Mendocino County


I met Michael and Anne Dashe in San Francisco, a few weeks ago, at the ZAP conference — Zinfandel Advocates and Producers — cards were exchanged, and they sent me a couple of samples. Their Dashe Cellars winery does not occupy a facility on a vine-covered hillside in Napa Valley or Sonoma County, where sheep might graze and rabbits cavort, but a warehouse in Oakland. Mike Dashe, the winemaker and co-owner with Anne — she’s originally from a town on the coast of Brittany — makes wine from selected vineyards over which he exerts final control over farming techniques and harvesting practices. Our Wine of the Day is the Dashe Cellars Les Enfants Terribles Heart Arrow Ranch Zinfandel 2016, from a new AVA, Eagle Peak, in Mendocino County. The vineyard is certified organic and biodynamic. The wine is made, at least partially, by the method of carbonic maceration, a process in which a portion of whole grape clusters is placed in a large barrel or tank and then, as in this case, the rest of the uncrushed grapes are piled on top. Sealed under a blanket of carbon dioxide, the grapes begin to produce fermentation inside themselves and releasing juice as the weight of the grapes on top crush the grapes below. The chemical transformations involved and the possible variations are far more complicated than this simple — or simplistic — explanation implies, but the result, anyway, is a fresh, bright red wine. You can understand why the process is popular in Beaujolais. Les Enfants Terribles 2016 is certainly bright and fresh, with its seductive, spice-infused black raspberry and cherry scents and flavors, but there’s a glittering edge of graphite, too, and dusty, fine-grained tannins for a structure both succulent and lithe. Five to six months in 900-gallon oak Burgundian barrels give this highly drinkable wine shape and firmness, all these elements contributing to a real sense of grip and traction on the palate. From mid-range back, the wine gains woodsy, raspy qualities of raspberry leaf and briers, with the finish a supple wreathing of fruit, spice, acid, tannin and a subtle mineral-floral character. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 or ’21. Lovely, with a serious aspect. Production was 491 cases. Excellent. About $28.

The label image is one vintage behind.

The weather outside may be frightful, but to sip a rosé wine is still delightful. These six examples can chase the mid-winter blues, not only with their delicate and elegant character but some with their savory elements of fruit compote, spice and earthiness. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew notations about history, geography and technical matters for the sake of quick and incisive mentions ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks. Enjoy.
These wines were samples for review.
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Apaltagua Reserva Carmenere Rosé 2016, Maul Valley, Chile. 12.5% alc. Very pale coral-pink; delicately floral, delectably fruity (peach, strawberry), a fine-spun fabric of bright acidity and a scintillating limestone element; slightly earth finish. Delightful. About $13, representing Good Value.
Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, Calif.
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Chateau D’Esclans Rock Angel 2016, Côtes de Provence. 13.5% alc. 85% grenache, 15% rolle (the Italian vermentino). Very pale coral-pink hue; quite fresh, spare and elegant; strawberries and red currants, seashell, chalk and flint minerality; dried Mediterranean herbs; touches of tangerine and peach; throbbing acidity for crisp liveliness. Lots of character. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
Imported by Shaw-Ross International, Miramar, Fla.
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The Larsen Projekt Grenache Rosé 2016, North Coast. 14.3% alc. 140 cases. Medium salmon-coral hue; strawberry and raspberry, cloves and cinnamon, orange rind and crystallized ginger; an earthy and spicy rose, medium in body, full-throttle in intensity; very dry, opens a tide of limestone minerality; white pepper and graphite in the finish. A highly individual and quite evocative rose. Drink through 2019. Excellent. About $18, and Worth a Search.
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Onward Hawkeye Ranch Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Redwood Valley, Mendocino County. 12.1% alc. 324 cases. Radiant copper-coral hue; ripe and fleshy, with blood orange, tangerine and a hint of peach; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of rose-hip tea, graphite and red currant; the epitome of delicacy and ethereal radiance, yet with a solid grounding in steely minerality. Excellent. About $22, and Worth a Search.
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Sanford Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbera County. 13% alc. Pale salmon-coral hue; blood orange, tangerine, hint of peach; redolent of dusty Mediterranean herbs and damp roof tiles; very intense yet with a silky, ethereal texture; quite dry, with burgeoning flint-like minerality; a touch of raspberry leaf in the finish. Excellent. About $23.
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Smoke Tree Rosé 2016, California. 12.5% alc. Majority grenache with an unusual blend of zinfandel, mourvedre and tempranillo. Medium onion skin-copper color; delicate and expressive; raspberry with a hint of rhubarb and pomegranate, then cherry compote takes over; notes of raspberry leaf and boxwood; opens to bright acidity and a fine flinty edge; lovely tone and presence. Excellent. About $21.
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The prices of these 50 Great Wines of 2017 range from an unprecedented $15 to a whopping $250. Not that I expect My Readers to hasten out and snatch up a bottle of wine that costs $250, but when an extraordinary wine crosses my horizon and I rate it “Exceptional,” well, it goes on this list no matter the price. That’s one of the criteria for this annual roster: Every wine I rated Exceptional in 2017 is included automatically, followed by wines I rated Excellent and that I go back through the reviews and parse very carefully. Now I’m sure My Readers understand that by “50 Great Wines” I’m not saying that these are the 50 greatest wines in the world, just that they’re great wines — as I interpret greatness — that I tasted during the year in question. What makes a wine great? Purity, intensity, integrity, authenticity, as well as a sense of individuality and, if possible, a connection to a region or, in more rarefied examples, to a vineyard. Not all wines, even great ones, display this spectrum of virtues completely; winemaking is too intuitive a craft to allow for cookie-cutter sameness. Often, it’s the differences among wines from vintage to vintage that make them intriguing and exciting. I hope the wines listed here pique your interest and that you have a chance to try some of them. Many of them are entrancing and beautiful, and we could all stand a little enchantment and beauty in our lives.
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Alois Lageder “Porer” Pinot Grigio 2015, Alto Adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Vineyard Old Telegram 2014, Contra Costa County. 100 percent mourvedre. 277 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Brooks Wine “Janus” Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley. Exceptional. About $38.

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Capofaro Didyme Malvasia 2016, Salina, Sicily. Excellent. About $25.

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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $35.
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Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard Merlot 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $98.

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Champagne Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Brut Tradition nv, Champagne, France. 70 percent pinot noir, 30 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $68.

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Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $32.

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Enzo Bianchi Red Wine 2012, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina. 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent petit verdot, 7 percent malbec. Excellent. About $55.

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Esporão Private Selection 2011, Garrafeira, Alentjo, Portugal. 40 percent each aragonez and alicante boschet, 20 percent syrah. Excellent. About $65.
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Fathers & Daughters Ella’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 110 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Yountville, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley. 393 cases. Excellent. About $32.

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Ghost Hill Cellars Bayliss-Bower Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Yamhill-Carlton district, Willamette Valley. Exceptional. About $42.

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Grgich Hills Estate 40th Anniversary Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $50.

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Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection “Essence” Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 646 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
The label vintage date is one year behind.
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Grgich Hills Estate Paris Tasting Commemorative Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. 942 cases. Exceptional. About $94.

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Heitlinger Tiefenbacher Schellenbrunnen Trocken Riesling 2014, Baden, Germany. Exceptional. About $30.

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Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 672 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
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Iron Horse Chinese Cuvée 2012, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. A brut rosé, 76 percent pinot noir 24 percent chardonnay. 300 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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Domaine Jessiaume Les Cent Vignes Beaune Premier Cru 2014, Beaune, Burgundy. 300 cases. Excellent. About $45.

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Jordan Vineyards Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $32.

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Cantina Kaltern Pfarrhof “Kalterersee” Classico Superiore 2015, Südtirol-Alto Adige, Italy. 95 percent schiava. 5 percent lagrein. Excellent. About $24.
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Dr. Konstantin Frank Gewurztraminer 2015, Finger Lakes, New York. Exceptional. About $15.
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Chateau Lagrezette Le Pigeonnier 2011, Cahors, France. 100 percent malbec. 1,070 six-bottle cases. Exceptional. About $250.
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La Jota Vineyard Co. Howell Mountain Merlot 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $85.

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Lioco “Sativa” Carignan 2014, Mendocino. 650 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Louis Picamelot Cuvée Jean Baptiste Chautard 2012, Crémant de Bourgogne. 77 percent chardonnay, 23 percent aligote. Excellent. About $38.
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Domaine Marc Roy Les Champs Perdrix 2015, Marsannay, Burgundy. 100 percent chardonnay. 175 cases. Excellent. About $50.
The vintage date on the label image is one year behind.
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Mayacamas Vineyards The Terraces Special Bottling Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $95.
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Chateau Montelena “The Montelena Estate” Cabernet Sauvigono 2013, Calistoga, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $160.

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Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 45 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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Onward Wines Capp-Inn Vineyard Skin-Fermented Malvasia Bianca 2015, Suisun Valley, Solano County. Exceptional. About $28.
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Paul Blanck Scholssberg Grand Cru Riesling 2012, Alsace. Excellent. About $34.
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Penner Ash Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. 915 cases. Exceptional. About $65.

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Chateau Peybonhomme-les-Tours “Le Blanc Bonhomme” 2016, Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux. 50 percent each sauvignon blanc and semillon. Excellent. About $22.

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Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc 2014, Oakville District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
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Sidebar Kerner 2016, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 193 cases. Excellent. About $25.

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Siduri Wines Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $35.

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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent merlot. Excellent. About $50.
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Smith-Madrone Riesling 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,551 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Stewart Cellars Beckstoffer Las Piedes Vineyard “Nomad” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. 180 cases. Exceptional. About $175.
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Stony Hill Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $48.

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Tongue Dancer Wines “Pinot de Ville” Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast. 125 cases. Excellent. About $65.

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Troon Kubli Bench Blanc 2016, Applegate Valley, Oregon. 55 percent marsanne, 45 percent viognier. 180 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Domaine Weinbach Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling 2013, Alsace. Exceptional. About $40.
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Yount Ridge Cellars Epic Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $250.

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Yount Ridge Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 160 cases. Exceptional. About $35.

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ZD Winery Founder’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2013, Carneos. 800 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2014, Alsace. Excellent. About $26.

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So, what is “pet-nat”? Besides being a cute nickname. These of-the-moment sparkling wines, the darlings of astute somms — pétillant-naturel in French — exist at the basic level of making sparkling wine, less complicated than the méthode champenoise, more rustic in effect, yet often delicious and appealing. An added factor is that they seem the epitome of naturalness in winemaking. Simply stated: Wine is bottled before fermentation is complete, so that fermentation continues in the bottle (because of the residual sugar) and carbon dioxide forms: i.e, bubbles. The result is a light sparkling wine, often but not always slightly sweet, that tends to leave sediment as a mark of its down-to-earth character.

Today, we look at two examples of single-vineyard pét-nat sparklers from Onward Wines, fashioned in small quantities by winemaker Faith Armstrong Foster. These examples are bone-dry, spare and subtle, not as robust or complex as Champagne yet delivering very satisfying character of their own, with an unmistakable quality of authenticity and integrity.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Onward Wines Sparkling Rose of Pinot Noir 2016, Redwood Valley, offers a pale coral-onion skin hue and delicate scents of blood orange and watermelon, sea foam and heather; mild effervescence keeps the wine gently but persistently animated. Traces of fresh, yeasty bread and lime peel highlight the nose and the palate, where lithe acidity drives through notes of dried red currants and the slight bitterness of grapefruit rind, all of these elements expressed with spare elegance, lovely balance and a touch of reticence. 12.1 percent alcohol. Production was 174 cases. Excellent. About $30.

Redwood Valley is a small American Viticultural Area (AVA), approved in 1996, in northern Mendocino County.
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The color of the Onward Wines Sparkling Malvasia Bianca 2016, Suisun Valley, is pale platinum blond, a Jean Harlow hue, made lively by a steady stream of tiny bubbles; it’s made 100 percent from malvasia bianca grapes, which lend the wine notes of green apple, apple peel, almond skin and a slightly foxy greenness. This is very dry, almost austere, but delivers fresh and ripe touches of lemongrass and melon, cinnamon toast and orange blossom, energized by bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. 12.6 percent alcohol Production was 350 cases. Excellent. About $24.

Suisun Valley, approved as an AVA in 1982, lies east of Napa Valley in Solano County, bounded by Howell Mountain on the west and the Vaca Range on the east.
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I’ll say right here, at the beginning of this post, that the result of tasting a short roster of chardonnay and pinot noir wines from the acclaimed Patz & Hall Wines was a conclusion too common in this series: I loved the pinot noirs, abhorred the chardonnays. The former I found exciting, multi-layered and slightly unpredictable, replete with pinot noir character yet each creating its own sense of detail and dimension. The chardonnays were entirely too predictable in the line of the dominant California style: too ripe and sweet with baked fruit qualities, too spicy, too oaky and intrinsically unbalanced. Those who disagree with me about these chardonnays and consider them and others like them some sort of epitome are, I know, manifold, and they are entitled to their opinion. The factors involved and of most importance for this blog are my nose and palate, and I can do naught else but follow their dictates.

Donald Patz and James Hall, who met while working for Flora Springs Winery, founded their enterprise, with their partners, in 1988. The winery owns no vineyards but makes wine on long-term contracts from highly acclaimed vineyards, primarily in Sonoma County. They sold the company to Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in April 2016.

These wines were samples for review.
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The color of the Patz & Hall Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, is dark ruby fading to a transparent and then ethereal magenta rim. The wine aged in 40 percent new French oak barrels. This is a pure, bright, intriguing pinot noir, whose scents of red, black and blue fruit compote are spiked with notes of beetroot and rose petals, sandalwood and lavender; the wine is lithe, lean and supple on the palate, taut and spicy, and a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of wood smoke and autumn leaves, along with hints of pomegranate and cranberry. This is a cuvee blended from a roster of top Sonoma Coast vineyards, including Chenoweth, Dutton and Gap’s Crown. 14.2 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $48.
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The Patz & Hall Jenkins Ranch Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, aged in 50 percent new French oak barrels. The color is a beautiful dark mulberry shading to a lighter magenta rim; concentrated aromas of black cherries, currants and plums feel dredged in dried baking spices and hints of rose petals and sassafras, fig and braised fennel. The wine displays a loamy, untamed character, framed by moderately dusty tannins and a burnished, slightly sanded texture, through which bright acidity cuts a swath; macerated and lightly roasted red and black fruit flavors open notes of smoke and damp ash, leading to a finish both generous and chiseled. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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The chardonnays in question are the Patz & Hall Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast ($40); Patz & Hall Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley ($44); Patz & Hall Alder Springs Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Mendocino ($60). These are bold and assertive wines in every respect: super-ripe fruit with baked apple and roasted pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors, dense textures, no-holds-barred spiciness and drenching oak. I understand that many critics and consumers adore chardonnays fashioned in this manner, but I find them to be ruinous to the potential purity and crystalline clarity of which the chardonnay grape is wonderfully capable. The Alder Springs I found to be particularly egregious in its stiff and drying oak influence. If these rich, glossy and exaggerated examples mark your favorite style of chardonnay, go for them by all means. For me and my palate, I find them unpleasant, strident and undrinkable, either on their own or with food.
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Here’s a beautiful pinot noir for lovers of the style that toes a line between lush and lovely, on one hand, and sinewy and dynamic, on the other. What I’m saying is that the FEL Pinot Noir 2015, Anderson Valley (in Mendocino County), strikes a perfect balance in nose and palate in terms of the elegant, the ethereal, and the powerful. The wine, made by Ryan Hodgins, aged 16 months in French oak, 34 percent new barrels. The color is an alluring dark ruby that shades to an utterly transparent magenta rim; ripe and spicy black and red cherries and currants are permeated by notes of cloves and sassafras, rhubarb and cranberry, while a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of lilac and rose petals and subtle undertones of loam and oolong tea. Lip-smacking density is riven by persistent acidity that enlivens flavors of black and blue fruit leaning toward plum and mulberry, all set in a compelling, lithe, satiny texture; a tide of slightly dusty, velvety tannins brings a sense of framing and foundation that joins with a wisp of oak and all that dark, spicy fruit compote for a succulent finish. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’21 with a roasted chicken, seared duck magret, pork tenderloin. Anderson Valley’s FEL Wines is an adjunct of Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa Valley. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review.

Fathers & Daughters Cellars only made its first wine in 2015, though the family, longtime owners of the Ferrington Vineyard in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, for many years sold primarily pinot noir grapes to such highly regarded labels as Williams-Selyam, Flowers and Arista. The winery represents a collaborative and multi-generational effort of the “fathers and daughters” in the family: Patriarch Kurt Schoeneman, his daughter Sarah, Sarah’s husband Guy Pacurar, their daughter, Ella, and Guy’s older daughter, Taylor. Winemaker is Phillip Baxter. I was mightily and sort of incrementally impressed with the trio of wines reviewed on this page today, particularly the limited production Ella’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, which any devotee of West Coast pinot noirs should search for diligently.

These wines were samples for review.
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First, a sort of jeu d’esprit of a lightly effervescent sparkling wine, the Fathers & Daughters Cellars Sarah’s Rustic Bubbles 2016, Anderson Valley. With no second fermentation in the bottle as is the case with most sparkling wines, including Champagne (or in tank, in the Charmat process), this delightful and intriguing wine is made in what in parts of France is called the methode ancestrale or methode rurale, that is, a young wine is bottled before all the residual sugar has transformed into alcohol, so the fermentation that continues in the bottle produces carbon dioxide, hence: bubbles. For this wine, the initial fermentation was in all neutral French oak barrels. Sarah’s Rustic Bubbles ’16 was made completely from chardonnay grapes, being, in reality, a blanc de blancs. The color is pale yellow-gold, animated by a steady but narrow stream of tiny, foaming bubbles; the bouquet is characterized by freshly cut lemons, ginger, cloves and seashell salinity; the whole effect is of light, delicate brightness, garden freshness, but exhibiting a touch of muscat’s foxy petrol nature and hints of peach, heather and chalk. 13.9 percent alcohol. Could be an essential Summer quaff, except that production was 100 cases. Contact the winery to see if the tasting room can ship you a few bottles. Very Good+. About $19.
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A blend of sauvignon blanc, gewurztraminer and chardonnay, the Father’s & Daughters “The Dance” 2016, Anderson Valley, is a perfect wine for Summer sipping. Fresh as a daisy, with a sort of fruit cocktail-pear compote quality, the wine offers a pale straw-gold color and a light, delicately sweet apple character touched by a broad floral nature and hints of straw and meadowy herbs and flowers. It’s a bit musky — the gewurztraminer speaking — and very dry from mid-palate back through the finish blithely furnished with notes of spiced peaches, quince, lemongrass and limestone minerality. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018. This one really grew on me. Excellent. About $28.
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All right, the previously mentioned wines were attractive, interesting and entertaining, certainly worthy of attention. The Father’s & Daughters Ella’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, however, is something else, as in among the very best pinot noirs I have tasted this year, a wine of profound yet ineffable elegance and power. The grapes were hand-harvested, and fermentation was accomplished by native yeasts; the wine saw no new oak but aged 18 months in 30 percent once-used French barrels and 70 percent neutral barrels. The color is lovely limpid cherry shading to a delicate invisible rim; aromas of ripe black and red currants are permeated by notes of cloves and rose petals, cranberry and loam, beetroot and rhubarb. The wine is beautifully balanced and integrated, lithe, supple and satiny on the palate but pulling up a burgeoning tide of iodine and graphite, briers and brambles and a touch of flinty austerity; a few moments in the glass unfold elements of sandalwood and cherry compote. Energized by bright acidity, the wine delivers a long follow-through for the finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink through 2020 to ’22. Production was 110 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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The Lioco Sativa Carignan 2014, Mendocino County, is the kind of wine that pushes all the right buttons for me. Made from 70-year-old, liocohead-pruned, dry-farmed vines at elevations that range from 2,200 to 2,400 feet atop Pine Mountain, and seeing only neutral oak for nine months, the wine is a unique yet entirely authentic expression of the carignan grape. The color is an intriguing dark ruby-purple that shades to a magenta rim; aromas of tar and violets, sage and heather, spiced and macerated black currants and blueberries are woven with notes of graphite, lavender and mocha and hints of wild red berries. It’s a robust wine, dense and meaty but not opulent or overpowering; rather, it toes a fine line of texture and structure that gives it impressive heft along with an almost elegant fleetness. Oh, yes, it sports dusty, graphite-edged tannins and vivid acidity, but those essential factors are at the service of red and blue fruit flavors that feel ripe, spicy and deeply savory, with a background of balsam, black olives and loam. 13.4 percent alcohol. Needs a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, or similar red-blooded fare. Drink through 2020 or ’21. Production was 650 cases. Winemaker was John Raytek. Excellent. About $30, a local purchase at $32.

The winery website indicates that the version of this wine from 2015 is available.

Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t hate the chardonnay grape, I just despise and am frequently saddened by what is done to the grape in wineries in California. And it’s true, as I have remarked many times on this blog, that I hate the over-oaked, brassy, blatantly ripe, stridently spicy, dessert-and-tropical-flavors-dominated chardonnays that I often receive as samples for review. I find such wines drastically unbalanced, harsh yet sweet, and undrinkable. Today, however, I post for your delectation and edification reviews of 12 chardonnay wines that I found to be splendid examples of the intensity and purity of form and flavor that come from thoughtful fidelity to the grape and, possibly, to a particular patch of land. I have always felt that richness, whether in food or wine, is not a virtue in itself, and you will notice that while most of these examples display sufficient or even marked richness of fruit, that aspect is balanced and supported by clean, bright acidity and minerality. I don’t mind wines that provoke and take risks, but ultimately the governing principle is equilibrium of all the qualities that compose the whole package. With one exception — an online purchase — these chardonnays were samples for review, mainly 2014s and ’15s and one 2013. Geographically they range along the vertical axis of winemaking in the Golden State, from Santa Barbara County in the south to Mendocino in the north. Technically, they illustrate an interesting gamut of possibilities, from the lightest touch of neutral oak and no malolactic to (surprisingly) full barrel-fermentation, 100 percent new French oak and malolactic. Too often, we encounter wines — not only chardonnay — fashioned along the lines of the winemaker or producer’s ego and prescribed expectations, but in the models I describe today, it feels as if purity, sensitivity and integrity won the race.
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BK chard
The Black Kite Cellars Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, the rest one-year-old. The color is pale gold; aromas of baked apples and spiced pears are woven with layers of grapefruit and pineapple that are ripe and spicy but controlled on the palate by scintillating acidity and limestone-flint minerality; some moments in the glass bring in hints of gardenia, smoke and jasmine. The wine is quite dry, energized by its crystalline clarity and intensity and a lithe supple texture. The finish is packed with elements of damp stones and bright yellow stone-fruit flavors. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Jeff Gaffner. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Production was 201 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Byron_Nielson_CH-1
The Nielson Vineyard, the first commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County, was planted in 1964. Ken Brown, who acquired the 432-acre vineyard in 1989 after founding Byron Wines, started replanting in 1991. Jackson Family Wines purchased the winery and vineyard in 2006. Winemaker is Jonathan Nagy, who puts the Byron Winery Nielson Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, through 100 percent barrel fermentation, aging in 54 percent new French oak and full malolactic. To my palate, that regimen could be a recipe for disaster, but Nagy manages to fashion a high-impact chardonnay that offers lovely purity and intensity, texture and structure, a rich, ripe wine that isn’t stridently spicy or cloying with oak. The color is very pale gold with a faint green tinge; notes of green tea and lemongrass infuse aromas and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit that open to suggestions of clover, peach and quince. The wine is deftly balanced and integrated, and what might feel florid and forward in its approach is leavened by bright acidity and a lingering coastal shelf of limestone, flint and sea-salt. Tremendous vitality, verve and presence. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 848 cases. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
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The Edna Valley Vineyard Winemakers Series “Fleur de Edna” Chardonnay 2014, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County, sees only neutral oak barrels. The wine is very clean and fresh, offering a pale gold hue and pert aromas and flavors of green apple and pear, pineapple and grapefruit, all lightly spiced and macerated; lip-smacking acidity sends a bright arrow through a lean and lithe structure honed by limestone and flint minerality. The wine gradually opens to notes of smoke, lilac and honeysuckle, peach and quince, gently expressed. While this chardonnay makes no great display of itself, it asserts real confidence and character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. (The 2015 is also available now.) Excellent. About $27.
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fel chard
Winemaker Ryan Hodgins gave the FEL Chardonnay 2015, Anderson Valley, nine months in neutral French oak barrels and limited malolactic fermentation. The result is a chardonnay of lovely delicacy and elegance that features a pale straw-gold hue and elusive aromas of honeysuckle and jasmine; a few moments in the glass add classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit and subtle hints of cloves and roasted lemon. The wine is sleek and supple on the palate, juicy with ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors buoyed by a burgeoning limestone quality and fresh, bracing salinity on the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $32.
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Winemaker Todd Graff put the Frank Family Wines Chardonnay 2014, Napa-Carneros, through nine months in French oak, 1/3 each new, one-year-old and two-year-old barrels. The grapes derived from the winery’s Lewis Vineyard, where 68 acres of chardonnay vines and 10 acres of pinot noir are subject to the maritime influence of San Francisco Bay’s cool temperatures, fog and wind. The color is pale gold; the wine feels as if you’re sipping crushed gravel minerality with a cool flint chaser, these elements at the service of spiced pear and roasted lemon with notes of jasmine, cloves, honeysuckle and heather. This vibrant chardonnay offers texture and juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors galore, edging a bit toward flamboyance but still nicely restrained by crisp acidity and its prominent mineral component; real personality and energy here, animating a finish packed with grapefruit and graphite. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $35.
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Rob Davis has made every vintage of Jordan chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon since the winery was launched in 1976. That’s a record for 2015-Jordan-Russian-River-Valley-Chardonnay-Label-WebThumblongevity, dedication and knowledge almost unsurpassed in California. For the Jordan Vineyards Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley, the grapes fermented for 17 days in 47 percent stainless steel tanks and 53 percent new French oak barrels, and then aged six months — not a long passage — in 100 percent new French oak. Did I read that right? 100 percent? Mais oui, mon lecteurs. How did the wine turn out? Delicate, elegant, steely, filled with tantalizing nuance. The color is pale straw-gold; white floral aromas are ethereal, while notes of pineapple and grapefruit and a hint of peach are spare and subtle, opening gradually to touches of heather and seashell. The limestone and chalk minerality settles in for the long haul, lending this chardonnay an extraordinary sense of presence and gravity, buttressed by an arrow-bright line of chiseled acidity. You could say that this is a very Chablis-like chardonnay for Russian River Valley; I just say that it’s great. 13.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $32.
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The Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast, is a bright, bold chardonnay whose tendency toward richness took my 2014-CHARD-FreestoneLABELtolerance right to the edge — but held back from the plunge by incisive acidity and a profound depth of limestone and chalk minerality. The oak regimen is interesting, the wine aging 13 months in French oak barrels and puncheons, 35 percent new, 65 percent two and three years old. A puncheon is typically about twice the size of a traditional barrique, or approximately 123 U.S. gallons to 59 U.S. gallons, though, truly, different interpretations as to the size of a puncheon exist from country to country and region to region. Anyway, this wine offers a mild gold hue and an initial impression of daunting mineral elements that make it quite spare and austere; as the moments pass, it opens and softens to the extent that notes of lime peel and roasted lemon emerge, with attendant touches of baked pineapple and grapefruit, mango and bananas Foster, all tempered by acid and a mineral nature that practically glitter in the glass. What’s most compelling here is the exquisite sense of tension and risky balance among all these qualities, making for a drink that’s both satisfying and exciting. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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The Mayacamas Vineyards The Terraces Special Bottling Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley, is simply one of the best chardonnay wines I have 2013 Mayacamas Terraces CH Front Labelever tasted. It was made from a high-altitude 60-year-old vineyard that will not be used again, so this one is a rare treat. The color is pale straw-gold; notes of ginger and quince, guava and yellow plum and peach are woven with a slightly piney-resinous element and a tincture of lilac; it feels like liquid quartz on the palate, animated by chiming acidity and an aura both propulsive and dignified; ripe and spicy stone-fruit flavors nestle in a texture that’s soft as talc yet lithe and a little muscular, all devolving to a finish loaded with tangerine, lemongrass and grapefruit pith. 14.25 percent alcohol. A chardonnay of stunning and crystalline balance, tone and presence. for drinking through 2021 to ’25. Exceptional. About $95, an online purchase and Worth a Search for devotees of varietal purity and intensity.
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Though the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, saw 100 percent barrel-fermentation and aging in 100 smlabel_lr_chard_14percent new French oak barrels — that a lot of wood in my book — the wine feels as if it had been chiseled from the bedrock of the 42-year-old, dry-farmed vineyard whence it originated, while the oak influence feels almost subliminal in lending the wine shape, size and subtle spice. It’s a beautifully proportional chardonnay in every aspect — made from a 42-year-old dry-farmed vineyard — displaying a pale straw-gold hue and enticing aromas of cloves, ripe pineapple and grapefruit with a touch of mango and guava and back-notes of quince and crystallized ginger; these elements segue seamlessly to the palate, where the wine feels etched by bright acidity that cuts a swath and a deeply-hewn, scintillating limestone quality. 14.2 percent alcohol. One of my favorite chardonnays to taste in any and every year. Production was 850 cases. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $32.
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New oak was kept to a minimum in the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Karia” Chardonnay 2015, Napa Valley, which aged seven months in 30 percent new French barrels. The color is pale straw-gold; hints of peaches and spiced pear, quince and ginger waft from the glass in an effect that’s delicately floral and both faintly smoky and slightly candied, as in just a note of caramelized grapefruit lightly touched with mango, the whole impression being beguiling and intriguing. This chardonnay is quite dry but offers a vibrant, vital presence in a lithe supple texture that flows over a keen edge of limestone-flint minerality; citrus and stone-fruit flavors are ripe and moderately spicy, bold without being overdone. A really lovely chardonnay. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $35.
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The grapes for the Stony Hill Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, were grown on dry-farmed vines from 23 to 32 years old, at elevations ranging stony chardfrom 800 to 1,500 feet. Winemaker Mike Chelini uses only neutral oak for the winery’s chardonnays and inhibits malolactic. The result is a chardonnay whose innate richness and generous nature are buttressed by a powerful limestone and flint element and enlivened by riveting acidity. The color is medium straw-gold; aromas of slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit are shot through with notes of quince and cloves, acacia and heather, a hint of yellow plum and a faint whiff of lilac. This chardonnay offers true grace, elegance and spareness, with a lithe, lightly powdered texture brightened by vibrant crispness and scintillating minerality that feels filigreed and transparent through the finish. 13 percent alcohol. Drink this exquisite yet powerful wine through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $48.
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2014-CHard
If you’re looking for a taut, vibrant chardonnay that admirably balances fruit and floral elements, acidity and mineral power, Trione Vineyards and Winery River Road Ranch Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, is your baby. Deriving from the winery’s 115-acre estate vineyard, the wine features a shimmering pale gold hue and lovely aromas of apple and pear, quince and ginger and slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, all heightened by notes of cloves and a hint of quinine; there’s a gradual blooming of honeysuckle and jasmine. This chardonnay is fleet and fluent in all aspects, quite dry but delivering a beguiling talc-like texture riven by clean acid and a burgeoning limestone quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $34.
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So, here it is, My Readers, the annual “50 Great Wines” roster, presently for the past year, that is, 2016. Not the “Greatest” of all wines or the “Best” of all wines, but a selection of 50 products that struck me as embodying everything we want in a wine: freshness, balance, appeal; depth, personality and character; an adherence to the nature of the grapes and, where possible, the virtues of the vineyard and climate. These are wines that leave aside the ego of the winemaker and producer for an expression of — not to sound too idealistic — an ideal of what a wine should be. I won’t belabor the process by which I arrived at this list of 50 wines, except to say that every wine I rated “Exceptional” during 2016 is automatically included. Did I leave out wines that I truly admired? Indeed, I did, because this list focuses on wines that I truly loved. Enjoy!
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Acorn Heritage Vines Alegria Vineyard Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 78 percent zinfandel, 12 percent alicante bouschet, 8 percent petite sirah and 2 percent a combination of carignane, trousseau, sangiovese, petit bouschet, negrette, syrah, black muscat, cinsault and grenache. A real field blend. Production was 548 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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gratien
Alfred Gratien Brut Rose nv, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $65.
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Arrow&Branch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $35.
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Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Production was 212 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2012, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. Exceptional. About $50.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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alsace-1
Frederic Mallo Vielles Vignes Rosacker Riesling 2010, Alsace Grand Cru. Excellent. About $23.

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

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montelena-riesling
Chateau Montelena Riesling 2015, Potter Valley. About $25.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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