Friday Wine Sips


An overall satisfying, even in some instances great group of pinot noir wines, examples touching the winemaking borders limits of California, from Anderson Valley in the north to Santa Maria Valley in the south. Different interpretations, assuredly, diverse approaches to the notoriously difficult grape, but all feeling authentic and legitimate, though my taste runs to the more refined and elegant; and, blessedly, though the use of oak, of course, varies, none of these is burdened with or buried by too much wood. As usual in the Friday Wine Sips, I dispense with the minutiae of technical, historical and geographical data in order to deliver to my readers incisive and provocative yet thoughtful reviews, though I admit that a couple of these run a tad longer than I intend for this space, but then, come on, it’s pinot noir I’m writing about. With one exception, these were samples for review. The order is alphabetical. I’m posting this fairly late at night, but it’s still Friday in the USA.

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Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 14.4% alc. Elegant and sophisticated at first, but becomes more intense and concentrated, a real mouthful of smoky black cherry and rhubarb, violets and lilac, hints of briers and brambles, sassafras, roots and moss, i.e., quite earthy and then quite spicy; deeply satiny texture, lithe and supple too, flows coolly through the mouth; but you feel the tug of oak from mid-palate through the finish. For those who like a muscular pinot noir. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby color with a tinge of magenta; incredible perfume: beet-root and root beer, rose hips and strawberry leaf, violets and sandalwood, black cherry and red currants, and then a gentle surge of austerity in brambles and forest floor and finely-honed graphite; in the mouth, more serious than you might think, deeply earthy, multi-dimensioned, yet suave, sleek, supple, satiny; black tea with cloves and cinnamon, orange zest; black and red fruit flavors, a beautifully burnished, balanced, transparent finish. Beautiful. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $40.
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Foursight “Zero” Pinot Noir 2009, Charles Vineyard, Anderson Valley, Mendocino. 13.5% alc. “Zero” does not mean no oak but second-year and older barrels. Gosh, what a lovely gentle delicate yet darkly radiant sifting of finely-meshed, cloud-like tannins; ripe and slightly macerated red currants, plums and mulberries; earthy briers, brambles and leather; and baskets of dried flowers and spices. A model of pinot noir purity and intensity. Perfect with a roasted chicken; I could drink it every day. 360 cases and Worth a Search. Excellent. About $38.
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Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino. 13.9 % alc. So, how is the “regular” Foursight Pinot Noir ’09 different from its stablemate mentioned above? This is also quite alluring and exhibits similar purity and intensity of expression and character; fruit falls into the range of red and black cherries and cranberries with more emphasis on spice than flowers and just a haze of smoky (but not toasty) oak. As with the previous wine, balance and integration of all elements feel inextricable, tightly woven yet generous and expansive, a touch lithe and sinewy yet with a seductive satiny drape. Now through 2015 or ’16. 405 cases and also Worth a Search. Excellent. About $46.
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MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.5% alc. Riveting purity and intensity; vivid yet somehow transparent or at least infinitely delicate black cherry and mulberry scents and flavors highlighted by subtle notes of sassafras and lightly toasted Asian spices; sleek, supple and a little spare, with flavors partaking more of plums as moments pass; a real dreamboat of a pinot noir with an understanding of its darker nature. Now through 2013 or ’14. 600 six-pack cases produced. Excellent. About $35.
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MacMurray Ranch Winemaker’s Block Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Loads of presence and tone yet ineffable balance and integration; lots going on, plums and more plums, with black and red cherries and hints of mulberry and rhubarb, undertones of cola and cloves, but it doesn’t feel fussy or overdone, all is smooth and finely-meshed; dense texture, satin transmuting to velvet but held in check by the ballast of earthy underbrush and a bit of foresty austerity. I like rather more reticence in pinot noir (as in the previous wine and the two Foursights), but this reveals thoughtful wine-making. Now through 2014 to ’16. Production was 600 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $60.
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Friday again, so soon, time flies, seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, and then it’s like why didn’t I drink more wine? So, here’s your chance! Today’s Friday Wine Sips are mainly from California except for an Argentine malbec I threw in to mess with your heads this morning. As usual, I eschew technical data for the sake of brevity, punch, vim and vigor. Seven wines here, arranged by price; six recommended, one emphatically not. These were all samples for review, as I am required to inform you by the Federal Trade Commission.
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Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Bright and bold but not flashy or overdressed; classic pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors freighted with notes of green apple and cloves, a hint of some floral aspect; very dry but juicy, lively and taut with acidity and a sinewy limestone element but a lovely, almost lush powdery texture; a zing of grapefruit and flint on the finish. Very attractive. Very Good+. About $13.50, a Raving Bargain.
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Conundrum, 2009, California. 13.5% alc. The famous mystery white blend from Caymus, though the grapes are chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, muscat canelli, viognier and semillon. Radiant medium straw-gold color; mango and jasmine, roasted lemon and cinnamon toast; you feel the oak in the presence of a touch of toffee and spicy baked pears; quite spicy altogether, hints of lychee, lemongrass and petrol; lovely talc-like texture balanced by bright acidity and limestone. The best Conundrum in years. Current release is 2010 but the ’09 is still widely available. Excellent. About $18.
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Parley The Bookmaker 2009, California. 14.5% alc. 70% cabernet sauvignon, with zinfandel, petite sirah and petit verdot. From Ramian Estate. Pick up a cheeseburger with one hand and a glass of this robust wine with the other. Black currants, black raspberry and plums; laden with smoke and spice, potpourri, thyme and cedar, a hint of graphite minerality; rambunctious and slightly shaggy tannins wedded to svelte oak; long sleek, dusty finish. 570 cases. Very Good+. About $19.
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Morgan Syrah 2009, Monterey County. 13.8% alc. Blackberry and black raspberry with undertones of blueberry and mulberry; lavender and violets, cloves and sandalwood; a deep exotic core of bittersweet chocolate, moss and smoked Russian tea; quite earthy, a little rustic and muscular but eminently drinkable, balanced and integrated. Very Good+. About $20.
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Mer Soleil Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.5% alc. Medium gold color with green highlights; big, rich, bold, brassy; very ripe, very spicy, very toasty; mango, pineapple and grapefruit, buttered toast, toffee, brown sugar, coconut crème brûlée, bananas Foster; full-bodied, rampant ripeness and oak; a woody stridently spicy finish. Who would want to make such an exaggerated “chardonnay”? Who would want to drink it? Not recommended. About $32.
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Colomé Estate Malbec 2010, Calchaqui, Salta, Argentina. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-purple color; intense and concentrated; walnut shell and rosemary, cedar and bay leaf, black currants, black raspberry and blueberry; a combination of austere and juicy with deep, dry dusty tannins and huge reserves of oak and dry woody spices. Try from 2014 to 2018 or ’20. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $30.
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Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. 14% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Ripe, fleshy and meaty, intense and concentrated black currants, black cherries and plums; graphite right through the core to the bottom; mint, dried thyme and bay leaf, earthy and loamy; huge power of dynamic fine-grained tannins, vibrant acidity and a great undertow of polished oak, but boy this is lithe and sleek and seductive. A tremendous achievement. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
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Many kinds of grapes are grown in the Napa Valley, and many sorts of wines are produced there, but cabernet sauvignon is what the region is best known for. Today I offer 12 examples of cabernet-based wines from the Napa Valley, the vintages ranging from 2006 to 2009, the prices spanning $25 to $120. As usual in the Friday Wine Sips series, I relinquish my fondness for the data of history, geography and winemaking matters for the sake of brevity and immediacy. All of these wines were samples for review. The order is by ascending price, because order is necessary, though the choices of order may be innumerable.
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The Rule Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Primarily cabernet with “a blend of proprietary varieties.” Dark ruby color; vibrant, resonant, very spicy; black currants and cherries, cedar, thyme, black olive; dense and chewy, lots of stuffing, granite and graphite-like minerality and earthiness, layers of packed-in tannins; long, austere finish. Try 2013 through 2017. Very Good+. About $25.
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Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. 13.8% alc. Sleek, suave; abundantly fragrant with licorice, lavender, cassis, plums, graphite; dense, chewy, grainy, a nicely balanced crowd-pleaser; more toast, graphite and iron, bitter chocolate and cocoa; the whole package precisely defined and delineated; quite spicy and velvety. A very well-made and delicious cabernet with a slightly serious edge but not as compelling as the 2007 version. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $49.
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Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. 14.1% alc. Dark ruby color shading to cranberry-magenta; very intense, very concentrated, rigorous, high-toned and austere; paradoxically a Pauillac-like sense of elegance, sleekness and suppleness; rafts of polished oak and dense but gently sanded tannins; nothing opulent or velvety, this is all classic structure and foundation and deep earthy minerality, waiting to unfold. Try from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $50.
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Benessere Phenomenon 2006, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 58%, sangiovese 37%, merlot 5%, syrah 2%. 613 cases. Dark ruby color with a garnet rim; warm, fleshy, spicy, macerated, slightly roasted black currants, plums and blueberries; cedar, cloves, walnut shell, fruitcake; big structure, dense, chewy, lively, packed with dusty graphite, woody spices; finish is long, substantial, dry and austere. Good character but lacks a certain elan and elevation. Now through 2015 to ’17. Very Good+. About $50.
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Hestan Vineyards Stephanie Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. 100% cabernet. Dark ruby-purple color; mint, iodine, graphite, spiced and macerated black currants, black cherries and plums; a huge wine, vibrant, intense and concentrated, very dry, fairly austere, good depth and dimension but needs 2 or 3 years to settle comfortably into its structure; you feel the oak and alcohol. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’23. Very Good+. About $50.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 2% merlot. Lovely balance, harmony, restraint and elegance, but not lacking in power and structure or tannic force; those tannins come up from mid-palate back through the expressive yet slightly briery, slightly austere finish; classic black currants, black raspberries and plums permeated by cedar, tobacco and black olive, notes of oaken spice; beautifully drawn-out from beginning to end. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $55.
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Hestan Stephanie Proprietary Red Wine 2007, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. “Bordeaux blend” of the five red grapes. More approachable, more manageable than the Hestan Stephanie Cabernet 07; warmer, more generous and expansive; iodine and mint, thyme and black olive, toasted fennel seeds, spiced and macerated black and blue fruit; very intense and concentrated in the mouth, tight, reined-in, furled, you feel the dynamic potential, the brooding energy; finish is long and austere. Try from 2013 or ’15 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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St. Supery Dollarhide Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. 100% cabernet. Big and juicy yet highly structured; mint, eucalyptus, briers and brambles, toast and graphite; black currants, black cherries and plums imbued with cedar, black olives and fruitcake, mocha and bitter chocolate; a graphite-tinged minerality that practically glitters, while the wine smolders like embers of potpourri and lavender; permeated by finely-milled, supple tannins. A cushiony blockbuster. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $85.
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Piña D’Adamo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. 100% cabernet. 191 cases. Despite the alcohol level, this displays great purity, intensity and concentration; black currant and plums, prunes and fruitcake, orange rind and black tea; very deep, very complex, powerful sense of dimension and gravity; stern tannins, almost brutal granite-like minerality and profound earthiness, yet surprisingly appealing; big, austere finish. Try 2014 to 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $75.
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Piña Firehouse Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Rutherford, Napa Valley. 15.1% alc. 100% cabernet. 236 cases. A huge, broad, deep wine yet rich, warm, spicy and generous; smoke, graphite, dark black and blue fruit aromas and flavors, slightly roasted and macerated, vast range of spice; dense, intense and concentrated, fills and coats the mouth with viscosity like liquid coal dust and dusty velvet sustained by vivid acidity; this needs time, say 2014 or ’15 to 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $85.
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Piña Buckeye Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. 100% cabernet. 359 cases. Dust, leather, walnut-shell and wheatmeal, laden with austere, rigorous tannins, furled and tightly focused yet somehow big-hearted and expansive; deeply concentrated. spicy and macerated black and blue fruit flavors; powerful and profound dusty mountainside earthiness and graphite-like minerality; but still such a pleasure to drink such unquestionable authority and integrity. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $85.
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Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. % alc. Beautifully layered and complex yet intense and concentrated; lavender, licorice, iodine; smoky and meaty, walnut-meal, black currants, mulberries and plums; fine-grained tannins and burnished oak, vibrant acidity; deep-down notes of bitter chocolate, cocoa powder and ancho chile; structure like velvet filled with iron filings; long spice-packed finish with some austerity; superbly balanced. A real mouthful of classic Napa Valley cabernet. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $120.
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Mixed reds and whites today, with some great wines, some good wines and some clunkers. Geography and prices are all over the map; this is how it gets done. Arrangement is by ascending outlay of shekels. Unless otherwise indicated, these were samples for review. As is the case with this “Friday Wine Sips” series, inaugurated last week, these brief reviews do not go into the more technical aspects of winemaking, history or geography.
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Un4seen Red Wine 2009, California (though Lodi & Clarksburg). 13.9% alc. A blend of zinfandel, malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Nothing offensive but even inexpensive wine needs more personality than this example of the bland leading the bland. Good. About $11.
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Much better is the un4seen White Wine 2010, California (again, Lodi & Clarksburg). 13.5% alc. A blend of chardonnay, semillon, moscato & viognier. Pale straw color with faint green tinge; fresh apple and peach, slightly leafy and floral, touch of fig; very dry and crisp, very nice texture, almost lush, vibrant, spicy; hint of grapefruit on the finish. Charming; drink up. Very Good. About $11, A Bargain.
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Villa Antinori 2010, Toscana I.G.T., Bianco. 12% alc. 50% trebbiano & malvasia, 35% pinot bianco & pinot grigio, 15% riesling. Dry, crisp, lively; apples and pears, hint of thyme and tarragon, touch of almond and almond blossom; scintillating limestone gradually insinuates itself (say that three times fast); quite pleasant and engaging, nice balance between bright acidity, clean and spicy citrus flavors and a modestly lush texture. Drink through Summer 2012. Very Good+. About $12, Great Value.
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Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo 2009, Salento I.G.T. 14% alc. Heaps of black pepper and cloves, forest, graphite, smoky black currants and plums; robust, plummy, juicy, chewy, dense with soft, grainy tannins and mineral elements; unusually well-balanced and integrated for primitivo; great with pizza, burgers, braised meats. Drink through 2013. Very Good+. About $17.
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Concannon Conservancy “Crimson & Clover” Red Wine 2009, Livermore Valley. 13.7% alc. Blend of 50% petite sirah, 25% cabernet sauvignon, 15% syrah, 10% zinfandel. Lacks oomph, stuffing, character; we speak of chemistry to describe the energy and magnetism of movie couples, but the grapes in this blend don’t provide that “chemistry.” Pleasant enough, but we deserve more for the price. Good. About $18.
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Ponzi Tavola Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. Ponzi’s “entry-level” pinot. Entrancing medium ruby color with blue-black depths; smoky, spicy, earthy, wild; black cherry and mulberry edged by cranberry and rhubarb; super-satiny, dense, verges on chewy; graphite-like minerality, leather, brambles. Pure pinot with an untamed heart. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $25.
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Chateau Gombaude-Guillot 1996, Pomerol, Bordeaux. 13% alc. This is typically about 65% merlot and 30% cabernet franc with a dollop of malbec. Lovely balance and maturity, sweet spices, dried black and red fruit and flowers, undertones of cedar, tobacco and potpourri, mild earthiness and hints of leather. A real treat. I bought this to accompany our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of standing rib roast, Brussels sprouts in brown butter, roasted potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Excellent. About $99.
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