Malbec


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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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 seedwine.com.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Pink_Pedals_Label
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.
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Cune-Rosado-NV
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.
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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.
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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.
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Luigi-Bosca-Rose
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
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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.
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truvee
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.
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monaci
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.
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MURIEL ROSADO 2011
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.
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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.
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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.
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RC ROSADO FT
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.
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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.
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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.
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2011_Aleksander
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.
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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.
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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.
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Tresor-2012_304x773
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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signorello
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.
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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.
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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.
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YI_2012_estate_cab_B.72
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Here’s a robust Argentine red wine that will shiver the timbers of just about any big, rich, meaty braised dish you set before it, Vistalba_CorteC_NV_Label1particularly, I think, short ribs. Beef stew would be a good match too. The Vistalba Corte C Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Mendoza, contains 61 percent of the first named grape and 39 percent of the latter. It aged 12 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Alejandro Canovas. The color is deep, unfathomable ruby-purple; exuberant whiffs of black currants, blueberries and black plums offer notes of sage, cedar, black olive, black pepper and bell pepper, all encompassed by elements of graphite and loam. Pretty damned heady stuff, n’est-ce pas? It’s a warm, spicy and savory wine, with just a hint of mint, cloves and bitter chocolate about its black and blue fruit flavors and a bit of black raspberry tart; dense and chewy, the tannins are fairly dusty and rustic, leading to a spice and mineral-packed finish. 14.6% percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Very Good+. About $18.

Imported by Blends, Plymouth, Calif. A sample for review.

It’s not too early to think about wines for Thanksgiving dinner, so let’s get to it. Today I’m recommending a red wine that may be off touraine-tradition-rouge-caves-monmousseauthe maps for most American consumers but really deserves their attention. The Justin Monmousseau Touraine Tradition 2012 hails from the region of Touraine in France’s central Loire Valley. The house of Monmouuseau, founded in 1886 by Alcide Monmousseau, devotes 70 percent of its production to sparkling wines from a range of Loire Valley AOCs, all made in the méthode traditionnelle, but fortunately the estate also produces still red and white wines. The Monmousseau Touraine Tradition 2012 is a blend of 69 percent côt grapes (malbec); 30 percent cabernet franc; and a bare 1 percent gamay, fermented and aged only in stainless steel vats. The result is a wine with tremendous liveliness and elevation that offers a medium ruby color shading to a violet hue and penetrating aromas of ripe, fleshy blackberries, black cherries and plums, permeated by black pepper and allspice, underbrush and loam. The wine displays a lovely, bright structure on the palate, with fruit that leans toward well-spiced blackberry and blueberry flavors and — the effect of that mere dollop of gamay — an irresistible vivacious note of wild red raspberries, with that characteristic brambly, leafy element, this generous panoply upheld by an influx of dusty tannins. NA% alcohol, but not high. Serve slightly chilled and drink up with pleasure. Very Good+. About $16.

Tasted at a private wine event.

The Dorgogne region is one of the oldest inhabited areas of France, as testified by numerous caves filled with wall paintings and etchings that date back 30,000 and 40,000 years. It’s also one of the country’s wildest and most beautiful areas, marked by rugged and towering cliffs, many topped by ancient castles; deep river valleys; rolling hills and forests; and a network of villages and towns that retain much of their medieval appearance. Recently, we spent a week in France’s Dordogne region, with LL’s son and his children, Julien, 14, and Lucia, 10, eating local food — dominated by foie gras, magret and confit of duck — and drinking local wines. We rented a centuries-old stone cottage outside the village of Beynac et Cazenac — pop. 560 — an almost mythically quaint hamlet perched right on a bank of the Dordogne River and winding up the cliff dominated by an immense castle, Chateau de Beynac, seen in this image from sourcedordogne.free.fr.

Our locale was at the southeastern corner of the Dordogne department, not wine-country itself but not too far from the appellations of Bergerac, Côtes de Bergerac, Montravel and Pécharmant, all cultivating the Bordeaux grape varieties and producing country cousin versions of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot for red, sauvignon blanc and semillon for white. About a two-hour drive to the east in the Lot department is Cahors, a traditional region for hearty wines made from the malbec grape, known as cot in that area. Though I had been offered visits to chateaus and wineries by some of my contacts in importing and marketing in the US, my determination was that this sojourn would be strictly vacation and that any wine we drank would come either from grocery stores, open-air markets or restaurant wine lists.

Our first dinner, at a hotel restaurant in Beynac, was mediocre, but we enjoyed the wines. These were a 2011 rouge, in a 500-milliliter bottle, and a 2013 blanc, in a 375 ml bottle, from Chateau Court-Les-Mûts, Côtes de Bergerac. The rouge offered a bright, seductive floral and spicy bouquet but was fairly rude and rustic on the palate; the more palatable blanc was fresh, young and zesty, with yellow fruit and dried herbs. Each cost 14 euros, about $15.66 at today’s rate. Far more successful, in both food and wine, was our dinner the following night, a Sunday, at La Petite Tonnelle, just a few yards up the street from the restaurant of the previous night. Built right into the cliff that dominates this strategic site overlooking the Dordogne river, the restaurant was pleasing in every aspect. Our waiter, a young woman, was friendly and accommodating; the restaurant served the silkiest foie gras, smoked magret and confit of duck I have ever tasted; and the wine list emphasized regional products highlighting sustainable, organic and biodynamic methods. With the hearty fare, we drank a bottle of the Chateau Masburel 2010, Montravel, a predominantly merlot wine with dollops of cabernet sauvignon. The restaurant owner came over and nodded his approval, telling us that it was a powerful wine. Powerful indeed and robust, but sleek too, packed with dusty tannins, graphite-tinged minerality, black fruit flavors and vibrant acidity. It cost 42 euros, about $46 at today’s rate.

Both in cafes and at our rented house, we consumed a great deal of rosé wine, not just because we love rosé but because the weather was unseasonably hot, with temperatures going to 100 and higher every afternoon. Rosés in the Dordogne are made from cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec and typically are more robust than their cousins in Provence. For example, in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, generally just called Tayac, home to the National Museum of Prehistory and the center of a cluster of caves with prehistoric art, we ate lunch at Cafe de Mairie and downed a 500 cl bottle of the delightful Clos des Verdots 2014, Bergerac Rosé, at 14 euros. Other rosés we tried during our sojourn included La Fleur de Mondesir 2014, Domaine de Mayat 2014 and Domaine de Montlong 2013, all Bergerac, and the simple but tasty Mayaret 2014, Vin du Pays Perigord. Tayac is absolutely worth a visit. We were too late to get admittance to the cave called Font de Gaume, which features wall paintings, so we drove to the cave of Les Combarelles, a few minutes away, and saw the exquisite series of rock engravings executed 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. The town itself, with many of its houses and buildings carved directly into the cliffs, is a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Other red wines we tried, back at the house with various dinners, included Chateau des Hautes Fargues 2010 and Domaine La Closerie 2011, both from Pécharmant, and, from Bergerac, the excellent Domaine Maye de Bouye 2010, and the best red wine of our time in the Dordogne, Clos de Gamot 2008, a superb, deeply characterful Cahors that cost all of 12.5 euros, about $13.70. Clos de Gamot is owned by the Jouffreau family and has been in operation since 1610. The grapes derive from two vineyards, one over 120 years old and the other with vines 40 to 70 years old. The wines age 18 months to two years in large old oak casts.

The way to explore this ancient region is to drive to as many of the towns and villages as possible, preferably one each day, park the car (hopefully in the shade) and then wander through the plazas and narrow streets, stopping to walk through churches, alleys and courtyards. If there’s a chance, for a few euros, to tour a castle or old mansion, do that; the rewards in history, esthetics and emotional satisfaction are immense. We particularly enjoyed Sarlot, Domme and the medieval section of Soulliac, and we visited two castles that were traditional enemies during the Hundred Years’ War, Chateau Beynac, “our” castle, and just up-river, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle.

Marketers and trade groups, of course! Do you think that notions like “National Riesling Month” and “Grenache Day” are carved in stone on the lintels of the Sanctuary of Holy Days? You know better than that. And I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts, as my late mother used to say, that Argentina is behind “World Malbec Day” like white on rice and ducks on June bugs. Usually I ignore these marketing and PR feints because life is too short and I have plenty of other matters to attend to, but I decided, oh what the hell, I’ll mention “World Malbec Day” on the 17th and that will allow me to taste the dozens of malbec wines that doubtless litter my shelves and racks. Surprisingly, I only had a few examples on hand, though a couple came in the mail, all these, of course, from Mendoza, Argentina.

For many years, malbec played a minor role in Bordeaux as one of the five “classic” red grapes, along with petit verdot, cabernet franc and the more important merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Malbec, however, suffers from a susceptibility to various forms of disease and rot, and particularly after the historic frost of 1956 it began to disappear from the vineyards of Bordeaux. The grape is widely grown, under a number of pseudonyms, all over Southwest France and is especially useful in Cahors, where it is called Cot and must make up 70 percent of the blend. Malbec was first planted in Argentina in 1852, and despite vicissitudes — thousands of acres of old vines were stupidly pulled out in the 1980s — it became synonymous with red wine in that country. Now let’s be honest. Argentina turns out oceans of mediocre malbec wines and sells them cheaply in North America. On the other hand, the grape also receives its apotheosis there, especially when grown in the dry, mile-high vineyards of Mendoza, backed up against the Andes. If you ever get a chance to try the Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec, throw caution and credit card to the winds and see how transcendent malbec can be when it is carefully cultivated and thoughtfully made in precisely the right location.

Of these Argentine models, one rates only Good, one Very Good, one Excellent and the others fall into the solid, well-made and enjoyable Very Good+ level.
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The Trapiche Oak Cast Malbec 2013, Mendoza, wears its titular oak on its sleeve and can’t seem to tear it off to reveal anything other than a warm spicy feeling and vague elements of black fruit scents and flavors. It’s the most generic and innocuous of this bunch. 14 percent alcohol. Good. About $14.

The previous wine’s stablemate, the Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2012, Mendoza, is another creature altogether. The color is inky purple with a magenta rim; quite ripe, almost jammy, with plenty of lavender, graphite and black pepper supporting brights scents and flavors of blueberries, black currants and plums; a lively and vivacious wine, it coats the palate with dusty, velvety tannins. Very Good+. About $18.
These wines are imported by Universal Wine Network, Livermore, Calif.
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The Alamos brand is the inexpensive and broadly available label from the Catena Zapata family. The label is imported and marketed not by Winebow, which deals with the estate’s more expensive, rarer and more classy wines, but by an arm of E.&J. Gallo. Medium ruby-cherry color; spicy red and black fruit scents and flavors buoyed by pert acidity and a modicum of spice; drinkable and appealing but I wish it displayed more personality. 13.6 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $13.
Imported by Alamos USA, Hayward, Calif.
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Gallo also imports the wines of Don Miguel Gascon. I’m happy to state that for 2013, the Gascon Malbec, from Mendoza, is clearly more varietal and authentic than in the past few vintages. The color is medium ruby-cherry; a seam of spice, smoke and graphite runs through ripe plum, cherry and black currant scents and flavors, highlighted by notes of mint and iodine; structure and acidity are firm and lively, tannins are moderately dense, all making for a pleasurable experience. 13.8 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Gascon USA, Hayward, Calif.
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The Nieto Senetiner “Camila” Malbec 2013, Mendoza, offers a vibrant dark ruby hue and bright aromas of ripe plums and black and red cherries with undertones of cloves, black tea and leather. Though tannins are dusty, dense and chewy, the wine is nicely balanced, supple and lively and displays an attractive forthright personality. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $10, a Remarkable Bargain.
Imported by Foley Family Wines, Sonoma Calif.
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OK, here’s the one to look for. El Malbec de Ricardo Santos 2012, La Madras Vineyard, Mendoza, exhibits an inky purple-magenta hue and feels pretty damned “inky” in every respect; the wine is rife with streams of graphite, cloves, black pepper and espresso that bear up ripe aromas and flavors of black currants and plums wrapped around an intense core of lavender, violets and bitter chocolate. This panoply of sensations unfolds to a lithic, tarry edge and clean acidity that cut through and enliven moderately velvet-like tannins. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $19.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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