Italy


Just when you think that you’ll scream if you have to drink another cabernet sauvignon or merlot, along comes the refosco grape to renew your faith in individual red wine. The grape is native to the vineyard regions of northeast Italy and is also cultivated in neighboring Slovenia and Croatia and a bit in Greece. Its use was recorded as long ago as the late 14th Century, and its wine was a favorite of the libertine and memoirist Casanova. Of a group of related refosco grapes, the most prominent and widely cultivated is refosco dal peduncolo rosso, referring to the reddish color of its stem. These tend to be forthright and robust red wines, high in acid because of the late ripening of the grapes and deeply tannic; they do not take well to aging in small oak barrels. Today, then, I recommend the Ronco dei Moreri Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso 2011, Venezia Giulia, from the estate of Marco Felluga. The name of the vineyard, Ronco dei Moreri, means a hillside surrounded by mulberries. The grapes for this wine were fermented in stainless steel tanks, and the wine aged 12 months in a combination of large and small oak casks. The color is a rich dark ruby hue; the bouquet carries aromatic density of spice and earth and leather, a meaty fleshy aura of macerated plums, mulberries and blueberries and wild notes of violets and graphite. Dense, too, on the palate, the wine delivers prominent dry grainy tannins, as well as the grape’s fabled lively acidity, both aspects supporting flavors of fresh and dried red and black fruit permeated by touches of rosemary, lavender and granitic minerality. The finish is long and slightly austere. 13.5 percent alcohol. About as dignified as a rustic wine gets. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. We had this bottle with homemade pizza dominated by mushrooms, green olives and bacon; its robust and packed character would be appropriate with roasted veal chops, game such as venison and boar or braised beef or bison short ribs. Excellent. About $20.

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

Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” revolves around the notion that places exist that represent the epitome of decency and decorum. I hope the late, great (but deeply troubled) author doesn’t mind if I borrow the term to apply to a group of wines that represent, for me, the epitome of clarity and crystalline transparency, wines that seem to radiate light and chiseled elegance. The six wines under review today hail from the roster of Alois Lageder, an estate founded in 1823 and now operated by the fifth generation. The vineyards from which these wines derive — all white, though reds are also produced — lie in Italy’s Alto Adige region and in the foothills of the Dolomiti — the Dolomites — where the Alps render national and regional boundaries inconsequential. The wines of Alois Lageder, the eponymous leader of the estate, are divided into two groups: Alois Lageder and Tenutae Lageder. Under the former label, the wines are produced partly from the company’s own biodynamically-farmed vineyards and partly from grapes purchased on long-term contracts with local estates. The second group encompasses wines made solely from biodynamic single vineyards owned by the estate. A third tier is Cantina Riff, a pinot grigio and a merlot-cabernet blend made from selected growers in the “Tre Venezie” region; these are the least expensive of the offerings. Winemaker is Luis von Dellemann.

Samples for review from Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. Image of the Dolomites from adventourus.com

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The Riff Pinot Grigio Terra Alpina 2012, della Venezia, is as delicate and crisp as a snowflake and just as faceted. The color is very pale gold; piquant aromas of lemons, apples and lime peel unfurl to backnotes of grapefruit and almond blossom and a hint of almond skin. In the mouth, this wine feels chiseled from green apples, limestone and crystalline acidity, bolstered by touches of ripe peach and spiced pear; the finish is lean and spare. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014 as aperitif, with seafood and vegetarian appetizers or fish stews. Very Good+. About $10, an Amazing Bargain.
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Higher on the quality and price scale is the Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2012, Dolomiti, deriving from more specific locations in Trentino than the generalized Riff Pinot Grigio Terra Alpina ’12. The color is radiant straw-gold with faint green highlights; jasmine and honeysuckle dominate a bouquet inflected by notes of cloves, lilac, pomander, roasted lemons and yellow plums. Surprisingly full-bodied, ripe and spicy with citrus and stone-fruit, but leavened by crisp acidity and a shimmering limestone element; the texture is lovely and buoyant, the finish of medium length, packed with spice and minerals. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now into 2015. A superb aperitif, with seafood terrines, dry cheeses, green olives, or with grilled fish. Excellent. About $15, a Fantastic Bargain.
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The grapes for the single-vineyard Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto Adige, derive from biodynamic-farmed vines certified by the Demeter organization. (I’m not advocating for biodynamic principles; just informing those who are interested.) The color is pale gold; the whole package feels like tissues of delicate froth seamlessly woven with tensile strength; jasmine and camellia dominate a nose that features notes of greengage, lime peel and lemon lightly spiced and touched with almond. The wine offers delicious citrus and pear flavors and moderately full body, almost creamy, but brightened by crisp acidity and streamlined limestone and flint qualities; the whole effect is of lovely transparency and elegance. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016. Excellent. About $25.
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Now we go to pinot blanc, first with the “regular” Alois Lageder Pinot Blanc 2012, Dolomiti. The color is pale pale straw-gold; there’s a burst of floral energy, a seductive strain of jasmine and honeysuckle, then roasted lemon and lemon balm, lime peel and a hint of grapefruit. That grapefruit element persists through the wine’s striking acidity and its note of bitterness on the finish. In between, this is bracing and saline, shot through with limestone and river-rock minerality in lovely crystalline filigree. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Quite delightful. Very Good+. About $14, an Attractive Price.
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The Alois Lageder Haberle Pinot Blanc 2011, Alto Adige, derives from the Haberlehof estate vineyard that ranges in altitude from 1,500 to 1,710 feet. This is a cool-climate vineyard that sees extremes of day and night temperature variation. The color is mild gold; the wine overall is more subdued than its cousin mentioned immediately above, but is also more expressive and expansive. Yes, it is saline and bracing, as if it had feasted on seashells; yes, it features elements of roasted lemons and lime peel but adds spiced pear, a hint of lychee and dried thyme. The aura here is elevating and balletic, elegant, transparent; bright acidity arrows through to a finish heightened by notes of ginger and quince and a touch of grapefruit bitterness. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2015 or ’16 with seafood pastas or risottos or grilled fish. Excellent. About $22.
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Last in this roster is the Alois Lageder Müller Thurgau 2012, Dolomiti, made from a grape that we tend to associate with Germany (where it’s the second-most widely planted grape) and Austria but is grown all over Eastern Europe as well as in New Zealand, England and the United States. It was created in 1882 as a cross between riesling and madeleine royale grapes by Hermann Müller of the Swiss canton of Thurgau, hence the name. The wine derives from Alois Lageder’s highest vineyards, at 1,960 to 2,780 feet altitude. The color is pale gold; the bouquet is notably floral and spicy, weaving cloves and ginger with jasmine and camellia, as well as hints of roasted lemon, grapefruit pith and lime peel and a faint wash of musk. It’s more straightforward in the mouth, quite tasty, a bit savory and saline, very crisp and lively with acid and limestone minerality, but the real attraction is in the nose. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15.
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Call me a romantic, but I was raised on Keats and Tennyson, Chopin and Brahms; how could I be anything else? So, here I am again, offering a roster of brut rosé Champagne and sparkling wines for your Valentine’s celebration. Yes, the idea is trite, but it’s also right for the occasion. We hit Italy, Spain, France and California in this post and offer prices that range from a highly manageable $15 to the elusive $100. Whatever the differences in price and character, these are all very satisfying — and in some instances, exciting — products. Pop the cork (carefully) and pour (carefully) into tall flute-style glasses, gaze upon the vivid colors, revel in the effervescence, enjoy the lively flavors and the tingle on your palate. Above all — share with someone you love.

These products were samples for review. Image from clipartguide.com.
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When a sparkling wine bottle comes robed in pink, my first thought is “Gack, sweet!” The Anna Codorníu Brut Rosé, Penedès, Catalonia, Spain, however, feels crisp and bone-dry. Composed of 70 percent pinot noir grapes and 30 percent chardonnay, “Anna” is made is the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, as the regulations for Cava dictate. The color is fiery copper; aromas of blood oranges, raspberries and dried red currants are heightened by notes of cloves and orange rind; dry and crisp, yes, but leavened by juicy orange, lemon and strawberry flavors that arrow in to a lively grapefruit zest, lime peel and limestone finish. 12 percent alcohol. This estate goes back to 1659, when Anna Codorníu married Miquel Raventos; their descendants still run the company. Very Good+. About $15, a Distinct Value.

Imported by Aveníu Brands, Baltimore, Md.
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Juvé y Camps Brut Rosé, Penedès. Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, this crowd-pleaser offers a brilliant ruby-garnet hue and a fount of tiny bubbles; notes of pure strawberry and raspberry with a hint of pomegranate lead to a dry, crisp yet juicy and delicious sparkler that provides plenty of crisp acidity and flint-like minerality for body and structure. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16 and Worth the Price.

Imported by Winebow, New York.
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Cavicchioli & Figli Vigna del Cristo 2011, Lambrusco di Sorbara, is made completely from lambrusco di Sorbara grapes in Italy’s Emilia- Romagna region. The grapes derive from the Cavicchioli family’s original 12.5-acre vineyard; though in the grape-growing business for over a century, the family first bottled its own wines in 1928. For this example, 50 percent of the free-run juice undergoes second fermentation in tank, lending the wine a mild but very pleasing effervescence. Unlike many lambrusco wines, which manifest a dark ruby-purple hue, the color of the Cavicchioli & Figli Vigna del Cristo 2011 is a ruddy copper-flame color; enticing aromas of ripe strawberries and rose petals open to a background of raspberries and a slight earthy rasp to the texture; the wine is very dry, and a surprising limestone and flint element emerges, as well as an autumnal aura, just a touch over-ripe and mossy. All this adds up to a delightful wine with a hint of seriousness. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Very Good+. About $17.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
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The latest release of the J Vineyards Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, is a blend of 66 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay and 1 percent pinot meunier; it’s made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. The color is a radiant coral-topaz hue, energized by a gentle upward swirl of tiny silver bubbles. Strawberry shortcake in the bouquet is balanced by notes of raspberries, cloves and orange zest with hints of floral astringency and spiced pears. The stones-and-bones structure is both powerful and elegant, dry and crisp, with a halo of dried red currants and raspberries supported by pert acidity and an impressive limestone character. A lovely sparkler. Winemaker was Melissa Stackhouse. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $38.
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The Ronco Calino Radijan Rosé, Franciacorta, Lombardy, is dedicated to owner Paolo Radici’s father. The color is slightly ruddy, smoky salmon-pink; the bubbles are exceedingly tiny, fine and persistent; first impression is pure strawberry and raspberry but highlighted by notes of orange rind and grated lemon peel, limestone and steel. This is a very lively, spicy sparkling wine, truly effervescent; ripe and macerated red berry flavors are wrapped around a spine of bright acidity and clean flint-like minerality. The whole effect is sensual, charming and appealing yet with dark earthy undertones. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. The image of a piano on the label is an homage to the great pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995), to whom the estate once belonged. Excellent. About $31.

Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.
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The Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut Rosé, North Coast (Napa and Sonoma counties), is one of the prettiest sparkling wines you’ll find, though it has a serious, even a dramatic side too. A blend of 49 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir and 6 percent pinot meunier (slightly different than the previous release), it displays an entrancing fiery copper-peach color and a steady pulse of infinitesimal glinting bubbles. The bouquet is characterized by strawberries and red currants enlivened by orange zest and cloves and hints of fresh-baked bread, flint and steel. There’s very agreeable tension among slashing acidity, taut and crisp-edged limestone-like minerality and an almost luxurious sense of round citrus and stone-fruit nuances and irresistible seductive power. This would be a great special occasion — i.e., romantic — sparkling wine. 13 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Tom Tiburzi. Excellent. About $50.
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Delamotte is owned by Champagne Laurent-Perrier (see below), and as such is a sister house to Champagne Salon, one of the greatest, rarest and most expensive of all Champagnes. Don’t worry, though, the Delamotte Brut Rosé is a special brut rosé Champagne priced reasonably for the type. The pinot noir grapes for this blend derive from Grand Cru vineyards at Montagne de Reims; the chardonnay is from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, superior pedigree all round. The color is shimmering copper-salmon, like a deepening sunset; tiny bubbles surge swirling to the surface. This is a high-toned and austere rose, built on strains of steel and limestone wreathed with orange zest, camellia, quince, ginger and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; chiming acidity and an almost crystalline flint and limestone element lend frosty if not glacial elegance, but the effect is more thrilling than forbidding. 12 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Michel Fauconnet, also cellar-master at Laurent-Perrier. Excellent. About $70, though online there’s a wide range of prices.

Imported by Vineyard brands, Birmingham, Ala.
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The entrancing color of the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut, Champagne, France, is a ruddy copper-salmon color, like tarnished silver over rosy-gold, enlivened by a constant upward froth of tiny glinting bubbles; this is all pinot noir, from 10 Grand Cru villages, presented in an old-fashioned bell-shaped bottle. The initial impression is of raspberries, red currants, orange zest and lightly toasted brioche, quickened by high notes of something wildly berry-like and broadened by bass tones of flint and chalk. The balance between fleetness and suppleness is exciting, and while the whole package is beautifully woven, elegant and sleek, it harbors depths of limestone minerality and bright acidity for resonance. Intense yet buoyant and sophisticated. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $100 suggested retail price but can be found for far less on the Internet.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier U.S., Sausalito, Cal.
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So, tomorrow’s the Big Day, a Super Bowl with lots of spindly Roman numerals, and manly men and their womanly women with gather in front of giant television screens, as once our distant ancestors gathered around protective campfires, to watch the display of sportsmanship, athletic skill, mayhem and commercials. And, of course, chow down on all sorts of food that we understand is super-comforting but super-bad for us. I cast no aspersions; I merely offer a few red wines to match with the hearty, deeply sauced and cheesy, rib-sticking, finger-lickin’ fare. These wines display varying levels of power and bumptiousness but not overwhelmingly tannins; that’s not the idea. Rather, the idea is to stand up to some deeply flavorful snacks and entrees with which most people think they are obligated to drink beer, but it’s not so. I provide here brief reviews designed to capture the personality of each wine with a minimum of technical, historical and geographical folderol. With the exception of the Sean Thackrey Sirius 2010, which I purchased online, these wines were samples for review. By the way, I recommend opening most of these examples about the time that Renee Fleming launches into “The Star-Spangled Banner”; they’ll be ready to drink by half-time.
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XYZin Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, California. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby color; plums and fruitcake, black cherries, blueberries, note of lightly candied pomegranate around the circumference; a highly developed floral-fruity-spicy profile; very dry, dense and chewy, freighted with dusty, slightly woody and leathery tannins, but robust and lively in a well-balanced and tasty way; not a blockbuster and all the more authentic for it. Now through 2015. Chicken wings, pigs in blankets, baby-back ribs. Very Good+. About $16.
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Vina Robles “Red” 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County, California. 14.5% alc. Blend of syrah, petite sirah, grenache, mourvedre; winery does not specify percentages. Dark ruby color, almost opaque at the center; intense and concentrated; black cherries and plums, oolong tea, a little tarry and infused with elements of briers and brambles, gravel and graphite; dry grainy tannins, vibrant acidity (I thought that my note said “anxiety,” but I knew that wasn’t right); long spice-packed finish. A dense yet boisterous red for pizza and chili. Very Good+. About $17.
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Bonny Doon Contra Old Vine Field Blend 2011, Contra Costa County, California. 13.5% alc. A blend of 56% carignane grapes, 28% mourvedre, 9% grenache, 6% syrah, 1% zinfandel. Dark ruby color, tinge of magenta; robust and rustic, heaping helpings of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plums with notes of pomegranate and mulberry and hints of lavender and pomander; graphite-brushed tannins make it moderately dense, while pert acidity keeps it lively. Cries out of cheeseburger sliders and barbecue ribs. Very Good+. About $18.
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Paolo Manzone Ardi 2012, Langhe Rosso, Piedmont, Italy. 13/5% alc. 60% dolcetto d’Alba, 40% barbera d’Alba. Production was 300 cases; ok, so you can’t actually buy this, but I would make it my house red if I could. Brilliant medium ruby color; black cherry and plum, dried spice and potpourri, rose petal and lilac, but, no, it’s not a sissy wine; taut acidity and deep black and red fruit flavors; dry underbrushy tannins, lithe, almost muscular texture, graphite minerality flexes its muscles; sleek, stylish, delicious. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $18.
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Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2010, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. 85% sangiovese grapes, 15% colorino, canaiolo, merlot. Dark ruby color, lighter magenta rim; dried black cherries and currants, smoke, cloves, tar and black tea; dried spice and flowers, foresty with dried moss, briers and brambles, really lovely complexity; plush with dusty tannins, lively with vivacious acidity; terrific presence and personality. Now through 2016 or ’17. Venison tacos, pork tenderloin. Excellent. About $26.
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Allegrini + Renacer Enamore 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 15% alc. 45% malbec, 40% cabernet sauvignon, 10% bonarda, 5% cabernet franc. This wine is a collaboration between the important producer of Valpolicella, in Italy’s Veneto region, and the Argentine estate where the wine is made, but in the dried grape fashion of Amarone. It’s really something. Dark ruby color with a deep magenta rim; tons of grip, dense, chewy, earthy, but sleek, lithe and supple, surprisingly generous and expansive; black fruit, dried herbs, plums, hint of leather; earthy and minerally but clean and appealing; a large-framed, durable wine, dynamic and drinkable, now through 2019 to ’21. With any animal roasted in a pit you crazy guys dug in the backyard just for this occasion. Excellent. About $26.
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Sean Thackrey Sirius Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County, California. 15.1% alc. Opaque as motor oil, with a violet sheen; blackberries and blueberry tart, hints of lavender, potpourri, bitter chocolate and pomegranate; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of spiced plums and fruitcake; ripe, dense, chewy, dusty but not o’ermastered by tannin, actually rather velvety, exercises its own seductions; alert acidity, depths of graphite minerality. Now through 2018 to 2020. Chili with bison, venison, wild boar. Excellent. About $40.
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d’Arenberg The Ironstone Pressings GSM 2009, McLaren Vale, South Australia. 14.5% alc. Production was 300 cases (sorry). 67% grenache, 26% shiraz, 7% mourvedre. Radiant medium ruby color; “ironstone” is right, mates, yet this is a beautifully balanced and integrated wine with real panache and tone; plums and black currants, hint of red and black cherries; dust, graphite, leather, slightly gritty grainy tannins; earth and briers, granitic minerality but a core of bitter chocolate, violets and lavender. Carnitas, chorizo quesadillas, barbecue brisket. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $65.
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Wine attracts us by its color and seduces us with its aromas. It’s true that some wines, whites in particular, can be too aromatic, almost cloyingly so. This can happen with torrontes wines from Argentina, with viognier-based wines and occasionally with riesling. What I offer today are six white wines that excel in the aromatic bouquet area, as well as gratifying in flavor and body, easy in the alcohol department and being ever-so-helpful price-wise. Chardonnay figures only as a minority component in one of the wines, and sauvignon blanc occurs not at all. Primarily these are easy-drinking and charming wines, even delightful, and they may give you a foretaste of the Spring that most of the country so desperately longs for, even California, where it’s already an exceedingly, even dangerously dry Summer. As usual, these brief reviews do not touch upon the educational aspects of geography, history, climate and personnel matters for the sake of immediacy. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia 2012, Veneto, Italy. 12.5% alc. Gargenega 60%, chardonnay 40%. Pale gold color; super-floral, with notes of jasmine and camellia; lemon, yellow plums, hint of candlewax; very dry, with a seductive, almost talc-like texture but cut by shimmering acidity and a touch of limestone minerality. Lovely quaff. Drink up. Very Good+. About $11, a Fantastic Bargain.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2012, Clarksburg, California. 12.5% alc. Very pale gold color; hay and straw, heady notes of jasmine and gardenia, roasted lemon and yellow plum; slightly leafy, with a hint of fig; very dry, almost chastening acidity and chalk-flint elements; but quite lively and engaging; tasty and charming. Buy by the case for drinking through 2014. Very Good+. About $12, a Terrific Bargain.
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Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2011, Western Cape, South Africa. 13.5% alc. An inexpensive chenin blanc that’s almost three years old? Never fear; this one is drinking beautifully. Shimmering pale gold color with faint green tinge; tell-tale note of fresh straw under quince, honeysuckle, lemon drop and lemon balm and a hint of cloves; brisk and saline, earthy, almost rooty, deeply spicy with a touch of briers; and quite dry. Impressive presence and tone. Drink through the rest of 2014, into 2015. Excellent. About $14, and Worth a Search.
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Eccoci White 2011, Girona, Spain. 13.3% alc. Roussanne 50%, viognier 30%, petit manseng 20%. Utterly unique. Medium gold color; a striking bouquet of roasted fennel, damp straw and lilac, with undertones of limestone, orange blossom, peach and pear; very stylish, sleek and elegant, with macerated and spiced citrus flavors, though clean and fresh and appealing; bracing acidity and a burgeoning limestone quality provide backbone, but this is mainly designed for ease and drinkability. Drink through the end of 2014. Excellent. About $20.
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Luca Bosio Roero Arneis 2012, Piedmont, Italy. 13% alc. 100% arneis grapes. Pale yellow-gold; peach and pear, hint of some astringent little white flower, some kind of mountainside thing going on; baking spice and mountain herbs; salt marsh and seashell; roasted lemon with a note of pear; starts innocently and opens to unexpected heft, detail and dimension. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $20.
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Trisaetum Estate Dry Riesling 2012, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley. 11% alc. Medium gold-color; roasted peach and spiced pear, mango and lychee, hint of rubber eraser or petrol (a good thing in riesling), a subdued floral element; lithe, supple, energetic, you feel its presence like liquid electricity on the palate; lithic and scintillating, brings in grapefruit rind and limestone through the dynamic finish. Faceted and chiseled, exciting. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $24.
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You know how the synergy thing goes: great food, the wine that turns out to be perfect…Bingo! Such a moment occurred last Saturday on Pizza-and-Movie Night, as with a terrific guanciale-green olive-basil-and-radicchio pizza I opened a bottle of the Teunta Sant’Antonio Monti Garbi Ripasso 2010, Valpolicella Superiore, from the Veneto region in northeast Italy. “Monti Garbi” is the Castagnedi family’s estate vineyard. The wine is composed of 70 percent corvina and corvione grapes, 20 percent rodinella and 10 percent croatina and oseleta, all traditional grapes of the Valpolicella area. “Ripasso” refers to the technique of refermenting the young wine on the pomace of the previous year’s more full-bodied and typically higher alcohol Amarone. Aging — usually 15 or 16 months for this wine — is accomplished in 500-liter tonneaux barrels, about twice the size of the standard French barrique; 30 percent of the barrels are new. What’s the result? A robust red wine of medium ruby color and a seductive bouquet of dried spice, dried flowers and dried black and red fruit, with notes of pomegranate and plums; try to imagine a pomander with potpourri, your grandmother’s spice box, macerated black and red cherries and a dose of smoky oolong tea and you get some idea of what I mean. Matters turn a bit more serious, mouth-wise, as the wine exercises its dry, slightly chewy tannins, its swingeing acidity — which contributes liveliness, buoyancy and freshness — and its graphite-tinged minerality, none of which detract from juicy ripe dark cherry and plum flavors (with a hint of sour cherry and orange rind) and rollicking spice. 14 percent alcohol. This was great with the pizza and would also be a treat with hearty pasta dishes and grilled or braised meat or a lunch of salami, olives and dry cheeses. Now through 2017 to 2020. Very Good+. About $19.

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


Including not merely a roster of pinot noir wines from California but a pinot meunier made as a still wine — it mostly goes into Champagne and sparkling wine — and two pinot gris/grigio wines, one from northeast Italy, the other from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. As usual in these quick reviews, ripped, as it were, from the fervid pages on my notebooks, I eschew the available range of technical, historical, geographical and personal (or personnel) detail to concentrate on immediacy and my desire to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Ascevi Luwa Pinot Grigio 2012, Collio, Italy. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; winsome aromas of hay and almond blossom, saline and savory; roasted lemon, spiced pear; a little briery; very dry, crisp and chiseled but appealing moderately full body and texture; a far more thoughtful pinot grigio than one usually encounters. 1,500-case production. Excellent. About $19.
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MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 15% alc(!). A Gallo label. Medium gold color; jasmine and honeysuckle, lemon and lemon balm, baked pear, all very spicy and intricately woven; attractive supple texture and bright acidity, but you feel some alcoholic heat on the slightly unbalanced finish. Very Good. About $20.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2012, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Jackson Family Wines. Medium ruby-violet color; black cherries and currants, cloves, tobacco and sassafras, hint of brown sugar; earthy and loamy, moss and mushrooms; very dry but satiny and supple, with tasty black fruit flavors; the oak comes up a bit in the finish, along with some graphite-tinged minerality. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $23.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. Jackson Family Wines. Lovely limpid ruby-magenta color; sour cherry and melon, pomegranate, cranberry and cloves, develops a hint of smoke and black cherry; lovely and limpid, again, in the mouth, flows like satin across the palate but enlivened with keen acidity; notes of earth and brambles. Drinks very nicely but doesn’t have the heft that La Crema pinot noirs typically display. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $25.
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La Rochelle Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast. 14.9% alc. 326 cases. Enrapturing ruby-magenta color; a lithe and supple pinot noir that takes 45 minutes to loosen up a bit; cranberry and cola, dried cherries and raspberries; cloves and allspice, fairly exotic; buoyed by bright acidity and slightly bound by oak and tannin. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $42.
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La Rochelle Deer Meadows Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. 235 six-pack cases. A real beauty. Lovely medium ruby-plum color; black and red cherries, pomegranate and pomander, oolong tea, sassafras and beetroot, slightly earthy and loamy, yes, the whole panoply of sensation; a few moments bring in notes of iodine, mint and graphite; very dry, dense, almost chewy, quite notable tannins for a pinot noir but well-managed and integrated; gathers power and paradoxical elegance in the glass. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $75.
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La Rochelle Saralee’s Vineyard Pinot Meunier 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.9% alc. 866 cases. Pinot meunier is primarily grown as a minority component in Champagne and sparkling wine production. Entrancing transparent ruby-magenta color with a clear rim; delicate, dry, slightly raspy in the sense that raspberries and their leaves can be raspy; black and red cherry compote, spiced and macerated, with a subtle element of dried fruit, flowers and spices; damask roses, note of violets; dust, earth, a touch of loam, enlivened by swingeing acidity that plows a furrow. Now through 2016. Oddly Excellent. About $38.
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Liberty School Pinot Noir 2012, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. The first pinot noir from this label known for well-made and moderately priced cabernet sauvignon. Makes sensible claims and meets them: Medium ruby color; black cherry and plum, hints of rhubarb and tart mulberry; smoke and cloves; reasonably supple texture; a little merlot-ish overall, though. Very Good. About $20.
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MacPhail Family Wines “The Flyer” Pinot Noir 2011, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color; quite intense and concentrated for pinot noir, ripe and vivid black and red cherries, smoke, cloves; vibrant acidity cuts a swath, it’s very satiny but with a tannic and oaken core that ramps up the power and somewhat masks the varietal character. Still, it makes an impression. Very Good+. About $59.
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Rodney Strong Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby color; pungently spicy and floral, notes of tobacco and coffee bean, cranberry, pomegranate and rhubarb; black cherries with a briery, mossy undercurrent; very satiny, drapes over the palate as it flows; fairly deep and dark aura for pinot noir, with a graphite element and resolutely spicy with cloves and sandalwood, moderately dense tannins. Quite a package. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $25.
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Well, the first one is a cheat; it’s $22, but the rest are $20 and under, I promise, with prices starting at $13. Every wine on this list is rated Excellent, and it’s an eclectic roster, first geographically, with five wines each for California and Argentina, three each for Italy and Spain, two each for Oregon and France, one each for Germany, Portugal, Chile, Austria and Australia, and by genre; there are no dominant cabernet sauvignons, merlots or pinot noirs on this list and only one chardonnay, but you will find pinot blanc and riesling and gruner veltliner, albariño and carménère, loureiro and treixadura, as well as sangiovese and syrah and the ever-popular bobal. These are wines that performed above their price range in terms of intensity and satisfaction, a quality that is, I suppose, what we wish from every wine we encounter.
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Balthasar Ress Schloss Reichartshausen Riesling Spätlese 2009, Rheingau, Germany. Excellent. About $22.
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Balverne Rosé of Sangiovese 2012, Chalk Hill, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $20.
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Brooks Runaway White Pinot Blanc 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 244 cases. Excellent. About $15.
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Catena High Mountain Vines Chardonnay 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $20.
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Cleto Chiarli Vigneto Enrico Cialdini 2011, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Excellent. About $15.
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Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007, Tuscany, Italy. Excellent. About $19.
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Cono Sur Reserva Especial Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $15.
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Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $18.
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Finca La Linda Malbec Rosé 2012, Lujan de Cujo, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $13.
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Fred Loimer “Lois” Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria. Excellent. About $16.
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Greg Norman Shiraz 2010, Limestone Coast, Australia. Excellent. About $15.
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Harney Lane Albariño 2012, Lodi. 716 cases. Excellent. About $19.
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Inama Carménère Piú 2010, Colli Berici, Veneto, Italy. With 25 percent merlot. Excellent. About $20.
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Kopke Vinho Branco 2011, Douro, Portugal. 50 percent arinto grapes, 45 percent gouveio, 5 percent rabigato. Excellent. About $16.
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Lee Family Farm Albariño 2010, Monterey County. 213 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, nv, Crémant d’Alsace, France. Excellent. About $20.
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Manuel Manzaneque Nuestra Selección 2005, Finca Elez, La Mancha, Spain. Cabernet sauvignon 40 percent, tempranillo 40 percent, merlot 20 percent. Excellent. About $16.50.
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Domaine de Reuilly Les Pierres Plates 2012, Reuilly, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent sauvignon blanc. Excellent. About $20.
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Santiago Ruiz 2011, Riax Baixas, Spain. 70 percent allero grapes, 15 percent loureiro, 10 percent caino, 5 percent treixadura and godello. Excellent. About $17.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.
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Sierra Norte Pasión de Bobal 2010, Utiel-Reguene, Spain. Excellent. About $15.
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Tinto Negro Co-Ferment Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. With 7 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent petit verdot. Excellent. About $20.
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Tolentino Pinot Grigio 2011, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $15.
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Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $14.
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Youngberg Hill Pinot Blanc 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 160 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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Today, or this eve, is Twelfth Night, the traditional 12th Day of Christmas that heralds Epiphany on January 6, the day that the Wise Men or the Magi arrived in Bethlehem after following the brilliant star in the west. We get the symbolism; first to pay homage to the baby Jesus were shepherds, and then came the kings. The 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany were marked in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, by celebration and revelry, not to mention burlesque and ribaldry, a sequence of disguise and exchanged identity — male and female, master and servant — not unlike the elements that Shakespeare employed in his romantic comedy Twelfth Night; or, What You Will, a play dominated by star-crossed relationships. In any case, we could use a few Wise Men around these days to work some wonders. The point is, really, that today means the conclusion of the 7th annual series, “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine,” and we’ll end with a flourish of three products, a Prosecco from northeast Italy ( Veneto), a sparkling wine from California and a Champagne from that fabled region in France. Enjoy! And Happy 2014….

Image from sfstl.com, the website of the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis.
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The mid-range sparkling wine from Adriano Adami is the Bosco di Gica Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, composed of 95 to 97 percent glera grapes and 3 to 5 percent chardonnay. It’s a very pale gold hue, almost silver, and the bubbles glint like silver fireworks within. Let’s just say that this fresh, clean sparkling wine, even in its bracing steel and saline qualities, is delightful. There’s a note of green apple and apple peel, bare hints of roasted lemon and lemon balm, and a finish of limestone and almond skin. 11 percent alcohol. Great for parties and receptions. Very Good+. About $18.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.
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The Chandon Blanc de Noirs — white from black — carries a California designation, meaning that grapes wee selected from vineyards in
different parts of the state. It’s a blend of 91 percent pinot noir grapes, 6 percent chardonnay and 2 percent pinot meunier. The color is very pale gold enlivened by an enchanting and dynamic stream of tiny bubbles. This is a pert, tart sparkling wine, full-bodied and savory, almost balsamic in its depths, but highlighted by notes of red currants and lime peel. It displays lovely tone and presence and could almost be called viscous if its creaminess were not cut by crisp and incisive acidity; the finish reveals a touch of sweet red fruit ripeness. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.
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This is what I like in Champagne: A torrent of bubbles, a blizzard of steel; a softness of spiced pear and orange blossom; a strict regimen
of bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. The Delamotte Brut — 55 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot noir, 10 percent pinot meunier; 30 to 36 months on the lees — delivers those exhilarating qualities as well as fleeting notes of apple and grapefruit and hints of cinnamon toast and hazelnuts. Mainly though this is about elegance and austerity, fine bones, chiseled stones and impressive purity and intensity. 12 percent alcohol. It doesn’t say so on the label, but this is a Champagne derived from Grand Cru vinyards, so the price is also impressive. Excellent. About $45 to $50.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala. A sample for review.

Let’s travel back to Franciacorta in Lombardy for a fine example of the craftsmanship that can occur there. Our model is the Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007, a blend of 90 percent chardonnay and 10 percent pinot noir grapes that spent three years en tirage, to use the French term meaning resting on the lees in bottle, and another six months in the cellar after disgorgement, the rather unpleasant word for the process of releasing the accumulated yeast from the bottle. Anyway, the color is pale straw-gold, and the bubbles form a miniature tempest of persistent effervescence. Not quite a true blanc de blancs, because of the 10 percent pinot noir, nonetheless Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007 is light, delicate and supremely elegant, a highly refined sparkling wine that still does not stint on ripeness and flavor. Notes of roasted lemon and spiced pear are highlighted by lime peel and a hint of fresh bread, while a few moments in the glass bring in elements of limestone, flint and grapefruit rind. The texture is perfectly balanced between ample expansiveness and clean, bright acidity, lending the Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007 a welcome sense of vibrancy and tension, all resolved in a lacy spice-and-mineral-infused finish. 13 percent alcohol. A favorite in our house. Drink through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $32.

Imported by Masciarelli Wine Co., Weymouth, Mass. A sample for review.

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