Michael McCay started as many other winemakers in California did; he grew grapes and sold them to other people. Only since 2007 has he produced wine from his Lodi grapes, concentrating on zinfandels that do not carry the big stick of over-ripe jammy fruit and high alcohol, and by high I mean the 15 percent and more that we often see. McCay is not shy with French oak, but his grapes and the wines he makes from them possess the character to soak up and absorb that oak — I mean 26 to 28 months — and come out blossomy fresh and spicy and supple as velvet. These are limited edition wines, so mark them Worth a Search.

Samples for review.
The McCay Cellars Paisley Red Wine 2009, Lodi, is a blend of zinfandel and petite sirah that aged 28 months in French oak, 24 percent new barrels, 37 percent second and third fill (that is, used for the second and third times) and the rest neutral. The wine is deep and dark, rich and spicy and bursting with notes of red and black cherries, red and black currants, cloves and bittersweet chocolate, black olives and caramelized fennel; it’s a terrific bouquet, invigorating and seductive. That promise is not quite fulfilled in the mouth, not that the wine is not attractive and drinkable — it was completely appropriate for last week’s Pizza and Movie Night — but that in terms of the layering of flavors and structure it feels several shades of complexity less exciting than the aromas. Still, it’s a marvel that winemaker Michael McCay can pull off the feat of aging a wine in oak for two years and four months and having it come out with the wood influence almost subliminal. 14.8 percent alcohol. 123 cases. Very Good+. About $28.
The point of the McCay Truluck’s Zinfandel 2009, Lodi, it seems to me, is to prove that a zinfandel does not need to be highly extracted or crushing with alcohol; the color here is not motor oil opaque but a lovely medium ruby hue, nor does the wine exhibit super-ripe or jammy fruit but fresh, clean and bright subtly spiced and macerated notes of black currants. blueberries and plums with a high tone of wild cherry, this panoply opening to touches of mulberry, lavender and potpourri; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of fig paste, fruit cake, black olives and thyme. Plenty of dense dusty tannins, yes, but finely milled and velvety over a burgeoning layer of graphite-like minerality and woody spice — sandalwood, allspice — and juicy black and blue fruit flavors that display an intriguing fillip of pomegranate. The oak regimen was 26 months French barrels, 21 percent new, 33 percent second and third year, the rest neutral. Again, 26 months seems like a long time in oak, but the wine came from that process with balance, poise and a sort of dense suppleness. 14.6 percent alcohol. Now through 2014 to ’16. Production was 179 cases. Excellent. About $32.
The difference between the previous zinfandel and the McCay Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi, lies in degrees of dryness and some austerity on the finish. The oak treatment is almost identical: French oak, 26 months, 22 percent new barrels, 33 percent second and third fill, the rest neutral. The color is a similar medium ruby, with a tinge of magenta at the rim; red and black cherries feel steeped in black tea, cloves and sandalwood with notes of some roasted element, but, again, the whole effect is of vibrant freshness and clarity. There is no trace of the fruit cake quality mentioned for the Truluck’s Zinfandel. Tannins seem permeated by dusty, granitic minerality, with overlays of smoke and loamy earth, yet fruit flavors remain blithe and juicy. After a few minutes in the glass the finish takes on a powerful strain of dry rigor and asperity that requires hearty, meaty fare to match its dimension. Still, a well-balanced, well-wrought zinfandel that avoids over-ripeness and alcoholic heat. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 449 cases. Now through 2015 or ’17. Excellent. About $28.

Yesterday was World Cabernet Day, but I extend the concept to today’s “Friday Wine Sips” because I have a boodle of cabernet sauvignon wines or blends on hand. Here are 15, from 2009, ’8 and ’07, mainly from Napa Valley and Sonoma County but also an example from Lake County and two from Lodi. In fact, this column serves as a transition or segue to September, which for some reason has been designated California Wine Month. A couple of these wines I am lukewarm about — there’s even a “Not Recommended” — but 10 receive an Excellent rating. I haven’t done a “Friday Wine Sips” in two weeks, so I’ll remind My Readers that these brief, incisive, insightful reviews eschew technical data and historical, personal and geographical narrative for the sake of getting to the essence. All of these wines were samples for review.

Mettler Family Vineyards Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Lodi. 15.3% alc. With 8% petite sirah, 4% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot. Unpalatably sweet, hot and jammy, but alternately brusquely tannic and austere; a zinfandel lollipop gone to the dark side. What were they thinking? Not recommended. About $25.
Mettler Family Vineyards Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Lodi. 14.9% alc. With 8% petite sirah, 2% cabernet franc. This is better or at least a bit more under control; very dark ruby-purple hue; yes, still big, rich, fruity and jammy — European palates avoid! — very spicy, very brambly and briery, brilliantly-etched black fruit with a blueberry tart edge, a velvet fist in a velvet glove but still more granite and flint minerality and bright acidity for backbone than the rendition of 2008. Now through 2015 to ’17. Very Good. About $25.
Hess Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. With 9% petite sirah. Dark ruby-purple color; makes a fetish of its deep flint-graphite, iodine-iron character that gradually yields to notes of cassis and blueberry and plums laved with smoke, lavender and licorice; a few minutes bring in potpourri, mulberry and a touch of pomegranate, all ensconced in a dense, chewy texture freighted with finely-milled tannins. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $28.
Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Red Hills, Lake County. 14.3% alc. With 3% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Sleek and scintillating, notably clean and fresh, a powerhouse of spicy black and blue fruit scents and flavors tempered by layers of earthy, dusty graphite and plush finely-milled mineral-laced tannins dressed out with vibrant acidity; comes close to being elegant, even as it conceals a truckload of coiled energy. Definitely needs a steak. Excellent. About $30.
Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma Valley. Jackson Family Wines. 15.5% alc.(!) Pure and intense, a bright arrow of granitic minerality, very tight, very concentrated, very ripe and spicy; does it really need so much toasty, vanilla-laced oak? I don’t think so. 250 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Jackson Family Wines. 14.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 79%, merlot 14%, petit verdot 5%, malbec 1%. Dark ruby shading to medium ruby; lovely bouquet, cedar, lead pencil, tobacco, black currants and cherries with a touch of plum; but tough as nails; here’s the iron fist, where’s the velvet glove? very spicy, a little tart, finish is boldly tannic and austere. Try maybe from 2014 through 2017 to 2020. Very Good+. About $40.
Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Almost opaque dark ruby color; briers and brambles, cedar, thyme and leather; spiced and macerated black and blue fruit, dredged with dried spice and potpourri; buttresses of fine-meshed tannins and granitic minerality; moody and brooding, a note of tar and sweet oak; feel the power waiting to be unleashed. Try 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.

Fired up the grill yet? Maybe it’s a tad early, but we’re having pretty perfect outdoor cooking weather in these parts (though the prediction is for cooler temps and rain at the end of the week). Still, you can’t plan too far ahead, so here’s a recommendation for a wine that will go head to head and toe to toe with the heartiest fare you can rustle up over charcoal; I’m talking steaks, pork chops, leg of lamb, ribs, especially, yes, ribs. The wine is the Petite Petit 2009, from those madcaps at Michael David Winery, founded in 1984 by brothers Michael J. and David J. Phillips, fifth-generation grape-growers in Lodi. These guys have a sort of genius for producing big red wines and marketing them with clever names and designs. Petite Petit, with its exuberant cartoon label featuring two circus elephants, is the cleverest, though not far behind is the line of blockbuster reds named for the Seven Deadly Sins. Winemaker and general manager for Michael David Winery is Adam Mettler.

Petite Petit 2009, Lodi, is a blend of 85 percent petite sirah and 15 percent petit verdot. The color is really truly deep inky purple; in fact every aspect of the wine embodies the notion of “inkiness.” Aromas of deliriously ripe black currants, blackberries and blueberries are woven with licorice and smoky lavender, with hints of graphite and jammy boysenberry; give the wine a few minutes in the glass and it brings up intriguing notes of Bazooka bubble gum, sour cherry and melon ball. In the mouth, yeah, well, this is sturdy, robust, dense and chewy, a powerhouse of finely-milled, velvety tannins and vibrant acidity that still manages to be sleek and appealing. Dark and intensely ripe black and blue fruit flavors seethe with graphite-like minerality and exotic spices, while the finish careens through reserves of underbrush, briers and brambles. No, friends, Petite Petit 2009 is not for effete Europalates, but we’re not in Europe are we, and when was the last time you heard of Europeans chowing down on barbecue ribs or a bowl of chili or a platter of enchiladas in mole sauce? 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Very Good+. About $18.

A sample for review.

This series doesn’t always focus on rare and expensive wines. At least the wine featured in today’s post is inexpensive, though not widely available. Still, here we go….

LL brought home a piece of wild sockeye salmon from Whole Foods, and we smoked it over loose lapsang souchong tea, which turned the salmon deeply smoky and richly succulent. She made a three “bean” salad with edamame, blackeyed peas and black beans, chopped red onion, celery and cilantro, and with the salmon, that was our simple and delicious dinner last night.

I opened the terrific Lee Family Farm Silvaspoons Vineyard Verdelho 2010, from the Alta Mesa sub-appellation of Lodi. The Lee Family Farm label is a personal project of Dan Lee, owner of Morgan Winery in Monterey County. The verdelho grape is found in Portugal’s Douro Valley, where because of its high sugar and acid levels it’s generally made into white port, and on the island of Madeira, where it is both the name of the grape and the term for a style of Madeira. Experiments at making verdelho into a table wine in Madeira have not been successful; perhaps the producers there should follow Dan Lee’s lead and lend the grape a little softness and subtle spice by aging four months in neutral French oak barrels, “neutral” meaning that the barrels have been used enough times that their influence is mild and nuanced.

The Lee Family Farm Silvaspoons Vineyard Verdelho 2010 is a pale straw-gold color, while the bouquet feels fresh, clean and wind-blown, spanking brisk with apple skin, fennel and thyme, roasted lemon and lemon grass, ginger, lilac and camellia and an off-shore whiff of sea-salt and flint; I call it irresistible. In the mouth, the wine displays gratifying tone and presence, balancing crisp acidity and modest austerity with the languor of softly ripe lemon, melon and peach flavors, lightly spiced, and a hint of dried rosemary, with that slightly resinous quality for which the herb is known; the bracing finish teems with limestone minerality. 13.2 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or into 2013. Production was 387 cases, so mark this Worth a Search. Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.

A sample for review.

I love the simplicity and elegance of this label and the understated by-play among the typefaces.

Jim Moore has had a distinguished career as a winemaker in California. He was at Robert Mondavi from 1979 to 1998, developing the Carneros appellation chardonnay and pinot noir programs, reintroducing zinfandel to the roster and redesigning the style and packaging for the proprietary dessert wine Moscato d’Oro. Moore created and developed the long defunct La Famiglia di Robert Mondavi line of Italian varieties, in California (it was an interesting concept), and was instrumental in launching red wines Luce and Lucente, a collaboration with the Frescobaldi family in Tuscany. While consulting with or managing several small wineries, Moore developed l’Uvaggio di Giacomo — “James’ wine” — to exploit the possibilities of Lodi for Italian grapes like vermentino, primitivo and barbera. In 2003 he became the director of winemaking for the Bonny Doon Ca’ del Solo line in Santa Cruz, but left a year later to devote himself full time to revitalizing his Uvaggio project, whose primary purpose now is to produce authentic Italian-style wines at reasonable prices.

These were samples for review.

Uvaggio Vermentino 2009, Lodi, is about as lovely and appealing as vermentino gets. The color is pale straw; aromas of lemon and lemon balm are woven with hints of almond and almond blossom, lime and cloves and a slight astringent note, a sort of breezy sea-salt briskness. The wine is made in stainless steel, except for 10 percent that’s aged briefly in neutral — well-used — oak barrels, a device that subtly influences the supple texture and the touch of spice in the melon, pear and stone-fruit flavors. This suppleness is buoyed by crisp acidity and just a smidgeon of limestone-like minerality that lends the wine a bit of snap. The finish is sleek and a little spare. 11 percent alcohol. We drank this quite successfully with a risotto with kale, roasted parsnips and sage. Now through the end of 2012. Very Good+. About $14.

At first, I thought that the Uvaggio Primitivo 2009, Lodi, was simple, tasty and enjoyable, and there’s not a thing wrong with those qualities, but I came back to it about four hours later to find that it had unlimbered a pleasing arsenal of dark and spicy traits. The color is a limpid ruby-purple; scents of raspberry and black cherry are highlighted by intriguing notes of rhubarb and sandalwood and a slightly earthy undercurrent of briers and brambles, all of which conspire to give the wine a touch of wildness. The wine ages 9 months in 15 percent new Hungarian oak barrels and 85 percent once-used French oak; there’s a dollop (2.5 percent) of barbera. Uvaggio Primitivo 2009 is robust but not rustic, intensely flavorful in the spiced and macerated range of black and red fruit, zesty with vibrant acidity and savory all around. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $16.

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