Grenache blanc


Somerston
Made in stainless steel drums and tanks, fermented with natural yeast, the Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, allows the eloquence of the grape to express itself with clarity and elegance. The color is very light gold, almost colorless, but displaying an elusive shimmer of pale green; aromas of dusty lilac, pear and apricot are highlighted by notes of dried thyme and sage, heather and meadow flowers, while a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of woodsy spice and acacia. The wine is quite dry but juicy with ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors and enhanced by incisive acidity and scintillating limestone and flint-like minerality. Though it flows with surprising density on the palate, it remains lithe and lively and vibrant. 14.8 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Craig Becker. The wine is perfectly suited for drinking with grilled fish, seafood risottos, shrimp salad and the like, through 2018. Production was 1,643 cases. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

If the Ferraton Père et Fils Samorëns 2015, Côtes du Rhône blanc, is available in your samorens2015lneighborhood, buy it by the case now for drinking through the Summer. A blend of 60 percent grenache blanc grapes and 40 percent clairette — the latter a white workhorse of a grape in the South of France that must be cultivated and utilized carefully — and “elevated,” as the French say, in large vats with no malolactic fermentation, this extremely attractive wine offers appeal on every level. The pale gold hue leads to aromas of roasted lemons, spiced pears and yellow plums infused with notes of bee’s-wax and lanolin, jasmine and honeysuckle; a few moments in the glass bring out tantalizing hints of fennel, cloves and figs. On the palate, the wine is supple and spare, quite dry yet crystalline with ripe golden fruit flavors buoyed by bright acidity, while the finish pulls in more spice and a lick of limestone minerality. 13.5 percent alcohol. Remarkable personality and character for the price. Drink through 2017 as a pleasing aperitif or with grilled salmon and swordfish, seafood salads and risottos and various forms of picnic fare. Excellent. About $14, a Wonderful Value.

Imported by HB Wine Merchants, New York. A sample for review.

Does Randall Grahm need four rosé wines among his current releases from Bonny Doon roseVineyard? One would have to take a dusky stroll through the shadowy, convoluted corridors of Grahm’s imagination to find an answer to that question. Sufficient to our task is the presence of these products — samples for review — not all of which are as straightforward as the term rosé would indicate. Two of these wines are based on Rhone Valley grape varieties, not a surprise since Bonny Doon specializes in wines made from such grapes, but another was made from ciliegiolo grapes, a distaff cousin or bastard child, as it were, to sangiovese, while the last is composed of grapes from France’s southwest region, tannat and cabernet franc. One of the wines produced from Rhone-style grapes aged in glass containers outside for nine months, a process that drained color from the wine and added a slightly oxidized, sherry-like character. Whatever the case, I guarantee that you will be intrigued and fascinated, if not delighted by these wines, which are arranged in order of hue from left to right, as indicated by the image above.
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The Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris de Cigare is always a favorite rosé in our 15_VinGris_Domestic_750house, and the version for 2015, carrying a Central Coast designation, is no different. A blend of 44 percent grenache grapes, 20 percent grenache blanc, 13 carignane, 10 mourvèdre, 7 cinsaut and 6 roussanne, the wine offers a hue of the most ineffable pale pink, like the blush on a nymph’s thigh, and delicate, breezy aromas of watermelon, raspberry, strawberry, thyme and wet flint. Crisp acidity keeps this rosé keen and lively, while its macerated red berry flavors make it delicious and easy to drink; a background of limestone provides structure. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through the end of 2016. Exquisite poise, balance and freshness. Excellent. About $18.
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Tuile is the French word for the curved roof-tiles ubiquitous in the South of France 14_SunWine_082415(and also the term for the curved cookies that resemble them). The pale orange-brick color of the Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris Tuilé 2013, Central Coast, resembles the hue of those roofs, to some extent, but also refers to a relatively obscure practice of leaving young wine exposed to the elements to mature. Composed of 55 percent grenache grapes, 23 percent mourvèdre, 10 roussanne, 7 cinsaut, 3 carignane, 2 grenache blanc, this wine was left al fresco for nine months in glass demijohns or carboys; the result is a sherry-like wine that displays fresh and appealing aromas of almonds and orange peel, spiced tea, smoke and cloves. True to the red grapes from which it primarily originated — the grenache, mourvedre, cinsaut and carignane — the wine displays a rooty, foresty element that bolsters notes of spiced pear, hibiscus and apricot and an aura that’s altogether savory and saline. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Intriguing and ephemeral, but with real spine. Production was 192 cases. Excellent. About $26.
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Tracy Hills is a small AVA, approved in 2006 by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, that straddles San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties about 55 miles south-southeast of San Francisco in the Central Valley. The Bonny Doon Il Ciliegiolo Rosato 2015, Mt. Oso Vineyard, Tracy Hills, marks the first time I have seen this AVA on a label. The ciliegiolo grape, from the Italian for “cherry,” is related to sangiovese, but whether as a parent or off-spring is a matter of dispute. Made from 100 percent ciliegiolo grapes, this rosé exhibits a bright cerise hue and aromas of cherries, cherries, cherries in every form — fresh, dried, spiced and macerated — with notes of wild strawberries and raspberries, a flush of rhubarb and pomegranate, a hint of tomato skin. It’s a woodsy rosé, sun-drenched, a bit dusty, quite dry and delivering some graphite-tinged tannins from mid-palate through the finish. 12.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018. One of the more interesting and complex rosés I have encountered. Production was 442 cases. Excellent. About $24. (A release for the winery’s DEWN Club.)
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The Bonny Doon A Proper Pink 2015, California, joins the roster of the winery’s “Proper” brand, and while the wines are serious, the back-label verbiage is strictly faux-British tongue-in-cheek — and rather long-winded, old boy. Composed, unusually, of 61 percent tannat grapes and 39 percent cabernet franc, the wine offers a provocative cherry-red color shading to salmon; it’s a warm, sunny, fleshy rosé that features aromas of spiced and macerated raspberries and strawberries and notes of tomato leaf and almond skin; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of briers, orange rind and sour melon candy. A lip-smacking texture is leavened by lively acidity and a dusty quality like damp roof tiles. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $16.
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Napa Valley’s Somerston Wine Co. encompasses three labels: Somerston, Priest Ranch and Highflyer. Today we look at the Priest Ranch PR-LogoFinal-EstateGrenache Blanc 2013, from a grape not commonly found in Napa Valley. The wine was fermented by native yeasts — that is, yeasts naturally occurring on the grapes, rather than inoculated in the winery — in stainless steel drums and tanks, with aging carried out in stainless steel with 10 percent neutral French oak barrels. No toasty new oak for this baby! The color is what I think characteristic for grenache blanc, a pale gold hue with a sheen of shadowy tarnish. The bouquet is a subtle melange of lemon and melon, greengage and white pepper, dried thyme, lavender and cedar. The wine is spare and elegant and nicely balanced with juicy roasted lemon flavors highlighted by notes of peach and spiced pear; for all its delicate felicity, though, it pulls up a slightly dusty, faintly tannic element that lends a mysterious earthy effect and leads to a finish lithe with an austere saline and savory quality. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 1,151 cases. This should drink well through 2016 with light fish and seafood dishes. Winemaker was Craig Becker. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

The word “interesting,” of course, is a double-edged sword, as when one says that someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend is interesting, meaning “What a dork!” No, I don’t mean that! I mean interesting as “of real interest to My Readers” and white wines to look out for as alternatives to chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling. Not that there’s anything wrong with those grapes — well, chardonnay is too often over-made and fiddled with — and I’m distinctly fond of sauvignon blanc and especially reisling. Many more types of white wine exist, however, and it’s in that less-traveled direction that I send My Readers today. We touch many countries and regions and a variety of grapes, both single and in fascinating and somewhat exotic blends. Look particularly at the wines priced between $11 and $17; real bargains abound there. As usual, I avoid lengthy mentions of technical, historical and geographical information in this Weekend Wine Notes — though I dote on that sort of material — for the sake of quick, incisive reviews deigned to pique your, ahem, interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were either samples for review or encountered at wholesaler trade events.
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scaia-garganega
Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Bianca 2014, Delle Venezia IGT, Italy. 12% alc. 55% garganega, 45% chardonnay, according to the label; website and printed material say 50% garganega, 30% chardonnay, 20% trebbiano Soave. Medium straw-gold color; ripe, lively, crisp, bristly; brimming with notes of green apple and melon, lemon and peach; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of jasmine and gardenia, lime peel and grapefruit; very dry, zings and sings across the palate with bright acidity and tantalizing limestone elements; heaps of personality. Excellent. About $11, a Raving Amazing Bargain.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Villa Wolf Pinot Gris 2012, Pfalz, Germany. 13% alc. 100% pinot gris grapes. Medium burnished gold hue; straw, melon and orange rind; lemongrass and ginger, jasmine and honeysuckle; saline and savory, a touch exotic in its ripe, spicy yellow fruit and yellow flower elements; quite dry, with clean acidity and a sense of fading limestone and flint minerality; quite attractive, but drink up. Very Good +. About $12, representing Real Value.
Loosen Bros. USA, Salem, Oregon.
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Alamos Torrontés 2014, Salta, Argentina. 13% alc. 100% torrontés grapes. Pale straw color; jasmine and gardenia, very lemony, hints of lemongrass and figs, honeydew and greengage; a little musky; saline briskness and crisp acidity; lovely, lively silken texture. Very Good+. About $13.
Alamos USA, Haywood, Calif.
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Les Vignes de Bila-Haut 2014, Côtes du Roussillon, France (Michael Chapoutier). 13% alc. Grenache gris, grenache blanc, macabeu (or sometimes maccabeu). Pale straw-gold color; ripe and fleshy, apple peel and peach skin; lemon, lime peel, tangerine and yellow plum; cloves and a wisp of dried thyme; crisp and sassy, very spicy and quite dry but with spare and tasty stone-fruit flavors. Very Good+. About $13.
An R. Shack Selection, HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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pecorino
La Valentina Pecorino 2014, Bianco Colline Piscarese, Italy. NA% alc. 100% pecorino grapes. Pale gold hue; very fresh, clean and appealing; lemon balm, lime peel, almond skin and almond blossom; limestone and oyster shell, savory with a salt marsh-sea breeze edge of vitality; pert and lively, a burgeoning of stone-fruit and meadowy herbs; extremely charming but with a thread of seriousness. Very Good+. About $16.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa Calif.
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Vina Robles “White 4” 2014, Paso Robles, California. 14.9% alc. 54% viognier, 22% vermentino, 15% verdelho, 9% sauvignon blanc. Pale straw color with faint green highlights; delicate, lightly spicy, a slight sense of sunny, leafy figs and briers; all citrus with a flush of stone-fruit; a few minutes in the glass bring in heady notes of lilac and Evening in Paris; very appealing, with a beautiful texture and structure that fill the mouth with almost powdery talc-like elements cut by bright acidity. Drink now through 2017. Excellent. About $16.
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alleme
Bodega de Txakoli Tadai Berri Alleme Txakolina 2014, Getariako Txakolina. NA% alc. 100% hondarribi zuri grapes. The wine is pronounced chakoli; txakolina means “the txakoli.” The hondarribi zuri grape is primarily grown, where it is cultivated at all, in Spain’s Basque country. Very pale straw color; just faintly effervescent, as a sort of quiet, persistent tickle; white flowers and yellow fruit, let’s say, gardenia, peach and yellow plums, all quite gently expressed, with hints of almond blossom and lychee; lively, crisp, clean, caressing. Drink up as a very pleasant and unusual aperitif; these wines are not meant to last. Very Good+. About $17.
Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
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ponzi pb
Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2014, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.4% alc. 1,000 cases. 100% pinot blanc grapes. Very pale straw-gold hue; roasted lemons and spiced pears, notes of quince, nectarine and ginger; subtly floral, like some tiny white slightly astringent flower; mountainy and meadowy; incisive acidity with elements of steel and limestone and a haze of smoke and talc; quite dry but immensely appealing and satisfying. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
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Amity Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2013, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13% alc. 181 cases. 100% pinot blanc. Medium straw-gold hue; lemon balm, lime peel, slightly caramelized grapefruit; intriguing notes of cedar and hay; a fresh, breezy and bracing wine, lovely purity and intensity; hints of quince, peach skin and ginger; lithe and supple on the palate with crystalline acidity and vibrant limestone minerality. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $22.
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mccay viognier
McCay Cellars Viognier 2014, Lodi, California. 14.1% alc. 100% viognier grapes. Very pale gold color; peach, roasted lemon and lavender; slightly honeyed, with notes of beeswax, dried thyme and rosemary, with the latter’s hint of resiny quality; very clean, pure and intense, lovely presence and weight; more on the graceful, spare and elegant side of the grape, though a hint of caramelized fennel lends something exotic; a lingering finish that turns a bit austere with limestone and flint minerality. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $24.
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Clos le Vigneau 2013, Vouvray, Loire Valley, France. (Alexandre Monmousseau). NA%alc. 100% chenin blanc grapes. Bright straw-gold hue; vouvrayhay, damp stones, jasmine; hazelnuts and almond skin; notes of peach, apricot and yellow plums; lean and lithe, chiseled limestone minerality and chiming acidity yet a soft approachable texture; a hint of sweetness on the entry but very dry from mid-palate back through the spice and mineral freighted finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $19.
Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
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anaba white
Anaba Wines Turbine White 2013, Sonoma Valley, California. 14% alc. 42% roussanne, 20% grenache blanc, 20% picpoul blanc, 18% marsanne. 354 cases. Shimmering pale gold hue; roasted lemon, dried thyme, beeswax, lanolin, lilac; notes of heather and peach and a hint of some exotic floral and pressed nut oil; bountifully presents a full-bodied, seductive texture packed with spiced and roasted peach and apricot flavors but balanced by riveting acidity and an element of damp-stone minerality. Super appealing, practically glitters in the glass. Excellent. About $28, and Worth a Search.
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Here’s a quite beautiful blended white wine from France’s Coteaux du Languedoc region. Chateau Paul Mas Belluguette 2013 combines 40 percent vermentino grapes — known by that name in Italy but usually called rolle in the South of France — 30 percent roussanne, 20 percent grenache blanc and 10 percent viognier. The wine is barrel-fermented, half of it goes through malolactic fermentation and it all aged for four months in 2/3 French and 1/3 American oak barrels. The color is moderate gold with a pale green shimmer; enticing aromas of honeysuckle and camellia are twined with notes of peaches and roasted lemons, quince and ginger, undercurrents of cloves, pineapple and lightly buttered cinnamon toast. Give the wine a few moments in the glass and it unfurls touches of cantaloupe, lychee and almond skin. Pretty heady stuff, n’est-ce pas? On the palate, the wine is dense and silky but enlivened by bright acidity and an element of scintillating limestone minerality; by such means, it thankfully avoids being merely sumptuous. Ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors are nicely balanced and offer a sheen of exotic spice, while the finish, with a hint of grapefruit bitterness, adds a necessary quality of elegance and spareness. 14 percent alcohol. We happily drank this with a delicious gratin of endive and potatoes with walnuts and thyme. Consume now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $24.

Esprit du Vin/Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Florida. A sample for review.

I have used Wordsworth’s lines so often — “The world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” — that I won’t allude to them on this occasion but merely issue an apology and assert that sometimes I just can’t keep up with tasting and writing. In fact, this post is probably the first in a series of “mea culpa” catch-up entries that I will issue over the next few weeks — if I have time. Ha-ha! These wines, a miscellaneous dozen from California, 11 red, one white, were all samples for review.
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Amapola Creek Monte Rosso Vineyard “Vinas Antiguas” Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley. Winemaker Dick Arrowood mixed 5 percent petite sirah to this zinfandel derived from one of Sonoma County’s legendary vineyards, where the zinfandel vines are 118 years old. The wine aged 15 months in a combination of new and used French and American oak barrels. Generally, I have been a fan of Arrowood’s efforts at Amapola Creek, rating everything I have tasted either Excellent or Exceptional. The exception, however, will be this example, because the heat and sweetness from 15.5 percent alcohol tip the wine off balance and render it into a clunky blockbuster. That’s a shame, because such details as its melange of ripe and spicy black currants and blueberries, cloves, sandalwood and smoked fennel and a chiseled granitic quality would have been gratifying in a different package. Production was 310 cases. Not recommended. About $42.
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Amici Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. There’s an aspect of darkness about this (nonetheless) winsome pinot noir: a dark ruby color; a certain dark shading in its spicy elements of cloves and sandalwood; the smokiness of its black cherry scents and flavors hinting at currants and raspberries; the earthiness of its brier-brambly structure. The lovely texture, though, is all warm satin, while bright acidity keeps it lively and quaffable. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Production was 1,300 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Vineyards Le Cigare Blanc reserve 2011, Arroyo Seco. The blend for this highly aromatic wine is 62 percent grenache blanc and 38 percent roussanne, from the Beeswax Vineyard; the grapes were fermented together in stainless steel and aged in five-gallon glass carboys, also called demijohns or bonbonnes, of the sort typically employed in home brewing and winemaking. The color is very pale gold, and it seems to shimmer in the glass. All of the lemon kingdom has assembled here in its guises of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd, highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, lanolin, lilac and camellia. It’s a savory and saline wine, spare, lean and supple and quite dry yet generous with its citrus flavors that delve a bit into stone-fruit. The entire package is animated by crystalline acidity and crackling limestone minerality. Alcohol content is a pleasing 12.5 percent. Production was 480 cases. Excellent. About $54.
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Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles. The wine is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent merlot and 9 percent petit verdot that spent 19 months in French oak barrels, 80 percent new. The color is very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; seductive aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black cherries and raspberries are permeated by notes of graphite, cedar and tobacco and a hint of rosemary’s brash resiny quality; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of black olive and loam. This is a solid, tannic, granitic-based wine, spare and dusty and quite dry but with plenty of ripe black and blue fruit flavors; fairly rock-ribbed presently, it needs a lot of air to unfurl its attractions. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $56.
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Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. This pinot noir, which aged 15 months in 41 percent new French oak barrels, originated from an area of the Sonoma Coast region recently designated as the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. Don’t be surprised if in the coming years we see more segments of the vast Sonoma Coast fragmented into smaller AVAs; Petaluma Gap, anyone? The color is a beguiling medium ruby hue, though that limpidity is belied by the wine’s sense of power and muscularity; this is intensely spicy, bursting with ripe and macerated black cherry and plum fruit, while a few minutes in the glass bring up pungent notes of old leather and pomegranate. It’s a fairly dense and chewy wine, displaying incisive graphite minerality and acidity that I can only call flaring and buoyant. Quite a performance on pinot noir’s dark side. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Davies Vineyards Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Here’s a pinot that’s a bit more to my taste than the Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 mentioned above, at least in terms of style. This spend 15 months in French oak, 22 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby, and the first impression is of the earth, with rooty and loamy aspects under briers and brambles; then come black and red cherries and currents segueing to dusty plums, smoky sassafras and exotic spices like sandalwood and cloves. Within this sensual panoply expands a core of nuance — lavender, violets, a bare hint of beet-root — and clean bright acidity. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011. Sonoma Coast. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry tinge. I would say that this pinot noir displays glorious purity, intensity and clarity, but “glorious” implies an emphatic nature that I want to avoid; let’s say, instead, that it’s perfect and adorable in the expression of those qualities. Aromas of red and black cherries and currants are imbued with notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras, rose petals and violets, with undertones of briers, brambles and loam, all amounting to a seamless marriage of elegance and power. The texture is supremely satiny, rolling across the palate like liquid money, but the wine’s ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors are buoyed by slightly leathery tannins and back-notes of polished oak, the whole effect enlivened by fleet acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
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Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Gina Gallo employed grapes from the family’s Olson Ranch Vineyard to craft this well-made but not compelling pinot noir that aged eight months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color shades from dark to medium ruby at the rim; aromas of black cherries and cranberries, smoke and loam, cloves and pomegranate characterize the attractive bouquet, while on the palate the wine is satiny smooth and supple; a few minutes in the glass bring out pretty floral elements. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $35.
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Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. The “mother clone” of this wine is a vineyard planted to zinfandel vines since 1904; some of those grapes are included here. Other parts of the vineyard represent the second generation of vines cloned from the original plants, all blended here with six percent petite sirah grapes. The wine aged 11 months in American oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; pungent aromas of black currants, blackberries and blueberries feel warm and spicy but with edges of graphite, briers and brambles. Bright acidity brings liveliness to dense dusty tannins and a slightly chiseled granitic minerality that testifies to the wine’s origin in an old hillside vineyard; however, black fruit flavors are equally bright and faceted, gradually opening to touches of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Sanctuary Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. This is a beautiful pinot noir in every sense, from its lovely transparent medium ruby-cherry hue, to its bouquet permeated by notes of spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries, with hints of rhubarb and cranberry, tobacco leaf and cigarette paper, to its subtle undertones of loam and moss and brambles, to its seductive satiny texture. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 841 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Silverado Vineyards Mt George Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. This classically balanced and structured wine is a blend of 77% merlot, 19% cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec, 1% petit verdot. (Yeah, that’s 101 percent.) The color is very dark ruby-purple, verily, verging even unto motor-oil black; it’s quite pungent, unleashing penetrating aromas of ripe, meaty and fleshy black cherries and raspberries bursting with notes of cassis and black olives, bell pepper and tobacco. Chiseled and polished graphite rules the day, with hints of iodine and saline qualities, earth and loam; the texture is supple, lithe, dense and chewy, yet somehow refined and elegant, never forgetting its obligation to beautiful but not showy black and red fruit flavors. 14.9 percent alcohol. A terrific, finely-honed and tuned merlot that displays great character. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.
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Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley. The blend here is 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5
percent each petit verdot and merlot and 2 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 24 months in 60 percent new oak barrels, mostly French with a small portion of American oak from the Appalachians. A dark ruby hue transcends inky purple; the bouquet is clean and fresh, very cherry-berry with some raspberries and their sense of faint raspiness, briers and brambles in the background, with an intensifying element of violets, lavender and potpourri. This panoply of sensual pleasures doesn’t quite prepare your palate for the rush of dusty tannins, the wheatmeal and walnut-shell austerity, the espresso and graphite elements that characterize the wine’s passage through the mouth. Still, coming back to it in an hour or so reveals its expression of a more approachable side, so give it a chance. A nicely manageable 13.5% alcohol. Production was 983 cases. Excellent potential, 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. About $48.
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A brief entry into Weekend Wines Notes today, featuring a pair of whites from South Africa and a pair of tasty reds from wineries in Lodi. This is the 11th post of 2015 on this blog and the 1500th post since December 2006.
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First, two white wines from the Bellingham estate in South Africa, founded in 1693, making it old by any standards.

Bellingham “The Bernard Series” Grenache Blanc Viognier 2013, Paarl Region. 14% alc. 75% grenache blanc, 25% viognier. Pale gold color; very spare, fresh and clean; notes of orange zest, jasmine and spiced pear; bees’ wax, dusty thyme and rosemary; a few moments in the glass bring in beguiling hints of crushed violets, lemon balm and crystallized ginger; crisp and lively but with a paradoxical air of summery languor; a bit savory and saline; lovely stone fruit flavors imbued with limestone, almond skin and grapefruit rind. Irresistible. Excellent. About $22.

Bellingham “The Bernard Series” Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2013, Coastal Region. 14.3% alc. 100% chenin blanc from vines averaging 43 years old. Brilliant medium gold hue; peach and guava with touches of hay, lanolin, cloves; boldly ripe, generous, with notes of honey and loam, lime peel and lemongrass; sumptuous in the mouth but riven by bright acidity and slightly detectable spicy oak, particularly on the finish; beautifully layered and balanced but admits some floridness and flamboyance in its make-up. Excellent. About $22.

Imported by Pacific Highway Wine and Spirits, Petaluma, Calif. The bottle image is one vintage behind.
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And two delicious reds from wineries in Lodi.

Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc 2012, North Coast. 14.4% alc. 100% cabernet franc. Medium ruby color; pungent, spicy, a little feral; black and red currants and plums with a touch of blueberry and a hint of black olive and thyme; clean, lively acidity and moderately dense but supple tannins provide structure; it’s quite dry but delectably drinkable. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $27.

Estate Crush Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault 2012, Lodi. 100% cinsault grapes from a vineyard planted in 1886, among the very oldest in California. 100 cases. Brilliant medium ruby color; red cherries and currants, hints of cloves and leather; touch of wild berry; slight herbal note; mild tannins but penetrating graphite minerality; vibrant acidity; spare, lithe and close to elegant. Now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $26.
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Unbate your breath, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” entry, this edition for 2014. I posted to BiggerThanYourHead 135 times in 2014 and reviewed 582 wines. These 50 Great Wines represent 8.6 percent of the wines I reviewed last year. How do I choose the 50 wines for this honor? First, any wine that I rated Exceptional automatically gets a berth in the roster. After that, the selection process involves going back over every post, looking at the reviews of the wines that received an Excellent rating, reading the notes again and looking for the words or phrases signifying that I felt a wine was exciting, provocative, intriguing, highly individual. You can be sure that this list probably isn’t definitive; how could such a selection of wines be? I cut from the field many wines that could easily have been included, but the limit is 50 and they had to be sacrificed. Even as I clicked on the “Publish” button on WordPress I thought, “Oh no, how could I leave out ……?”

Going through these wines, many of My Readers may cry “Foul!” because some of them were produced in severely limited quantities, but that’s often the case with great wines. Think of the situation as a challenge wherein you face a sort of scavenger hunt in tracking such wines down. Some of these wines were made by well-known winemakers for prominent wineries or estates; others are far more obscure, but I enjoy bringing attention to young, small, family-owned and -operated properties that otherwise might not receive the exposure they deserve. The usual suspect grapes are included, of course — chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir — but you will also find on this list proponents of trousseau gris and grenache gris, carignane and cinsault, crafted by brave pioneers of the unusual, even rare grapes. With one exception — the Dolce 2005 — these products are the current releases from their wineries, or close to it. I think all of them were samples for review or were tasted at the property. I hope this list of 50 Great Wines inspires you to look for the ones that capture your interest and to try wines you never encountered before. Prices, by the way, range from about $22 to $120. Coming in a few days will be my annual list of 25 Great Bargain Wines $20 and Under.
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Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma Valley. With 7 percent petit verdot. 1,475 cases. Exceptional. About $70.
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Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Elevation 950 Feet Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $75.
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Animo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. With 17 percent petit verdot. From Michael Mondavi. Excellent. About $85.
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d’Arenberg The Other Side Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 96-year-old vines. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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d’Arenberg Tyche’s Mustard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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Battenfeld Spanier Mölsheim Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen, Germany. Exceptional. About $23.
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Blair Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 481 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 55% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 19% picpoul. 1,965 cases. Exceptional. About $28.
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Bonny Doon Cuvée R Grenache 2012, Monterey County. 593 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $28.
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Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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Cenyth 2009, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 47% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 8% petit verdot, 7% malbec. The debut release from this collaboration between Julia Jackson, daughter of the late Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke, and Helene Seillan, daughter of Pierre Seillan, winemaker of Verité. Exceptional. About $60.
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Chêne Bleu Aliot 2010, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, France. 65 percent roussanne, 30 percent grenache blanc, 5 percent marsanne and some smidgeon of viognier. Exceptional. About $85.
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Clos Saron Out of the Blue, 2013, Sierra Foothills. 90 percent cinsault, 5 percent syrah, 5 percent graciano. (The cinsault vines planted in 1885.) 170 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 10% merlot. 470 cases. Exceptional. About $80.
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Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. 361 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Dolce 2005, Napa Valley. 90 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc. A majestic dessert wine. Exceptional. About $85 for a half-bottle.
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Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer 2012, Alto Adige, Italy. Exceptional. About $32.
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The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 261 cases. Exceptional. About $33.
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FEL Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $38.
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Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 200 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Gallegos Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 250 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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Idlewild Grenache Gris 2013, Mendocino County. 230 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Inama Vigneto du Lot 2011, Soave Classico, Italy. Excellent. About $30.
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Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas. Excellent. About $40.
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J. Christopher Wines Lumière Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 756 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. With nine percent malbec. Exceptional. About $90.
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Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
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McCay Cellars Carignane 2011, Lodi, 218 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2010, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. This proprietary wine is a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 18 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot and 4 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $100.
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Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. With 3 percent petit verdot, 1 percent each malbec and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $100.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 230 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 588 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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La Pitchoune Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 279 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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Pittnauer Rosenberg St. Laurent 2010, Burgenland, Austria. Excellent. About $27.
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Quinta do Vallado 20 Years Old Tawny Porto. 83 cases. Exceptional. About $80 for a 500-milliliter bottle..
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Respite Reichel Vineyard Indulgence 2010, Alexander valley, Sonoma County. A proprietary blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent malbec and 13 percent cabernet franc. 77 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2010. Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 429 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,302 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Steven Kent Winery Merrellie Chardonnay 2012, Livermore Valley. 504 cases. Excellent. About $34.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Valley. 266 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 170 cases. Exceptional. About $65.
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Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2009, Sonoma Coast. 123 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris 2012, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley. 25 cases. Exceptional. About $25.
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VML Blanc de Noirs 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.
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Volta Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $60.
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Wakefield St. Andrews Single Vineyard Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Clare Valley, Australia. 250 cases imported. Excellent. About $60.
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Weltner Rödelseer Küchenmeister Trocken Sylvaner 2012, Franken, Germany. Excellent. About $27.
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Chêne Bleu — “blue oak” — occupies 340 acres in a unique microclimate at elevations from 1,600 to 1,800 feet in a saddle of the Dentelles de Montmirail where four southern Rhône appellations — Gigondas, Côtes du Ventoux, Côtes du Rhône and Séguret — merge. Eighty-seven acres of the estate, called La Verrière for more than six centuries, are cultivated to vineyards; grapes have been grown in the steep, stony area for a thousand years. Xavier and Nicole Rolet purchased the isolated and long neglected property and its ancient ruined priory in 1993 and spent 10 years restoring the dilapidated buildings and shabby vineyards. The first wines were released in 2006. Viticulturalist is Xavier Rolet’s sister Bénédicte Gallucci; winemaker is her husband Jean-Louis Gallucci. The vineyards are managed in a combination of organic and biodynamic methods. The use of new oak barrels is sparing.

The winery eschews the typical appellation system, preferring to use the simpler Vin de Pays du Vaucluse designation or, as that category became a few years ago when the Vin de Pays AOC was dismantled, Vaucluse Indication Geographique Protegée, a step that allows a certain freedom in the choice of grapes they blend. Everything about this stylish, sophisticated winery and its products — and prices — indicates a desire to be considered a world-class estate, and I would not be surprised if such is not the case within the next 10 to 20 years. Greatness is not achievable in winemaking within a vintage or two; it takes time for knowledge and experience to merge perfectly with nature and terroir, though the wines under review today seem well on their way. All five — a rose from 2013, whites from 2012 and 2010 and two reds from 2007, the current releases — display remarkable individuality, personality and character.

Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, Calif. These wines were samples for review.
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The Chêne Bleu Rose 2013, Ventoux, is a blend of 65 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah and 5 percent cinsault, given a very cold fermentation in stainless steel for five weeks. Twenty percent of the wine aged for three months in a combination of old and new French oak barrels, mainly barrique-size, that is 228-liters or 60 gallons. As I mentioned on Facebook, if this isn’t the best rose wine I tasted this year, I can’t think immediately of what the better one is. The color is a classic pale onion skin hue; the whole impression is of a delicate, even ethereal construct that nonetheless retains a slightly earthy, loamy, smoky aspect. Aromas of dried strawberries and raspberries are wreathed with notes of tangerine, lime peel and green tea, elements that segue generously into the mouth, where they take on touches of damp and dusty limestone and flint, all energized by brisk acidity. Most memorable is the wine’s sense of tone and presence, its suave and elegance weight on the palate. 13 percent alcohol. 800 six-pack cases were imported. Drink through the end of 2015. Excellent. About $31.
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The Chêne Bleu Aliot 2010, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, is named for Aliot de Montvin, an artisan glassblower of noble birth who named the winery’s estate La Verrière — The Glassblowing Workshop — in 1427. The blend is 65 percent roussanne, 30 percent grenache blanc, 5 percent marsanne and some smidgeon of viognier. Cold fermentation occurred in 600-liter demi-muids — 159-gallon barrels — and the wine aged six to eight months in a combination of old and new French oak. The color is bright yellow-gold; the wine is rich and honeyed in every sense, with scents and flavors of spiced pears and peaches, candied quince and ginger and hints of papaya and mango. Rich and honeyed, yes, but both succulent and bone-dry, vibrant, crystalline, wreathed with notes of cloves and sea-salt, savory spiced and baked pineapple and grapefruit, with a contrasting touch, on the lush finish, of grapefruit bitterness, the entire package permeated by limestone and chalk minerality. 14 percent alcohol. 45 six-pack cases were imported. That’s right readers, 270 bottles for the USA, and we took one to dinner at Erling Jensen restaurant in Memphis, where the wine performed beautifully with an appetizer of crisp sweetbreads with parmesan ravioli, shiitake mushrooms and a veal jus. Drink — carefully stored — through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $85.
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Not quite 100 percent varietal, the Chêne Bleu Viognier 2012, contains 4 percent grenache blanc. The appellation is IGP — Indication Geographique Protegée — Vaucluse, IGP having replaced the old, familiar Vin de Pays. As with the Aliot, mentioned above, this wine was cold-fermented in 600-liter demi-muids and aged six to eight months in a combination of old and new French oak. The color is pale gold; the (to my mind) signature elements of the viognier grape quickly emerge with notes of jasmine and gardenia, cloves and mango, bee’s-wax, baked pear and dried thyme. The wine is distinctly savory, its ripe stone-fruit flavors rife with sage, sea-salt and grapefruit rind; back-notes of dried apricot, ginger and quince lend complexity to lip-smacking acidity, scintillating limestone minerality and a dense, almost chewy texture. There’s nothing heavy or opulent here though; all elements are delicately tied and buoyantly expressed. 13.5 percent alcohol. 300 cases were produced. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $41.
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The blend of the Chêne Bleu Abelard 2007, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, is 90 percent grenache to 10 percent syrah, the grapes derived from vines that are 45 and more years old. The initial winemaking process involved a three-day cold maceration in wooden vats, 10 days of fermentation and then four weeks of maceration on the skins; The wine spent 11 months in a combination of old and new French oak barrels, primarily 60-gallon barriques; it is unfined and unfiltered. My advice is to decant the wine — not a difficult or scary process, just pour it into a clean glass container — and let it air out for an hour or two before drinking. The color is dark ruby; remarkably fresh for a seven-year-old grenache, this offers scents of ripe and slightly roasted blackberries and plums laden with dusty graphite minerality and notes of fruitcake, old leather, lavender and dried rosemary. Lithe and supple in texture, Abelard 2007, unlike its namesake, does not lack balls; the tannic-acid structure is forthright and more evident as time passes and you pay attention to what’s happening in the glass and bottle, but that rather stern foundation does not submerge the wine’s innate balance, integration and elegance. 14.5 percent alcohol. 800 six-pack cases were imported. Drink through 2020 to 2025. Excellent. About $100.
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The Chêne Bleu Heloise 2007, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, is the most complicated and intriguing of this group of wines. The winemaking regimen is the same as for its Abelard 2007 stablemate, if it’s permissible to use such a term for these celebrated lovers — or non-lovers — though this is a blend of 60 percent syrah, 37 percent grenache and 3 percent viognier. The color is dark ruby, and at first this Heloise feels more mature than the companion Abelard — sorry, my dear! — more autumnal in its scents of smoky, spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants and undertones of loam, mushrooms and moss. Give the wine a chance, however, to build its character, either in the glass or by decanting an hour or so before consuming; let it expand with elements of fennel and pomegranate, dried rosemary and cedar and their requisite resiny notes (meaning that in the best way); allow it to gain in suppleness and the savory qualities of sage and sea-salt and depth of spicy red and black fruit flavors. And while its feet are definitely planted in the earth, Heloise 07 succeeds in maintaining an elevating, wild note at the top of its range. 15 percent alcohol. 800 six-pack cases were imported. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $100.
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