Italy


In days gone by, we legions of wine-writers would lament the fact that nobody but us appreciated rosé wines and how wonderful they are and how versatile. We would deplore the notion that everyone in America associated rosé wines with sweetness — and the worst were sweet — when actually the best rosés are quite dry. That’s not the case now, when rosés have grown immensely popular and many wineries all over the world turn out the things as major or side projects, sometimes very seriously. Rosé wines have improved too, being generally made in clean, fresh, crisp mineral-infused fashion. Don’t worry about rosés, friends, they can take care of themselves. I offer today 10 examples of rosé wines made from a variety of grapes in differing styles, most tending toward pleasure and delight, although a couple invite more thoughtful contemplation. They’re not just for Spring and Summer either; several of these models carry enough heft and character to be consumed throughout the year, though you can’t beat them for picnics and backyard fetes in fine weather. Enjoy! In moderation, of course.

These wines were samples for review.
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Domaine Saint-Aix AIX Rosé 2014, Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France. 12.5% alc. Grenache, cinsault, syrah, counoise. Very pale pink, like the inside of a seashell; ineffable fragrance of dried strawberries and red currants assisted by mild notes of cloves and thyme; brisk acidity blows through it like a sea-breeze on damp limestone; lavender and orange zest in the background, all delicately chiseled and faceted. Excellent. About $19.
Imported by Massanois LLC, Scarsdale, N.Y.
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Chateau Notre Dame du Quatourze Rosé 2014, Languedoc, France. 13% alc. Cinsault, grenache, syrah. Salmon-peach color; peach and strawberry, nicely ripe, slightly dusty terra cotta touch; pomegranate with a notes of cloves; limestone and dried herbs. Tasty and attractive. Very Good+. About $NA .
Imported by Val d’Orbieu America, New York.
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Chateau de Jonquieres Cuvee Cersius Rosé 2014, Languedoc, France. …% alc. Cinsault, grenache, syrah. A pale pink shimmer; delicate and elegant, fine bones; rose hips and strawberries, notes of raspberries and orange zest; crystalline acidity and gravel-like minerality; quite dry but distinctly though ethereally flavorful. Lovely. Very Good+. About $NA .
Imported by Val d’Orbieu America, New York.
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Los Vascos Rosé 2014, Colchagua, Chile. Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) 13.5% alc. 90% cabernet sauvignon, 10% syrah. Light salmon-pink color with a tinge of magenta; a summery burst of pure strawberry and raspberry; warm and spicy, racy acidity; a touch of plums garnished with dusty graphite and a dash of dried thyme; lovely shape and presence. Excellent. About $14, representing Great Value.
Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.
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MacPhail Family Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. 100% pinot noir. 492 cases. Brilliant copper-salmon color; tomato skin and lime leaf, strawberries, raspberries and rose petals, hints of graphite and sea-salt, briers and brambles; a spicy, savory and fairly robust rose that doesn’t neglect delicacy and elegance in the upper register; lively, supple finish drenched with red fruit (hinting at the tropical) and mineral undertones. A superior rose. Exceptional. About $22.
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Il Poggione Brancato 2014, Rosato di Toscana, Italy. 12.5% alcohol. 100% sangiovese. Vivid smoky topaz hue; strawberries, raspberries and peaches; a dusty, dusky minerality, like paving stones warmed by the sun; hints of cloves and dried thyme; beautiful balance between bright acidity and a moderately lush texture, but altogether spare and elegant. A gorgeous rosé, very much a presence on the palate. Excellent. About $18.
Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill.
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Chateau Ribaute “Senhal d’Aric” Rosé 2014, Corbiéres. 12.5% alc. Carignane, grenache, syrah, mourvèdre. Smoky topaz hue, slightly darker than onion skin; peach and strawberry, with a touch of raspberry in the background; warm and stony, damp roof tiles drying in sunlight — the whole “South of France” thing; ethereal but with a grounding in loam. Nicely layered for a rose. Excellent. About $NA.
Imported by Val d’Orbieu America, New York.
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Stemmari Rosé 2014, Sicily. 12% alc. 100% nero d’avola grapes. Entrancing light ruby color with violet undertones; red fruit all round, with prominent strawberry and raspberry followed by notes of cherries and currants and touches of tart pomegranate and pink grapefruit; sunny, leafy, warm and spicy; refreshing and attractive; finish emphasizes brisk acidity and limestone-like crispness (with a hint of orange candied orange peel). Very Good+. About $10, a Real Bargain.
Prestige Wine Imports, New York.
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Toad Hollow Vineyards “Eye of the Toad” Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County. 11.5% alc. 100% pinot noir. Vivid salmon-copper hue; notably fresh, clean and crisp; strawberries and rose petals, notes of pert cranberries and pomegranate; hint of orange rind; flinty texture for under-tones of minerality but lovely satiny flow on the palate. Very Good+. About $12, marking Great Value.
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Two Shepherds Grenache Rosé 2014, Sonoma Coast. % alc. 100% grenache. 90 cases. The blissful incarnadine of bright ruby-cherry hue; pure raspberry with a suffusion of cherry-berry, melon ball and sour cherry; marked limestone minerality, very dry yet drenched with tart, slightly candied red fruit flavors; almost tannic yet never less than delightful and ethereal in the high notes and gradually unfolding depth unusual in a rose; finish brings in hints of apple, dried cranberry and thyme. Perfection. Exceptional. About $24.
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The red grape variety lagrein dates back at least to the 17th Century in Italy’s Alto Adige region and is generally recognized as one of the oldest varieties grown there. This is in the country’s northeastern reaches, up where speakers of Italian and speakers of German segue rather seamlessly and place names and other nomenclature are often given in both languages. For example, the producer of today’s Wine of the Week is listed on the label as Kellerei-Cantina Andrian. The cantina, founded in 1893, was the first cooperative in Alto Aldige, a cool climate mountainous area of calcareous soil also referred to as Sud — or South — Tirol. Andrian was absorbed into the cooperative Cantina Terlano in 2008, though the wines are made separately to preserve their individuality. Winemaker for Andrian is Rudi Kofler.

The Andrian Rubeno Lagrein 2013, Alto Adige, ages briefly in large, old oak casks that lend the wine some shape and dimension. The color is an intense dark ruby with a slightly lighter garnet edge. Full-fledged aromas of spicy red and black currants and plums are buoyed by notes of sour cherry and brambles and a hint of mocha-like richness. These elements slip easily to the palate, where the wine feels robust and vibrant in character but displays soft tannins and appealing dusty graphite minerality. This is, in other words, a pleasurable and easy-drinking red wine that you don’t have to worry your pretty little head about and just enjoy with grilled sausages, simple pasta dishes and pizzas, a burger; you get the idea. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’18. Very Good+. About $12 to $14.

Imported by Banville Wine Merchants, North Bergen, N.J. A sample for review.

Sometimes all we require from a white wine is that it be clean, fresh, cold and tasty and that it goes down like a sea-breeze. Other times, however, we desire a white wine with more weight, with more character and savor, especially that latter quality. So today I offer 10 such white wines, produced from many wine regions and from a variety of grapes, a couple rather unusual. These are the white wines that stimulate the palate as well as refresh the spirit. As usual with these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew a recital of technical detail, historical perspective and geographical data — all of which I adore — to present quick and incisive reviews designed to pique your interest and whet the old taste-buds. These wines, all rated Excellent except for one Exceptional, were either samples for review or were tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event. Enjoy, but with good sense and moderation.
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Abbazia di Novacella Kerner 2013, Valle Isarco, Alto Adige, Italy. 13.5% alc. (You may add kerner to your list of obscure grapes.) Medium straw-gold hue with a faint green cast; roasted lemon, notes of quince and ginger, thyme and pine resin, touch of peach and a tantalizing hint of iris and lilac; slightly dusty and buoyant texture, focus on bright acidity and clean limestone minerality; spiced pear and yellow plum flavors with a saline edge. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $19, marking Good Value.
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Alois Lageder Haberle Pinot Bianco 2013, Sudtirol, Alto Adige, Italy. 13% alc. Pale gold color; every aspect of lemon: lemon peel, lemon balm, lemon curd, with hints of green apple, peach and grapefruit, a whiff of almond blossom and rosemary; a savory and saline pinot blanc, trussed by limestone and flint minerality that devolves to a bracing finish featuring a bite of grapefruit bitterness. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $23.
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Éric Chevalier Clos de la Butte 2013, Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu Sur Lie, Loire Valley, France. 11.5% alc. 100% melon de Bourgogne grapes. Pale straw-gold hue; unusually sizable and savory for Muscadet, with a lithe, sinewy structure based on fleet acidity and glittering limestone and flint minerality; pert and redolent with lemon and lime peel and a hint of almond blossom; notes of pear and apple; overall, glistening and glassy, delicate and finely-knit but with impressive heft. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $16, a Real Bargain.
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Clemens Busch Grauen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2012, Mosel, Germany. 12% alc. Shimmering pale gold color; distinct aromas of lychee and rubber eraser, cloves, lime peel and grapefruit and a pert gingery quality, touch of jasmine; blazing acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; quite dry but with inherent citrus and stone-fruit ripeness; lovely lithe texture with elegant heft; a hint of loamy earthiness in the finish. A brilliant riesling. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $30.
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Etre Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County. (Saxon Brown’s unoaked chardonnay.) 13.5% alc. 447 cases. Medium straw-gold color; ripe and spicy pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors; an intriguing whiff of toasted oats; cloves and orange rind; all ensconced in lime peel and limestone minerality; bare hint of honeysuckle and mango; notes of spiced pear and roasted lemon; lively but not crunchy acidity; seductively lush texture but nothing opulent or obvious. Why would this need oak? Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $28.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc grapes. Certified organic. Pale gold hue; lime peel and lemongrass, grapefruit and jasmine, mint and heather, a touch of guava, all seamlessly wreathed with a sort of breathless ease; lime and a note of peach in the mouth, a hint of thyme and timothy, lovely supple refined structure, a golden core of quince and ginger; finish is all flint, limestone and grapefruit rind. Now through 2017 or ’18. Exceptional. About $30.
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Kennedy Shah Dubrut Vineyard Reserve Riesling 2012, Yakima Valley, Washington. 13.3% alc. Pale gold color; penetrating and provocative aromas of petrol, lychee, peach and spiced pear, top-notes of lemongrass and lime peel; crushed gravel and shale; very dry but luminously fruit-filled and animated by bright acidity and a vibrant limestone presence; notes of lime pith and grapefruit bitterness on the finish. A chiseled, multi-faceted riesling with plenty of appeal. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $25 .
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André & Michel Quenard Les Abymes 2013, Savoie, France. 11% alc. 100% jacquere grapes (to be added to your roster of obscure grapes). Very pale gold color; cloves, cedar and mint, roasted lemon and spiced pear; vibrant acidity with a crisp edge, and more steel than limestone; clean and refreshing but with a woodsy aura and a touch of mossy earthiness on the finish. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $20.
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Saxon Brown Fighting Brothers Cuvee Semillon 2012, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. 334 cases. Pale gold hue; beeswax, fig, quince and ginger; slightly leafy and herbal; candied orange peel, hint of mango; back-notes of spiced and brandied stone-fruit; wonderful sleek, silken texture, slides across the tongue like money; quite spicy and savory on the palate, with lip-smacking acidity and a wisp of limestone minerality. Pretty damned irresistible. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $28.
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Schloss Schonborn Riesling Trocken 2010, Rheingau, Germany. 11.5% alc. Crystalline and transparent in every sense, with marked purity and intensity; very pale gold color; winsome jasmine and honeysuckle, ripe and spicy pear, peach and lychee; hints of lemon balm and lemon curd; incisive acidity and decisive limestone and flint elements; slightly candied lime and grapefruit peel, cloves and ginger; the finish is all hewn limestone, a little austere and aloof. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Most of us, including people in the wine industry, can have no idea what it feels like to own an estate where grapes have been grown since 1273. That privilege belongs to the establishment Marco Felluga — now run by fifth generation Roberto Falluga — which purchased the 250-acre Russiz Superiore property — half planted to vines — in 1967. The part of the world of which I write here is Collio, in the Friuli region of Italy, far in the northeast, an area influenced by the warmth of the Adriatic Sea, 12 miles away, and the coolness of the nearby Alps. Friuli and the northeast generally are white wine territory, but red wine is also produced, and our Wine of the Week is one of those. The Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Cabernet Franc 2012, Collio, offers a deep black-ruby hue with a vibrant violet rim; it’s all a bit thermonuclear. The wine is 100 percent cabernet franc, and it aged 12 months in small oak casks, a device that lends it lovely suppleness and a subtle spicy background, but nothing obtrusive. This feels, in fact, like classic Loire Valley cab franc, with its seamless amalgam of cedar and tobacco, plums, blueberries and raspberries permeated by notes of black olives, loam and oolong tea; hints of cloves and sandalwood emerge after a few moments in the glass. The wine is robust, dense, almost chewy yet never heavy or overbearing, being, rather, sleek and chiseled in texture. Black fruit flavors are supported by clean acidity, mildly dusty tannins and an undercurrent of earthy graphite minerality. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18 with hearty braised meat dishes, full-flavored pastas, grilled pork chops or steaks. Excellent. About $28.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

If your weather week is anything like ours, you’ll require a robust red wine to accompany the hearty meals you’re preparing to shore against the chill, the wind, the ice and snow. Here’s an example that will do very nicely indeed. The Vigna Flaminio Riserva 2008, produced by Agricole Vallone in the Brindisi region of the Salento Peninsula — otherwise known as the heel of the Italian boot — adds 20 percent montepulciano grapes to the balance of negroamaro; the wine spends its infancy in stainless steel tanks, then ages six to eight months in 50 hectoliter Slavonian oak barrels, finishing with a year in concrete and five or six months in bottle before release. (Fifty hectoliters equals 1,320.86 gallons.) At six years old, the single-vineyard Vigna Flaminio Riserva 2008 is notably fresh and appealing; the color is a rich ruby-purple with a magenta rim, and deep aromas of black currants, cherries and plums smell ripe, spicy and dusty, with hints of violets and lavender, graphite and loam and in the background dried spices and potpourri. Flavors of black fruit offer touches of blueberries and red cherries in a welter of oolong tea, dried porcini, orange rind and clean earth; bright acidity lends verve to a settling darkness of mineral-laced tannins and a wash of woodsy effects on the finish. All in all — finally – this is a completely satisfying, full-bodied, tasty wine for that roast pork loin, pasta Bolognese or sausage pizza. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016. Excellent. About $20.

Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif. This bottle was a sample for review.

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

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

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

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

Postcard image of the Waldorf Astoria from vanartgallery.bc.ca.
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Tenuta Terraviva lies close to the coastal town of Tortoreto in the region of Abruzzo. The organic estate produces small quantities of white and red wine from local grapes such as trebbiano, pecorino and montepulciano, employing thoughtful application of wood and steel to craft delicious, lively and charming wines with a slightly serious edge and surprising complexity. Alcohol content stays consistently in the 13 to 13.5 percent range. I tried the sleek, spicy, lightly honeyed and blossomy Terraviva Trebbiano 2013, the winery’s entry-level white, made in stainless steel; another trebbiano, Mario’s 40 2012, which undergoes 12 months in large oak barrels and six months in steel tanks, lending notes of spiced pear, candied grapefruit and almond flower (about 415 cases); the intriguing ‘Ekwo 2013, Abruzzo Pecorino, made in stainless steel and offering distinct hints of heather, yellow plums, mango and lime peel (about 335 cases); and for red, the Lui 2011, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, aged half in used barriques and half in steel tanks, for a feral and woodsy effect of wild cherries and raspberries, dried mountain herbs and leather, with real dusty tannic grip (about 1,650 cases; alcohol content 14 percent). Tenuta Terraviva is looking for an American importer, and we would all be happy if one were found. At the current conversion rate of euros to dollars, the Trebbiano 2013 is priced at about $10.25, while Mario’s 40 2012 is about $13.50. Even after the costs of importation and the three-tier system, these would be attractive and reasonably priced wines.
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Villa Venti is located about 30 kilometers directly west of the sea-coast resort city of Rimini, in the extreme southeastern corner of Emilia-Romagna. Boasting bed and breakfast lodging and a farm for demonstrating organic and biodynamic methods, the estate is operated by the Castellucci, Giardini and Riva families. I tried two of their wines, the exotic Serenaro 2013, Forli Bianco IGT, made from the very local famoso di Cesena grape, and the appealing and enticing Primo Segno 2012, Romagna Sangiovese Superiore, as well as the version from 2011. This red wine, which sees no oak, is deceptively light, with floral and spicy fragrances that seem to nourish the soul, very pretty red cherry and raspberry fruit, bracing acidity and a surprising amount of supple loamy tannins; that’s the 2012; the ’11 offers even more burnish, depth and purchase. It made me long for a dish of pappardelle with rabbit or a selection of salumi and cheeses. In Italy, this stylish wine costs about 10 euros.
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The founding of Torre San Martino began with the discovery, in 2000, of sangiovese vines dating back to 1922. The estate occupies 70 hectares — about 173 acres — in the central Appennines of the area called Tosco-Romagnola; we’re still in Emilia-Romagna but in the far west. The stunning young woman who poured the wines of Torre San Martino supplied me with a sleekly designed brochure, all black, white and gray, but it offered no technical information about the products, and the estate’s website is “Under Construction,” so I can deliver no technical data about how these wines were made, though someone is doing something right. The intriguing white entry, the Vigna della Signora 2013, Colli di Faenza Bianco, is a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and albana grapes, the latter an indigenous vine that does not get much love, despite its DOCG status. In combination, though, with unspecified amounts of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, it produces a wine that seems pure gold, from its brilliant straw-gold hue to its notes of yellow fruit and flowers, spiced pears and caramelized grapefruit and orange zest, and a texture poised between pert acidity and moderate lushness. The Vigna 1922 Riserva 2011, Sangiovese di Romagna, is made exclusively from those 93-year-old vines; it’s a wine of great elegance and breeding, intensity and depth, displaying a sense of history and geography, and if you could not sell the hell out of it in restaurants in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and L.A. then you would need to get a job cleaning milk shake machines. The Gemme 2013, Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, is a younger wine in every way, fresh and amenable but with plenty of stuffing. These are sophisticated wines that embody high-design components and an interesting narrative; how could they not find an American importer?
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I was terrifically impressed by the wines of Ronco del Gelso, an estate located in the Isonzo DOC of Friuli Venezia Giulia, in northeastern Italy. Mainly white wines are produced here, with a few reds, and these white wines are notably fresh, clean, crisp and spicy, as in the instance of the Toc Bas 2013, made from friulano grapes. More layered is the Sot lis Rives 2013, a barrel-aged pinot grigio that employs crystalline limestone qualities and vivacious acidity to cushion tasty peach, lime and grapefruit flavors, with hints of hazelnuts and almond blossom. The Siet Vignis Chardonnay 2013 aged a year in 2,500-liter oak barrels, lending the wine lovely subtlety and suppleness, while retaining well-defined mineral elements and delicious citrus and stone-fruit flavors. Best of these, however, is Ronco del Gelso’s Schulz Riesling 2013, a captivating and winsome wine made all in stainless steel, resting on the lees with no malolactic fermentation; the result is a beautifully balanced amalgam of peach, pear, lychee, jasmine and limestone that’s slightly sweet on the entry but very dry on the finish and exhibiting all the verve and energy you want in a great riesling.
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The way I tasted wine yesterday and will for the next two days is not the best way to taste wine. What’s the best way? At dinner at home with LL and a bottle of wine that tastes great with the food we cooked. The next best way is to stand in the kitchen with a few bottles and spend time with them, going back over them for an hour or two and trying them from the different perspectives that a little air lends, and perhaps knocking a stopper in the bottle and trying them the next day. Also a good way to taste wine is at the property where it was produced or in the vineyard whence it sprang forth, bearing the influence of the soil in which the vines are rooted and the weather that passed over the vineyard, feeling it all there.

Not the best way to taste wine or at least not the best way to taste wine seriously and take competent notes is at a mass trade event. At VINO 2015 — and believe me, I’m happy to be here in New York City — the organizers have gathered some 350 producers from Italy, as well as a major side event hosted by Slow Wine. In all, there are about 1,200 wines to taste. Rows of tables are set up with narrow aisles between them, so the hundreds of retailers, wholesalers and writers in attendance are jostling each other for space at the most desirable spaces at the same time as they are tasting wine, spitting into the buckets provided there, chatting up their friends or the winemakers or their representatives. The situation is, in short, a circus, and one tends to wander around, glassy-eyed, wondering who to approach and what wines to taste.

I tend to ignore the popular tables where people are crowded around three or four deep and go for the tables where no one is tasting, where the winemakers or producers look a little lonely and uncomfortable. That’s the way to make discoveries, as I did several times yesterday afternoon. I divided my time between Italian producers that do not have representation in the United States and some that do, and I’ll say right now that the wines I tasted from the wineries that have no importer certainly deserve to have their products known in this country. I would rather have tried any of these wines in Italy, walking through the vineyards, tasting with a simple meal at the winery. However, these are the circumstances in which I find myself, and I’m grateful to be at VINO 2015 and discover, at least for myself, such wineries and estates as Torre di San Martino, Ronco del Gelso, Pasetti, Al-Cantara and Crissante.

Today, I will attend guided tastings of wines from Campania and Calabria and throw myself again into the chaos of the big tastings. More wine is waiting to be discovered.

Longtime readers of this blog — bless your tiny pointed heads and may your tribes increase! — know that a great deal of effort goes into the annual “12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series, but as encompassing as that sequence is, it cannot include all the Champagnes and sparkling wines that I taste from late November through early January. For this edition of Weekend Wine Notes, therefore, I offer an eclectic roster of nine of such products, one from Champagne, a duo from Franciacorta in Lombardy and a Lambrusco, an unusual darker-than-a-rosé sparkler from the far western Loire Valley, and versions from California and Oregon. I deliver as much technical information as might actually be required but concentrate on the essence of the blitzkrieg review: short, incisive and to-the-point. With one exception, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007, Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy. 13% alc. 90% chardonnay, 10% pinot noir. A favorite of ours for two Yuletide seasons. Light gold color; a seething horde of tiny bubbles; another year has burnished this sparkling wine; a little spicier, a bit toastier than it was at the previous tasting; roasted lemon and lemon balm, spiced pear; lightly buttered cinnamon toast; keen acidity and a honed limestone element; delicious, with appealing generosity but also a serious edge. Excellent. About $35.
Imported by Masciarelli Wine co., Weymouth, Mass.
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Argyle Brut 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. 60% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay. Pale gold gold, animated by a shimmer of tiny bubbles; a finely meshed construct of delicate details: lemon balm, verbena and lemon curd, a touch of orange rind; candied quince and ginger and a note of cloves; hint of biscuit; quite dry, bright acidity, lots of flint and limestone; very steely, very steady. Lovely. Excellent. About $27.
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Bonny Doon Sparkling Syrah 2011, Central Coast. 13.8% alc., according to the label, 11.9% alc. says the winery website. 83% syrah, 17% grenache. 378 cases. Opaque purple-black with a violet cast; moderately fizzy; the roasted, meaty and fleshy aspect we expect from syrah, but with vivid elements of deeply spiced and macerated strawberries and raspberries; a high balsamic note; burgeoning hints of violets and lavender; strangely attractive yet very intense, almost demanding, in fact too intense to use as an aperitif; this definitely needs food. Very Good+. About $36, intended for the winery’s club members.
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Cleto Chiarli e Figli Vecchia Modena Premier 2013, Lambrusco di Sorbara Secco, Italy. 11% alc. 100% lambrusco di Sorbara grapes. Bright medium ruby-red cherry hue; definitely and pleasantly effervescent; raspberries, red and black currants; slightly earthy with heather and boxwood; swashbuckling acidity keeps the whole dark, savory package lively and quenching, while a hint of tannin lends body; appealing supple texture balances a touch of dry austerity on the finish. Classic with rabbit pasta, terrines, duck. Very Good+. About $ .
Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Contadi Castaldi Brut Rosé 2008, Franciacorta, Lombardy. 15.5% alc. 80% pinot noir, 20% chardonnay. Pale salmon/onion skin hue; quite effervescent; fresh raspberries and strawberries with hints of rose petals and lilac; freshly baked bread, cloves, anise, orange zest; elegant and ethereal; limestone and almond skin on the finish; lovely texture and structure. Very Good+. About $21
Imported by TMT USA, San Antonio, Texas. Image from altissimocento.net.
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Emma 2013, Vin de France. 9% alc. A blend of gamay and grolleau gris grapes, produced by Domaine de la Coche. The Vin de France classification was created in 2009 and allows winemakers to blend grapes and wines from across France, not just those dictated by their appellation. Domaine de la Coche is an organic estate located in the Pays de Retz that lies south of the Loire estuary and north of the Breton marshlands. Bright purple-magenta hue; gently effervescent, just tickles your nose; rose petals and violets, blueberries and raspberries, surprisingly earthy; detectably sweet initially but segues to dry from mid-palate back; a little dusty and raspy but mainly delightful. Very Good+. About $24, an online purchase.
Imported by Fruit of the Vine, Long Island City, N.Y. I think that Emma needs a label makeover.
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Evolution Sparkling Wine nv, America. Produced by Sokol Blosser Winery. 12.5% alc. A proprietary blend of semillon, riesling, muller thurgau, pinot gris, gewurztraminer, muscat, chardonnay. Sokol Blosser, founded in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1971, delivered a real hit with its non-vintage Evolution White, now in its 18th “edition.” This sparkling wine, now debuting and made from the same grape varieties in Washington state, seemed like a natural development. It’s essentially a Prosecco-like sparkling wine made in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. Pale gold color; a tidy splurge of tiny bubbles; apples and lemons, a lot of flowers from the muscat and gewurztraminer, it seems, as well as a hint of muscat funkiness; detectably sweet on the entry but slides toward dryness on the finish; fortunately clean acidity and a hint of limestone keep it honest. Very Good. About $22.
Image from urbanblisslife.com.
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Jacquard Brut Rosé nv, Champagne. 12.5% alc. 53% pinot noir, 35% chardonnay, 12% pinot meunier. Enchanting pale copper-salmon color; a tempest of tiny swirling bubbles; wild strawberries and cherries with a hint of red currants, touches of peach and orange zest; biscuits and cinnamon toast; quince and crystallized ginger; delicate, elegant, an ethereal construct buoyed by crisp acidity and a scintillating limestone quality; a finish half chiseled/half softly appealing. Really lovely. Excellent. About $55.
JAD Imports, Manhasset, N.Y.
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Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec 2010, North Coast. 13.5% alc. 88% flora grapes, 11% chardonnay, 1% pinot noir. 96% Napa County, 2.5% Mendocino, 1.5% Sonoma, 1% Marin. The flora grape is a cross of semillon and gewurztraminer developed of UC-Davis. Very pale gold hue; a gentle tug of finely-wrought bubbles; lemon balm, spiced pear and a touch of peach; jasmine and camellia; not so much sweet as ripe, soft and cloud-like; the floral and slightly nutty elements burgeon as the limestone character digs deeper, creating attractive tension even as the wine feels integrated and harmonious. Drink with the most simple desserts, nothing flamboyant; a sugar cookie or biscotti, a fruit tart, light cakes. Excellent. About $39.
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I was jesting a few days ago when I posted my “50 Great Wines of 2014” and urged people to get their shopping lists ready. Obviously not many consumers are going to make note of a hundred-dollar cabernet sauvignon or a strictly limited, hard to find grenache gris. Here, though, is the roster that you’ve been waiting for, the “25 Great Wine Bargains of 2014,” a list of fairly widely available, well-made wines that will not but a strain on your budget. You will notice that a wine doesn’t have to be expensive to earn an Excellent rating. Seventeen of these products, priced from $10 to $20 have Excellent ratings; the rest are Very Good+. Not a one would you regret buying, some of them by the case. Now that fact that a number of these wines are from 2011 and 2012 means that they probably ought to be consumed quickly, especially the white wines and rosés; most of the reds can go for a year or two. The point is that these are terrific over-achieving wines that offer more personality and complexity than their prices might imply. The order is descending cost. Enjoy!

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

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