Argentina produces an ocean of wine made from the malbec grape, enough so that the country and the grape are synonymous. Standing out in that sea, like a lighthouse above perilous waters, is El Malbec de Ricardo Santos 2016, hailing from the well-known Mendoza region and La Madras Vineyard, which lies at 2,800 feet elevation. The wine aged in French and American oak barrels for six months. The color is inky-purple with a glowing purple rim; the wine gives an impression of freshness and clarity, though it’s also quite intense and concentrated with notes of black currants, blueberries and plums permeated by a strain of graphite and iodine and a lighter aspect of cloves, lavender and bittersweet chocolate. Vivid acidity cuts through a dense, almost chewy texture and velvety tannins, all serving to bolster ripe, tasty black fruit flavors; the tannins lead to a slightly austere finish. 14 percent alcohol. Drink this well-balanced and complete wine through 2021 to ’23 with burgers and hearty pizzas and pasta dishes, with steaks and pork chops. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.

Global Vineyards Importers, Berkeley, Calif. A sample for review.

Since Bodega Catena Zapata already boasts a roster of some of the finest malbec wines fashioned in Argentina, I wonder why it was necessary to add another rendition to the line-up. Still, the D.V. Catena Tinto Historico 2014, Mendoza, honors Don Domingo Vicente Catena — father and grandfather of the present owners, Nicolas Catena Zapata and his daughter Laura Catena — as a replica of the wine that Domingo Vicente made in the 1930s and sold in the bistros of Buenas Aires. Made by Laura Catena and chief winemaker Alejandro Vigil, the wine aged 12 to 14 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels, first-, second- and third-pass, followed by 10 months in bottle. If you can call this beckoning abyss a color, it’s opaque black-purple with a glowing magenta rim; warm and slightly woody aromas of spiced and macerated black currants, cherries and plums open to an intense core of lavender, iodine, graphite and bittersweet chocolate. Dense and velvety on the palate, this 92 percent malbec wine (with 8 percent petit verdot) delivers tasty black fruit flavors enlivened by vivid acidity and a scintillating lithic character. The texture is sleek and supple; the wine deepens with moderate tannins of a briery-brambly nature; a few minutes add the subtly resinous quality of freshly cut rosemary; tar and wood-smoke define a lithe, balanced finish. 14 percent alcohol. A wine that gathers depth, dimension and austerity as the moments pass. Supremely appropriate with burgers and steaks, hearty pizzas and pasta dishes or grilled pork chops with a chili-cumin rub and clearly superior to the average “bistro” wine. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $21.

Winebow Inc., N.Y. A sample for review.

The ancient city of Cahors lies on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the River Lot, in southwest France. It was originally an Pont_valentre_lot_1outpost for the Cadurci people, the last of the Celtic tribes to resist the invading Romans armies around 50 B.C. Divona Cadurcorum, as it was called, became a major Roman city and developed economically and culturally through the Roman period and to end of the Middle Ages. Its dark red wine was exported through the Dordogne river and up the Gironde past Bordeaux — and around Europe — when that town was still emerging from the marshes. In a region known for its quaint and charming towns and villages, Cahors is one of the most quaint and charming of them all, filled, as it is, with remnants of Roman buildings and monuments and by a density of half-timbered Medieval structures. It’s three-towered Pont Valentré (1308-1378) is among the world’s most beautiful stone bridges.

The Cahors AOC applies only to red wines, made primarily — at least 70 percent — from the malbec grape, known locally as auxerrois. The vineyards are laid out west of the city, on terraces formed by the centuries-long meanderings of the Lot. The first terrace, along the river banks, is inappropriate for cultivation, so the vineyards tend to be planted on the second, third and fourth terraces. Like Bordeaux, Cahors is heavily influenced by the climate and winds of the Atlantic Ocean; unlike Bordeaux, it also receives, mainly in September and October, influence from the Mediterranean winds. The soil is silt-clay over Kimmeridgian limestone.

The wines under consideration today were produced by Chateau Lagrezette, a property dating back to 1503 that was acquired in 1980 by Alain Dominique Perrin, whose name is a by-word in the world of luxury goods for his steering of the development of Cartier International and his creation of the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art. Perrin poured immense sums into the restoration of the 15th Century castle at Lagrezette and the replanting and renovation of the vineyards and winery. Winemaker since 2007 has been Cedric Blanc; consulting enologist is the ubiquitous Michel Rolland.

The wines of Chateau Lagrezette are imported into the U.S.A. by Curious Cork Importers, Napa, Calif., and Denver, Colo. Image of the Pont Valentré from These wines were samples for review.
lagrezette marguerite
The youngest of this quartet of malbec wines and from the youngest vines, the Chateau Lagrezette Clos Marguerite 2012 is a robust (but not rustic) wine that aged 16 months in 40 percent new oak barrels, 40 percent one-year-old and 20 percent two years old. It features a vibrant dark ruby color and pointed scents and flavors of plums, raspberries and fruitcake bolstered by fairly rigorous, dusty, graphite-laden tannins with undercurrents of lavender, licorice and bittersweet chocolate. It is, in other words, a finely balanced feat of power and poise, and a fount of gushing black and red fruit flavors nicely restrained by structure. Now through 2022 to 2026. Production was 416 cases. Very Good+. About $45.
lagrezette dame
The Chateau Lagrezette Cuvée Dame Honneur 2011, Cahors, includes 5 percent merlot in the blend; it aged 20 months in new French oak barrels. The color is inky purple, an aspect that feels mirrored in the wine’s pungent notes of smoked plums, mint and cedar, licorice and lavender; as the moments pass, say an hour or two, the wine grows increasingly floral, in the violets, rose petals and lilac range, and takes on more depth of ripe and spicy black and red berry fruit. It’s a succulent wine, dense, silky and lithe on the palate, though any sense of luxury is strictly tempered by a profound element of graphite minerality and surging acidity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’26. Production was 2,784 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $45.
lagrezette 1
A true vin de garde, the Chateau Lagrezette Cru d’Exception 2009, Cahors, show every sign of aging capability through, say, 2021 to 2026 or ’30. The wine is a blend of 87 percent malbec, 12 percent merlot and 1 percent tannat, aged 18 months in new and one-year-old French oak barrels. The color is a dark but radiant ruby hue; the whole tenor of the wine resonates with ferrous and sanguinary elements of iron, iodine and beef-blood, with subsidiary notes of black tea, mint, forest floor, briers and brambles. Scents and flavors of blackberries, blueberries and mulberries feel deeply spiced and macerated, taking a cue from swingeing acidity and a profound graphite/granitic mineral quality. One feels, it seems, the limestone-laced soil upon which the vineyard lies. Drink now through 2022 to 2029. Production was 7,000 cases, obviously the most accessible of these four wines. Excellent. About $45.
lagrezette pigeonnier
Le Pigeonnier, named for an ancient dovecote on the estate, is the flagship wine of Lagrezette. The Chateau Lagrezette Le Pigeonnier 2011, Cahors, is 100 percent malbec from 35 to 40-year-old vines, aged 28 months in new French oak barrels. The color — if that word is applicable — is totally opaque, with a faint glimmer of purple at the rim; it’s a deep, ripe, rich and spicy wine in every sense, but framed by intense flinty-graphite minerality, rigorous acidity and profoundly dense, dusty tannins. It’s also, paradoxically, bright and lively and feels young at just over five years old. The blackberry-currant-blueberry aspects teem with notes of iodine and mint, cloves and allspice, lavender and licorice and bittersweet chocolate that unfurl an exotic flair of cumin and ancho chili. The finish offers a chiseled edge of limestone, and the whole package glitters darkly like earthen ore. 14.5 percent alcohol. Brilliant winemaking. Drink now through 2025 to ’30, or, you know, it could be immortal. Production was 1,070 six-bottle cases. Exceptional. About $250.

So, here it is, My Readers, the annual “50 Great Wines” roster, presently for the past year, that is, 2016. Not the “Greatest” of all wines or the “Best” of all wines, but a selection of 50 products that struck me as embodying everything we want in a wine: freshness, balance, appeal; depth, personality and character; an adherence to the nature of the grapes and, where possible, the virtues of the vineyard and climate. These are wines that leave aside the ego of the winemaker and producer for an expression of — not to sound too idealistic — an ideal of what a wine should be. I won’t belabor the process by which I arrived at this list of 50 wines, except to say that every wine I rated “Exceptional” during 2016 is automatically included. Did I leave out wines that I truly admired? Indeed, I did, because this list focuses on wines that I truly loved. Enjoy!
Acorn Heritage Vines Alegria Vineyard Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 78 percent zinfandel, 12 percent alicante bouschet, 8 percent petite sirah and 2 percent a combination of carignane, trousseau, sangiovese, petit bouschet, negrette, syrah, black muscat, cinsault and grenache. A real field blend. Production was 548 cases. Excellent. About $45.
Alfred Gratien Brut Rose nv, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $65.
Arrow&Branch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $35.
Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Production was 212 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2012, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. Exceptional. About $50.

R. Buoncristiani Vineyard Orentano Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 305 cases made. Excellent. About $40.

Les Cadrans de Lassegue 2012, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux. Merlot and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $35.

Champ de Rêves Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Exceptional. About $45.

Chartogne-Taillet “Heurtebise” Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $65 to $80.

Domaine Chignard “Beauvernay” 2014, Julienas, Beaujolais Cru. Excellent. About $22.

Cornerstone Cellars Michael’s Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. Production was under 250 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

Erath Winery Prince Hill Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $50.

Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills. Exceptional, About $45.

Eve’s Cidery Essence Ice Cider, Finger Lakes, New York. 390 cases produced. Exceptional. About $28.

Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2013, Lodi. 250 cases made. Excellent. About $28.

Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

Tenute Cisa Asinari Marchesi di Grésy Martinenga Camp Gros Riserva Barbaresco 2010, Piedmont, Italy. Exceptional. About $106.

Inman Family OGV Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $73.

Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $75.

Luscher-Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 200 cases produced. Excellent. About $80.

Lutum La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills. Production was 225 cases. Excellent. About $50.

MacPhail Wightman House Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $55.

Frederic Mallo Vielles Vignes Rosacker Riesling 2010, Alsace Grand Cru. Excellent. About $23.

Merisi Wines Denner Vineyard Petite Sirah 2013, Lake County. 100 cases produced. About $35.

Chateau Montelena Riesling 2015, Potter Valley. About $25.

Chateau La Nerthe 2014, Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc. 40 percent each grenache blanc and roussanne, 10 percent each clairette and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $65.

Patz & Hall Vineyard Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros-Napa Valley. Excellent. About $70.

Pine Ridge Le Petit Clos Chardonnay 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $75.

Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve Brut Rose 2004, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $80-$100.

Prieure de Montezargues 2014, Tavel Rose. 55 percent red and white grenache, 30 percent cinsault, 13 percent clairette, 2 percent melange of syrah, mourvedre, carignane and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $24.

Red Newt Cellars Tango Oaks Vineyard Riesling 2013, Finger Lakes, New York. About $24.

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Josephshoff Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.

Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley. 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent cabernet franc, 2 percent each malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Excellent. About $60.

2014 Romb_SB_f+b_v5
Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $24.

Saxon Brown Durell Vineyard Hayfield Block Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. Fewer than 100 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

Sedition Chenoweth Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 230 cases produced. Exceptional. About $75.

The Seed Malbec 2014, Altamira District, Uco Valley, Argentina. 59 cases made. Excellent. About $60.

Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Production was 806 cases. Exceptional. About $32.

Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $35.

Stony Hill Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley. Production was 1,852 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 585 cases produced. Exceptional. About $65.

Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. Production was 125 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

Troon Vineyards Vermentino Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon. 80 percent vermentino, 20 percent sauvignon blanc. 176 cases produced. Excellent. About $24.

Two Shepherds Catie’s Corner Viognier 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Production was 75 cases. Exceptional. About $26.

Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc 2013, Russian River Valley. 12.9% alc. Roussanne 50%, marsanne 25%, viognier 13%, grenache blanc 6%, grenache gris 6%. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $30.

Two Shepherds Trimble Vineyard Carignan Rosé 2015, Mendocino County. Production was 50 cases. Exceptional. About $22.

Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $55.

Guillaume Sorbe “Les Poëte” 2014, Quincy, Loire Valley, France. Sauvignon blanc. Exceptional. About $30.

WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 1,007 cases produced. Exceptional. About $50.
Zena Crown Vineyard Conifer Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Production was 240 cases. Excellent. About $75.


Dick Troon planted vines in southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley in 1972, making him a pioneer in the state by any standards. He sold the winery and vineyards to his friend and fishing buddy Larry Martin in 2003, and Martin took the opportunity to start almost from scratch, reshaping the landscape and building a new facility. The philosophy at Troon Vineyard is as hands-off as possible, and includes the use of indigenous yeast, foot-treading and minimal contact with new oak. In fact, the three wines under consideration today — a malbec, a tannat and a blend of the two — each age 18 months in mature or neutral French oak, only two percent new barrels. Another recent change brings on Craig Camp as general manager. Many consumers and wine professionals will remember Camp for the turn-around he orchestrated for Cornerstone Cellars in Napa Valley, bringing that primarily cabernet sauvignon producer into new markets at several levels and cementing its national reputation. The Applegate Valley AVA was approved in 2000. It is enclosed by the Rogue Valley AVA, itself part of the much larger Southern Oregon AVA.

These wines were samples for review.
troon malbec
The Troon Malbec 2013, Rouge Valley, Southern Oregon, displays an intense dark ruby hue, a radiant presage for a deep, intense spicy wine that revels, with brooding and breeding, in its ripe raspberry and plum scents and flavors, its dusty graphite element and its hints of lavender, violets and woodsy spice. The wine is quite dry, fairly loamy, briery and brambly, enlivened by clean, bright acidity and shaded by dense but lissome tannins. 13.7 percent alcohol. One of the best malbecs around. Production was 213 cases Excellent. About $29.
The label image is one vintage later than the wine reviewed here.
The stablemate to the wine mentioned above is the Troon Estate Tannant 2013, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon, a tannat so dark in its ruby-purple hue that it verges on motor-oil ebony. Notes of black plums, cherries and currants are infused with hints of cloves, cedar and tobacco, with a touch of ripe blueberry. Despite its depth, darkness and dimension, there’s nothing rustic about the wine, and in fact it’s more subtle and nuanced with detail than you would think, though it pulses with power and energy. The finish is sleek and chiseled with graphite and granitic minerality. 13.7 percent alcohol. A superior tannat. Production was 213 cases. Excellent. About $28.
troon reserve mt
Finally, of this trio, we have the Troon M*T Reserve 2013, Southern Oregon, a blend of — to be precise — 55.67 percent malbec and 44.33 percent tannat. Again, no surprise, this is a deep, dark wine that burgeons with dark savory, salty baked plum and currant scents and flavors, the latter bolstered by dry brushy tannins, dusty graphite and vibrant acidity. A few moments in the glass unfurl notes of briery, woody and slightly raspy notes of raspberry and blueberry and undertones of oolong tea and orange rind, all balanced by a sense of spareness and paradoxically elegant poise. 13.7 percent alcohol. An unusual and fruitful combination. Production was 195 cases. Excellent. About $50.

Seed Wines was planted in Mendoza’s Altamira district by Tony Hartl and Alex Chang after a seedmountaineering accident gave them time to get to know the geography, the landscape and the people of one of Argentina’s most remote areas. Under the direction of winemaker Giuseppe Franceschini, the winery produces, from a vineyard more than 3,000 feet above sea-level, fewer than 200 cases of wine annually. For each bottle sold, a local child receives a new schoolbook.

The wines reveal a great deal of care in the making and packaging, which is very stylish. While I had a shade or two of reservation about the Red Wine 2014 because of the slight effect of the oak regimen, I had no such qualms about the Malbec 2014, which strikes me as a world-class wine and among the best malbecs made in Argentina.

These wines were samples for review. The winery’s website is

The Seed Malbec 2014, Altamira District, Uco Valley, is 100 percent varietal and aged 16 months in new French oak barrels. The color is a brooding deep ruby hue; aromas of black raspberries, cherries and plums are lively and engaging, permeated by notes of graphite, lavender and violets and traces of leather, black pepper and sage. On the palate, this malbec feels dark and spicy, vibrant and savory, thoroughly imbued with raspberry and blueberry flavors (and a touch of blueberry tart) supported by bright acidity and dusty, velvety tannins, like prom dresses from your grandmother’s attic; there’s an element of foresty bite and granitic minerality as the wine gathers power and purpose in the glass, all aspects leading to an elevating finish packed with woodsy spices, minerals and wild berry fruit. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 59 cases. A malbec of tremendous personality and character for drinking through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
Also aged 16 months in new French oak barrels, the Seed Red Wine 2014, Mendoza, is a blend of 50 percent cabernet sauvignon, 40 percent malbec and 10 percent cabernet franc. The opaque ruby-purple hue, even unto dense black at the center, presages the wine’s intensity and concentration. It’s simultaneously robust and exotic, packed with sweet spices, lavender, bittersweet chocolate, cloves and cardamom, violets and blueberry tart, all in support of scents and flavors of ripe black currants, plums and cherries. The wine is quite dry, carrying a definite granitic mineral edge, and after a few minutes in the glass, the oak comes up in New World fashion but not overly obtrusive in manner; you know it’s there, and you either accept it or not. (I would prefer not.) 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 49 cases. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $75.

A movement is afoot to create rosé wines that are more robust, darker, more flavorful and emphatic than the classical spare, delicate, elegant models that originate in the South of France or the Loire Valley. At the same time, there’s quite a push to produce more rosé wines across the board, as wineries and estates around the world became aware, over the past decade, that Americans now love rosé. And let’s face it, friends, the American palate rules the world of wine. Today’s post looks at 15 examples of rosé wines from various regions in California, Italy, France, Spain and Argentina. The ratings for these wines range from Excellent down to Good, an indication as to quality and perhaps some wrongheaded choices in terms of grape varieties. I think, for instance, that the malbec grape isn’t a rational choice for rosé, perhaps being inherently too rustic. The best rosés still derive from the prototype varieties of the Rhône Valley and Provence — grenache, cinsault, mourvèdre, syrah — and from pinot noir, as in Sancerre, and yet I’m constantly surprised what great rosés can be made from outliers like refosco and tempranillo. So, I say to the winemakers of the world, Experiment, go ahead and surprise us! But keep it simple. The best rosé wines offer direct appeal; a finely-woven and fine-boned fruit, acid and mineral structure; and pure refreshing deliciousness.
These wines were samples for review.
Aia Vecchia Solidio Rosato 2015, Toscana, Italy. 13.5% alc. 90% sangiovese, 10% merlot. Medium copper-salmon shade; spicy and peppery (white pepper), strawberries and raspberries, both dried and macerated; notes of melon and sour cherry; fairly earthy and a bit too rooty; lacks charm and finesse. A first rosé for this estate, not exactly a success. Good only. About $14.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
Alta Vista Malbec Rosé 2015, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. 12.5% alc. Bright medium copper-salmon hue; vivid aromas of strawberry, raspberry and tomato skin, with a fairly lush texture; a bit too florid and blowsy … and with a sweetish finish. Doesn’t work. Good only. About $13.
Kobrand Wine and Spirits, Purchase, N.Y.
Chronic Cellars Pink Pedals 2015, Paso Robles. 12.4% alc. 89% grenache, 11% syrah. Delicate salmon-pink shade; yes, petal-like — heehee — as in roses and violets, with notes of peach and cherry, some melon comes to the fore; engages the palate with bright acidity and a hint of graphite-dusty tile minerality, but mainly this is fine-boned and honed. Very Good+. About $15.
Cune Rosado 2015, Rioja, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. Vivid scarlet with a pink-orange blush; pure strawberry and raspberry with a tinge of melon; bouquet is as fresh as raindrops on roses, but this is fairly robust for a rose and even exhibits a bit of tannin and a definite saline-limestone edge, like a seashell just plucked from the waves; a note of peach comes up in a dry, almost chewy package. Unusual, but Very Good+. About $13.
Europvin USA, Denver, Colo.
guogal rose
E. Guigal Rosé 2015, Côtes du Rhône, France. 13.5% alc. 60% grenache, 30% cinsault, 10% syrah. Pale salmon-pink color; peaches, watermelon, raspberries; touches of raspberry sorbet, lilac and talc; crisp and clean but moderately lush; notes of strawberry leaf and sage; tasty and nicely balanced. Very Good+. About $15.
Vintus LLC, Pleasantville, N.Y.
lazy creek rose
Lazy Creek Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir 2015, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.2% alc. Pale copper-salmon color; a subtle and delicate melange of strawberries, raspberries, orange rind, heather and meadow flowers; these fruit flavors feel lightly spiced and macerated, balanced by bright acidity and a pointed element of limestone and flint minerality; lovely balance and texture on the palate. Excellent. About $22.
Luigi Bosca A Rosé Is a Rosé Is a Rosé 2015, Mendoza, Argentina. 12% alc. 60% pinot gris, 40% syrah. The rather defensive name of this wine probably derives from the fact that it consists of more white wine than red wine in a quite unusual blend. Very pale smoky topaz-onion skin hue; melon and strawberry, delicately etched with tangerine and lemon balm, a hint of jasmine and red currant; the pertness of pinot gris with syrah’s alluring slightly dense texture; the finish offers the tang of lime peel, pomegranate and pink grapefruit. Intriguing. Excellent. About $22.
Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York
Masi Rosa dei Masi 2015, Rosato della Venezia, Italy. 12.5% alc. 100% refosco grapes. Beautiful coral-pink color; pure strawberry and melon, with touches of almond skin, faint peach and Rainier cherry; lovely balance between a delicate nature and deeper intensity; attractive rainy-dusty-lilac aura and a very dry finish. Just terrific. Excellent. About $15, marking Great Value.
Kobrand Wines and Spirits, Purchase, N.Y.
McBride Sisters Truvée Rosé 2015, Central Coast. 12.5% alc. 92% grenache, 5% syrah, 2% tempranillo, 1% roussanne. The color is a very pale Mandarin orange hue; the wine is very delicate, absolutely lovely; whispers of cherries and red currants open to notes of lilac and lavender, with nuances of talc and limestone; the floral element grows into an aura that’s tenderly exotic, while the wine remains dry, crisp and vibrant. Excellent. About $15.
Castello Monaci Kreos 2015, Salento, Italy. 13% alc. 100% negroamaro grapes. Bright salmon-pink color; peaches and melon, ripe strawberry and tomato skin; undercurrent of damp stones; vivid acidity; slightly saline, loamy finish. Very Good. About $16.
Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
Bodegas Muriel Rosado 2015, Rioja, Spain. 13.55 alc. 50% tempanillo, 50% garnacha. Smoky topaz-copper hue; peach, strawberry, orange zest; dusty gravel; lithe, fluid, tasty, lovely body and surface; juicy core of pink fruit but quite dry and classic in its delicacy and lightness; impeccably balanced between a nicely lush texture and vivid acidity, leading to a spare, chiseled finish. Very Good+. About $12, so Worth Buying by the Case.
Quinessential, Napa, Calif.
Pedroncelli Winery Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2015, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. Bright cerise-mulberry color; melon and raspberry, thyme and sage, orange rind, pomegranate and mint and a whiff of white pepper; fairly intense for a rose, very dry, mouth-filling, not quite robust; chiseled acidity and flint-like minerality yet generously proportioned. Excellent. About $12, a Fantastic Bargain, buy it by the case.
Q rose 15
Quivira Rosé 2015, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. 988 cases. 55% grenache, 20 mourvèdre, 10 syrah, 10 counoise, 5 petite sirah. This aged four months in neutral French oak barrels. Light salmon-copper hue; peaches with notes of strawberries and raspberries, damp stones and hints of dried thyme and sage; very dry and flinty with bright acidity and a jewel-tone of cherry-pomegranate at the core. Excellent. About $22.
Real Compañia de Vinos Rosado 2015, Meseta Central, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% garnacha grapes (grenache). Florid copper-salmon color; starts out pretty, with rose petals and violets, strawberries and raspberries, orange rind and dried mountain herbs; needs more vibrancy, more nerve and bone. Pleasant though. Very Good. About $10.
Quintessential, Napa, Calif. The label image is one year behind.
The Seeker Rosé Wine 2015, Côte de Provence, France. 13% alc. Grenache and cinsault. Very pale onion skin hue; a very delicate amalgam of hints and nuances, with notes of strawberry and raspberry, melon and dried thyme in a crisp lithe package that concludes with a slightly chiseled flinty edge. Pretty classic and very pretty too. Very Good+. About $14.
Kobrand Wine and Spirits, Purchase, N.Y.

For this edition of Weekend Wine Notes, I offer a miscellaneous group of red wines from California, dominated by cabernet sauvignon, but with entries from the merlot and pinot noir camps. Truth is, I probably receive more samples of California cabernets to review than from any other region and any other grape variety. State-wide, today, we range from Russian River Valley in the north to Paso Robles in the south. As is usual in this series of Weekend Wine Notes, I dispense with the technical, historical, geographical and personal data that I dote on for the sake of incisive and, I hope, vivid reviews ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy, and always consume in moderation.
Aleksander 2011, Paso Robles. 13.3% alc. 80% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon. 840 cases. Glowing medium ruby color with a transparent magenta rim; a very impressive merlot exhibiting structural qualities of generous, supple tannins, clean acidity and ebon-like minerality; mint and thyme, lavender and violets, iron and iodine, black currants and raspberries with a trace of dark plum, smoky and dusty; a little resiny with notes of rosemary and cedar; lovely shape, tone and presence. Now through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $75.
cage pinot
J. Cage Cellars Nunes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 119 cases. Deep, vibrant ruby shading to lighter magenta; warm and spicy yet with a dark meditative aura; macerated red currants, cherries and plums, with a touch of cherry skin and pit; loam, briers and brambles; opens to notes of tar, violets and rose petals, pomegranate and sandalwood; a dense and sinewy pinot noir, enlivened by the influence of brisk acidity; elements of lithic dust, some root-like tea and a bare hint of orange rind. I’ll say, “Wow,” and “Please, bring on the seared duck breast.” Excellent. About $40.
2013 Merlot-small
Ehlers Estate Merlot 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. With 8% cabernet franc. Opaque black-ruby shading to a vivid purple rim; very intense and concentrated, coiled power; black currants and plums infused with lavender, licorice and graphite; a scintillating core of granitic minerality that almost glitters, magnified by the wine’s bright acidity; lots of vibrancy and resonance, marred, unfortunately, by the taint of toasty oak that dominates from mid-palate back through the finish. You know what I always say, friends: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, there’s too much damn oak. Now through 2020 to ’24. Very Good+. About $55.
Ferrari-Carano Tresor 2012, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 71% cabernet sauvignon, 9% petit verdot, 7% each merlot and malbec, 6% cabernet franc. Dark ruby color with a tinge of magenta at the rim; warm and spicy but with a cool mineral core of graphite and iron; cassis, black raspberry and plum, with notes of cedar, lavender, violets, leather and loam; dusty, velvety tannins coat the palate midst intense and concentrated black fruit flavors and bastions of wheatmeal, walnut shell and burnished oak; how the finish manages not to be austere is a wonder. Try 2017 or ’18 through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $60.
Geyser Peak Pluto’s Fury Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. 1,379 cases. Medium transparent ruby color; first come spice and herbs: cloves, sandalwood, sage; slightly macerated black cherries and red currants, touch of pomegranate and rhubarb; sleek, supple, lithe and satiny; generous with burgeoning elements of violets and rose petals; a well-made pinot noir that lavishes fruit and bright acidity on the palate. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $36.
grgich merlot
Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. With 5% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby hue from stem to stern; rooty and loamy, with finely sifted elements of forest floor, dried porcini and graphite; ripe raspberry and black currant aromas inflected by seductive notes of mocha, black licorice, allspice and sandalwood; very intense and concentrated on the palate, framed by sturdy tannins that feel slightly sanded and roughened; after an hour or so, the tannins and oak flesh out and take over, giving the wine a formidable, monumental quality. No punk-ass little merlot here; this one is for the ages, or through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $43.
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Charles Krug Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. (!) 80% cabernet, 18% petit verdot, 2% merlot. Very dark ruby-purple with a bright violet rim; despite the soaring alcohol content, this is a beautifully balanced and harmonious wine, with perfect weight and presentation, yet plenty of structure for support and the long-haul; a full complement of dusty, graphite-laden tannins bolsters black currant, cherry and blueberry flavors inflected by notes of lavender, licorice, black tea and black olive; a few moments in the glass bring up hints of cedar, rosemary and tobacco; girt by a framework of granitic, mountain-side minerality, this classic cabernet is still a lovely drink, though built for aging through 2022 through 2028. Excellent. About $75.
Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) brave logoOpaque black-ruby with a glowing purple rim; a focused line of graphite and granite defines the space for elements of spiced, macerated and roasted black currants, cherries and plums, permeated by iodine and iron, mint and lavender; a feral, ferrous and sanguinary cabernet, somehow both velvety and chiseled, seductive and lithic; it’s mouth-filling, dynamic, impetuous. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2027 to ’30. Excellent. About $75.
Signorello Estate Padrone 2012, Napa Valley. With 9% cabernet franc. Whoa, what is up with this 15.8 percent alcohol? That factor dominates this wine and throws it off balance, though initially it reveals deep, brooding qualities of cassis, bitter chocolate, briers and brambles, leather and loam that might blossom into harmony; sadly, the austere tannins, the astringent oak and, above all, the sweet, hot alcohol demolish that hope. Not recommended. About $150.
tongue dancer
Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Production was 125 cases. Transparent medium ruby shading to an invisible rim; indelible and beguiling aromas of pomegranate and cranberry, red and black cherries and currants, anise and lavender, with bare hints of rhubarb, thyme and celery seed; a thread of loam and graphite runs through this wine’s supple satiny texture, creating a sense of superb weight and heft on the palate, yet expressing eloquent elegance and delicacy of effect. Now through 2018 to 2020. I could drink this pinot noir every day. Exceptional. About $45.
Trione Vineyards and Winery River Road Ranch Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Trione-2012-Pinot-NoirCounty. 14.5% alc. 1,408 cases. Medium transparent ruby hue; dark and spicy with cloves and allspice (and a hint of the latter’s slightly astringent nature); black and red cherries and currants, notes of cranberries and pomegranate; turns exotic with violets, lavender, mint and sandalwood; a lively and engaging pinot noir, incredibly floral; a lithe texture, moderate oak with lightly sanded edges. Now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $39.
The label image is one vintage behind.
Young Inglewood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 612 cases. With some percentage of merlot and cabernet franc. Dark ruby color; redolent of graphite, iodine and mint, cassis and blueberry, cloves and sage and ancho chile; acidity that runs silent and deep through canyons of dusty, granitic tannins; plenty of spice and scintillating energy, gradually opens reservoirs of lavender, licorice and violets and stylish, polished oak that carries through the brooding but not austere finish. Touches all the moves in the Napa cabernet playbook — meaning that it’s an exemple rather than an individual — but still very impressive. Now through 2024 through ’28. Excellent. About $90.

Gary Andrus founded Pine Ridge Vineyards in 1978, acquiring 50 acres, planted mainly to chardonnay vines, on the Silverado Trail in Stags Leap District. After planting cabernet sauvignon vines and purchasing other vineyards, logo-Pine-Ridge-VineyardsPine Ridge earned a reputation for its full-bodied, multi-dimensional cabernet sauvignon wines, as well as chardonnay and, later, a popular and inexpensive chenin blanc-viognier blend that pays the rent. Anders put the winery on the market in 2000, and it was purchased by The Crimson Wine Group, which also owns Archery Summit, in Oregon, and Seghesio, in Sonoma County. Pine Ridge owns vineyard acreage in many parts of Napa Valley, and produces limited bottlings of wines from these classic AVAs. Under review today are the examples from Rutherford, Oakville District and Stags Leap District. Rutherford and Oakville stretch across the central Valley floor, while Stags Leap, backing up to the Vaca Range, is hillier, even fairly steep in places.

These three wines receive the same oak regimen, 18 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels, but it’s interesting that the blend on each is different, making accommodations to the vineyards and the landscape and micro-climates involved. Wimemaker and general manager is Michael Beaulac. These are stalwart — and expensive — cabernets, that seem to me to epitomize what makes Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon so well-known in the world of both casual drinkers and astute wine collectors: the sense of acute minerality; the poised and rugged tannins; the deep black fruit permeated by the unique combination of tea, dried herbs, loam and dust; the ultimate balance and integration, in the best years. The vintage in question here, 2012, though a warm year, is undeniably one of the best.

These wines were samples for review.
The Pine Ridge Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, is a blend of 76 percent cabernet sauvignon and 24 percent petit verdot. With its intensity and concentration, its huge, dynamic lithic structure and its exquisite balance that paradoxically verges on elegance, this wine conforms to my ideal of an Oakville cabernet. The color is very dark ruby with a tinge of purple at the rim; taking some time to swirl the wine and sniff allows whiffs of black fruit shading to blue and dried meadow flowers to emerge, almost reluctantly it seems, while the big build-up is in the precincts of dust and graphite, iodine and iron. Still, tannins are plush on the palate, and the wine, despite its depth and dimension and the tautness of its acidity, flows through the mouth with lively aplomb. A wine that needs some time to open, though it would be tempting with a medium-rare strip steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’34. Excellent. About $85.
The Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, offers a dark ruby hue with a glowing magenta rim; the nose is distinguished by incisive graphite minerality that bears hints of iodine and iron, ancho chili and bitter chocolate, opening gradually to deeply spiced and macerated red and black currants and raspberries; these aromas take on an incredibly floral aspect, blending lavender, violets and lilacs with a twist of black licorice. Though rigorous in structure, supported by bastions of dry, dusty tannins, this Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is lively, vital and vigorous, almost engaging, though a few minutes in the glass give it burgeoning depth and dimension; oak stays firmly on the periphery, yet the influence is undeniably there. The finish is long, dense and freighted with a kind of powdery granitic quality. The blend is 82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15 percent malbec, 3 percent petit verdot. 14.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $85.
Stylistically, the Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, bears resemblance to its cousins also mentioned in this post but feels even denser, more stringent, bottomless, as if it siphoned up all the bedrock of the steep hillside vineyards where it was born. It’s a blend of 77 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent malbec. The color, of course, is dark, almost opaque ruby that shades to a lighter mulberry rim; the bouquet is a stirring melange of graphite, tar, ancho chili and bitter chocolate, roasted fennel and ripe, macerated red and black currants and cherries; a bit of time brings in notes of cloves, sage and rosemary. Yes, it’s massive on the palate, deeply tannic, yet fleet of foot too, aided by plangent acidity and a deft touch with oak, which feels polished and lightly sanded. It will need a few years aging to bring out more of the black fruit flavors, so try from 2017 to ’19 through 2030 to ’35. 14.7 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $125.

Here’s a red wine blend that will warm your hearts during these chilly January days and nights and serve as gratifying accompaniment to hearty winter-time fare. You might think that the Head High Red Wine 2013, North Red-595x960Coast, made a stab at an interesting Bordeaux-style blend, with unusual emphasis on malbec, what with its 36 percent malbec, 20 percent merlot and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, but the addition of 13 percent zinfandel and 11 percent grenache ensures that we’re in classic, eclectic California blend territory. The wine qualifies for a North Coast designation by way of 74 percent Sonoma County, 14 percent Lake County and 12 percent Napa County. It aged 15 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Samuel Spencer. The color is dark ruby with a glowing magenta rim; aromas of red and black currants and plums are bolstered by notes of blueberries, cloves and sandalwood, while a few minutes in the glass bring in tones of iodine and mint, briers and brambles. These multi-layered qualities segue naturally to the palate, where the wine builds a dusty, graphite-laden tannic presence that leads to a dry, lithic finish, neither factor diminishing spicy and tasty black and red berry flavors. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. For every two bottles of Head High wines sold, $1 goes to the charities, Sustainable Surf and Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. Excellent. About $30.

A sample for review.

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