Marsanne


As far as white wines are concerned, Spring and Summer tend to be the domains of bright, light, delicate wines that go down easy as aperitifs while we’re sitting out on the porch or patio or lounging in a bosky dell on a frolicsome picnic. Nothing wrong with those scenarios at all. Now that the weather is in transition, however, when there’s a touch of chilly, rainy uncertainty in the air and our thoughts are sliding toward more substantial fare than cucumber and watercress sandwiches — no crusts, please! — the logical choice would be white wines with a bit more heft, flavor and savor. The 10 examples under review today provide those qualities in diverse ways, because they are, naturally, diverse wines. Grapes include sauvignon blanc, riesling, roussanne and marsanne, vermentino, verdicchio and trebbiano. Some of the wines saw no oak while others received extended barrel aging. Their points of origin range from various spots in Italy and several regions in California, from Alsace in France to Pfalz in Germany. Above all, and I cannot emphasize this note too strenuously, every one of these wines was a joy to drink, first because they are so different each to each, and second because in their eloquent variations they reflect integrity of intentions in the vineyard and the winery, an integrity dedicated to the expressiveness of a location and grape varieties. Each wine mentioned here made me feel as if I were sipping liquid gold.
Unless otherwise noted, these wines were samples for review.
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The pale gold Arrow&Branch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, performs that gratifying task of balancing the utmost in a delicate, elegant character with a vivacious, appealing personality. Aromas of pea shoot, heather, cucumber and lime peel are infused with damp limestone and flint, roasted lemon and lemon balm and a hint of raspberry leaf. The wine is bright and crisp, dense but paradoxically ethereal, and it opens to touches of almond skin and pear skin, waxy white flowers and a hint of the wildly exotic and tropical. All of these exuberant elements are handily restrained by brisk acidity and the mild spicy/woodsy aura of a touch of French oak. 14.1 percent alcohol. A truly beautiful sauvignon blanc, made by Jennifer Williams, for consuming through 2018 or ’19. Exceptional. About $35.
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barmes
The color of the Domaine Barmès-Buecher “Hengst” Riesling Grand Cru 2012, Alsace, is a slightly brassy medium gold hue of intense purity; the bouquet unfurls multiple layers of nuance as Platonic ripeness invests aromas of peach and quince touched with hints of lychee, musk-melon and apricot nectar, yielding to apples, green tea and lemongrass and an intriguing, lingering note of petrol. The wine is moderately sweet at entry but segues to dryness as it flows across the palate, reaching a finish that feels profoundly minerally with elements of iodine-washed limestone and flint. Between those points, a lithe silky texture is emboldened by vibrant acidity, a strain of savory, woodsy spices and macerated stone-fruit flavors. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $36.
Imported by Petit Pois/Sussex Wine Merchants, Moorestown, N.J.
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Hungarians are justly proud of their indigenous grape, furmint. Tasting through a few furmintexamples recently, I was impressed by the grape’s versatility and its capacity for making wines that are seemingly light-filled and weightless in affect yet layered in complexity of detail and dimension. The Béres Tokaji Furmint 2014, Szaraz, displays a light golden-yellow hue and subtle aromas of ripe lemons, apples and pears; a few moments in the glass unveil notes of straw, heather, thyme and peach. A particular sense of balance between the sweet ripeness of the stone-fruit flavors and the dry, bright acid and mineral structure creates an immensely satisfying effect, the entire package driving leisurely to a limestone and flint-packed finish. 13 percent alcohol. The sort of wine that makes you happy to drink. Now through 2018 or ’19. Winemaker was János Jarecsni. Excellent. About $19, representing Good Value.
Imported by New Wines of Hungary,
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What a beauty this is! The Weingut Eugen Müller Forster Mariengarten Riesling Kabinett, forster2013, Pfalz, is a wild, meadowy, golden, sleek and crystalline riesling whose very pale straw hue almost shimmers in the glass; notes of peaches, lime peel and lychee feel a little slate-y and loamy, though there’s nothing earth-bound about the wine’s delicacy and elegance. A few moments in the glass bring in hints of green apples and cloves, while a sweet entry retains a modest claim of a fairly dry, limestone-etched finish. 9.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $19, a local purchase and Real Value.
A Terry Theise Estate Selection, Skurnik Wines, New York.
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gallica
Rosemary Cakebread made only 180 cases of her Gallica Albarino 2015, Calaveras County, so you should call the winery right now and try to reserve a few bottles. The grapes derive from the Rorick Heritage Vineyard, located at about 2,000 feet elevation in the Sierra Foothills; the wine — including a touch of muscat blanc — aged nine months in stainless steel tanks and neutral French oak barrels. A pale yellow-gold hue presages aromas of yellow plums and pears, figs, acacia and heather that evolve to a slightly leafy, grassy quality. What a joyful, lively, expressive personality this wine offers; the texture is supple, suave and elegant, all elements defined by balance and seamlessness yet edging to wild, spicy, savory qualities in the chiseled finish. 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $36.
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The Garofoli “Podium” 2013, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore, podiumincorporates no oak in its making and is all the better for it. Produced in Italy’s Marche region by a family that has been making wine since 1871, this 100 percent verdicchio offers a pure medium gold hue and ravishing aromas of tangerine and peach, jasmine and almond skin and — how else to say it? — rain on Spring flowers, yes, it’s that incredibly fresh and appealing. It’s also, somewhat paradoxically, quite dry and spare though warm, spicy and a bit earthy, enlivened by keen acidity and a scintillating quality of limestone and flint minerality. Again, it’s a wine that feels very satisfying to drink. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa Calif.
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My reaction on seeing that this white wine aged 22 months in new French oak barriques was a big “Uh-oh.” I mean, friends, that’s a whole heap of new wood influence. However, in the trebbianoMasciarelli Marina Cveti? Trebbiano Riserva 2013, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, the eponymous winemaker manages to pull off a remarkable feat. The opening salvo is an attractive bright medium straw gold color; then come notes of candied tangerine and grapefruit peel, ginger and quince, cloves and a sort of light rain on dusty stones effect; after a few moments, the wine unfolds hints of lemon balm and roasted lemon, lilac and lavender. Yes, it’s pretty heady stuff. On the palate, this Trebbiano Riserva ’13 feels vital and vibrant, rich and succulent with spiced and slightly baked peach and apricot flavors, though its opulence is held in check by chiming acidity and a resonant chiseled limestone element. You feel the oak in the wine’s framework and foundation but as a supporting factor that lends shape and suppleness rather than as a dominant element. 14 percent alcohol. Quite an achievement for drinking through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $43.
Imported by Masciarelli Wine Co., Weymouth, Mass.
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E&J Gallo acquired distribution rights to the venerable family-operated Soave producer Pieropan in March 2015, adding it to Allegrini and Poggio al Tesoro in the company’s Luxury Wine Group. The Pieropan Soave Classico 2015 is a blend of 85 percent garganega grapes and 15 percent trebbiano di Soave, derived from certified organic vineyards. The wine saw no oak but fermented and matured in glass-line cement tanks. The color is pale yellow-gold; aromas of roasted lemons and spiced pears are bright, clean and fresh and permeated by notes of almond blossom, acacia and grapefruit rind. The wine delivers amazing heft and presence for the price category, yet it remains deft and light on its feet; brilliant acidity keeps it lively on the palate, while a saline limestone quality lends depth and poignancy. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
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Steve Hall made the Troon Vineyard Longue Carabine 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern troon-carabineOregon, by co-fermenting different lots of marsanne, viognier, vermentino and roussanne grapes, with slim dollops apparently (depending on what infomation you read) of sauvignon blanc and early muscat. The final proportions of the blend are 38.5 percent vermentino, 33 percent viognier, 27 marsanne and 1.5 roussanne; information as to oak aging, type of oak and length of time is not available. The wine is seriously complex and intriguing. The color is pale straw-gold; the whole effect is spare, high-toned and elegant, with hints of baked peaches and pears, hints of grapefruit, fennel and celery leaf, bee’s-wax, lanolin and flowering heather, all robed in a tremendous acid-and-mineral structure that creates a sense of vital dynamism. above depths of dusty, flinty loam. These elements take time to blossom, the wine being fairly reticent at first. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 163 cases. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $34.
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The Two Shepherds Catie’s Corner Viognier 2014, Russian River Valley, offers a 2-shepspale straw-gold hue and beguiling, compelling aromas of jasmine and gardenia, peach and pear, bee’s-wax and lanolin over hints of lime peel and grapefruit pith; the wine sees only neutral French oak, a device that lends shape and suppleness to the structure without incurring undue wood influence. Riveting acidity and a remarkable shapeliness and heft in the texture give the wine tremendous personality and eloquence. Time in the glass bring in notes of heather and thyme, roasted lemon and sage, lemon balm and sour melon, all elements engaged in a remarkably poised feat of crystalline tension and resolution. 13.3 percent alcohol. Brilliant wine-making from William Allen. Now through 2018 or ’19. Production was 75 cases, so go online now. Exceptional. About $26.
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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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Inexorably we drift from Spring into Summer, so in honor of this transitional state I offer a dozen savory, zesty white wines. The grapes range from the familiar — sauvignon blanc, riesling — to the unfamiliar and exotic — grillo, gouveio, while the geography takes us all over the place. Prices rise from about $12 to $28, giving space for some real bargains and great values. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew all technical, historical, geological and personal data — as interesting as those items may be — for the sake of quick and incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebook, and designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Unless otherwise noted, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Alois Lagerder Haberle Pinot Blanc 2013, Südtirol Alto Adige, Italy. 13% alc. Production was 1,125 cases. Very pale straw hue; ripe, spice, macerated and lightly roasted stone-fruit with a halo of white flowers; notes of dried thyme and fennel; lithe and supple texture, offering vivid acid cut and limestone dimensions of structure; very dry but juicy with peach, pear and yellow plum flavors; real personality and character. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $23.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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erste-neue
Erste + Neue Pinot Grigio 2015, Alto-Adige. 14% alc. Pale gold color; very appealing, with notes of green apple, pear and lemon balm, heather and meadow grass; heady and floral; lovely silken texture; quite dry, with pert acidity and shimmering limestone minerality; nothing complicated, just altogether irresistible. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $16.
Imported by T Edward Wines, New York.
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assobio
Esporao Assobio 2014, Douro, Portugal. 13% alc. 40% viosinho grapes, 30% gouveio, 20% verdelho, 10% arinto. Pale straw color; pear and acacia, heather and thyme; a bracing aura of sea-breeze and salt-marsh; very dry, with pert acidity, layers of damp flint and shale minerality; an exotic spicy-herbal flare; lean and supple. Now through 2017 to ’18. Very Good+. About $14, marking Great Value.
Imported by Aidil Wines, New York.
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semillon
Esporao Private Selection Semillon 2013, Alentejano, Portugal. 14% alc. Medium gold hue; elevating aromas of quince and ginger, spiced pear, lemon oil and orange rind; slightly honeyed in aspect but quite dry and spare; a fragile infusion of tropical fruit and flowers with a hint of fig; lovely silky texture, moderately lush but honed by limestone. Now through 2018. Excellent. About $28.
Impoted by Aidil Wines, New York.
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Gewurz
Lazy Creek Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.2% alc. Production was, alas, only 65 cases. Pale straw color; classic notes of lychee, pear, jasmine and rubber eraser, with hints of cloves and ginger; lithe texture, with crystalline clarity, acidity and limestone drive, great vibrancy and appeal; the limestone-flint minerality builds through the dynamic finish; grapefruit finish with a touch of bracing bitterness. A terrific example of the grape. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $22.
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Matetic EQ Coastal Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. Pale straw color; Matetic EQ Coastal SB 14 Ftgrapefruit, lilac, greengage; celery seed and fennel with back-notes of lime peel, quince and ginger; crisp and lively, with riveting acidity and a plangent limestone element; a lithe, almost sinewy texture with depths of fruit, spice and minerality bolstering a scintillating, transparent finish. Now through 2017. Excellent. About $20.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa Calif. The label image is one vintage behind.
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Chateau Puyanché Franc 2014, Cote de Bordeaux Blanc. 75% sauvignon blanc, 25% semillon. Pale straw-gold hue; assertive notes of dill and celery seed, caraway and lime peel, with pink grapefruit and ethereal back-notes of melon and apple skin; just a lovely wine in every way: slightly powdery texture, stone-fruit and citrus scents and flavors, bright acidity and limestone minerality; sleek, chiseled finish. Now through 2018. Excellent. About $15, a Real Bargain.
Imported by Twins America. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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plotzner
St. Pauls Plotzner Weissburgunder 2015, Südtirol Alto Adige. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw color; spice pear and roasted lemon, hay and autumn meadows, chalk and flint; a little earthy, as if its toes were still in the vineyard; clean and incisive acidity and chiseled limestone minerality. An exhilarating pinot blanc for drinking through 2019 to ’20. Excellent. About $20.
Importer N/A.
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Tascate Buonora 2014, Sicilia. 12% alc. 100% carricante grapes. Pale straw-gold hue; a rich, Stampagolden wine, with spiced pears and yellow plums, sage and thyme, green tea, quince and acacia; scintillating limestone and flint minerality; sea-salt and meadow; spicy and savory. A great deal of charm. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $20.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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blanc
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. Pale straw-gold hue; peach, pear and quince, bee’s-wax, dried thyme and sage; apple skin and pear nectar; lilac and acacia; yellow plums and a bare hint of mango; all these elements inextricably encompassed in a package that feels irrevocably vital, vibrant, real, bound to the earth yet ethereally delicate and delicious. An extraordinary wine. Exceptional. About $30.
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grillo
Vento di Mare Grillo 2014, Terre Siciliana IGT. 12.5% alc. Made from organic grillo grapes. Pale straw-gold hue; savory and saline, with yellow plum and roasted lemon scents and flavors, notes of heather, dried thyme and sea-grass, clean-cut acidity and limestone minerality and a chalk-flinty element that increases through the herb-and-spice laden finish. Drink up. Very Good+. About $12, an Amazing Bargain.
Imported by Middleton Family Wines, Shandon, Calif.
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wakefield riesling
Wakefield Riesling 2015, Clare Valley, Australia. 12% alc. Pale straw gold color; peach and pear, lychee and jasmine, with a hint of zesty grapefruit and its pith; very dry, with a burgeoning limestone and chalk element, all wrapped in delightful vitality. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $17.
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The word “interesting,” of course, is a double-edged sword, as when one says that someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend is interesting, meaning “What a dork!” No, I don’t mean that! I mean interesting as “of real interest to My Readers” and white wines to look out for as alternatives to chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling. Not that there’s anything wrong with those grapes — well, chardonnay is too often over-made and fiddled with — and I’m distinctly fond of sauvignon blanc and especially reisling. Many more types of white wine exist, however, and it’s in that less-traveled direction that I send My Readers today. We touch many countries and regions and a variety of grapes, both single and in fascinating and somewhat exotic blends. Look particularly at the wines priced between $11 and $17; real bargains abound there. As usual, I avoid lengthy mentions of technical, historical and geographical information in this Weekend Wine Notes — though I dote on that sort of material — for the sake of quick, incisive reviews deigned to pique your, ahem, interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were either samples for review or encountered at wholesaler trade events.
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scaia-garganega
Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Bianca 2014, Delle Venezia IGT, Italy. 12% alc. 55% garganega, 45% chardonnay, according to the label; website and printed material say 50% garganega, 30% chardonnay, 20% trebbiano Soave. Medium straw-gold color; ripe, lively, crisp, bristly; brimming with notes of green apple and melon, lemon and peach; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of jasmine and gardenia, lime peel and grapefruit; very dry, zings and sings across the palate with bright acidity and tantalizing limestone elements; heaps of personality. Excellent. About $11, a Raving Amazing Bargain.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Villa Wolf Pinot Gris 2012, Pfalz, Germany. 13% alc. 100% pinot gris grapes. Medium burnished gold hue; straw, melon and orange rind; lemongrass and ginger, jasmine and honeysuckle; saline and savory, a touch exotic in its ripe, spicy yellow fruit and yellow flower elements; quite dry, with clean acidity and a sense of fading limestone and flint minerality; quite attractive, but drink up. Very Good +. About $12, representing Real Value.
Loosen Bros. USA, Salem, Oregon.
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Alamos Torrontés 2014, Salta, Argentina. 13% alc. 100% torrontés grapes. Pale straw color; jasmine and gardenia, very lemony, hints of lemongrass and figs, honeydew and greengage; a little musky; saline briskness and crisp acidity; lovely, lively silken texture. Very Good+. About $13.
Alamos USA, Haywood, Calif.
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Les Vignes de Bila-Haut 2014, Côtes du Roussillon, France (Michael Chapoutier). 13% alc. Grenache gris, grenache blanc, macabeu (or sometimes maccabeu). Pale straw-gold color; ripe and fleshy, apple peel and peach skin; lemon, lime peel, tangerine and yellow plum; cloves and a wisp of dried thyme; crisp and sassy, very spicy and quite dry but with spare and tasty stone-fruit flavors. Very Good+. About $13.
An R. Shack Selection, HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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pecorino
La Valentina Pecorino 2014, Bianco Colline Piscarese, Italy. NA% alc. 100% pecorino grapes. Pale gold hue; very fresh, clean and appealing; lemon balm, lime peel, almond skin and almond blossom; limestone and oyster shell, savory with a salt marsh-sea breeze edge of vitality; pert and lively, a burgeoning of stone-fruit and meadowy herbs; extremely charming but with a thread of seriousness. Very Good+. About $16.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa Calif.
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Vina Robles “White 4” 2014, Paso Robles, California. 14.9% alc. 54% viognier, 22% vermentino, 15% verdelho, 9% sauvignon blanc. Pale straw color with faint green highlights; delicate, lightly spicy, a slight sense of sunny, leafy figs and briers; all citrus with a flush of stone-fruit; a few minutes in the glass bring in heady notes of lilac and Evening in Paris; very appealing, with a beautiful texture and structure that fill the mouth with almost powdery talc-like elements cut by bright acidity. Drink now through 2017. Excellent. About $16.
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alleme
Bodega de Txakoli Tadai Berri Alleme Txakolina 2014, Getariako Txakolina. NA% alc. 100% hondarribi zuri grapes. The wine is pronounced chakoli; txakolina means “the txakoli.” The hondarribi zuri grape is primarily grown, where it is cultivated at all, in Spain’s Basque country. Very pale straw color; just faintly effervescent, as a sort of quiet, persistent tickle; white flowers and yellow fruit, let’s say, gardenia, peach and yellow plums, all quite gently expressed, with hints of almond blossom and lychee; lively, crisp, clean, caressing. Drink up as a very pleasant and unusual aperitif; these wines are not meant to last. Very Good+. About $17.
Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
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ponzi pb
Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2014, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.4% alc. 1,000 cases. 100% pinot blanc grapes. Very pale straw-gold hue; roasted lemons and spiced pears, notes of quince, nectarine and ginger; subtly floral, like some tiny white slightly astringent flower; mountainy and meadowy; incisive acidity with elements of steel and limestone and a haze of smoke and talc; quite dry but immensely appealing and satisfying. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
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amity-vineyards-pinot-blanc-2013-bottle
Amity Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2013, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13% alc. 181 cases. 100% pinot blanc. Medium straw-gold hue; lemon balm, lime peel, slightly caramelized grapefruit; intriguing notes of cedar and hay; a fresh, breezy and bracing wine, lovely purity and intensity; hints of quince, peach skin and ginger; lithe and supple on the palate with crystalline acidity and vibrant limestone minerality. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $22.
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mccay viognier
McCay Cellars Viognier 2014, Lodi, California. 14.1% alc. 100% viognier grapes. Very pale gold color; peach, roasted lemon and lavender; slightly honeyed, with notes of beeswax, dried thyme and rosemary, with the latter’s hint of resiny quality; very clean, pure and intense, lovely presence and weight; more on the graceful, spare and elegant side of the grape, though a hint of caramelized fennel lends something exotic; a lingering finish that turns a bit austere with limestone and flint minerality. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $24.
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Clos le Vigneau 2013, Vouvray, Loire Valley, France. (Alexandre Monmousseau). NA%alc. 100% chenin blanc grapes. Bright straw-gold hue; vouvrayhay, damp stones, jasmine; hazelnuts and almond skin; notes of peach, apricot and yellow plums; lean and lithe, chiseled limestone minerality and chiming acidity yet a soft approachable texture; a hint of sweetness on the entry but very dry from mid-palate back through the spice and mineral freighted finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $19.
Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
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anaba white
Anaba Wines Turbine White 2013, Sonoma Valley, California. 14% alc. 42% roussanne, 20% grenache blanc, 20% picpoul blanc, 18% marsanne. 354 cases. Shimmering pale gold hue; roasted lemon, dried thyme, beeswax, lanolin, lilac; notes of heather and peach and a hint of some exotic floral and pressed nut oil; bountifully presents a full-bodied, seductive texture packed with spiced and roasted peach and apricot flavors but balanced by riveting acidity and an element of damp-stone minerality. Super appealing, practically glitters in the glass. Excellent. About $28, and Worth a Search.
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Well, thank goodness all that Thanksgiving hubbub is over and the attendant brouhaha about what wine to drink with the turkey and dressing and sweet potatoes and so on, so now we can focus just on wines to drink because we like them. Here are brief reviews of 12 such wines that should appeal to many tastes and pocketbooks. Prices range from $15 to $56; there are three white wines and nine reds, including a couple of sangiovese blends and a pair of white Rhône renditions from California, as well as a variety of other types of wines and grape varieties. As usual with these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew technical, historical and geographical data for the sake of offering incisive notices designed to pique your interest and whet the palate, after which you may choose to wet your palate. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy! (In moderation, of course.)
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Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2011, Tuscany, Italy.13.5% alc. 70% sangiovese, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 10% canaiolo. Dark ruby-purple hue; raspberry, mulberry and blueberry, notes of potpourri, dried herbs and orange peel; a bit of stiff tannin from the cabernet, but handily a tasty and drinkable quaff with requisite acidity for vigor. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.
MW Imports, White Plains, N.Y.
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Bordòn Reserva 2008, Rioja, Spain. 13.5% alc. 80% tempranillo, 15% garnacha, 5% mazuela. Medium ruby color; mint, pine and iodine, macerated and slightly stewed red and black currants and cherries; violets, lavender, pot pourri, cloves and sandalwood; very dry, autumnal with hints of mushrooms and moss, nicely rounded currant and plum flavors, vivid acidity; a lovely expression of the grape. Now through 2016 to ’18 with roasted game birds. Very Good +. About $15, a Real Bargain.
Imported by Vision Wine & Spirits, Secaucus, N.J.
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Jacopo Biondi Santi Braccale 2010, Toscano. 13.5% alc. 80% sangiovese, 20% merlot. Medium ruby color; raspberries and red currants, orange zest and black tea, hints of briers and brambles, touches of graphite, violets, blueberries and cloves, intriguing complexity for the price; plenty of dry tannins and brisk acidity for structure, fairly spare on the plate, but pleasing texture and liveliness; flavors of dried red and black fruit; earthy finish. Now through 2016 or ’17 with grilled or braised meat, hearty pasta dishes. Very Good+. About $19, marking Good Value.
Imported by Vision Wine & Spirits, Secaucus, N.J.
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Clayhouse Estate Grenache Blanc Viognier 2013, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. 70% grenache blanc, 30% viognier. Production was 650 bottles, so Worth a Search. Pale gold color; crystalline freshness, clarity and liveliness; jasmine and acacia, yellow plums, quince and ginger; beautifully balanced and integrated, exquisite elegance and spareness; saline and savory, though, with bracing acidity running through a pleasing talc-like texture; backnotes of almond blossom and dried thyme; a supple, lithe limestone-packed finish. Now through the end of 2015. Excellent. About $23.
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Les Trois Couronnes 2011, Gigondas, Rhône Valley, France. 14.5% alc. 70% grenache, 20% syrah, 10% mourvèdre. Dark ruby-violet color; lovely, enchanting bouquet of black olives, thyme, graphite, moss and mushrooms, opening to plums and black currants, pepper, leather and lavender; a bit of wet-dog funkiness aligns with dusty, supple tannins and beautifully integrated oak and acidity; rich, spicy black fruit flavors with a hint of blueberry; undertones of loam, underbrush, black licorice; spice-and-mineral-packed finish. Drink now through 2017 to ’19. Great with beef braised in red wine. Excellent. About $23.
Imported by OWS Cellars Selections, North Miami, Fla.
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Paul Dolan Zinfandel 2012, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Certified organic. Transparent ruby with a magenta rim; notes of strawberry, raspberry and blueberry with a nice raspy touch and hints of briers and brambles, black pepper, bitter chocolate and walnut shell; ripe and spicy raspberry and cherry flavors, a bit meaty and fleshy, but increasingly bound with dusty tannins and graphite minerality, all enlivened by generous acidity. Not a blockbuster but plenty of stuffing. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 55% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 19% picpoul. 1,965 cases. Very pale gold hue; green apple, peach and spiced pear; lemon balm, ginger and quince; wonderful tension and resolution of texture and structure; taut acidity, dense and almost voluptuous yet spare, tensile and vibrant with crystalline limestone minerality; seamless melding of lightly spiced and macerated citrus and stone-fruit flavors; feels alive on the palate, engaging and compelling. Now through 2016 or ’17. Exceptional. About $28.
The winery website has not caught up with the current vintage.
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Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 14.1% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. Dark to medium ruby-mulberry color; black cherry and raspberry scents and flavors with plenty of tannic “rasp” and underlying notes of briers, brambles and loam; cloves, a hint of rhubarb, a touch of cherry cola; all enlivened by pert acidity. A minor key with major dimension. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $30.
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von Hövel “R” Spatlese Dry Riesling 2012, Mosel, Germany. 11% alc. 100% riesling. Very pale gold color; peach, pear and lychee; hints of honeysuckle, grapefruit and lime zest; a chiseled and faceted wine, benefiting from incisive acidity and scintillating limestone and flint elements; tremendous, indeed inescapable resonance and presence, yet elegant, delicate and almost ethereal; long penetrating spice and mineral-inflected finish. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $34.
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Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 81% cabernet sauvignon, 9% cabernet franc, 8% merlot, 1% each petit verdot and malbec. Deep ruby with a magenta tinge; cedar and thyme, hint of black olive; quite spicy and macerated black currants and plums with a hint of black and red cherry; lithe, supple, muscular and sleek; dense but soft and finely sifted tannins adorned with slightly toasty oak, a scintillating graphite element and vibrant acidity; long spicy, granitic finish. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
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Bonny Doon Cuvee R Grenache 2012, Monterey County. 14.9% alc. 100% grenache grapes. 593 cases. (Available to the winery’s DEWN Club members.) Dark reddish-cherry hue; dusty, spicy red and black cherries, with a curranty note and hint of raspberry; some cherry stem and pit pertness and raspiness; cloves and sandalwood, with a tide of plum skin and loam; the finely-knit and sanded tannins build as the minutes pass; clean, vibrant acidity lends energy and litheness. Terrific grenache. Drink now through 2016. Excellent. About $48.
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Plumpjack Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. (!) 91% merlot, 8% malbec, 1% cabernet sauvignon. Vivid dark ruby color; intense and concentrated aromas of cassis, black raspberry and plum; notes of cloves and sandalwood with a tinge of pomegranate and red cherry; a hint of toasty oak; sinewy and supple, almost muscular; deep black fruit flavors imbued with lavender and bitter chocolate and honed by finely-milled tannins, graphite minerality and keen acidity; a substantial merlot, not quite monumental because of its innate balance and elegance; through some miracle, you don’t feel the heat or sweetness of high alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22, Excellent. About $56.
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No holds are barred in California, unlike in the Old World, where government agencies determine where grapes can be grown and what grapes go into certain wines. Many wines, of course, are famous for their combinations of grapes, like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which may contain any ratio of up to 13 grapes, red and white, or Bordeaux, where winemakers fashion cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc (primarily) into some of the world’s most elegant, powerful and best-known red wines. No such customs or regulations abide in the Golden State, and today we look at five wines that offer some unusual blends of grapes, some more successfully than others. The trick is to create a blend that delivers distinctive, if not original, qualities rather than something than comes out smelling and tasting like a generic “red wine.” These wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Bonny Doon Vineyards A Proper Claret 2013, California. 13.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 46%, merlot 17%, tannat 15%, petit verdot 13%, syrah 8%, petite sirah 1%, the point being that this is a very improper claret — Bordeaux red wine — indeed. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; solid, tannic, fills the mouth with briers, brambles and underbrush but builds layers of cloves and allspice, cedar, ancho chili, then undertones of dusty black currants, raspberries and plums; no molly-coddle here, intense and concentrated, lip-smacking acidity; dense, chewy; needs a medium rare strip steak or a great joint of venison. Now through 2018 to 2020. Loads of personality. Very Good+. About $16, a Real Bargain.
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Casey Flat Ranch Estate Red Wine 2012, Capay Valley, Yolo County. 14.8% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 56%, syrah 30%, cabernet franc 13% viognier 1%. Dense ruby-purple; cassis, black cherries and raspberries; hints of menthol, violets, hedge and heather, then graphite and underbrush, leather and mocha; bushy and brushy but succulent, balanced, integrated; a touch of the iodine-and-iron complex (sounds like a vitamin) under delicious black fruit flavors with a note of blue; wild berry notes, licorice and lavender lend some elevation to a wine of true class, distinction and character. Now through 2020 to ’22 with steaks and braised meats. Excellent. About $45.
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Gnarly Head Limited Release Authentic Black 2012, Lodi. (Delicato Family Vineyards) 14.5% alc. Petite sirah-based blend. A limited edition wine for Fall. The problem with the Gnarly Head wines is that they’re not gnarly enough. One of the purplest and most opaque wines I have ever seen; very ripe, spicy, grapy, gamy; plummy and jammy with sweetish blackberry, blueberry and currant scents and flavors, plush and velvety, “soft in the middle,” as Paul Simon says; quite juicy, smoky, a little loamy; comes across as unfocused and inauthentic. Good+. About $12.
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Juxtapoz Red Wine Blend 2012, North Coast. (Delicato Family Vineyards) 15% alc. Syrah 55%, zinfandel 23%, petite sirah 9%, malbec 6%, cabernet sauvignon 4%, “other reds” 3%. Dark ruby with an opaque center; first impression is of woody spices and walnut shell, then ripe black currants, cherries and plums, hints of plum skin, cedar and black olive; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of slightly caramelized fennel; scrunchy tannins and bright acidity make a fairly robust wine; you feel the alcoholic heat a bit on the finish; takes an hour or so for this to come together, and it finally convinced me that it worked. Cheesy label, though. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $25.
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Renwood Clarion Red Wine 2012, Amador County. 15% alc. 25% each zinfandel, petite sirah, syrah and marsanne; that’s right, one-quarter of this wine is from white grapes. Dark ruby purple color; a deep spicy wine, bursting with notes of blackberries, black currants and blueberries permeated by violets, lavender, potpourri and graphite; sleek, supple and integrated and manages not to be overwhelmed by the alcohol content; picks up hints of cloves, walnut shell, briers and brambles through a wildly fruity but earthy, mineral-packed finish. Tasty and intriguing. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $20.
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William Allen moved into commercial production in 2010, after years as a “garagiste” and writer. This doesn’t mean that he makes a lot of wine. Two Shepherds as a one-man operation, truly a labor of love, so the wines are made in minute quantities; sorry about that. These are Rhone-style wines that see no new oak, are foot-stomped, use natural yeasts and generally exhibit remarkable purity and intensity. I love them; there, I said it.

These wines were samples for review. The labels used for illustration below are one vintage behind.

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The Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc 2012, Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley, is a blend of four white grapes typical of the southern Rhone Valley: 50 percent roussanne, 35 percent marsanne, 10 viognier and 5 grenache blanc; the wine ages an average of six months in neutral French oak barrels. The color is pale gold; aromas of quince and ginger, peach and spiced pear open to notes of bee’s-wax and camellia, sea-shell and limestone. The wine is rich, focused, enveloped in a structure of moderate and very attractive weight and body, clean, bright and crisp yet almost talc-like in texture. Quite dry, it offers a smoky, earthy and autumnal essence of peaches, nectarines and yellow plums, cloves and allspice and a backwash of limestone-and-flint minerality and salinity. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17 with grilled or roasted salmon or tuna, grilled mussels, trout with lemon-caper butter or shrimp salad. Production was 105 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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This time not Saralee’s Vineyard in Russian River Valley but Saarloos Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley, for the Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc 2012; at first I thought that was a misprint. Santa Ynez, approved as an AVA in 1983, is in southeast Santa Barbara County and bears within it the sub-appellation of Santa Rita Hills. This grenache blanc offers an aura of greenness, by which I do not mean green as in grapes picked before they’re ripe, but green as in leafy green, as in sea-green, as in greengage, as in green apple. The color is pale straw-gold; notes of jasmine and honeysuckle are spare and ethereal, wreathed with tangerine and grapefruit and backed by shell-like minerals and a sort of sea-breeze salinity. A moderately soft and satiny texture is energized by brisk acidity and scintillating limestone minerality, while the finish brings in hints of green tea, orange rind and cloves. Eighty percent of the wine aged seven months in neutral oak, the other 20 percent six months in stainless steel. 13.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17 with Thai salads, trout quenelles, watercress and cucumber sandwiches (crusts trimmed, of course). Production was 125 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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William Allen made one barrel of the Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris 2012, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley, amounting to 25 cases, so while it’s a brilliant wine, the chances of any of My Readers getting their hands on a bottle are about as remote as Beyonce singing La Boheme in Bethlehem. The grape is trousseau gris, not widely found even in its home of the Jura mountains where France nestles against Switzerland. Being “gris,” the grape’s faintly rosy onion skin or grayish color yields a radiant coral hue when the wine is fermented on the skins; in other words, it’s a “white” wine made as if it were a red wine. The seductive and unusual bouquet delivers hints of orange zest and strawberries, melon and lemon balm with intriguing notes of parsley and celery and a touch of flint. It’s quite dry but juicy with ripe peach, red currant and rhubarb flavors deepened by the slight astringency of peach skin and almond skin, smoke, briers and brambles, all wrapped in clean acidity and a note of graphite minerality. The whole package is characterized by remarkable presence, resonance, transparency and vividness. The wine aged eight months in neutral oak barrels, four months on the lees. 13.8 percent alcohol. We drank this versatile bottle over several nights with a variety of food. Now through 2016 or ’17. Exceptional. About $25.
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So, here’s the red wine of this foursome. The Two Shepherds Syrah/Mourvèdre 2011 is a cross-county blend of 55 percent syrah from Saralee’s Vineyard in Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, and 45 percent mourvèdre from El Dorado. It aged 10 months in neutral French oak, the barrels four years old or older, four of those months on the lees. The color is a pronounced dark ruby with a magenta robe; fresh aromas of ripe red and black currants and plums are intensified by cloves, graphite, a hint of new leather and depths of briery, clean mossy earthiness. The wine is fine-grained and supple, riven by incisive acidity, decisively dry, dense and chewy, almost feral in its purity and individuality; despite projecting a vibrant and somewhat unbridled red and black fruit character and texture, the wine feels light on its feet, with nothing ponderous or opulent. 13.8 percent alcohol. Product was 40 cases. Drink now through 2018 or ’20 with grilled leg of lamb, a hot and crusty medium rare rib-eye steak just plunked from the coals, a gamy veal chop. Excellent. About $38.
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Elyse Winery is best-known for its single-vineyard cabernet sauvignons and zinfandels, though what I review today are three excellent examples of its Rhone-style wines. Elyse was founded in 1987 by Ray and Nancy Coursen, after Ray had spent nine years at Whitehill Lane. The wines were made at various facilities until in 1997 the Coursens purchased a small winery on Hoffman Lane in Napa Valley, west of Hwy 29 between Oak Knoll and Rutherford. Winemaker is Mike Trotta. These were samples for review.
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Elyse L’Ingenue Naggiar Vineyard 2011, Sierra Foothills. This Rhone-style white is a blend of 52 percent roussanne grapes, 32 percent marsanne, 11 viognier and 5 grenache blanc. The wine aged 16 months in “experienced” French oak barrels, that is to say, previously used. This is a lovely wine, offering a pale straw-gold color and beguiling aromas of jasmine and quince, pears and yellows plums, a touch of a slightly resinous herb like rosemary and a deeper floral note that I finally sussed out as camellia. Attractive flavors of roasted lemons and pears (and a hint of slightly honeyed peach) are balanced by a spare texture and delicately astringent elements of grapefruit and limestone minerality, all bound by spanking acidity. Saline and savory, sensuous yet elegant. 14.6 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Production was 416 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Elyse C’est Si Bon Naggiar Vineyard 2009, Sierra Foothills. Here’s a blend much like a traditional Chateauneuf-du-Pape — 39 percent grenache, 33 percent mourvedre, 12 syrah, 8 cinsault, 5 counoise and 3 viognier. The aging occurs in French puncheons — usually 500 liters (some manufacturers measure a puncheon as 475 liters) — a bit more that twice the size of the ubiquitous barrique at 225 liters (59 gallons); 10 percent of these barrels are new. I dwell on these matters of wood to show how careful the regimen is at Elyse, how little new oak is used, how the size of barrels varies. The wine lives up to its name: It’s so good, not merely as an expression of quality, though it is damned good, but as an embodiment of elan and joie de vivre and all that French stuff. The color is dark ruby with a magenta edge; the bouquet weaves notes of black and red currants and plums, mulberries and blueberries into a well-knit fabric that includes graphite and lavender, a hint of fruitcake, a touch of smoke. It’s light and fresh in the mouth, spicy and berry-like, invigorating and appealing, silky supple in texture yet slightly roughened by the sanding of subtle tannins. Not to mean that the wine is delicate; no, it delivers a firm foundation of vibrant acidity and granitic mineral qualities as well as a depth of smoke and ash and mossy earthiness. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Production was 1,594 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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The raven, indeed. Elyse Le Corbeau Hudson Vineyard 2008, Los Carneros, a blend of 90 percent grenache and 10 percent syrah — more like a modern Chateauneuf-du-Pape — is as dark as a raven’s wing and offers something of that bird’s wild and irascible character; it aged 22 months in small French oak barrels, 20 percent new. The wine bristles with life and personality, but it finishes in a brooding manner that befits E.A. Poe’s famous bird, he of the limited vocabulary. Aromas of black currants, blackberries and plums seethe with notes of graphite, briers and brambles, smoky lavender and bitter chocolate. Luscious and deeply spicy black and blue fruit flavors are leavened by fine-grained and persistent tannins and vigorous acidity, all culminating in a close to profound earthy, rooty lithic character, though there is nothing ponderous or truculent here; the wine is too well-balanced for that. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Production was 300 cases. Excellent. About $37.
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When I was in Paso Robles, in San Luis Obispo County, last week, I spend a couple of hours at Tablas Creek Vineyard, tramping through the acreage of vines (certified organic) spreading in rolling hills across the limestone-clay soil, feeling how the mid-afternoon breeze filtered in from the Pacific, seeing how different grape varieties are planted in rows on slopes that face different exposures to sunlight, and, back in the tasting room, going through a roster of the wines with general manager Jason Haas. Tablas Creek is owned and operated by the Perrine family, longtime owners of Chateau de Beaucastel, one of the great properties of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and the Haas family, owner of Vineyard Brands, the importer of Beaucastel. The families began planting vines west of the city of Paso Robles in 1994; the 90 acres of vineyards produce about 20,000 cases of wine annually, some of the wines released in limited quantities. How refreshing to walk through a winery and see no French barriques, that is, the ubiquitous 59-gallon oak barrel, and instead see squads of larger puncheons and 1200-gallon foudres, so the wood influence on Tablas Creek wines is kept to a supporting and not dominant role. The emphasis, not surprisingly, is on Rhone Valley grape varieties and Rhone-style wines. The thread that runs through these wines is an earthy, briery, loamy character, a bristly, prickly liveliness that is more prominent in the reds but is certainly presence in the whites. Winemaker is Neil Collins. These brief reviews are intended to strike to the heart, the essence of the wines, and to whet My Readers palates for more.
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Patelin de Tablas Rosé 2012, Paso Robles. 14% alc. 1,250 cases. 75% grenache, 20% mourvèdre, 5% counoise. Very pale onion skin color; sleek, suave, lively, a bristly-limestone-flecked background; dried red currants and raspberries, with a flush of ripe strawberry; hint of cloves and (intriguingly) tobacco leaf; flint-like minerality builds through the finish. Eminently delightful. Very Good+. About $20.
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Dianthus 2012, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. 1,200 cases. 60% mourvèdre, 25% grenache, 15% counoise. A great rosé. True onion skin color but with a blush of pale copper; again, dried red currants and raspberries but a deeper hint of mulberry and plum; touches of briers and dried herbs, full body, dense, almost lush for a rosé, yet crisp, keen, lively; lovely lustrous, limestone-etched finish. Excellent. About $27.
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Vermentino 2012, Paso Robles. 12.5% alc. 1,300 cases. 100% vermentino grapes. Very pale straw-gold color; extremely fresh, clean and crisp; brisk, saline, almost savory; all hints and nods of roasted lemon and yellow plum, honeysuckle; pert acidity yet a soft delicate feeling overall. Very Good+. About $27
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Côtes de Tablas Blanc 2011, Paso Robles. 13% alc. 1,475 cases. 27% viognier, 25% grenache blanc, 25% marsanne, 22% roussanne. Pale straw-gold color; graham crackers and camellias, subtly earthy and perfumed; spare and elegant; hints of roasted lemons and pears, bare touch of spiced peach; very dry but juicy and flavorful, with scintillating acidity and chalky limestone elements; beautiful balance, tone and presence. Excellent. About $27.
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Marsanne 2011, Paso Robles. 13% alc. 225 cases. 100% marsanne grapes. Light straw-gold color; a wine of great subtlety and nuance, like tissues of delicacy woven into a taut and resilient fabric; quite dry, spare, reticent; bracing salinity, a hint of dried thyme and marsh-grass, gently floral; touches of citrus and stone-fruit; an earthy background with flint and shale minerality; altogether finely-knit and supple. Excellent. About $30.
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Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc 2010, Paso Robles. 13.5% alc. 2,100 cases. 60% roussanne, 35% grenache blanc, 5% picpoul blanc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely balance and poise, light on its feet with a wonderful well-knit texture with finely-honed acidity and plangent steely, limestone qualities; again, a white wine of shades and degrees of nuance, lightly spiced, delicately fitted with lemon and pear flavors and a hint of apricot; all bound with that spruce-tinged minerality. Excellent. About $40
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Patelin de Tablas 2011, Paso Robles. 13.7% alc. 8,460 cases. 52% syrah, 29% grenache, 18% mourvèdre, 1% counoise. Medium ruby-mulberry color; meaty and fleshy; bacon fat, black olive, slightly roasted red and black currants and plums with a hint of blackberry; quite dry, moderately dense, chewy tannins; attractive fairly incisive finish, touches of graphite, briers and brambles. Very Good+. About $20, representing Good Value.
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Côtes de Tablas 2011, Paso Robles. 13% alc. 1,560 cases. 49% grenache, 28% syrah, 15% mourvèdre, 8% counoise. Dark ruby-magenta color; earthy, loamy and foresty but clean and fresh; intense and concentrated but not closed or aloof; focused tannins and acidity that drive the wine’s energy and allure; very dark, spicy and slightly meaty black and red currants and raspberries with hints of blackberry and blueberry; long spice- and graphite-packed finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $30.
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Mourvèdre 2010, Paso Robles. 14.1% alc. 720 cases. 100% mourvèdre grapes. Dark ruby color with an opaque center; pure raspberry with all the raspiness of briers and brambles and foresty qualities, backed by clean earth and loam, iodine and iron; for all the structure and groundedness in place, the stones and bones, strangely winsome and lovely. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $40.
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Grenache 2010, Paso Robles. (Wine club only). 14.8% alc. 733 cases. 100% grenache grapes. Medium ruby color; red raspberries, black cherries and hints of blackberries; quite earthy and briery; fairly intense and hard-edged tannins, in fact, the most tannic and least integrated of these red wines; deeply spicy, long dense finish. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+. About $40.
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Esprit de Beaucastel 2010, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. 4,400 cases. 45% mourvèdre, 30% grenache, 21% syrah, 4% counoise. A deep, dark, earthy and loamy wine in every sense; dense, leathery, foresty tannins; briers, brambles and graphite; a spice-cabinet’s-worth of exoticism; an assemblage of great confidence and authority worthy of a flagship wine. Try 2014 to ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles. (Tasting room and online only) 13.5% alc. Just under 100 cases. 100% cabernet sauvignon grapes. A one-off production produced from a couple of rows of cabernet grapes. Perfect cabernet color of dark but radiant ruby with an opaque center and a rim that verges on violet-magenta; classic notes of black currants and raspberries, cedar and tobacco, black olive and lead pencil; lots of graphite and granitic minerality, iodine and iron; fairly knotty tannins that dictate two or three years more aging, or open it with a medium rare strip steak, hot and crusty from the grill; drink through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. $40.
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Vin de Paille “Quintessence” 2010, Paso Robles. 11.5% alc. 100 cases. 100% roussanne grapes. Glowing light gold-amber color; apricot, baked peaches and candied, caramelized pineapple; a little musky and dusty; cloves and honey, bananas Foster; powerful acidity and a huge limestone mineral presence keep the initial sweetness from being cloying and indeed turn the wine dry from mid-palate back through the deep, rich, earthy finish. Now through 2018 to 2022. Exceptional. About $85 for a 375 milliliter half-bottle.
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The ranch of Halter Ranch Vineyard originated in 1881 when Edwin Smith, a wholesale butcher in San Francisco, bought 3,600 acres in the Adelaida area west of Paso Robles, in San Luis Obispo County. Smith threw himself into country life, becoming a dealer in farm produce and livestock and investing in silver mining and race-horses, keeping a stable for thoroughbred horses on the estate. In the late 1890s, his business empire foundered, and the estate was soon broken up. During World War II, the MacGillivray family acquired 1,200 acres of the old ranch; after farming the land for more than 50 years, they planted grapevines in 1996. In 2000, Swiss entrepreneur Hansjörg Wyss purchased 900 acres of the ranch, renovated Smith’s historic farmhouse (seen in the image here), and began enlarging the vineyard to its present 280 acres. And that estate is Halter Ranch Vineyard. Winemaker is Kevin Sass, who was winemaker at Justin Vineyards and Winery until 2011; owners Deborah and Justin Baldwin sold their property to Roll International, owners of FIJI Water, late in 2010. General manager is Skylar Stuck. These Halter Ranch wines, about half of the winery’s roster, were tasted at a dinner at Acre restaurant in Memphis with representatives from the winery, the local distributor and a group of retailers.
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The Halter Ranch Côtes de Paso Blanc 2011, Paso Robles, covers most of the white grapes of the southern Rhone Valley in its blend of 33 percent grenache (blanc), 26 percent roussanne, 20 percent picpoul blanc, 12 percent marsanne and 9 percent viognier. The grapes ferment and the wine ages four months in neutral French oak barrels, that is, barrels that have been used to age wine several times so their influence will be minimal. The wine did not go through malolactic fermentation. The result is a white wine that displays a beautiful medium gold color and an appealing bouquet of jasmine and honeysuckle, almonds, roasted lemons and lemon drops, with a touch of lime peel in the background. It’s quite crisp with vibrant acidity and an element of chalk-infused limestone, and the texture is lively and supple. A haze of soft spicy oak washes the palate, while the whole package offers lip-smacking viscosity. A few minutes in the glass bring up notes of figs and yellow plums. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,000 cases. Drink through 2014. Excellent. About $25.
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Five grapes also come into play in the Halter Ranch Côtes de Paso 2010, Paso Robles, a blend of 49 percent grenache, 23 percent mourvèdre, 11 percent syrah, 13 tannat and 4 counoise; no cinsault this vintage. The wine aged 14 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to light magenta, pretty damned entrancing. The gorgeous bouquet is a weaving of penetrating graphite minerality, exuberant spicy element and ripe blackberry, black currant and plum fruit permeated by lavender, violets and red licorice. If you can tear yourself away from this panoply of effects, prepare for a red wine that’s robust and vigorous, intense and resonant yet growing more generous and expansive as the moments pass; this is black fruit flavors with a red tinge, velvety tannins with a hint of something rigorous, polished oak that offers support without being obtrusive and a finish that squeezes out more granite-like minerality. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 750 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.
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The Halter Ranch Synthesis 2010, Paso Robles, is, in a sense, the winery’s entry-level red wine, though it’s not really more of a synthesis than any other of these wines, all of them made from a synthesizing (but not homogenizing) blend of grapes, a practice managed at Halter Ranch with a great deal of finesse. Having said that, I’ll now say that Synthesis 2010, while nicely balanced and integrated, is the most rustic, the most solid of this group of wines, meaning that it lacks a little of the elevating power that a great wine exerts. It’s a blend of 78 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent syrah and 5 percent malbec, the syrah perhaps accounting for a note of leather and black pepper in the nose. The color is deep ruby, almost purple with a tinge of mulberry at the rim; leather, as I said, black pepper and thyme and cedar, intense and concentrated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; terrifically vibrant and resonant, the wine bursts with tannins that feel both velvety and a little shaggy and infused with graphite-like minerality. 15 percent alcohol. 750 cases were made. Drink now through 2016 or ’18. Very Good+. About $20.
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The Halter Ranch Syrah 2010, Paso Robles, is the most furled of this group of red wines, needing two or three years to unclench. It too is a blend, classic Southern Rhone with 84 percent syrah, 8 percent mourvèdre and 3 percent (white) viognier, with a decidedly unclassic 5 percent malbec, but that’s why California exists. The color is dark ruby, almost opaque purple at the center, and despite the wine’s reticence, it delivers a distinct but almost anti-sensuous bouquet of iodine and graphite, black pepper and sea-salt, briers and brambles and, after quite a while, an infinity or two, a lovely wafting of lilacs and violets, and your nose goes, “Bingo, I’m in love.” Things grow tighter, more concentrated, mouthwise — there’s a touch of tough love in this romance — yet even here, after a demanding few minutes, this syrah opens to delicious flavors of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plums with bass notes of clean earth, dried spice and flowers and a fairly austere granitic mineral element. The oak regimen was 18 months in French barrels, 30 percent new. 15.2 percent alcohol, which you feel a bit in the finish. 1,200 cases. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $32.
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The Halter Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, feels deep, dense and minerally. mouth-filling, a wine of burgeoning vibrancy and resonance; the color is dark ruby, opaque at the center, while the bouquet of ripe and spicy black currants, raspberries and plums unfolds with hints of cedar and tobacco, black olive and bay leaf. The blend is 77 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent malbec, 11 percent merlot; the wine aged 18 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. Though this Halter Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 revolves around its oak, tannin, acid and mineral structure, it’s surprisingly smooth and drinkable, and I don’t mean to denigrate it one whit by saying that this could sell gangbusters in restaurants, by the bottle or glass. Elements of graphite, plum pudding and bittersweet chocolate form a core for spicy and slightly raspy black and red fruit flavors; the finish is long and packed with spice and dusty mineral qualities. 15 percent alcohol, and while I think that generally cabernet does not perform well at 15 percent alcohol or higher, this one feels balanced and integrated. 2,200 cases. Drink now through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $32.
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A selection of the best barrels of a given year, Ancestor is Halter Ranch’s flagship wine. For 2008, this “Estate Reserve” is a blend of 25 percent petit verdot, 24 percent cabernet sauvignon, 24 percent syrah, 15 merlot and 12 merlot. It’s unusual to see one-quarter of a blend made of petit verdot and, in a sort of Bordeaux blend, to see this much syrah. Still, it feels pretty classic. Classic what? Classic California red wine at a high caliber of performance; we could call this velocity Californication, in terms of this heady rush of plush, velvety tannins, of graphite and granitic minerality, of bittersweet chocolate and lavender, of ripe, spicy black currant and black cherry fruit packed with intimations of cedar and tobacco and rosemary; all this sensuality leavened, even restrained by the most prominent oak and tannin of any of these red wines; the program was 18 months French oak, 50 percent new barrels. The alcohol content is a faintly disturbing 15.6 percent, and there is indeed a slight bit of sweet heat on the finish that mars the surface of this otherwise sleek, polished production. 695 cases. Try from 2014 through 2020 to ’22. Excellentish. About $50.
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