne’s Montagne de Reims area. Chartogne-Taillet’s 27 acres of vines, divided into 13 distinct parcels, are still scattered around the environs of Merfy, located just northwest of the ancient cathedral city of Reims, where once the kings of France were crowned. Now, Champagne is king.

The Chartogne-Taillet “Heurtebise” Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008 (an online purchase) was made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes from one of those particular parcels of vines, totally in stainless steel — the wine sees no oak — and fermented by native yeast. Disgorged in 2015, it spent some six years in the bottle on the yeast. Winemaker was Alexandre Chartogne. The color is a brilliant pure medium gold, energized by a surging spiral of tiny bubbles. It’s a fresh and bright Champagne that offers notes of brioche and lightly toasted bread, quince and baked apple, lime peel and lemongrass, all set into a scintillating background of limestone and chalk that broadens as the moments pass. It’s quite dry but enlivened by keenly-edged acidity that displays its own sense of generosity, so that the impression is of crystalline depths and an impeccable surface that embody the marriage between power and elegance. After, say, an hour, if you were sipping this Champagne while cooking dinner, it shades to darker matter, to heather, candied ginger and slightly honeyed grapefruit, to hints of toffee and pearly sea-salt, leading to a high-toned and fairly austere finish. By this time, it feels like a fathomless exploration of the transmogrified chardonnay grape in all its nuance and dimension. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to 2022. Exceptional. Look for prices nationwide from about $65 to $80.

A Terry Theise Selection for Skurnik Wines, New York.
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touraine-cuvee-jm-blanc-brut-caves-monmousseau
Gadzooks, friends, only four posts remain in the current series of “The Twelve Days.” Let’s begin today with a charming sparkling wine available at a startlingly low price, especially for one spending an average of two-and-a-half years on the lees, therefore tying up capital. Coming from the Loire Valley, specifically from Touraine, the cradle of chenin blanc, the Monmousseau Cuvée JM Brut Etoile nv is a blend of 80 percent chenin blanc and 20 percent chardonnay. The color is pale gold, and the essential effervescence bodies forth as a steady stream of tiny and persistent bubbles. This sparkling wine is clean, crisp and steely, displaying nuances of lime peel and spiced pear, wisps of smoke and flint, and a burgeoning tide of limestone and shale. Yes, the finish is a bit austere, but that factor only adds to a sense of crystalline purity and transparent appeal. 12 percent alcohol. Your guests will drink this sleek little beauty all night long and thank you. Very Good+. About $15, a Terrific Deal.

USA Wine Imports, New York. Tasted at a local wine dinner.
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valle
Did I say “steely”? I’ll reiterate that adjective for our other sparkling wine today, La Valle Naturalis Extra Brut 2009, Franciacorta, from Lombardy. This is a blend of 65 percent chardonnay, 25 percent pinot noir and 10 percent pinot blanc. The wine sees no oak and no malolactic fermentation, so it goes into the bottle at its most acid-and-mineral-driven best; it rests in the bottle on the lees for 40 months. The color is palest platinum blond, and the mousse resembles an upward cascade of tiny seething, foaming beads; it’s about as exuberant as can be. The first impression is fresh, clean and enticing, with smoke and steel leading to notes of lime peel and spiced pear and a bare hint of quince and ginger. In my ledger, I wrote “wonderful texture,” by which I mean that especially pleasurable and seductive combination of creaminess and tartness, lushness and litheness, dynamism and tautness, all poised in exquisite balance. Layers of limestone and flint come up, bringing a distinct dry seashell brininess and savory quality, though the final view is of lovely delicacy and elegance that grow from such power and energy. 12.5 percent alcohol. This should drink beautifully through 2019 to 2024. Excellent. About $55.

A Leonardo Locascio Selection, Winebow Inc., New York. A sample for review.
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Sorry that I missed yesterday’s post, My Readers, but I was recruited to transport a puppy from Memphis to Nashville, a jaunt that sucked away most of the day. So let’s play a little catch-up, as I offer brut rose products from Alsace, California, Italy’s Franciacorta region and Champagne.
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dorpf
The 100 percent pinot noir Dorpf & Irion Brut Rosé nv, Cremant d’Alsace, ages 12 to 15 months in the bottle on the yeast cells. The color is pale peach, and there’s a hint of peach in the nose and on the palate, too. The bubbles are giddily, hypnotically surging upward, and while there’s a trend away from using flutes in favor of standard wine glasses for Champagne and other sparkling wines, a flute is the only way to appreciate this delightful factor. Raspberries, red currants and blood oranges dominate a bouquet that broadens to reveal notes of heather and meadows and an elusive whiff of orange liqueur. With headlong verve, this animated sparkling wine spills across the palate in a melange of citrus and red berry flavors, highlighted by layers of limestone and shale. As a plus, the whole enterprise gains in floral effect as the minutes pass. 12.5 percent alcohol. Completely delightful. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.

Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., New York. A sample for review.
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schramsberg
The Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2012, North Coast, is a true North Coast product, the grapes deriving from Sonoma (52 percent), Marin (24 percent), Napa (16 percent) and Mendocino (8 percent) counties. The blend is 76 pinot noir and 24 percent chardonnay. In the traditional method, it aged about two years in bottle on the yeast. The color is pale salmon-copper, and the tiny bubbles are fervently effervescent. Distinct aromas of orange rind and orange blossom, fresh biscuits and cloves, a tinge of red raspberry and red currants and just a hint of orange marmalade distinguish a refreshing and attractive bouquet. A few moments in the glass tease out notes of freshly-baked biscuits and brioche. Lithe and generous at the same time, this sparkling wine is savory and saline, with a keen limestone edge and bright acidity to balance spicy but spare red fruit flavors and a cloud-like texture. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $44.

A sample for review.
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pizzini rose
I have increasingly high regard for the traditional method sparkling wines of Franciacorta, in Italy’s Lombardy region, which can attain, I think, world-class status. Here’s a superb example. The Barone Pizzini Brut Rosé 2011, Franciacorta, consists of 100 percent pinot noir grapes; the initial wine ages six months in year-old French barriques and then an average of three years in the bottle on the lees. The color is bright pink-cerise, and the bubbles are abundant, lively and persistent. First come notes of brioche with raspberry jam and lightly buttered toast, followed by hints of spiced and macerated raspberries and strawberries infused by red currants, cloves, candied orange peel and rose petals; a fillip of pomegranate adds intrigue. This sparkling wine is deep and supple, vibrant with acidity and a scintillating limestone element, yet it offers, as well as sophistication and elegance, a sense of whimsy and gaiety. 12.9 percent alcohol. It will easily drink well and invitingly through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.

A Leonardo Locascio Selection, imported by Winebow, Inc., New York. A sample for review.
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pol roger brut rose bottle
The Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve Brut Rosé 2004 begins in delicate, elegant manner and gains weight and dimension in the glass, becoming a brut rosé of dignity, majesty and purpose. The blend is 50 percent pinot noir and 35 percent chardonnay grapes, all from Premier and Grand Cru vineyards, and 15 percent pinot noir made “en rouge” and added to the final blend before going into the bottle. The color is a pale copper-topaz hue, enlivened by a constant stream of upward swirling bubbles. The first impression is of something fine-boned and chiseled, dry, crisp, fresh and clean, drawing up hints of dried raspberries and strawberries, lime peel and damp limestone and flint. It’s expansive and expressive on the palate, yet taut, supple and dynamic; a bit of time brings in notes of brioche and lightly buttered cinnamon toast, roasted hazelnuts and almond skin, but always with a flush of red fruit and a wash of burgeoning minerality and keen acidity. The finish is increasingly stone-inflected and austere. 12.5 percent alcohol. This bottle should drink beautifully through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $80 to $100 nationally.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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While the trend today is for what’s called “grower Champagne” or sometimes “artisanal” or “farmhouse” Champagne, with implications of a hands-on family approach from vineyard through final disgorgement, don’t forget that the grande marques, the Big Houses, so to speak, which obtain most of their grapes on long-term contract, can still clicquot roseprovide sublime drinking experiences. The Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé 2004 — an online purchase — may not convey the sense of individuality, intimacy and terroir beloved by foodies, hipsters and others of the obsessive ilk, but damn, it’s a honey of a Champagne that displays gratifying depth and breadth of character and a heap of pleasure. A blend of 62 percent pinot noir, 15 percent chardonnay, 8 percent pinot meunier and 15 percent “red wine,” the Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé 2004 offers a beguiling robe of smoky topaz flushed with a blaze of light copper and a foaming upward-swirling procession of tiny glinting bubbles; you could stare at this panoply for hours. First come notes of fresh strawberries and raspberries, imbued with hints of orange rind, quince and ginger and touches of dried currants, almond skin and — very quietly — orange blossom. There’s some element of fresh biscuits and lightly-buttered cinnamon toast, but the dominant theme on the palate is played by steel and limestone; the texture is sleek, lithe and lively, with moderate and transparent density. The result is a graceful and elegant brut rosé that reveals innate power and energy. The bottle I bought was disgorged in May 2013, so the Champagne rested on the lees in bottle for about eight years. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. Look for national prices ranging, realistically, from $90 to $100, though a handful of retail outlets have this product drastically reduced, I mean as low as $65.

Imported by Moet Hennessy USA, New York. Only one product today instead of the usual two. I’ll get caught up soon.
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