Chardonnay


The experience at VINO 2015 — as at VINO 2011, the last time the event was held in New York — is overwhelming. Again, the three-day conference about Italian wine and the Italian wine industry and their relationship with America occurred (last week) at the venerable Waldorf Astoria hotel, and though my room this year was not as grand as my accommodations were four years ago — not, I hope, a reflection of any diminishing of my status — the hotel is a sumptuous place that certainly fulfills any expectations for service. (In fact, the Waldorf is so exclusive that to eat breakfast in Peacock Alley, just off the ornate lobby, you have to reserve a table and wear a dark business suit.) It’s pretty interesting and even gratifying to mingle with (or observe from a distance) some of the great figures in wine education and authorship, people who wrote some of the definitive and best-known books in the business, including Karen MacNeil, Ed McCarthy, Harriet Lembeck, Kevin Zraly, Terry Robarts, Elin McCoy and others. It’s also a treat to hobnob with a host of my blogging compatriots, exchanging notes and thoughts.

To a significant extent, the conference is about selling wine or figuring out how to sell wine, so most of the attendees come from the wholesale tier of the industry, and their presence tips the focus toward getting wine to the market and in the hands of consumers. For example, a seminar about the wines of Calabria given by an author and educator emphasized the land and region, the characteristics of the grapes and the details about the wines, while a seminar on the wines of the Campania region given by an expert in Italian wines at the retail level was mostly about how to sell the wines and explain them to customers.

The overwhelming part consists of the sheer numbers of estates, producers and cooperatives offering wine to taste — according to the Italian Trade Commission, 350 producers and more than 1,200 wines. In addition, Slow Wine, an adjunct of the Slow Food organization, mounted its own, smaller and very select tasting of wines from producers featured in their wine guide. There’s no way that one sane healthy person could taste even a fraction of that vinous flood, so as I mentioned in a previous post, I tried to be judicious and pick producers carefully or, to be honest, on a whim. It’s surprising how often that rather antimethodical method works out, especially among the producers that do not have representation in the United States. Of course when the opportunity arose, I didn’t hesitate to taste the wines of prestigious estates too.

Today, I launch a series devoted to the wines I encountered at VINO 2015, beginning with four producers, from the Slow Wine tasting, that do not have representation in this country. Listen up, importers!

Postcard image of the Waldorf Astoria from vanartgallery.bc.ca.
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Tenuta Terraviva lies close to the coastal town of Tortoreto in the region of Abruzzo. The organic estate produces small quantities of white and red wine from local grapes such as trebbiano, pecorino and montepulciano, employing thoughtful application of wood and steel to craft delicious, lively and charming wines with a slightly serious edge and surprising complexity. Alcohol content stays consistently in the 13 to 13.5 percent range. I tried the sleek, spicy, lightly honeyed and blossomy Terraviva Trebbiano 2013, the winery’s entry-level white, made in stainless steel; another trebbiano, Mario’s 40 2012, which undergoes 12 months in large oak barrels and six months in steel tanks, lending notes of spiced pear, candied grapefruit and almond flower (about 415 cases); the intriguing ‘Ekwo 2013, Abruzzo Pecorino, made in stainless steel and offering distinct hints of heather, yellow plums, mango and lime peel (about 335 cases); and for red, the Lui 2011, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, aged half in used barriques and half in steel tanks, for a feral and woodsy effect of wild cherries and raspberries, dried mountain herbs and leather, with real dusty tannic grip (about 1,650 cases; alcohol content 14 percent). Tenuta Terraviva is looking for an American importer, and we would all be happy if one were found. At the current conversion rate of euros to dollars, the Trebbiano 2013 is priced at about $10.25, while Mario’s 40 2012 is about $13.50. Even after the costs of importation and the three-tier system, these would be attractive and reasonably priced wines.
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Villa Venti is located about 30 kilometers directly west of the sea-coast resort city of Rimini, in the extreme southeastern corner of Emilia-Romagna. Boasting bed and breakfast lodging and a farm for demonstrating organic and biodynamic methods, the estate is operated by the Castellucci, Giardini and Riva families. I tried two of their wines, the exotic Serenaro 2013, Forli Bianco IGT, made from the very local famoso di Cesena grape, and the appealing and enticing Primo Segno 2012, Romagna Sangiovese Superiore, as well as the version from 2011. This red wine, which sees no oak, is deceptively light, with floral and spicy fragrances that seem to nourish the soul, very pretty red cherry and raspberry fruit, bracing acidity and a surprising amount of supple loamy tannins; that’s the 2012; the ’11 offers even more burnish, depth and purchase. It made me long for a dish of pappardelle with rabbit or a selection of salumi and cheeses. In Italy, this stylish wine costs about 10 euros.
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The founding of Torre San Martino began with the discovery, in 2000, of sangiovese vines dating back to 1922. The estate occupies 70 hectares — about 173 acres — in the central Appennines of the area called Tosco-Romagnola; we’re still in Emilia-Romagna but in the far west. The stunning young woman who poured the wines of Torre San Martino supplied me with a sleekly designed brochure, all black, white and gray, but it offered no technical information about the products, and the estate’s website is “Under Construction,” so I can deliver no technical data about how these wines were made, though someone is doing something right. The intriguing white entry, the Vigna della Signora 2013, Colli di Faenza Bianco, is a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and albana grapes, the latter an indigenous vine that does not get much love, despite its DOCG status. In combination, though, with unspecified amounts of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, it produces a wine that seems pure gold, from its brilliant straw-gold hue to its notes of yellow fruit and flowers, spiced pears and caramelized grapefruit and orange zest, and a texture poised between pert acidity and moderate lushness. The Vigna 1922 Riserva 2011, Sangiovese di Romagna, is made exclusively from those 93-year-old vines; it’s a wine of great elegance and breeding, intensity and depth, displaying a sense of history and geography, and if you could not sell the hell out of it in restaurants in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and L.A. then you would need to get a job cleaning milk shake machines. The Gemme 2013, Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, is a younger wine in every way, fresh and amenable but with plenty of stuffing. These are sophisticated wines that embody high-design components and an interesting narrative; how could they not find an American importer?
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I was terrifically impressed by the wines of Ronco del Gelso, an estate located in the Isonzo DOC of Friuli Venezia Giulia, in northeastern Italy. Mainly white wines are produced here, with a few reds, and these white wines are notably fresh, clean, crisp and spicy, as in the instance of the Toc Bas 2013, made from friulano grapes. More layered is the Sot lis Rives 2013, a barrel-aged pinot grigio that employs crystalline limestone qualities and vivacious acidity to cushion tasty peach, lime and grapefruit flavors, with hints of hazelnuts and almond blossom. The Siet Vignis Chardonnay 2013 aged a year in 2,500-liter oak barrels, lending the wine lovely subtlety and suppleness, while retaining well-defined mineral elements and delicious citrus and stone-fruit flavors. Best of these, however, is Ronco del Gelso’s Schulz Riesling 2013, a captivating and winsome wine made all in stainless steel, resting on the lees with no malolactic fermentation; the result is a beautifully balanced amalgam of peach, pear, lychee, jasmine and limestone that’s slightly sweet on the entry but very dry on the finish and exhibiting all the verve and energy you want in a great riesling.
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Rodney Strong Vineyards already has a fairly full roster of chardonnay and pinot noir wines. There are the Reserve Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the Estate Chardonnay, designated Chalk Hill, and Estate Pinot Noir, designated Russian River Valley, and a “regular” Sonoma County chardonnay. Recently, the winery added, under its Estate division, a chardonnay and pinot noir from the Sonoma Coast AVA. Sonoma Coast, officially approved as an American Viticultural Area in 1987, encompasses more than 500,000 acres and stretches from San Pablo Bay in the south to the Mendocino County line in the north. In the past decade or so, the region has established a reputation, primarily because of its ocean influence and cooler climate, as a prime, not to say primal, area for chardonnay and pinot noir. On the other hand, it’s such a large AVA that it’s difficult to establish one fixed identity for it, which is why there are movements afoot to portion off distinct smaller regions as sub-AVAs; Fort Ross-Seaview was approved in 2011, and I wouldn’t be surprised if windy, foggy Petaluma Gap, which contributes grapes to both of the wines under review today, was granted that privilege soon. You’ll notice on the labels illustrated here that the Sonoma Coast designation is given prominence over the grape variety. Winemakers for these examples were Rick Sayre and Justin Seidenfeld. These wines were samples for review.
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When I saw that the Rodney Strong Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, was barrel-fermented and spent 10 months in 85 percent new French oak barrels, my heart sank; that’s a lot of new oak for a chardonnay. However, some (unspecified) amount stayed in stainless steel, which perhaps helped to right the balance. In any case, the color is pale gold; the whole effect is bright, fresh and clean, with beguiling aromas of pineapple, grapefruit and green apple woven with cloves and crystallized ginger and notes of guava and quince; yes, there’s a hint of a tropical element, but it’s not overplayed. Oak is deftly integrated on the palate, with just a touch of the toasty quality, but supported by brisk acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; delicious green apple and spiced pear flavors are nestled in a winsome, moderately dense texture that flows with supple subtlety across the palate. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $25.
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The color of the Rodney Strong Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, is an almost translucent ruby-magenta hue. This is a highly fragrant wine, offering prominent notes of cloves and sassafras, black cherries and plums, with hints of red and black currants and pomagranate, and touches of lavender and rose petals. There’s a lovely satiny drape to the texture, but the structure is broad and deep, almost tannic, and framed by spicy, woody, woodsy elements from 10 months in French oak barrels, 35 percent new; a copious amount of loamy, briery and brambly earthiness lends foundation to a well-balanced and integrated package. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $30.
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Longtime readers of this blog — bless your tiny pointed heads and may your tribes increase! — know that a great deal of effort goes into the annual “12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series, but as encompassing as that sequence is, it cannot include all the Champagnes and sparkling wines that I taste from late November through early January. For this edition of Weekend Wine Notes, therefore, I offer an eclectic roster of nine of such products, one from Champagne, a duo from Franciacorta in Lombardy and a Lambrusco, an unusual darker-than-a-rosé sparkler from the far western Loire Valley, and versions from California and Oregon. I deliver as much technical information as might actually be required but concentrate on the essence of the blitzkrieg review: short, incisive and to-the-point. With one exception, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007, Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy. 13% alc. 90% chardonnay, 10% pinot noir. A favorite of ours for two Yuletide seasons. Light gold color; a seething horde of tiny bubbles; another year has burnished this sparkling wine; a little spicier, a bit toastier than it was at the previous tasting; roasted lemon and lemon balm, spiced pear; lightly buttered cinnamon toast; keen acidity and a honed limestone element; delicious, with appealing generosity but also a serious edge. Excellent. About $35.
Imported by Masciarelli Wine co., Weymouth, Mass.
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Argyle Brut 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. 60% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay. Pale gold gold, animated by a shimmer of tiny bubbles; a finely meshed construct of delicate details: lemon balm, verbena and lemon curd, a touch of orange rind; candied quince and ginger and a note of cloves; hint of biscuit; quite dry, bright acidity, lots of flint and limestone; very steely, very steady. Lovely. Excellent. About $27.
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Bonny Doon Sparkling Syrah 2011, Central Coast. 13.8% alc., according to the label, 11.9% alc. says the winery website. 83% syrah, 17% grenache. 378 cases. Opaque purple-black with a violet cast; moderately fizzy; the roasted, meaty and fleshy aspect we expect from syrah, but with vivid elements of deeply spiced and macerated strawberries and raspberries; a high balsamic note; burgeoning hints of violets and lavender; strangely attractive yet very intense, almost demanding, in fact too intense to use as an aperitif; this definitely needs food. Very Good+. About $36, intended for the winery’s club members.
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Cleto Chiarli e Figli Vecchia Modena Premier 2013, Lambrusco di Sorbara Secco, Italy. 11% alc. 100% lambrusco di Sorbara grapes. Bright medium ruby-red cherry hue; definitely and pleasantly effervescent; raspberries, red and black currants; slightly earthy with heather and boxwood; swashbuckling acidity keeps the whole dark, savory package lively and quenching, while a hint of tannin lends body; appealing supple texture balances a touch of dry austerity on the finish. Classic with rabbit pasta, terrines, duck. Very Good+. About $ .
Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Contadi Castaldi Brut Rosé 2008, Franciacorta, Lombardy. 15.5% alc. 80% pinot noir, 20% chardonnay. Pale salmon/onion skin hue; quite effervescent; fresh raspberries and strawberries with hints of rose petals and lilac; freshly baked bread, cloves, anise, orange zest; elegant and ethereal; limestone and almond skin on the finish; lovely texture and structure. Very Good+. About $21
Imported by TMT USA, San Antonio, Texas. Image from altissimocento.net.
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Emma 2013, Vin de France. 9% alc. A blend of gamay and grolleau gris grapes, produced by Domaine de la Coche. The Vin de France classification was created in 2009 and allows winemakers to blend grapes and wines from across France, not just those dictated by their appellation. Domaine de la Coche is an organic estate located in the Pays de Retz that lies south of the Loire estuary and north of the Breton marshlands. Bright purple-magenta hue; gently effervescent, just tickles your nose; rose petals and violets, blueberries and raspberries, surprisingly earthy; detectably sweet initially but segues to dry from mid-palate back; a little dusty and raspy but mainly delightful. Very Good+. About $24, an online purchase.
Imported by Fruit of the Vine, Long Island City, N.Y. I think that Emma needs a label makeover.
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Evolution Sparkling Wine nv, America. Produced by Sokol Blosser Winery. 12.5% alc. A proprietary blend of semillon, riesling, muller thurgau, pinot gris, gewurztraminer, muscat, chardonnay. Sokol Blosser, founded in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1971, delivered a real hit with its non-vintage Evolution White, now in its 18th “edition.” This sparkling wine, now debuting and made from the same grape varieties in Washington state, seemed like a natural development. It’s essentially a Prosecco-like sparkling wine made in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. Pale gold color; a tidy splurge of tiny bubbles; apples and lemons, a lot of flowers from the muscat and gewurztraminer, it seems, as well as a hint of muscat funkiness; detectably sweet on the entry but slides toward dryness on the finish; fortunately clean acidity and a hint of limestone keep it honest. Very Good. About $22.
Image from urbanblisslife.com.
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Jacquard Brut Rosé nv, Champagne. 12.5% alc. 53% pinot noir, 35% chardonnay, 12% pinot meunier. Enchanting pale copper-salmon color; a tempest of tiny swirling bubbles; wild strawberries and cherries with a hint of red currants, touches of peach and orange zest; biscuits and cinnamon toast; quince and crystallized ginger; delicate, elegant, an ethereal construct buoyed by crisp acidity and a scintillating limestone quality; a finish half chiseled/half softly appealing. Really lovely. Excellent. About $55.
JAD Imports, Manhasset, N.Y.
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Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec 2010, North Coast. 13.5% alc. 88% flora grapes, 11% chardonnay, 1% pinot noir. 96% Napa County, 2.5% Mendocino, 1.5% Sonoma, 1% Marin. The flora grape is a cross of semillon and gewurztraminer developed of UC-Davis. Very pale gold hue; a gentle tug of finely-wrought bubbles; lemon balm, spiced pear and a touch of peach; jasmine and camellia; not so much sweet as ripe, soft and cloud-like; the floral and slightly nutty elements burgeon as the limestone character digs deeper, creating attractive tension even as the wine feels integrated and harmonious. Drink with the most simple desserts, nothing flamboyant; a sugar cookie or biscotti, a fruit tart, light cakes. Excellent. About $39.
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I was jesting a few days ago when I posted my “50 Great Wines of 2014” and urged people to get their shopping lists ready. Obviously not many consumers are going to make note of a hundred-dollar cabernet sauvignon or a strictly limited, hard to find grenache gris. Here, though, is the roster that you’ve been waiting for, the “25 Great Wine Bargains of 2014,” a list of fairly widely available, well-made wines that will not but a strain on your budget. You will notice that a wine doesn’t have to be expensive to earn an Excellent rating. Seventeen of these products, priced from $10 to $20 have Excellent ratings; the rest are Very Good+. Not a one would you regret buying, some of them by the case. Now that fact that a number of these wines are from 2011 and 2012 means that they probably ought to be consumed quickly, especially the white wines and rosés; most of the reds can go for a year or two. The point is that these are terrific over-achieving wines that offer more personality and complexity than their prices might imply. The order is descending cost. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review. This post is the seventh of 2015 on BTYH.
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Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $20.
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Joseph Cattin “Brut Cattin” Crémant d’Alsace, France. Variable blend of pinot blanc, pinot gris, riesling and chardonnay. Excellent. About $19.
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Nieto Senetier Nicanor Blend 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 34 percent cabernet sauvignon, 33 percent malbec, 33 percent merlot. Excellent. About $19.
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Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry, nv, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain. Excellent. About $18.
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McCay Cellars Rosé 2013, Lodi. Old vine carignane with some grenache. Production was 253 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand. Excellent. About $18.
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Jean Ginglinger Cuvée George Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $17.
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Livon Pinot Grigio 2013, Collio, Italy. Excellent. About $17.
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J Pinot Gris 2013, California. Excellent. About $16.
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Prazo de Roriz 2010, Douro, Portugal. Tinta barroca 37%, “old vines” 18%, touriga nacional 16%, touriga franca 15%, tinta amarela 7%, tinta cao 7%. Excellent. About $16.
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Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2012, Dolomiti, Italy. Excellent. About $15.
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CVNE Monopole 2013, Rioja Blanco, Spain. 100 percent viura grapes. Very Good+ verging on Excellent. About $15.
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Fratelli Chianti 2011, Toscana, Italy. 100% sangiovese. Very Good+. About $15.
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Domaine Les Aphillanthes Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône, France. Cinsault, grenache, counoise, mourvèdre. Excellent. About $14.
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Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2011, Western Cape, South Africa. Excellent. About $14.
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Dry Creek Fumé Blanc 2013, Sonoma County. Very Good+. About $14.
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Palacios de Bornos Verdejo 2013, Rueda, Spain. 100 percent verdejo grapes. Excellent. About $14.
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Stemmari Dalila 2012, Bianco Terre Siciliane, Italy. 80 percent grillo grapes, 20 percent viognier, Excellent. About $14.
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Wolfberger Pinot Blanc 2013, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $14.
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Aia Vecchia Vermentino 2013, Toscana, Italy. With 5 percent viognier grapes. Very Good+. About $12.
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Pedroncelli Signature Selection Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $12.
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Li Veli Passamante 2012, Salice Salentino, Italy. 100% negroamaro grapes. Very Good+. About $12.
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Trim Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, California. With 15 percent merlot, 3 percent malbec. Very Good+. About $11.
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Mandolin Chardonnay 2012, Monterey County. Very Good+. About $10.
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Tres Ojos Garnacha 2011, Calatayud, Spain. 85 percent grenache, 7 percent each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo, 1 percent syrah. Very Good+. About $10.
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Unbate your breath, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” entry, this edition for 2014. I posted to BiggerThanYourHead 135 times in 2014 and reviewed 582 wines. These 50 Great Wines represent 8.6 percent of the wines I reviewed last year. How do I choose the 50 wines for this honor? First, any wine that I rated Exceptional automatically gets a berth in the roster. After that, the selection process involves going back over every post, looking at the reviews of the wines that received an Excellent rating, reading the notes again and looking for the words or phrases signifying that I felt a wine was exciting, provocative, intriguing, highly individual. You can be sure that this list probably isn’t definitive; how could such a selection of wines be? I cut from the field many wines that could easily have been included, but the limit is 50 and they had to be sacrificed. Even as I clicked on the “Publish” button on WordPress I thought, “Oh no, how could I leave out ……?”

Going through these wines, many of My Readers may cry “Foul!” because some of them were produced in severely limited quantities, but that’s often the case with great wines. Think of the situation as a challenge wherein you face a sort of scavenger hunt in tracking such wines down. Some of these wines were made by well-known winemakers for prominent wineries or estates; others are far more obscure, but I enjoy bringing attention to young, small, family-owned and -operated properties that otherwise might not receive the exposure they deserve. The usual suspect grapes are included, of course — chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir — but you will also find on this list proponents of trousseau gris and grenache gris, carignane and cinsault, crafted by brave pioneers of the unusual, even rare grapes. With one exception — the Dolce 2005 — these products are the current releases from their wineries, or close to it. I think all of them were samples for review or were tasted at the property. I hope this list of 50 Great Wines inspires you to look for the ones that capture your interest and to try wines you never encountered before. Prices, by the way, range from about $22 to $120. Coming in a few days will be my annual list of 25 Great Bargain Wines $20 and Under.
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Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma Valley. With 7 percent petit verdot. 1,475 cases. Exceptional. About $70.
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Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Elevation 950 Feet Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $75.
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Animo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. With 17 percent petit verdot. From Michael Mondavi. Excellent. About $85.
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d’Arenberg The Other Side Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 96-year-old vines. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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d’Arenberg Tyche’s Mustard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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Battenfeld Spanier Mölsheim Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen, Germany. Exceptional. About $23.
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Blair Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 481 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 55% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 19% picpoul. 1,965 cases. Exceptional. About $28.
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Bonny Doon Cuvée R Grenache 2012, Monterey County. 593 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $28.
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Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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Cenyth 2009, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 47% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 8% petit verdot, 7% malbec. The debut release from this collaboration between Julia Jackson, daughter of the late Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke, and Helene Seillan, daughter of Pierre Seillan, winemaker of Verité. Exceptional. About $60.
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Chêne Bleu Aliot 2010, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, France. 65 percent roussanne, 30 percent grenache blanc, 5 percent marsanne and some smidgeon of viognier. Exceptional. About $85.
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Clos Saron Out of the Blue, 2013, Sierra Foothills. 90 percent cinsault, 5 percent syrah, 5 percent graciano. (The cinsault vines planted in 1885.) 170 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 10% merlot. 470 cases. Exceptional. About $80.
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Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. 361 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Dolce 2005, Napa Valley. 90 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc. A majestic dessert wine. Exceptional. About $85 for a half-bottle.
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Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer 2012, Alto Adige, Italy. Exceptional. About $32.
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The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 261 cases. Exceptional. About $33.
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FEL Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $38.
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Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 200 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Gallegos Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 250 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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Idlewild Grenache Gris 2013, Mendocino County. 230 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Inama Vigneto du Lot 2011, Soave Classico, Italy. Excellent. About $30.
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Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas. Excellent. About $40.
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J. Christopher Wines Lumière Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 756 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. With nine percent malbec. Exceptional. About $90.
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Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
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McCay Cellars Carignane 2011, Lodi, 218 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2010, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. This proprietary wine is a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 18 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot and 4 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $100.
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Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. With 3 percent petit verdot, 1 percent each malbec and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $100.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 230 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 588 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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La Pitchoune Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 279 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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Pittnauer Rosenberg St. Laurent 2010, Burgenland, Austria. Excellent. About $27.
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Quinta do Vallado 20 Years Old Tawny Porto. 83 cases. Exceptional. About $80 for a 500-milliliter bottle..
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Respite Reichel Vineyard Indulgence 2010, Alexander valley, Sonoma County. A proprietary blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent malbec and 13 percent cabernet franc. 77 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2010. Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 429 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,302 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Steven Kent Winery Merrellie Chardonnay 2012, Livermore Valley. 504 cases. Excellent. About $34.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Valley. 266 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 170 cases. Exceptional. About $65.
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Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2009, Sonoma Coast. 123 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris 2012, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley. 25 cases. Exceptional. About $25.
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VML Blanc de Noirs 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.
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Volta Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $60.
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Wakefield St. Andrews Single Vineyard Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Clare Valley, Australia. 250 cases imported. Excellent. About $60.
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Weltner Rödelseer Küchenmeister Trocken Sylvaner 2012, Franken, Germany. Excellent. About $27.
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We conclude the Twelve Days of Christmas quietly, with three examples of New World champagne method sparkling wine, one from the North Fork of Long Island, the other pair from Napa Valley’s Carneros region. My aim in this series, now in the final entry of its eighth edition, is to present an eclectic roster of the world’s sparkling wines, as well as a selection of Champagnes from that hallowed region in France, during the Yuletide season when most of the sparkling wine and Champagne is consumed. Had I my druthers, I would drink these products every day, but the market, consumer sensibilities and my wallet dictate otherwise. I hope that My Readers enjoyed this latest foray into the range of the festive and obligatory beverage and will anticipate a similar exploration next December. These sparkling wines were samples for review.
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I was happy to receive a sample of the Lieb Cellars Blanc de Blancs 2010, North Fork of Long Island, because I seldom — I mean never — get wines from New York state. This appealing sparkling wine is composed of 100 percent pinot blanc grapes. The color is mild gold, and the bubbles stream to the surface in a gentle but persistent fountain; apples and spiced pears, jasmine, ginger and quince are married with delicate shading to a soft effusion of limestone and flint minerality that lends support but not austerity. In essence, a very pretty and tasty sparkling wine. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was $35. Very good+. About $35.
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The Frank Family Wines Blanc de Blancs 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, is a blend of 80 percent chardonnay and 20 percent pinot noir. The color is pale gold, and the tiny bubbles foam upward in a frothing swirl. This is a ravishingly elegant sparkling wine, all steel and limestone, orange blossom and lime peel, with back-notes of almond skin, grapefruit and (faintly) fresh biscuits with honey. Gradually, like a seeping tide, the mineral elements dominate, so the finish feels chiseled and faceted, distinguished and a little aloof. Make no mistake, though, this is an eminently compelling blanc de blancs, counting all the detail and dimension. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 381 cases. Winemaker was Todd Graff. Excellent. About $45.
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The Frank Family Wines Brut Rosé 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, a blend of 79 percent pinot noir and 21 percent chardonnay, offers a pale onion skin hue, like rose-gold, and floods and torrents of exuberant bubbles; it’s sleek and steely and slightly floral, with hints of jasmine, dried strawberries and raspberries, cloves and pomegranate and a hint of tart cranberry that matches well with a stream of potent acidity. Heaps of limestone and flint minerality form a crystalline framework for terrific tension and energy in a sparkling wine of great appeal and tenacity. It’s also downright lovely. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 379 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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The 11th Day of Christmas is the penultimate day, the one before Twelfth Night, which could be called Epiphany Eve, if one were Roman Catholic or Episcopalian, which I am not, and also the next-to-last post in this “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series. It happens to be Sunday, a gloomy, dreary, cheerless day in Memphis, Tennessee, and a day to keep within the comfort of our own houses. I offer, on the 11th Day of Christmas, the Champagne Bruno Paillard Brut Assemblage 2004, a blend of 52 percent pinot noir and 48 percent chardonnay that spent altogether nine years in the bottle and received very little dosage at the end. The color is medium gold, all a-shimmer with a fountain of tiny bubbles; many dimensions of steel and limestone are on display here but etched with notes of toasted almonds, brioche, spiced pear and lightly buttered cinnamon toast, all opening to hints of crystallized ginger, jasmine and (faintly) toffee and an intriguing drop of red currant. These aspects are seamlessly balanced and integrated, while at the end of its 10th year, this Champagne is notably fresh and lively; it’s also savory, scintillating with spice and saline elements and, finally, quite dry, in fact, after a few minutes elapse, formidably dry, signaling that it still needs some time, say from 2016 or ’18 for drinking through 2024 to ’28. Alcohol content is 12 percent. This needs to accompany flavorful but not exceedingly rich appetizers and entrees, especially seafood or veal — or a bowl of popcorn sprinkled with fennel pollen. Excellent. About $80 but seen around the country as low as $65.

Imported by Fine Wines LLC, Melrose Park, Ill. A sample for review.

Audrey and Berry Sterling bought the 300-acre property in Russian River Valley that became Iron Horse Vineyards in 1976. The estate was named after a railroad stop that was sited on the property in the 1890s. Rodney Strong rediscovered it as a vineyard site in 1970, planting the original 55 acres of chardonnay and 55 acres of pinot noir. Joy Sterling, Audrey and Barry Sterling’s daughter — image at right — became CEO of the company in 2006, after 20 years of representing the family’s wines. Winemaker is David Munksgard. While Iron Horse produces still wines, it is best-known for its diverse roster of sparkling wines made in the champagne method. I reviewed two of those sparklers in the 2010/2011 edition of this series — the Brut Rosé and the Blanc de Blancs from 2005 — but recently tasted a pair of the winery’s limited edition efforts.

These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform My Readers by ruling of the Federal Trade Commission. This is the third post to this blog of 2015.
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The Iron Horse Winter’s Cuvée 2010, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, is a blend of 74 percent pinot noir and 26 percent chardonnay. An interesting aspect is that the final dosage includes a touch of Audrey Sterling’s Pinot Noir Brandy from 1987. The color is very pale straw-gold; a terrific storm of tiny glancing bubbles fills the glass. This sparkling wine opens with winsome though slightly chilly elements of acacia and jasmine, apple and pear and bare hints of guava, ginger and quince; there’s an intriguing, almost otherworldly note of pine and juniper. It’s indeed a wintry sparkling wine, deeply etched with bright acidity, glacial in its chiseled limestone minerality and displaying tremendous resonance and vibrancy. All these aspects are deftly balanced and integrated into an eminently attractive, yet delicately demanding, package. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 250 cases, available to the winery’s club members and through the tasting room, including online. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $58.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The point of the Iron Horse Brut “X” 2010, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, is that it receives no dosage, so it’s presumably bone-dry. Of course sparkling wines and Champagnes typically exhibit such roaring acidity that even with some residual sugar they feel dry anyway. So, what do we expect from this blend of 69 percent pinot noir and 31 percent chardonnay? First, the color is very pale gold, a kind of platinum blond; as with its stablemate mentioned above, the bubbles surge in an upward torrent to the surface. This is very clean, crisp and lithe, quite elegant and fine-boned; a kind of lemony-gingery haze wraps a smoky, steely core, decorated with nuances of almond skin, lime peel, spiced pear and grapefruit rind. Almost needless to say, this is a sparkling wine of tensile power, scintillating limestone and flint minerality and exhilarating drive. It’s the quaff you knock back before tossing your glass off the snowy peak. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $50.
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Every New Year’s Eve, LL and I indulge in 1.75 ounces of Royal Ossetra caviar from Petrossian and a bottle of fine Champagne. The necessity in this scheme in that the Champagne be very dry and filled with scintillating mineral character, to balance the richness and brininess of the tiny brownish-black sturgeon eggs. Two nights ago, for the occasion, I opened a bottle of Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut, a non-vintage blend of 55 percent chardonnay and 45 percent pinot noir. In Champagne, the terms “Ultra Brut” or “Brut Zero” mean that the product did not have an addition of sugar syrup — the “dosage” — after the second fermentation in the bottle, the typical practice that helps alleviate the profound effect of Champagne’s high acidity. The history of Champagne, much like the history of the Martini cocktail, is one from sweetness to increasing dryness; indeed, most of the Champagne consumed in the 19th Century was markedly sweeter than our palates now would tolerate. Laurent-Perrier, established in 1812, introduced a no-dosage Champagne in the late 1890s; the concept was re-integrated into the house line-up in 1981.

The Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut displays a medium straw-gold color and an engaging and energetic stream of glistening bubbles. The first impression is of all phases of the lemon realm: that is, lemon balm, lemon curd and lemon zest, woven with notes of baked apple and spiced pear and hints of fresh biscuits and quince, hay, sea-salt and crystallized ginger, all poised against a background of damp limestone. Yes, this is a very dry Champagne, notable for its piercing acidity and penetrating limestone qualities, yet it also offers the warmth of dried woody spices, as well as touches of almond skin and candied grapefruit rind. It’s decisive enough to stand up to caviar, to freshly-shucked oysters and perhaps a filet of salmon, grilled medium rare and simply dressed with olive oil and lime juice, salt and pepper. Cellar-master at Laurent-Perrier is Michel Fauconnet. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $75, but prices nationally veer all over the map.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier US, Sausalito, Calif. A sample for review.

… a day for quiet reflection, hangover recovery and preparing the annual dish of blackeyed peas, hog jowl and greens, which I will get to in a few minutes. First, though, the Champagne of the Day, the Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut Rosé. Champagne Besserat de Bellefon was founded in 1843 by Edmond Besserat. Then, it was simply Besserat; the name of the house was completed in 1927, when Besserat’s grandson, also named Edmond, married the nobly-dubbed Yvonne de Meric de Bellefon. Headquartered in Epernay, the house produces about 40,000 cases annually. It is now owned by Lanson-BCC group, headed by Bruno Paillard.

Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut Rosé is a multi-vintage blend of 40 percent pinot meunier grapes, 30 percent pinot noir and 30 percent chardonnay. A light copper-salmon pink color looks like the slightly tarnished old rose-gold hue of your grandmother’s wedding ring; bubbles are bountiful and exuberant. Notes of orange zest, cloves, red currants and dried raspberries are imbued with hints of almond skin, acacia, lime peel and a sort of powdered flint aura; this Champagne offers lovely weight and heft, with deftly expressed delicacy and ethereal aspects, though powered by lip-smacking acidity and incisive limestone elements. The texture is lively, lithe and supple, and the whole package exudes tremendous verve and elan. It’s exhilarating, refreshing, ineffable, but displays a serious core of crystalline minerality. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. This was a local purchase, about $63; prices around the country range from $50 to $70.

Imported by Winesellers Ltd., Niles Ill.

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