Chateauneuf-du-Pape


So, here it is, My Readers, the annual “50 Great Wines” roster, presently for the past year, that is, 2016. Not the “Greatest” of all wines or the “Best” of all wines, but a selection of 50 products that struck me as embodying everything we want in a wine: freshness, balance, appeal; depth, personality and character; an adherence to the nature of the grapes and, where possible, the virtues of the vineyard and climate. These are wines that leave aside the ego of the winemaker and producer for an expression of — not to sound too idealistic — an ideal of what a wine should be. I won’t belabor the process by which I arrived at this list of 50 wines, except to say that every wine I rated “Exceptional” during 2016 is automatically included. Did I leave out wines that I truly admired? Indeed, I did, because this list focuses on wines that I truly loved. Enjoy!
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Acorn Heritage Vines Alegria Vineyard Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 78 percent zinfandel, 12 percent alicante bouschet, 8 percent petite sirah and 2 percent a combination of carignane, trousseau, sangiovese, petit bouschet, negrette, syrah, black muscat, cinsault and grenache. A real field blend. Production was 548 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Alfred Gratien Brut Rose nv, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $65.
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Arrow&Branch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $35.
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Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Production was 212 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2012, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. Exceptional. About $50.

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R. Buoncristiani Vineyard Orentano Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 305 cases made. Excellent. About $40.

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Les Cadrans de Lassegue 2012, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux. Merlot and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $35.

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Champ de Rêves Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Exceptional. About $45.

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Chartogne-Taillet “Heurtebise” Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $65 to $80.

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Domaine Chignard “Beauvernay” 2014, Julienas, Beaujolais Cru. Excellent. About $22.

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Cornerstone Cellars Michael’s Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. Production was under 250 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

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Erath Winery Prince Hill Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $50.

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Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills. Exceptional, About $45.

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Eve’s Cidery Essence Ice Cider, Finger Lakes, New York. 390 cases produced. Exceptional. About $28.

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Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2013, Lodi. 250 cases made. Excellent. About $28.

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Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

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Tenute Cisa Asinari Marchesi di Grésy Martinenga Camp Gros Riserva Barbaresco 2010, Piedmont, Italy. Exceptional. About $106.

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Inman Family OGV Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $73.

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Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $75.

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Luscher-Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 200 cases produced. Excellent. About $80.

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Lutum La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills. Production was 225 cases. Excellent. About $50.

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MacPhail Wightman House Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $55.

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Frederic Mallo Vielles Vignes Rosacker Riesling 2010, Alsace Grand Cru. Excellent. About $23.

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Merisi Wines Denner Vineyard Petite Sirah 2013, Lake County. 100 cases produced. About $35.

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Chateau Montelena Riesling 2015, Potter Valley. About $25.

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Chateau La Nerthe 2014, Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc. 40 percent each grenache blanc and roussanne, 10 percent each clairette and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $65.

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Patz & Hall Vineyard Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros-Napa Valley. Excellent. About $70.

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Pine Ridge Le Petit Clos Chardonnay 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $75.

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Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve Brut Rose 2004, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $80-$100.

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Prieure de Montezargues 2014, Tavel Rose. 55 percent red and white grenache, 30 percent cinsault, 13 percent clairette, 2 percent melange of syrah, mourvedre, carignane and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $24.

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Red Newt Cellars Tango Oaks Vineyard Riesling 2013, Finger Lakes, New York. About $24.

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Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Josephshoff Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.

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Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley. 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent cabernet franc, 2 percent each malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Excellent. About $60.

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Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $24.

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Saxon Brown Durell Vineyard Hayfield Block Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. Fewer than 100 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

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Sedition Chenoweth Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 230 cases produced. Exceptional. About $75.

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The Seed Malbec 2014, Altamira District, Uco Valley, Argentina. 59 cases made. Excellent. About $60.

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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Production was 806 cases. Exceptional. About $32.

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Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $35.

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Stony Hill Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley. Production was 1,852 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 585 cases produced. Exceptional. About $65.

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Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. Production was 125 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

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Troon Vineyards Vermentino Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon. 80 percent vermentino, 20 percent sauvignon blanc. 176 cases produced. Excellent. About $24.

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Two Shepherds Catie’s Corner Viognier 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Production was 75 cases. Exceptional. About $26.

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Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc 2013, Russian River Valley. 12.9% alc. Roussanne 50%, marsanne 25%, viognier 13%, grenache blanc 6%, grenache gris 6%. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $30.

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Two Shepherds Trimble Vineyard Carignan Rosé 2015, Mendocino County. Production was 50 cases. Exceptional. About $22.

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Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $55.

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Guillaume Sorbe “Les Poëte” 2014, Quincy, Loire Valley, France. Sauvignon blanc. Exceptional. About $30.

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WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 1,007 cases produced. Exceptional. About $50.
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Zena Crown Vineyard Conifer Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Production was 240 cases. Excellent. About $75.

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Do you think they sell Nerthe Balls in the gift shop at Chateau La Nerthe? Hahaha, no, of course not! I was kidding! Wineries and estates in Europe, especially those that trace their history back to 1560, as La Nerthe does, see no need to follow the California model of wineries offering tasting rooms and gift shops, picnic grounds and play grounds, jazz concerts and movie series. Not that no estates in France, Italy, Germany and so on indulge in these consumer-oriented activities, but there’s a sense that the business at hand is growing the best grapes and turning them into the best wines, no need to hire a staff visitor-resources coordinator. You could spend days in Burgundy or the Rhone Valley and not see a corkscrew for sale at a winery.

Anyway, Chateau La Nerthe occupies 225 acres, certified organic since 1998, in the southern Rhone region of Chateauneuf-du-nerthe-09-1280x600Pape, named for a summer palace that Pope John XXII, one of the alternative popes, built north of Avignon in the 14th Century (not pictured here). It was somewhat like the “Heather has two mommies” situation, except that in 14th Century Europe Heather had two Papas. Wine has been produced in the southern Rhone Valley since times immemorial, or at least since the wine-swilling Romans established vineyards, but Chateauneuf-du-Pape as we know it was only codified in 1923 by Baron Le Roy of Chateau Fortia (and amended in 1936), thus setting into motion the momentum toward the organization of the French A.O.C. system. Chateauneuf-du-Pape is unique for the number of grape varieties allowed into its blended red and white wines, 13 types originally but increased to 18 in 2009 by counting black, pink and white variations of the same grapes separately. The percentage of grapes in each wine is not regulated, and red and white wines may utilize both red and white grapes, though the number of estates that cross-color grapes in now very few. Sticking to the primary (and slightly or severely diminished) varieties the red grapes are grenache — the primary grape in these vineyards — syrah, mourvedre, cinsault, counoise and the little encountered muscardin, vaccarese, picpoul and terret noir; the whites are grenache blanc, roussanne, clairette, bourboulenc and picardin.

Vines at La Nerthe average 40 years old. The vineyard surrounds the winery and mansion (pictured above) and features the classic Chateauneuf-du-Pape characteristic of large, round stones — galets — on the surface. Winemaker is Christian Voeux.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. These wines were samples for review.
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Chateau La Nerthe 2012, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, is a blend of 48 percent grenache, 29 percent syrah, 22 mourvedre and a scant 1 percent nerthecinsault; no white grapes for this one. The wine aged 12 months in a combination of 63 percent barriques and 37 percent large wooden casks and vats. The color is dark ruby with a lighter, transparent rim; this is rich and ripe, pungent with scents of black cherries and currants with hints of wild berries, cloves and allspice and, after a few minutes in the glass, strains of graphite, smoke, black pepper and damp ashes. At first, the wine is quite mellow and palatable, but it builds power and structure, as the fruit flavors add macerated red berries to the black fruit and dusty, velvety tannins assert themselves; the finish feels rather chiseled and honed from the stones of the vineyard. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to 2024. Excellent. About $65.
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Chateau La Nerthe 2014, Chateaunuef-du-Pape blanc, is a blend of 40 percent each grenache blanc and roussanne, 10 percent each clairette nerthe-2and bourboulenc. The wine aged in a combination of 228-liter oak foudres and 62 percent stainless steel tanks. The color is mild, medium gold; classic aromas of bee’s-wax and lanolin, yellow plums and peaches, heather, hay and camellia wreathe themselves into a beguiling bouquet; the wine is quite dry, offering plenty of body and stuffing in the way of bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality, as well as yellow fruit flavors tinged with quince preserves and crystallized ginger, yet it demonstrates a sort of Southern languor and allure, a kind of low-cut gown and tanned shoulders effect that makes it irresistible. The finish, however, is notably spare, brisk and saline, bracing with limestone minerality and grapefruit pith. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $65.
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So, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” in the edition for 2012. Why 50? It’s a nice comfortable round number, but it also makes me work hard to determine those 50 great selections.

I reviewed 642 wines on this blog in 2012, so 50 choices represent only 7.78 percent of the wines I reviewed. Wines that I rated as “Exceptional” automatically make the cut. In 2012, I ranked 16 wines “Exceptional,” or only 2.5 percent of all the wines I reviewed. How did I ascertain the other 34 wines? That’s where the task got difficult. I read all the reviews of wines that I rated “Excellent” and wrote down the names of 68 that seemed promising, but of course that was already way too many wines; I had to eliminate half of that list. I went back through the reviews and looked for significant words or phrases like “an exciting wine” or “a beautiful expression of its grapes” or “epitomizes my favorite style” or “I flat-out loved this wine,” terms that would set a wine apart from others in similar genres or price ranges, even though they too were rated “Excellent.” By exercising such intricate weighing and measuring, by parsing and adjusting, by, frankly, making some sacrifices, I came to the list of wines included here, but I’ll admit that as I went over this post again and again, checking spelling and diacritical markings and illustrations, there were omissions that I regretted. You get to a point, however, where you can’t keep second-guessing yourself.

Notice that I don’t title this post “50 Greatest Wines” or “50 Best Wines.” That would be folly, just as I think it’s folly when the slick wine publications select one wine — out of 15,000 — as the best of the year. The wines honored in this post are, simply, 50 great wines, determined by my taste and palate, that I encountered and reviewed in 2012. Some of them are expensive; some are hard to find. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, though, at how many of them are under $40 or even in the $20 range; the price of a wine can be immaterial to its quality, and I mean that in both the positive and the negative aspects. Where I know the case limitation, I make note. With wines that are, for example, chardonnay or pinot noir, you can count on them being 100 percent varietal; in other cases, I mention the blend or make-up of the wine if I think it’s necessary.

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”
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Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
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Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
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Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
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Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
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M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
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M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
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Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
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Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
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Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
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Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
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Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
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Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
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Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
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Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
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La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
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Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
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Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
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Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
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Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.
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Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
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Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
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Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
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Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
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Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
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Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
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St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
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Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
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Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
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Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.
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Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
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Purely by coincidence, wines sometimes come to my door in pairs, like animals entering the Ark, or I encounter a pair of wines at a tasting event that naturally fall together. Such was the case with the duos of wines that I will be writing about over the next few weeks, each from the same winery or estate. You could say that such a categorization is artificial, but so is the allocation of wine into cases of 12 bottles or, for that matter, the divisions of time into seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years. Don’t forget that September is not the seventh month, nor is October the eighth month; how arbitrary is that? What I’m saying is that reviewing pairs of wines together may be whimsical, but it’s fun and convenient and educational, and besides, this is my blog.

The first pair is from Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe in Chateaunef-du-Pape. The estate is named for a late 18th Century communications tower that stood on a nearby hilltop and aided in the transmission of semaphore signals from Marseilles to Paris. The property was established in 1898 by Hippolyte Brunian; since 1988, his great-grandsons Daniel and Frédérick have run the estate, which is somewhat larger than it was more than a 100 years ago. Of the property’s 173 acres, 65 are devoted to red grapes and 5 to white.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, California. Tasted at a wholesaler trade event. Image from wineblog.goedhuis.com.
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“Télégramme” is the second label for Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe and is typically made from vines that are 25 years old or less, primarily being between 20 and 25 years. Télégramme tends to consist mainly of grenache grapes with up to 10 percent mourvèdre, but for 2009 it’s 100 percent grenache. The wine ages 10 months in concrete cuves and 6 months in foudres, that is large oak barrels of varying size; the point is that the wine does not age in small barriques and sees no new oak. The color is dark ruby-purple with a hint of violet-magenta at the rim. The bouquet is extraordinary, ravishing, beguiling, a finely-knit amalgam of crushed violets, potpourri, smoke, cloves and sandalwood, with a wild, unfettered strain of ripe and roasted black currants, blackberries and plums; give this a few minutes in the glass and notes of mulberry, blueberry and fruitcake emerge; a few more minutes and you sense a vast undertow of dusty tannins and graphite-like minerality, a profound character that anchors the wine to your palate from start to finish, because these tannins are gigantic, formidable, dense, chewy, leaning toward austerity but always keeping a foothold in the wine’s deep, spicy, fathomless fruity nature. 14.5 percent alcohol. Great stuff for drinking 2013 or ’14 through 2019 to ’24 with roasts, braised meats or, um, pork belly tacos. Excellent. About $35.
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So, could the Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, be better than Télégramme ’09? “Better” is not precisely the word; how about even more profound, denser, darker, deeper, more intense and concentrated, even more tannic, more powerfully permeated by sleek and finely-sifted mineral qualities? Yet, despite the air of Stygian depth and vast dimension, the wine is hypnotically beautiful because every element is precisely focused and exquisitely balanced; the bouquet is practically deliriously seductive. The blend is 65 percent grenache, 15 percent each mourvèdre and syrah and 5 percent cinsault, clairette and other permitted grapes; it aged 10 months in cuves and 12 months in foudres. The plateau of La Crau is where Hippolyte Brunian planted vines 114 years ago; the designation “La Crau” on the label does not indicate a special cuvée or grande marque, since all the grapes for this wine and Télégramme derive from the vineyard, some parts of which now go back 65 years. Rather, Télégramme exists to draw away the younger grapes from the primary wine, while certainly, as far as I’m concerned, asserting its own pronounced and complex character. It will take a decade for the brooding, austere Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009 to unfurl its more beneficent nature and company manners; try from 2016 to ’18 through 2024 to ’30. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $85.
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