Chardonnay


Rush out immediately and buy a case of this charming bargain-priced quaffer. Côté Est 2011 hails from Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, which nestles right up against the border of France and Spain where Catalonia (Cataluña) begins, the similar names testifying to an ancient unity of culture that national boundaries and modern times have not entirely erased. Made completely in stainless steel by Jean-Marc Lafage, Côté Est 2011 is an agreeable blend of 50 percent grenache blanc, 30 percent chardonnay and 20 percent marsanne. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of jasmine, pear and pea shoot are woven with lemon and lime peel and the bracing triumvirate of gunflint, limestone and grapefruit. The wine is delicate but not fragile and imbued with flavors of lightly spiced lemon, lemon balm and orange zest wrapped in bright acidity, the whole package being somewhat spare, slightly grassy and a little astringent; nothing showy here, just immensely tasty and appealing. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $12, a Ridiculously Attractive Value.

We served this wine as the white selection at a party Friday night, and people kept coming back for another glass.

An Eric Solomon European Cellars Selection, Charlotte, N.C.

Here I am on chardonnay from California again. I like some of these wines very much, enough to pass out a few Excellent and Exceptional ratings. Some, however, the ones over-oaked and malolactic-ed to a fare-thee-well get Not Recommended ratings. And I ask the question I have posed so often in the past: Why would anyone make such undrinkable chardonnay? Anyway, the point of the Weekend Wine Sips, even for the wines I loathe, I mean, the wines I don’t recommend, is concision and quick insight, therefore I do not include much in the way of technical, historical or geographical info. What you read is what you get. These chardonnays, as the title of this post states, are from vintages 2011, ’10 and ’09 and hail from Sonoma and Monterey counties, Napa Valley and Carneros. These examples were samples for review.
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La Crema Chardonnay 2010, Monterey. 13.9% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) Pale gold color; candied pineapple and grapefruit, cloves, allspice, lemon balm and lime peel, roasted almonds, penetrating gunflint and limestone minerality; ripe and rich, very spicy; dense texture, almost viscous; quite dry, growing austerity through the finish; feels unbalanced, the parts don’t mesh. Good only. About $18.
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La Crema Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) Pale gold color; huge oak influence, very spicy, very creamy — you feel that “malo” — ; way too ripe and tropical; candied and roasted citrus and mango; exotic spice; lots of smoke; cloying and unpalatable to this palate; how can people choose to make chardonnay in such an impure fashion? And yet the pinot noirs from this winery are pure, intense and beautiful. Not recommended. About $30.
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La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Robert’s Road Block Chardonnay 2010. Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Medium gold color with a faint green flush; pineapple and backed apple; ripe and fleshy, a little toasty; roasted lemons and yellow plums, cloves and ginger; very spicy and very dry; brings up a touch of butter and caramel; supple, dense and viscous; heaps of limestone minerality. Pushes the limits but still beautifully balanced. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
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La Follette Lorenzo Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.3% alc. Highly individual, almost exotic in spiciness; you feel the oak as an intrusive agent that dries the palate; almost tannic in character; pineapple and grapefruit, touch of banana; very dry and the spice gets pretty strident; curious and off-putting combination of fruit candy, creamy desserts and spicy, woody oak. Not recommended. About $38.
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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 502 cases. How beautiful. Medium straw-gold color; fresh, clean, crystalline, restrained and elegant yet displaying inner richness and depth; lively and spicy, quince and ginger, pineapple and grapefruit, roasted lemon; you scarcely perceive the oak except for a tinge of burnished slightly dusty wood on the finish; unfurls a hint of camellia and lilac; a powerful limestone mineral element that expands through the wine’s generous spirit. Exquisite balance and harmony and resonance. Now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $35.
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Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.1% alc. 400 cases. Certified organic. Wonderful clarity, purity and intensity; jasmine and lilac, roasted lemon, spiced pear, lemon balm and verbena; backnotes of cloves and flint; bountiful presence and tone yet firm in structure and texture, almost robust and savory; blazing acidity, very dry, finish packed with spice, flint and limestone. Incredible authority yet fleet, light on its feet, elegant. Best from 2014 through 2020. Exceptional. About $45.
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Gary Farrell “RR Selection” Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; boldly ripe and spicy, classic grapefruit and pineapple scents and flavors tinged with mango and slightly over-ripe peach; a bright and golden chardonnay, a little earthy; very lively and spicy, cloves, touch of brown sugar; dense, almost chewy texture; you feel the tug and sway of oak in the background. Very Good+. About $32.
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Boekenoogan Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.3% alc. A gorgeous character-filled chardonnay, deep and broad and generous; boldly rich and spicy pineapple-grapefruit flavors permeated by limestone minerality of the most demanding nature; seductive, almost talc-like texture emboldened by clean, bright acidity; the fruit currently subdued by the structural elements, though the oak influence feels supple, close to subliminal. Drink now, sure, but this is a 10 to 15-year chardonnay. Exceptional. About $35.
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Signorello Estate Hope’s Cuvee Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. Medium gold color; not my preference at all in chardonnay: very spicy, very ripe, lots of oak; caramel, brown sugar, burnt match; caramelized pineapple and candied grapefruit; exaggerated, strident. I hear rumors that people exist who enjoy this sort of chardonnay; not me, brother. Not recommended. About $70.
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Donum Estate Chardonnay 2010, Carneros. 13.5% alc. Bright medium gold color; cloves and sandalwood, pineapple and grapefruit, ripe peach and pear; quite ripe, a little funky and earthy but with a real edge of limestone minerality and spicy oak; a chardonnay that feels vast and close to tannic, though oak stays in the background and burgeons only from mid-palate back through the finish. Definitely an individual styling for the grape yet it has attractions for the brave. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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Stemmler Estate Chardonnay 2011, Carneros. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; boy, this is woody and harshly spicy; yes, the necessary lip-smacking acidity and a scintillating limestone element, but so burdened by oak and a sharp smoky candied burnt sugar-cloves-roasted grapefruit edge and a texture that’s dauntlessly dry yet viscous at the same time; unresolved, unbalanced. Not recommended. About $24.
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Jordan Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely, taut, vigorous; roasted lemon and lemon curd, lime peel, orange blossom and a hint of toasted almonds; quite dry, limned with chalk and limestone, clean, fresh pineapple-grapefruit flavors touched with buttered toast, a hint of cloves, a squeeze of green apple; very Chablis-like for Sonoma. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.
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A local wine store offered some products on sale, two of which piqued my interest. These were the Domaine A. et P. de Villaine Bouzeron 2009 and the Frédéric Magnien Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2009. The first was about $17, marked down from $30; the second was about $30, marked down from $50. I couldn’t resist. Technically, each wine is classified as Burgundy, though neither derives from vineyards in the Côte d’Or, what we may call Burgundy proper. Bouzeron is a village in the Côte Chalonnaise which has had its own appellation since 1997, only for wines made from the aligoté grape. Côte Chalonnaise, named for the city of Chalon-sur-Saône, lies just below the Burgundian region of Santenay, at the southeastern-most tail of the Côte d’Or. Chablis, on the other hand, is not connected geographically with Burgundy and in fact stands almost equidistant between Dijon and Paris. The connection is that its wines are made from the chardonnay grape, as are the great white wines of Burgundy’s Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet appellations.
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Audibert de Villaine, a man whose very quietness and self-affacement exude a kind of unimpeachable authority, is not only the owner, with his wife Pamela, of Domaine A. et P. de Villaine but the co-proprietor and manager of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, an estate based in Vosne-Romanée that produces only Grand Cru wines and is generally regarded as not only the most prestigious producer in Burgundy but among the best in the world. The contrast between the domaines could not be more pronounced in terms of the wines they make, yet de Villaine operates each with integrity and acumen. Domaine A. et P. de Villaine has been certified organic since 1986. Beside the Bouzeron, the domaine produces Mercurey les Montots, Rully les Saint-Jacques and several different Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise wines. Minimal new oak is employed, with the domaine depending on used barriques, large foudres and stainless steel. The Bouzeron is aged about 20 percent in barriques. The domaine uses not the aligoté vert grape but its cousin, the more aromatic and flavorful aligoté doré.

The A. et P. de Villaine Bouzeron 2009 offers a brilliant medium gold color and shy aromas of roasted lemons and yellows plums with hints of limestone and chalk and dried thyme, all sketched with delicacy and a slight feeling of attenuation, a papery quality. As the wine warmed gently in the glass, it brought up a modicum of spice and floral elements — ghosts of cloves and jasmine — and also expanded its grip on limestone and flint minerality, so that in a few moments, I felt as if I were sipping pure minerals, a factor that contributed scintillating austerity from mid-palate back through the finish. The texture is lithe and lively but not dynamic, and I could not shake the feeling that the wine was several shades diminished from what it would have been in, say, 2011. Still, an enjoyable and instructive experience and not a bad accompaniment to fish tacos. 12.5 percent alcohol. If any readers have this wine on hand, I would say, Drink up, certainly by the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $17, on sale.

Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Ca.
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LL and I seldom finish a bottle of wine at dinner these days; the two-bottle-night era is some 20 years in the past. Last night, however, we gulped down with glee and gratitude the last drops of the Frédéric Magnien Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2009. Have mercy, what a wine! And what a great match with LL’s sea-bass baked in a package with asparagus, lemon and oregano.

Frédéric Magnien founded his negociant house in 1995, but he still makes the wines for his father’s Domaine Michel Magnien. The father owns slices of Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards; the son purchases grapes on long-term contract from growers he trusts, some of whom he directly oversees in the vineyard. It’s not uncommon for negociants in Burgundy — Frédéric Magnien is based in Morey-Saint-Denis — to extend their sway to Chablis, as happens also, for example, with Joseph Drouhin and Louis Jadot. At almost four years old, the Frédéric Magnien Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2009 is fresh as a daisy, charming and vibrant and elegant, packed with the trademark Chablis characteristics of gunflint, sauteed mushrooms, nervy acidity and a tremendous limestone-shale element that permeates every iota without dominating the wine. The bouquet delivers hints of quince and ginger, camellia and a tantalizing trace of lilac and a mysterious whiff of cloves and lemongrass; in the mouth, this Vaillons Premier Cru is lean and supple, vividly etched, yet with a generosity of texture and structure that’s downright seductive, all of these aspects combined in an energetic form that keeps you coming back to the glass; lyrical, yes, but with a staccato edge. Just lovely purity, intensity and excitement and made to age another five or six years. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30 on sale.

North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Ca.
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This post of Weekend Wine Sips isn’t exactly a Mother’s Day edition, but I did receive a press release about wines for Mom from a Major Wine Publication that listed only sauvignon blancs (as if mothers drink only that grape variety), so in this roster of white wines for spring and summer I omit sauvignon blanc entirely. Each of these wines is 100 percent varietal; each is from a different region or country; each is made in stainless steel or receives minimal oak treatment including no new oak. (Actually I think that criterion applies to only one of these.) As usual, I eschew detailed technical, geographical and historical information in these brief Weekend Wine Sips reviews the better to whet your curiosity and thirst with incisiveness and immediacy. Prices here range from about $11 to $25; each wine marks a good value wherever it falls within that range. The motivation is delight, freshness, elegance, balance and appeal. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Plantagenet Omrah Unoaked Chardonnay 2011, Great Southern, Western Australia. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; a really pretty chardonnay — lemon, lime, lime peel and grapefruit; smoke and a hint of mango, touch of jasmine — but crisp acidity, oyster-shell and limestone all the way through the finish; dry with a bit of austerity. Very Good+. About $15.
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Protea Chenin Blanc 2012, Wine of Coastal Region, South Africa. 13% alc. Pale straw color; beguiling aromas of hay, thyme and tarragon, pears and yellow plums; lovely satiny texture but bristly and prickly, fleet acidity and heaps of limestone and chalk, dry, crisp, refreshing and appealing. Very Good+. About $18.
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Principessa Gavia Gavi 2012, Piedmont, Italy. 12% alc. Pale straw color with a hint of green; sweetly expressive bouquet: pears and greengage, cloves and thyme, hints of leafy fig and sea-salt, jasmine and lemon balm; squinching acidity, lustrous elements of chalk and limestone and flint; deftly balanced between bone-dry and almost winsomely attractive floral and citrus qualities. Very Good+. About $14.
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Grooner Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria. (Produced by Weingut Meinhard Forstreitter) 12% alc. Very pale straw-gold; melon and pears with hints of lemon, lime peel and grapefruit, touch of green pea and thyme; pert, tart, taut and sassy; hint of grapefruit bitterness on the limestone-laced finish. Delightful. Very Good. About $11.
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St. Supéry Estate Moscato 2012, Napa Valley, California. 10.5% alc. Very very pale gold color; apple and apple blossom, pear and peach, hint of lime peel and orange zest; soft, almost cloud-like texture but crisp acidity cuts a swath to the limestone-inflected finish; ripe and sweet on entry, but the acid and mineral elements tone down the sweetness to a sort of blanched dryness, so the finish comes out clean and elegant, delicate and balanced; stands out in the sea of vapid moscato presently engulfing the country; begs for dessert of fresh berries. Excellent. About $25.
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Brooks Runaway White Pinot Blanc 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 11.3% alc. Pale pale straw-gold color; pure lemon with a lime peel twist, hints of jasmine and slightly over-ripe peaches and an elusive scent of lavender; a little earthy and smoky; scintillating acidity and limestone-flint minerality, lots of energy and vitality and a sense of flaking schist and flint; very dry, all stones and bones from mid-palate back; marked spareness and austerity in the vigorous finish. An argument for planting more pinot gris in the appropriate areas and treating it right. 244 cases. Excellent. About $15.
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Villa Wolf Pinot Gris 2011, Pfalz, Germany. 12.5% alc. (Produced by Dr. Loosen) Medium gold-straw color; roasted lemon and lemon balm, quince and ginger, hints of cloves and smoke, slightly earthy; highly animated acidity and spicy qualities fuel this wines liveliness, while a silken texture and underlying limestone elements give it pleasing heft. Delicious. Very Good+. About $14.
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Greywacke Riesling 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand. 12% alc. Brilliant pale gold color; lychee and a touch of petrol, roasted lemon, spiced pear and honeysuckle, hint of lilac face powder; very dry, lean and clean, irresistible texture combining brisk acidity with lovely soft ripeness that does not preclude the glacial authority of crystalline limestone minerality. Excellent. About $25.
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We don’t frequently purchase products of the vine with a social or cultural program in mind, and when the rare opportunity comes along, it’s usually in the field of the environment. Steelhead Vineyards, for example, donates 1 percent of sales to environmental projects through 1% for the Planet, the non-profit organization based in Waitsfield, Vermont, that coordinates contributions to environmental groups from more than 1,000 business and corporate members. Buy a bottle of Steelhead’s sauvignon blanc or pinot noir wines, and you know that in some small measure you’ll helping the global ecology.

A recently released sparkling wine, Égalité Crémant de Bourgogne Brut , takes such a concept into actual social and cultural realms by focusing on LGBTQ issues, including the struggle for same-sex marriage laws. The initials (for the uninitiated) stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and before the retrograde among My Readers make the obvious joke about redundancy, “Queer” in this compound designates individuals who take a radical approach to any sexual or gender identification or, on a simpler and opposite level, those who “question” their sexual or gender identity. The creator of Égalité Crémant de Bourgogne Brut — Biagio Cru — in honor of the sparkler’s launch, donated close to $7,000 to various LGBTQ organizations; in addition, an unspecified portion of the sales of Égalité will be donated to such groups. On the product’s Facebook page, you may vote for the groups to which the organization donates

Allow me here to quote from the press release I received: The Égalité concept is a product of exhaustive research by Biagio Cru, as well as input from the gay community. In conjunction with Biagio Cru, its name and label were developed through a focus group that brought together gay and straight participants with diverse backgrounds, including leaders in the fight for same-sex marriage. Perhaps the committee-approach accounts for the feel-good generic quality of the label, looking like a thousand Valentine cards, but what counts is the product in the bottle, n’est-ce pas?

Égalité Crémant de Bourgogne Brut offers a pale gold color with a darker gold center; tiny golden bubbles foam upward in constant flurry. A blend of 45 percent pinot noir, 30 percent chardonnay, 20 percent gamay and 5 percent aligoté, this Crémant de Bourgogne is more substantial than most models; it’s toasty and nutty, with notes of roasted lemon and lemon drop, quince and crystallized ginger and hints of cloves and caramel. As the minutes pass, touches of glazed pears, tobacco, cinnamon toast and acacia emerge, while the texture, highlighted by zinging acidity, broadens with elements of limestone and chalk. It would be nice if the wine offered more in the way of refreshing delicacy and elegance, but that’s a stylistic choice; this is for those who prefer a sparkling wine with a more weighty, smoky mature-feeling. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.

Imported by Biagio Cru and Estate Wines — and don’t you know Diageo Chateau and Estate Wines loves that — Roslyn Heights, N.Y. A sample for review.

Perhaps we toss around too lightly the adjective “legendary” but surely a winemaker and producer deserving that epithet is David Ramey, a man who brought acclaim to such wineries as Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate and Rudd Estate. Though he continues to consult for various properties in California, he concentrates on his David Ramey Wine Cellars (owned with wife Carla), where he produces a range of chardonnays and cabernet sauvignon-based wines and a couple of syrahs. Today, we look at six chardonnays from 2010. These occur in groups, the Appellation Series that originates in regional areas — Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley — and the Vineyard Designate Series of wines bottled from single vineyard sites or blocks selected from within a single vineyard. All the sites are cool-climate, with low soil vigor so the vines have to work for nutrition. The Appellation chardonnays receive less new oak exposure and less time in barrel than the Vineyard series chardonnays, but in none of these did I detect any taint of over-oaking or woodiness; in fact, all these wines are notable for balance and harmony. In a subsequent post, I’ll look at six of David Ramey’s red wines. These were samples for review.
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Ramey Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. The grapes for this Appellation Series chardonnay derive from four vineyards: 61 percent Martinelli Charles Ranch; 19 percent Rodgers creek; 15 percent Platt and 5 percent Ritchie. The gold is pale straw-gold; wow, what lovely purity and intensity; aromas of almond brittle, lemon curd and softly ripe peaches open to layers of cloves and limestone and touches of lychee, pineapple and lightly caramelized grapefruit. Nothing aggressive or untoward mars the sleek surface of this chardonnay, its raison d’etre being balance, integration and harmony. It’s quite dry, though burgeoning with spiced citrus and pineapple flavors, and bolstered by bright acidity and a limestone element that grows more prominent through the scintillating finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
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Ramey Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. The vineyard provenance of this chardonnay is very complicated, so I won’t go into that, but whatever the issuance this is a radiant, ripe, intense, pure wine of tremendous tone and presence. Notes of slightly candied pineapple and grapefruit are touched with elements of cloves, ginger and quince and a hint of mango; it’s almost savory, slightly saline, dry, spare, tense, resonant, filled with citrus and stone-fruit flavors animated by brisk acidity and a pertinent limestone-flint quality that arrows through to the suave, elegant finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
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Ramey Platt Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. The color is pale gold. The whole impression is of remarkable intensity and concentration, more typical of a pinot noir, say, than chardonnay; the wine is dense and chewy, permeated by notes of toasted hazelnuts, cloves and allspice, even a touch of sandalwood (with a wild note of lilac), and its rich, ripe fruit scents and flavors — baked pineapple, yellow plum, peach skin, apple skin, grapefruit pith — are round and fully developed. This is not a fruit bomb, however; there’s nothing overtly creamy or tropical. Instead, this chardonnay is bolstered by finely tuned acidity and a limestone-flint element that gains power from mid-palate back through the spice-packed finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 (well-stored). Excellent. About $60.
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Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. A boldly proportioned and beautiful balanced chardonnay with an exquisite side. The color is a shimmery pale straw-gold; aromas of roasted lemon and lemon curd, with a hint of pear and lemon balm, are permeated by notes of cloves and crystallized ginger and slightly caramelized pineapple. This is a sleek, suave and supple chardonnay whose lithe acidity and deep bastions of limestone make no concession to prettiness, yet the overall package delivers a sense of elegance and ultimate spareness; it’s slightly creamy and moderately lush, with touches of lemon drop and toasted hazelnuts. As is the case with all great wines, the Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 represents the resolution in harmonious accord of paradoxical elements. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020 (well-stored). Exceptional. About $60.
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Ramey Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley Carneros. Here’s a many-splendored chardonnay that, like its Platt Vineyard cousin, offers the heft and substance of a red wine while retaining the fleetness and vitality that a white wine should display. Because of the site, it delivers more tropical fruit — mango, passion fruit — than the other chardonnays under review here (and is also a bit more bosomy), but it doesn’t push over the edge of opulence, staying firmly in balance with keen acidity and a bright, clean limestone quality. The bouquet is broadly floral and spicy and partakes of notes of lemon zest and tangerine, apricot and pear; on the palate it’s savory, a touch saline — think sea-breeze and salt-marsh — and deeply imbued with elements of damp limestone and shale. Brilliant winemaking. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2019 to ’22 (well-stored). Exceptional. About $60.
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Ramey Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley Carneros. From a vineyard 2.75 miles west of the Hyde Vineyard and set on more rolling terrain, this chardonnay exhibits chiseled chalk and limestone minerality and deftly etched acidity to bolster and furrow its bold rich flavors and cushiony texture. Tangerine and peach, green apple and a hint of honeysuckle characterize a bouquet that draws you in as it unfurls notes of cloves and quince jam and a hint of bees’ wax. Tremendous presence on the palate is not fatiguing, as is the case with some powerfully rich and substantial chardonnays; rather, the wine is clean, lithe, dynamic, filled with personality. Still, this could use a year or two to integrate completely, say from 2015 or ’16 for drinking, as it beautifully matures, through 2020 to ’24. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $60.
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I stayed one night at Holman Ranch last September, and the serenity and beauty of the place — the stillness, the magnitude of stars in the night sky — cannot be emphasized too much. Deep in the hills of Carmel Valley, inland and south of Monterey Bay, Holman Ranch occupies land bestowed upon the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo — hence, later, Carmel Valley — during the reign of Spain in these lands. After the mission properties were secularized, the area passed through many owners until in 1928, a Spanish-style hacienda was built and the ranch became an outpost or retreat for Hollywood stars and producers. Clarence Holman, of the Holman Department Store family in Pacific Grove, acquired the ranch in the 1940s and with business-like acumen transformed it from a private hideaway to a resort, which was still popular with Hollywood’s elite. Present owners Thomas and Jarman Lowder, who purchased Holman Ranch from Dorothy McEwen in 2006, restored the facility, the original hacienda, the quaint cabins and the grounds to full operation and comfort.

If you Google “Holman Ranch” you’ll see that the property’s raison d’etre focuses on events and meetings but particularly weddings. Indeed, it would be difficult to think of a more spectacular setting for tying the matrimonial knot. For my purposes, however, it’s more important that Holman Ranch produces small quantities of well-made wines (and olive oil), samples of which were recently sent to me. I found the white wines and the rosé to be engaging and highly drinkable, while the two pinot noirs bordered on exquisite. Search though I did in the brochures that accompanied the wines and on the Holman Ranch website, I found no mention of a winemaker; surely credit must be given when it is earned. All these wines are designated “Estate Grown.”
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Holman Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. This sleek sauvignon blanc offers a pale gold color and beguiling aromas of lime peel and grapefruit, roasted lemon, hints of thyme and tarragon and a lift of lemongrass. An element of limestone minerality produces a whiff of gunflint and also, in the mouth, bolsters citrus flavors lightly touched with fig and fresh-mown grass, all tied together with brisk acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. 224 cases. Quite charming, but drink up. Very Good+. About $20.
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Holman Ranch Pinot Gris 2011, Carmel Valley. The color is very pale straw; pure apples and pears pour from the glass, imbued with notes of cloves and lime peel, camellia and jasmine. The wine is quite dry, crisp and zesty, eminently refreshing; citrus and pear flavors are bolstered by a burgeoning limestone and flint element, leading to some austerity through the spicy and slightly steely finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. 323 cases. Very Good+. About $20.
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Holman Ranch Chardonnay 2010, Carmel Valley. This is an elegant and stylish chardonnay, from its pale straw-gold color, to its spare citrus and stone fruit scents and flavors, to its hints of jasmine and honeysuckle and dried herbs; there’s a bright undercurrent of crisp acidity and a distinct influence of limestone minerality. The wine is tasty, well-balanced and integrated but a little delicate (especially for a barrel-fermented chardonnay), so its match will be more delicate hors-d’oeuvre and seafood entrees. 12.5 percent alcohol. 205 cases. Very Good+. About $28.
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Holman Ranch rosé of Pinot Noir 2011, Carmel Valley. Here’s a superior rosé whose brilliant hue of raspberry-tourmaline at least esthetically enhances its aromas of strawberry, watermelon and rose petals; its raspberry-watermelon flavors permeated by hints of pomegranate, cloves and (barely) cinnamon; its appealing touch of dried thyme and limestone minerality; its pert, thirst-quenching acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. 144 cases. Drink through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $22.
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Holman Ranch Pinot Noir 2010, Carmel Valley. The enchanting hue is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of black cherries, mulberries and red plums are infused with notes of sassafras, pomegranate, cloves and a hint of rhubarb. This pinot noir evinces a lovely lightness of being at the same time as it embodies intensity of black and red fruit flavors and an exquisite satiny texture. A few minutes in the glass bring in touches of smoke and graphite; the finish is medium-length, supple and subtle. 12.5 percent alcohol. 500 cases. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $33.
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Holman Ranch Heather’s Hill Pinot Noir 2011, Carmel Valley. The color is radiant medium ruby; the whole aura is warm, ripe and spicy, the display is impeccably balanced. Notes of spiced and macerated red currants, black raspberries and cranberries open to hints of cloves and cola. The wine is earthy, with elements of briers and brambles under flavors of red and black currants and cherries, yet it’s elegant, silky, integrated. After 30 or 40 minutes, you feel increasing dryness as the oak and mild tannins assert themselves, but overall this is beautifully made pinot noir. 14 percent alcohol. 444 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $37.
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A week from today at this time I’ll be on a plane to Houston, whence I fly to San Francisco and then take a short flight to San Luis Obispo, all amounting to a long day of travel so that I can attend, on April 26 and 27, some tasting events and seminars arranged by the Paso Robles CAB Collective, a group of wineries in that appellation that specialize in or at least significantly produce wines made from the cabernet sauvignon grape. DAOU Vineyards and Winery is a member of the group, and as a sort of lead-in to the events at the end of next week, I was able to obtain four sample wines for review produced by DAOU in its Paso Robles Collection of wines; they also make Reserve and Estate Collections. The winery is owned by brothers Georges and Daniel Daou, with the latter serving as winemaker.
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The DAOU Grenache Blanc 2011, Paso Robles, wisely ages only seven months in French oak, and those are one-year-old barrels, so the wood influence is restrained and supple, a sort of subdued haze of blond spice. The color is pale but radiant straw-gold; the wine is frankly gorgeous but without being ostentatious and in fact maintaining a sense of lovely spare elegance. Aromas of pear, apple and peach are bolstered by highlights of ginger and quince and a top-note of jasmine, while the touch of bee’s-wax we expect from grenache blanc is here. Flavors of lightly buttered pear tart are enhanced by hints of roasted lemon and honey, but this is a totally dry wine, lent vivacity by authoritative acidity and limestone-like minerality that only asserts itself, and rather gently, from mid-palate back through the spice-packed finish. 14.1% alc. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. We had it, very successfully, with seared swordfish. Excellent. About $36.
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The color of the DAOU Chardonnay 2011, Paso Robles, is light but bright straw-gold; aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince and cloves feel almost savory, while notes of ginger and white pepper provides liveliness and appeal. This is a chardonnay that takes its substance seriously, offering a texture that’s dense and chewy without being overwhelming; it’s quite dry but juicy with ripe apple and pineapple flavors that take on some austerity from a grapefruit pith-limestone-flint character and a slight drying quality from oak aging — 10 months in French barrels, 50 percent new; a few minutes in the glass bring out Burgundian hints of bacon fat and Parmesan rind. As I said, this is a deep, rich and savory chardonnay that does not cross the line into cloying ripeness and spiciness or a superimposed vanilla/buttery/tropical nature. 14.2 percent alcohol. Well-stored, this should develop nicely through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $42.
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DAOU Celestus 2010, Paso Robles, is a blend of the kind one sees more and more, especially from California and Australia and even Italy; this is 59 percent syrah, 32 percent cabernet sauvignon and 9 percent petit verdot. It’s delicious. The color is an intense dark ruby-purple; pungent scents of crushed red and black currants and cherries (with a hint of plums) are permeated by dust and graphite, cloves and sandalwood and touches of leather and lavender. In the mouth, you intuit the syrah in an undertow of blueberries and briers, while red and black fruit flavors are borne on a tide of vibrant, almost vigilant acidity; velvety tannins; dry, spicy oak; and a fine-grained granitic mineral quality, all of which support the wine with a beautifully-tuned sense of balance and integration. The wine aged 18 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, 50 percent once-used. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’20. Rather improbably, we drank this wine one night with a hearty pizza, and it was great. Excellent. About $46.
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The color of the DAOU Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles, is vibrant opaque ruby-purple from stem to stern; this is a robust, vigorous, dense mouthful of wine, characterized by deep, dry foresty tannins and forceful oak influence from 10 months — not all that long a passage — in French barrels, 60 percent new. On the other hand, exhilarating elements of cedar and tobacco, briery black currants and raspberries, black olive and bacon fat, red licorice and lavender keep the wine attractive, even seductive; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of tar and pomegranate, blueberry tart and a hint of rhubarb, all ensconced in a dense, firm yet pliant structure. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’19. Excellent. About $28.
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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, Three Sticks, Armida, Auteur and others. Ed Durell, a food broker in San Francisco, acquired the land in 1977, intending to raise cattle but planted vines instead, 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, a cofounder of TPG Capital, 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.

Ellie Price replanted 8.5 acres around the old farmhouse in 2005, renaming the area Ranch House Block; those grapes are now devoted to the Dunstan label, named for St. Dunstan (909-998), Abbot of Glastonbury, Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury, canonized in 1029 and patron saint of goldsmiths and silversmiths; because he had worked as a blacksmith and, according to legend, shod the devil, the horseshoe is often his symbol. Dunstan is operated by Ellie Price and her partner Chris Towt (image at right); winemaker is Kenneth Juhasz.

I found these wines (samples for review), a chardonnay and pinot noir from 2010, to be extraordinary examples of the purity and intensity of which each of these grapes is capable. Juhasz doesn’t play around with oak; the regimen is rigorous but not soul-destroying, and after at first being skeptical of the program I was won by the remarkable detail and dimension of each wine, by their confidence and aplomb as well as their ultimately beautiful expressions of a grape variety and a significant place.
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The Dunstan Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast, is Old Wente clone selection, meaning that it was made from vines that derive from cuttings brought from the University of Montpellier in 1912 by Carl Wente, who founded the family estate in Livermore in 1883. This well-known clone spread throughout California and helped fuel the state’s burgeoning production of chardonnay wines in the 1940s and ’50s at such pioneering properties as Stony Hill, Louis M. Martini and Hanzell. The wine is a bright green-gold color with a mild brassy tint; the bouquet is a bountiful and extremely flattering amalgam of papaya and mango, slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, with cloves and nutmeg and hints of lightly buttered brioche, delicately spicy oak — 14 months French oak, 50 percent new barrels — and, at the edges, a discreet tide of limestone. When you take a sip, you realize what a powerhouse this chardonnay is, though one that marries finesse and elegance to dimension and dynamism. Flavors of pears, peaches and pineapples are fully supported by a dense and chewy texture that manages to be supple and expressive, while bright acidity and a plangent limestone element lend a lively character that borders on scintillating. 14.2 percent alcohol. 391 cases. Obviously delectable (and a little formidable) now but built to last, say 2016 to ’18. I’ll go Exceptional. About $40.
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The color of the Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, is radiant medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim. Aromas of sassafras, pomegranate, cloves and cranberry nestle in a broader range of spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants, deepened by intriguing notes of charred violets and ashes of roses. If you can tear yourself away from that rhapsodic panoply, you find a pinot noir that’s quite satiny and graceful yet very dry; like its stablemate, it aged 14 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, and for the first hour or so, I thought that regimen produced a shade too much wood influence in the wine. In the wonderful way that can happen, however, when you give a wine enough time and air, the oak receded by several degrees (remaining firmly in the background structure) and allowed the spareness, elegance and ineffability that I consider essential to great pinot noir to insinuate themselves (and brought in hints of cinnamon and fruitcake). Still, this is surprisingly tannic for a pinot, and a serious wine in its foundational elements of earth, briers, flint and graphite; there’s a lot of subtle power and energy here, but, as I said, that power does not detract from the wine’s ultimate suavity and style. 14.1 percent alcohol. 291 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Again, I have to go with an Exceptional rating. About $50.
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Say, how about a steely, limestone-soaked, oyster-shell-tinged, high-toned little white wine for your delectation? I have just the number you’re looking for. It’s the Chanson Viré-Clessé 2011, a tightly-wound yet paradoxically charming chardonnay from an appellation, created from these two villages in 1998, in the Mâconnais just south of Burgundy proper. The domaine is one of the oldest in Burgundy, dating back to 1750; it has been owned since 1999 by the Family Champagne Group Societé Jacques Bollinger. The color of the Chanson Viré-Clessé 2011 is pale pale straw-gold; aromas of lime peel, lemon and pear are permeated by flint and limestone and a sort of talc-like minerality, by which I mean that gratifying (and symbolic) combination of lilacs and dust. Oh, this is fresh, clean and crisp and crisper, with snappy acidity and the snap of flint and shale that warns of austerity from mid-palate back through the finish. This is not just about structure, however, allowing a winsome floral, fruity and slightly spicy element to emerge, just a hint, you understand, but enough to please before the limestone takes over. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. The spareness of the new label matches the lean and lithe nature of the wine. Very Good+. About $22.

Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill. A sample for review. Image, much modified, from hogsheadwine.

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