Mendocino County



Jake and Ben Fetzer are the grandsons of Barney Fetzer, who founded his well-known eponymous winery in Mendocino County in the late 1960s. The family sold the winery and its brands to Brown-Forman in 1992; that company sold Fetzer and related labels to Vina Concha y Toro, the large Chilean producer, in 2011 for a reported $238 million. The brothers, now third generation grape growers and winemakers, have their own label and produce, at least so far, in a winery converted from an old redwood barn, only one bottling of pinor noir. Masút, we are told, means “dark, rich earth,” but we are not informed from which — I assume Native American — language the word derives. People! Details count! Still, I liked their Masút Vineyard and Winery Pinot Noir 2012 quite a bit.
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The Masút Vineyard and Winery Pinot Noir 2012, Mendocino County, offers a lovely medium ruby-magenta color. The wine aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 33 percent of which were new. Bright aromas of black and red cherries carry hints of cranberry and pomegranate and undertones of briers, brambles and clean loam; the whole effect is of freshness and immediacy yet paying a debt to the earth. Flavors run to cherries and plums, wrapped in an elegant satiny texture and enlivened by pert acidity; a few moments in the glass deepen the mineral and loamy aspects and add notes of plums and graphite and a strain of lightly dusted tannins in the finish. 13.9 percent alcohol. Production was 2,450 cases. Drink now through 2016, maybe ’17. Excellent. About $40.

A sample for review.
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Including not merely a roster of pinot noir wines from California but a pinot meunier made as a still wine — it mostly goes into Champagne and sparkling wine — and two pinot gris/grigio wines, one from northeast Italy, the other from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. As usual in these quick reviews, ripped, as it were, from the fervid pages on my notebooks, I eschew the available range of technical, historical, geographical and personal (or personnel) detail to concentrate on immediacy and my desire to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Ascevi Luwa Pinot Grigio 2012, Collio, Italy. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; winsome aromas of hay and almond blossom, saline and savory; roasted lemon, spiced pear; a little briery; very dry, crisp and chiseled but appealing moderately full body and texture; a far more thoughtful pinot grigio than one usually encounters. 1,500-case production. Excellent. About $19.
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MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 15% alc(!). A Gallo label. Medium gold color; jasmine and honeysuckle, lemon and lemon balm, baked pear, all very spicy and intricately woven; attractive supple texture and bright acidity, but you feel some alcoholic heat on the slightly unbalanced finish. Very Good. About $20.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2012, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Jackson Family Wines. Medium ruby-violet color; black cherries and currants, cloves, tobacco and sassafras, hint of brown sugar; earthy and loamy, moss and mushrooms; very dry but satiny and supple, with tasty black fruit flavors; the oak comes up a bit in the finish, along with some graphite-tinged minerality. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $23.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. Jackson Family Wines. Lovely limpid ruby-magenta color; sour cherry and melon, pomegranate, cranberry and cloves, develops a hint of smoke and black cherry; lovely and limpid, again, in the mouth, flows like satin across the palate but enlivened with keen acidity; notes of earth and brambles. Drinks very nicely but doesn’t have the heft that La Crema pinot noirs typically display. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $25.
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La Rochelle Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast. 14.9% alc. 326 cases. Enrapturing ruby-magenta color; a lithe and supple pinot noir that takes 45 minutes to loosen up a bit; cranberry and cola, dried cherries and raspberries; cloves and allspice, fairly exotic; buoyed by bright acidity and slightly bound by oak and tannin. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $42.
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La Rochelle Deer Meadows Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. 235 six-pack cases. A real beauty. Lovely medium ruby-plum color; black and red cherries, pomegranate and pomander, oolong tea, sassafras and beetroot, slightly earthy and loamy, yes, the whole panoply of sensation; a few moments bring in notes of iodine, mint and graphite; very dry, dense, almost chewy, quite notable tannins for a pinot noir but well-managed and integrated; gathers power and paradoxical elegance in the glass. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $75.
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La Rochelle Saralee’s Vineyard Pinot Meunier 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.9% alc. 866 cases. Pinot meunier is primarily grown as a minority component in Champagne and sparkling wine production. Entrancing transparent ruby-magenta color with a clear rim; delicate, dry, slightly raspy in the sense that raspberries and their leaves can be raspy; black and red cherry compote, spiced and macerated, with a subtle element of dried fruit, flowers and spices; damask roses, note of violets; dust, earth, a touch of loam, enlivened by swingeing acidity that plows a furrow. Now through 2016. Oddly Excellent. About $38.
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Liberty School Pinot Noir 2012, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. The first pinot noir from this label known for well-made and moderately priced cabernet sauvignon. Makes sensible claims and meets them: Medium ruby color; black cherry and plum, hints of rhubarb and tart mulberry; smoke and cloves; reasonably supple texture; a little merlot-ish overall, though. Very Good. About $20.
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MacPhail Family Wines “The Flyer” Pinot Noir 2011, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color; quite intense and concentrated for pinot noir, ripe and vivid black and red cherries, smoke, cloves; vibrant acidity cuts a swath, it’s very satiny but with a tannic and oaken core that ramps up the power and somewhat masks the varietal character. Still, it makes an impression. Very Good+. About $59.
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Rodney Strong Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby color; pungently spicy and floral, notes of tobacco and coffee bean, cranberry, pomegranate and rhubarb; black cherries with a briery, mossy undercurrent; very satiny, drapes over the palate as it flows; fairly deep and dark aura for pinot noir, with a graphite element and resolutely spicy with cloves and sandalwood, moderately dense tannins. Quite a package. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $25.
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“50 Great Wines of [The Year]” is a post I look forward to, even though its production is fraught with anxiety. “Fraught with anxiety!” you exclaim. “FK, you get to taste and write about terrific wines all year long! This task should be easy!” Look, my apostrophe-addicted friend, I started with a list of 76 potentially great wines and had to eliminate 26 of them. It was painful; it hurt my brain and my spirit. Even now, going back over this post just before I click the PUBLISH button, I am wracked by indecision and regret. On the other hand, life is about choices, n’est-ce pas, and we all have to knuckle down and make those choices, difficult as the job may be.

I reviewed 624 wines in 2013, compared to, for some reason, 642 in 2012, though I suppose 18 wines is not statistically significant in that range. Or perhaps it is; I’m not a statistician. Out of 642 wines in 2012, I rated 18 wines Exceptional. In 2013, out of 624 wines, I rated 28 as Exceptional. Did I taste that many better wines in 2013, or am I getting soft as I near my 30th anniversary as a wine writer? How did I choose, for “50 Great Wines of 2013,” the 22 examples to add to the 28 rated Exceptional? By reading again every review I wrote over the past year, by weighing the description and the language, by revisiting my memory of the wine, by looking for wines that possessed that indescribable quality of charisma, that combination of personality and character that distinguish a great wine. I could expand this post to 60 or 70 or 75 wines, but I’ll leave it as is. Suffice to say that these “50 Great Wines of 2013″ could include others, but for now, I’m sticking with these.
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Artesa Vineyards & Winery Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
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Adelsheim Ribbon Springs Vineyard Auxerrois 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
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Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 400 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $24.
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Belle-Pente Winery Belle-Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 785 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Black Kite Cellars Rivers Turn Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $52.

Image from princeofpinot.com.
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Boekenoogen Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $35.
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Brooks “Ara” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
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Calera Wine Company Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Mount Harlan, San Benito County. 398 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
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Capitain-Gagnerot Bourgogne “Les Gueulottes” 2009, Hautes Côtes de Beaune. 100 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $27.
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Catena Zapata Adrianna Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2009, Napa Valley. Cabernet sauvignon 69 percent, merlot 15 percent, cabernet franc 10 percent, petit verdot 6 percent. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $450.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $80.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Alchimiste Estate Premier Cru Extra Brut Rosé (non-vintage), Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $175.
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Domaine de Bernardins 2009, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Excellent. About $25 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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Domaine Carneros Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003. Exceptional. About $100.
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Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $65.
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Domus Aurea 2009, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. Cabernet sauvignon 85 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 5 percent, petit verdot 2 percent. Exceptional. About $60.
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Drouhin Vaudon Montmains Premier Cru 2910, Chablis, France. 200 cases imported. Exceptional. About $39.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 391 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 291 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast. 100 percent pinot noir. 95 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Elyse Naggiar Vineyard L’Ingénue 2011, Sierra Foothills. Roussanne 52 percent, marsanne 32 percent, viognier 11 percent, grenache blanc 5 percent. 416 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Rosé Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot meunier 58 percent, pinot noir 39 percent, chardonnay 3 percent. Excellent. About $55 to $65.
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Frankland Estate Netley Road Vineyard Riesling 2012, Frankland River, Western Australia. Exceptional. About $28.50.
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Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $60.
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Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $42.
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Halter Ranch Block 22 Syrah 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. With 13 percent grenache and 11 percent tannat. 175 cases. Excellent. About $36.
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Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 308 cases. Exceptional. About $68.
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J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Pinot noir 49 percent, chardonnay 49 percent, pinot meunier 2 percent. 500 cases. exceptional. About $90.
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Kay Brothers Amery Vineyard Block 6 Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. Exceptional. About $66.
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La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 259 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $75.
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La Rochelle McIntyre Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 112 cases. Rose of the Year. Excellent. About $24.
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L’Aventure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 425 cases. Exceptional. About $85 (winery only).
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Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $60.
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Morgan Winery Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 375 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $53.
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Penner-Ash Riesling 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $23.
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Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $85.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $60.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, Carneros. Exceptional. About $60.
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Rombauer Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $34.
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Renaissance Vineyards and Winery Granite Crown 2005, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. Syrah 60 percent, cabernet sauvignon 30 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 2 percent, petit verdot 1 percent. 74 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2010, Napa Valley. 50 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
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Shirvington Shiraz 2009, McLaren Vale, Australia. Excellent. About $70.
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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 463 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Smith-Madrone Riesling 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $27.
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Steven Kent Winery Ghielmetti Vineyard “Small-Lot” Cabernet Franc 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. 48 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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Tablas Creek Vin de Paille “Quinressence” 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 100 percent roussanne dessert wine. 100 cases. Exceptional. About $85 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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It’s a good thing that Paul Hobbs’ reach exceeds his grasp, because he’s a winemaker and consultant with his fingers in many vinous pies. He worked at important estates in California, including Opus One, before launching his Paul Hobbs Winery in 1991. Consistently interested in the potential of South American vineyards, he opened, with two partners, Vina Cobos in Argentina in 1999; the company now has seven wineries and 11 labels. While the constant theme in Hobbs’ wines, wherever they are made and whatever the grape variety, is minimal intervention in the winery, the motif of the wines themselves tends to be power and structure, and these two examples of pinot noirs from CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs demonstrate that fact perfectly; they are succulent and tasty but deeply imbued with the foundational elements of acid and minerality. CrossBarn, named for the building on the farm where Hobbs grew up in Upstate New York, produced its first wine from the vintage of 2000. Winemaker for CrossBarn is Molly Bohlman, image at right. These wines were samples for review.
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The CrossBarn Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, offers a ravishing purple-magenta color and equally ravishing aromas of black cherries and plums, cloves and cinnamon, a bit of smoke and toasty oak and notes of rhubarb, pomegranate and cola. This is quite substantial for an Anderson Valley pinot, which often tend to be leaner and lither than this example, though the texture is super satiny, and acidity cuts a bright clean swath on the palate. There’s a briery, brambly edge and a pass at graphite minerality, and as the moments elapse, elements of leather and loam emerge. There’s more power than elegance here, but this pinot noir also manages to be succulent and flavorful. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 14 percent new barrels. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $35.
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The color of the CrossBarn Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, is slightly different from the color of its Anderson Valley stablemate, being more in the dark ruby-mulberry range. This one is even spicier than its cousin, with an exotic panoply of cloves, allspice and cardamom wedded to a procession of macerated black and red cherries, currants and plums and hints of rhubarb, sassafras and oolong tea. This is another substantial, even dense pinot noir, though, as before, it slides across the tongue like the finest, flowiest satin in a stylish welter of slightly roasted black and blue fruit flavors, dried spices and flowers, all borne by layers of clean earth, graphite minerality and energizing acidty. The differences between these two pinot noir wines seem to reside more in the realm of detail than in dimension and intent. This one aged 10 months in French oak, 10 percent new barrels, keeping the influence to a minimum but contributing to the wine’s supple character. 14.1 percent alcohol. drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
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The black kite of the winery name is not a fabrication of paper and sticks tossed on the wind at the end of a long string but a species of bird. Black Kite Cellars traces its origins to 1995, when Donald and Maureen Green bought a 40-acre parcel by the Navarro River just west of Philo in Mendocino County, in a cool area eight miles from the coast. They replanted an old vineyard with pinot noir vines and developed two more blocks on a hill above the river. The first crop was harvested in 2003, and the decision to retain a portion of the grapes to make their own wine brought the concept of Black Kite Cellars, named for a bird indigenous to the region, to fruition. Jeff Gaffner became winemaker in 2004; the first wines he worked on comprised the 2005 bottlings of distinct blocks within the estate. Black Kite pinot noirs showed up on my lists of 50 Great Wines of 2009 and 50 Great of 2011.
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Black Kite “Kite’s Rest” 2010 and Black Kite “Kite’s Rest” 2011, Anderson Valley. 14.5 and 14.3 percent alcohol respectively. These spend about 11 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The ’10 version offers a medium ruby-magenta hue and enticing aromas and flavors of rhubarb, sassafras, beetroot and cranberries; the wine is lively and vibrant, with piercing slate-like minerality and slightly dusty tannins. Lovely purity and intensity. 541 cases. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $45. The ’11 rendition displays a light ruby-red cherry color; it’s much more reticent than the ’10 and more structured, with leathery tannins, briers and brambles and a pronounced graphite mineral element. Pretty tightly wound. 953 cases. Try from 2015 through 2020. Very Good+. About $45.
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Black Kite Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 and Black Kite Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The alcohol content is 14.6 percent for 2010, 14.9 percent for 2011. These wines also age about 11 months in French oak but in 50 percent new barrels. The ’10 sports a vivid dark ruby-garnet color; the wine is ripe and a little fleshy and funky, with a dollop of briery earthiness and tinges of smoke. Scents and flavors of black cherries, currants and blueberries are infused with cloves and sandalwood for an overall sense of spicy warmth. 149 cases. Drink through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $55. The Soberanes ’11 is perhaps the most attractive of this group of pinot noirs from Black Kite. The color is lustrous medium ruby; heady aromas of sassafras, rhubarb, cranberry and blueberry are permeated by notes of cloves, macerated black cherries, briers and brambles; the wine is super satiny yet a touch raspy and underbrushy; you feel the earth and the roots; bright acidity keeps it lively, while mild slightly dusty tannins add depth. Great purity and intensity. 273 cases. Drink through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $55.
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Black Kite Stony Terrace Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley. The color is medium ruby, slightly lighter at the rim; a sniff opens a trove of cloves, lavender and lilacs, black cherries and red currants, a hint of plums and mint; lip-smacking acidity and smacky tannins give the wine a lively and somewhat substantial structure, though the whole impression is of a pinot noir that revels in being clean, fresh and wild. 14.6 percent alcohol. 153 cases. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $52.
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Black Kite Redwood’s Edge Block Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry tinge; violets and lavender form the leading edge of a bouquet that teems with notes of red and black currants and red and black cherries, highlighted with cloves, sassafras and underbrush. In the mouth, this pinot noir is super succulent and supple, spicy and savory, but it’s also quite dry and — speaking of redwood — the oak emerges to a slightly obtrusive degree. 14.6 percent alcohol. Perhaps a year or two with help it smooth out. 149 cases. Very Good+. About $55.
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Black Kite Rivers Turn Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley. The medium ruby color carries a touch of magenta; this is cool with penetrating graphite-tinged minerals; warm with clove-spiked spice; lively with arrow-bright acidity; succulent with black and blue fruit flavors; shapely with mildly dusty tannins and oak; richly detailed with notes of rose petals, pomegranate, cranberry, briers and brambles. I love it. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. 152 cases. Excellent. About $52.
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Black Kite Angel Hawk Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley. This reserve wine, which sees 20 months in French oak, derives from the winery’s Kites Rest Vineyard. The color is a limpid medium ruby with marked intensity of hue, I mean fucking gorgeous; aromas of spiced and macerated plums and red and black cherries and currants are permeated by hints of rose petals and lilac. It’s a substantial pinot noir, as befits a reserve wine, but it does not overwhelm with sheer size or oaken influence; it is, instead, supple and mouth-filling, and it displays layers of briers, brambles, graphite and moderately dusty tannins for foundation and framing. 14.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’20. 114 cases. Excellent. About $80.
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The “family” part of the winery name is true. Founder Joe Donelan, originally from Connecticut, is accompanied in the business by his sons Cushing, the winery’s director of marketing, and Tripp, director of sales. This is the former Pax Wine Cellars; the name was changed in 2009. The winery is in Santa Rosa, owns no vineyards and makes its wines from grapes purchased primarily from cool climate vineyards in Sonoma County. Though the emphasis at Donelan is on syrah and Rhone Valley grape varieties, the samples I received for review include only one of those, the “Venus” 2011, a roussanne-viognier blend; the others are the Nancie Chardonnay 2011 and the Two Brothers Pinot Noir 2011. Winemaker is Joe Nielsen; consulting winemaker is Tyler Thomas. These wines are limited in production, so mark them Worth a Search.
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It rather gives the game away to say that the Donelan “Venus” 2011, Sonoma County, is exactly what I want a white Rhone-style roussanne-viognier blend to be. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, peach, pear and yellow plum are wreathed with deeper notes of straw, rosemary, salt-marsh and dried apricots. This wine saw no new oak, but was fermented in stainless steel and neutral oak barrels. There’s some lushness in the texture, and the pear and stone-fruit flavors are rich and slightly honeyed, but the overall effect is of spareness, reticence and finesse and of vitality born of scintillating acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16, well-stored. Production was 165 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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The Donelan “Nancie” Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma County, offers a different aura than the preceding wine; this is boldly ripe and rich, fully fledged with spice and floral notes, yet here too the richness is firmly tempered by brisk acidity and by a wet rock and limestone character that expands from the finish up through the entirety of the wine. Classic pineapple-grapefruit scents are highlighted by hints of tangerine, lime peel, orange blossom and cloves; pretty heady stuff, but in the mouth a core of dynamic acidity and gun-flint and limestone minerality tethers the juicy fruit-and-spice complexity to an earthy anchor. As with the previous wine, no new oak was used for the “Nancie” Chardonnay 2011; only neutral puncheons (large casks) and barriques (small barrels). 13.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 tor ’17, well-stored. Production was 825 cases. Excellent. About $45.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Donelan “Two Brothers” Pinot Noir 2011, North Coast, derives from two vineyards in Sonoma County and one farther north in Mendocino. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry tinge, the hue that I think of as “Burgundy.” This opens with the impression of lovely pinot noir purity and intensity; the bouquet holds notes of macerated and slightly stewed plums, red currants and cherries with undertones of rhubarb, cloves, white pepper and sandalwood and an intriguing smoky, mossy, earthy element. The texture is divinely smooth and satiny, a fitting repose for red and blue fruit flavors given depth by touches of fruitcake-like dried spices and fruit and a slightly foresty layer of underbrush and dried porcini. The wine is dry and gets drier as the moments pass, picking up some austerity and woodiness on the finish; give it a year or two to mellow and drink through 2019 to ’20. Alcohol content is 14.4 percent. 900 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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In the minds of many thoughtful and fun-loving Americans, Memorial Day represents the unofficial (or perhaps really official) opening of the outdoor cooking or grilling season. In honor of the day and of the entire concept of charring meat and vegetables over hot coals, I offer nine red wines of varying degrees of robustness, heartiness, rusticity and whack-’em-upside-the-head flavorishiness. We touch many bases here in terms of grape varieties, countries and regions, but you will see no merlot, pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon, just because that’s the way I feel today. Let’s shine a little light on bonarda, barbera and petite sirah! (I slightly modify what I said about cabernet; there’s a touch in a blend of one of these wines. As usual with the Weekend Wine Sips, the focus, the intensity, the concentration is on the wines themselves, characterized in brief but pithy and, I hope, provocative reviews. So light that fire, throw on a haunch of goat and enjoy the beginning of summer. These wines were samples for review or were tasted at trade events.

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Concannon Conservancy Petite Sirah 2009, Livermore Valley. 14.2% alc. Dark ruby-purple with an opaque center; dark in every sense but quite drinkable; black olive, leather, fruitcake; black currants, black raspberries and plums; graphite and grainy tannins permeate luscious black fruit flavors; lively and dynamic. A heavy-lifter but light on its feet. Needs a steak or a burger, preferably with bleu cheese and grilled onions. Very Good+. About $15.
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Bocelli Sangiovese 2011, Rosso Toscana, Italy. 13% alc. 100% sangiovese. Produced by the family of the well-known performer Andrea Bocelli; though he is a tenor, this wine devolves to bass-notes; starts with a medium ruby color; fresh, bright, spicy and appealing; then robust, dense and chewy, lots of weight for the plum, black and red currant fruit; fairly tannic and earthy; demands hearty fare, like sausages grilled to a turn or barbecue ribs. Very Good+. About $15.
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Greg Norman Shiraz 2010, Limestone Coast, Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color with a magenta rim; deep, warm, spicy; large-framed, intense and concentrated, yet deftly balanced and well-knit; very ripe and spicy black fruit scents and flavors imbued with hints of leather, tobacco, mint, bitter chocolate and graphite; pretty damned sleek, highly appealing and drinkable but with a foundation of dusty tannins. Excellent. About $15, representing Good Value.
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Luca Bosio Barbera d’Asti 2011, Piedmont, Italy. 13% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Lovely medium ruby color; very charming, made all in stainless steel for freshness and brightness; red and black currants with a touch of plums; moderately spicy and herbal in the cloves and dried thyme ranges; manageable tannins lend support, keen acidity keeps it honest. Grilled chicken with a coffee-cumin rub perhaps? Very Good+. About $16.
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Borsao Berola 2009, Campo de Borja, Spain. 14.5% alc. 70% garnacha, 20% syrah, 10% cabernet sauvignon. Tightly focused and intense, dusty tannins and grippy iron-iodine mineral elements; still, there are ripe, dark, spicy black and blue fruit flavors, hints in the bouquet of dried currants and baking spices; foresty, with touches of moss underbrush; savory, rolls on the palate. Begs for a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Very Good+. About $16 in my neck of the woods; priced from $12 to $17 around the country..
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Artezin Zinfandel 2011, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color; blackberries, black currants and plums, backnotes of rhubarb and boysenberry, but nothing sweet or over-ripe; richness tempered by bright acidity, sleek tannins and graphite-like minerality; bracing freshness, full-bodied, spicy with touches of lavender and violets. An attractive zinfandel to drink with steaks and burgers and grilled leg of lamb. Very Good+. About $18.
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Paolo Manzone “Ardi” Rosso 2012, Langhe, Piedmont. 13% alc. 60% dolcetto, 40% barbera. Brilliant medium ruby color, darker in the center; complex bouquet of red and black cherries and currants with touches of plum, cloves and orange zest and undertones of graphite and leather; medium body but rollicking tannins and acidity for liveliness; tasty cherry and raspberry flavors with hints of tar and lavender, sour cherry and violets. Super attractive. Very Good+. About $23.
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Mairena Bonarda 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.7% alc. Deep opaque purple-black; dense, chewy, robust and rustic, a little chunky and cheeky and somehow irresistible for its punk-like bravado; very dark black and blue fruit flavors, smoldering with leather and licorice, lavender and smoke and hint of cloves and black olives. I’m thinking grilled pork chops with a spicy Southwestern rub. Very Good+, perhaps edging closer to Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2010, Central Coast. 12.8% alc. Always reliable and filled with character. Very dark ruby-purple color; balances a polished, honed exterior with intensity and concentration and deep focus on black currant, blackberry and plum scents and flavors and a scintillating granitic mineral element; robust, furry tannins and vibrant acidity bolster details of black olives and oolong tea, leather and lavender and a touch of the grape’s trademark wet dog. Excellent. About $26.
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No, Disappointing Herons is not the name of my next band, it’s an expression of my dismay at the quality of some of a recently tasted group of products from Heron Wines, a company founded by Laely Heron (image at right) in 1995. Her idea was straightforward: own no vineyards but buy grapes from reliable, preferably sustainable sources, make wines with as little manipulation as possible and sell them at a reasonable price, in other words, to fill the role of a responsible negociant.

My first encounter with a wine from Heron was in the form of the Heron Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, which I received as a sample and subsequently reviewed in a post on January 24, 2009, otherwise known as The Dim Past. Here’s what I wrote:

If you can find the Heron Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, California, anywhere, buy it by the case. Sporting a mild but effective 13 percent alcohol, this irresistible cabernet is a lovely medium purple-magenta color. Aromas of smoke, minerals and earth, cedar, tobacco and black pepper wreathe notes of ripe and slightly roasted black currants and black cherries. The wine is dense and chewy in the mouth, with grainy tannins that permeate succulent and very spicy black currant and black cherry flavors. Aged a judicious eight months in French oak, the wine delivers a firm yet yielding structure that opens to reveal a hint of underbrush and dried porcini on the finish. There’s a lot of heart here for the price. Very Good+ and a phenomenal bargain at about $14.

Now that sounds like a wine you could get behind and feel happy about every time you opened a bottle. Unfortunately, the Heron Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mendocino, not only has no heart but it lacks soul, conveying the impression of a “red wine” at its most generic common denominator. My notes conclude, “What a shame!”

I tasted five current releases of Heron products courtesy of a local wholesaler now carrying the wines in our market. Two I can recommend, and three, including the Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, I cannot. The other two not recommended are the Merlot 2010, Mendocino County, again a matter of a wine tasting more generic and blah than varietal (though with merlot sometimes I wonder what varietal means) and the Chardonnay 2011, California (a blend of grapes from Russian River Valley, Carneros and Santa Maria Valley, one-third each) that channels the inner sauvignon blanc to which all chardonnays must surely aspire.

Here, though, are the Heron wines that I recommend:
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The all stainless steel Heron Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Mendocino County — that is to say, 75 percent Mendocino and 25 percent Yountville, in Napa valley — displays a bright medium straw color and enticing aromas of lime peel, roasted lemon, grapefruit, thyme and tarragon, with back-notes of smoke and a burgeoning, penetrating tide of limestone and flint minerality. That mineral character permeates spicy and savory flavors of citrus and stone-fruit highlighted by keen acidity and a lean and taut structure that nevertheless admits of a winsome, almost talc-like texture; the contrast is delightful. 13 percent alcohol. Loads of personality; restaurants and bars could sell the hell out of this wine in by-the-glass programs. Drink now through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $14, a Terrific Value.
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The Heron Pinot Noir 2011, California, derived from Monterey (75 percent), Paso Robles (20 percent) and Russian River Valley (5 percent) and aged a careful nine months in French oak, a combination of new, one-year-old and two-year-old barrels. The color is an entrancing cerise with a touch of magenta; this is clean and fresh pinot noir that offers an engaging Beaujolais-Villages-like aspect of ripe black and red cherries, hints of raspberry and mulberry and a touch of rose petals and violets, with undercurrents of slightly funky earthiness and graphite. There’s enough tannin to give the wine a slight dusty edge, and sufficient acidity to lend vibrancy and liveliness. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2014. Again, this would be a very attractive restaurant and bar wine to sell by the glass; pair it with a roasted chicken or mushroom omelet. Very Good+. About $14, representing Real Value.
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Our Weekend Wine Sips are an eclectic selection, with a variety of reds and then only chardonnay for the whites, though two of those are excellent examples from the Dundee Hills appellation of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The California wines spread their wings for a range from Mendocino in the north to Santa Barbara in the south. No duds or even much of a quibble in this group; if you’re looking for a bargain, notice the Toad Hollow Merlot 2009 down toward the end. The only technical information included in these brief reviews is the combination of grapes in a blend, if such is the case; otherwise these wines are 100 percent varietal (properly used as an adjective). For historical or geographical data and notes about personalities and personnel, look elsewhere: the intent here is immediacy. The two chardonnays from Oregon were tasted at a trade event; the rest of the wines were samples for review. Several of the label images are behind vintage for the wines under review. I don’t know why businesses — and a winery is a business — don’t keep their websites up to date.
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Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zindandel. Dark ruby-magenta with a hint of violet at the rim; black currants, cherries and raspberries, touch of black plum; full-bodied, mouth-filling, vibrant; cloves and allspice, hint of lavender and licorice; chewy tannins yet surprising refined for a petite sirah; one misses the fabled gumption and rusticity; still, very enjoyable in the new fashion. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $25.
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Charles Krug Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 80% merlot, 6% malbec, 5% petit verdot, 3% each cabernet sauvignon and syrah, 2% zinfandel, 1% cabernet franc; and why not a little charbono and alicante bouschet, fer cryin’ out loud! Dark ruby color; a cool customer, sleek with mint and graphite, intense and pent black currants and cherries with a hint of blueberry; smooth, suave, a little tailored, but stacked structure, layered texture, finely-wrought acidity; unfurls dense, dusty tannins and a leathery, foresty quality; finish is rather austere. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $24.
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Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay 2011, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.1% alc. Just lovely, I mean lovely tone and texture, appealing weight and elegance, beautiful balance and integration; what are you waiting for? O.K., scents and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit with hints of apple and cloves; smooth, supple, silky yet with the acidity and flint-like minerality to provide pointed liveliness and energy; ripe and rich yet imbued with innate delicacy. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $33.
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Domaine Serene Clos du Soleil Chardonnay 2010, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.6% alc. You know how it is; some wines you sniff and sip and think, “All right, this is it.” Wonderful presence and allure, but married to an almost rigorous sense of structure and texture; rich, ripe, almost golden in effect, with notes of pineapple and peach, touches of caramelized grapefruit and candied lime peel, apple and jasmine; powerful limestone-chalk Chablis-like minerality and bright acidity animate the entire package, with supple, subtly spicy oak playing counterpoint; long layered finish. Drink through 2018 to ’2020. Excellent. About $65.
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Donum Estate Chardonnay 2009, Carneros. 14.1% alc. 140 cases. Bright straw-gold color; intense and concentrated, almost tannic in its deep savory character and dense chewy texture; very dry but with brave amplitude of structure and a generous wash of roasted lemon, lemon balm and grapefruit bolstered by a prominent limestone element; hints of honeysuckle, quince and ginger; a long gorgeous finish. A powerhouse of a chardonnay without being over-orchestrated. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $50.
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Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. 15% alc. 86% zinfandel, 6% petite sirah, 4% each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Moderate ruby color with a mulberry rim; black currants, cherries and plums, hints of blueberries and blackberries; background of smoke, cloves and fruitcake and a touch of bacon; very dense and chewy and lip-smacking acidity, but surprisingly smooth and mellow; juicy black and blue fruit flavors; picks up tannic authority and austerity from mid-palate through the finish; manages to avoid any taint of high alcohol glibness and sweetness. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $36.75.
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Pali Wine Co. Huntington Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Barbara County. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; ripe and spicy and satiny smooth; black and red currants with hints of cherries and plums; cloves, a touch of sassafras, back-note of fruitcake; lovely purity and intensity of pinot flavors unfolding to spare elements of leather and graphite and a foundation of briers and brambles. Super-attractive with the grit to be serious. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.50, representing Good Value.
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Pfendler Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Medium straw-gold color; bold and rich but not creamy or tropical; well-integrated flavors of pineapple and grapefruit infused with ginger and quince and a hint of peach; very dry but really lovely, elevating and balletic; oak comes through from mid-palate back, yet the whole package reflects a hands-off approach; final touch of jasmine and roasted hazelnuts. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
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Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. At four years old, clean, fresh, powerful, deeply spicy; rich without being cloying; pineapple and grapefruit, yellow plums, quince and cloves; touch of candied lime peel; huge minerally-limestone element, bristling acidity, dense and almost savory, yet nothing over-played, almost light on its feet. One of the best chardonnays I’ve tasted from this winery. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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Silverado Mt. George Vineyard Merlot 2008, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. 91% merlot, 7% cabernet sauvignon, 1% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Dark ruby, almost opaque; classic notes of black currants and plums, hints of bay leaf and cedar, thyme and black olives; firm, solid structure built on spicy oak and graphite-like mineral qualities with clean acidity running underneath; intense and concentrated black and blue fruit flavors etched with lavender and bitter chocolate with touches of baking spice and new leather. Good character for the price. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
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Toad Hollow Richard McDowell Vineyard Merlot 2009, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; black currants, red cherries, touch of cranberry; very spicy, with robust tannins, leather, briers and brambles with oak in the background; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of plums and fruitcake; fairly rustic and shaggy but tasty and attractive. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $13, a Raving Bargain.
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Trefethen Harmony Chardonnay 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Bright straw-gold color; another big, bold, rich and ripe chardonnay, slightly buttery and roasted pineapple and grapefruit over cloves and ginger; lots of oak, ’tis true, but fits the size and dimension of the wine; keen acidity keeps this chardonnay on keel and scintillating limestone minerality lends crystalline ballast. A beauty for drinking through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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No, Readers, the splendid Italianate castle you see in the picture here is not located in Tuscany or Lombardy but in Napa Valley, near the town of Calistoga. Castello di Amorosa, completed in 2007, is the pet project, nay, the total obsession, of Dario Sattui, who owns the well-known V. Sattui winery, retail store and picnic-ground farther south in St. Helena. The story of the planning and building of Castello di Amorosa is related in lavish detail on the winery’s website; yes, the setting may be elaborate and medieval, but Castello di Amorosa is a working winery; Brooks Painter is director of winemaking, a position he also holds a V. Sattui. And as is the case at V. Sattui, the wines are available only at the winery or by what’s still quaintly called “mail-order.” Not surprisingly, Amorosa focuses on Italian grape varieties but also on — our focus in this post — gewürztraminer, and if you’re thinking that gewürztraminer has about the same standing in Napa Valley that Lady Gaga holds at the National Academy of Kabuki-Acting Thoracic Surgeons, you would be correct. There are about 11 acres of gewürztraminer vines in Napa (total vineyard acreage about 43,000), which is why Amorosa has Gewürztraminer planted in cool-climate Mendocino County. These wines were samples for review. We move from dry to sweet.
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The aromas of the Castello di Amorosa Gewürztraminer 2011, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, are frankly gorgeous; jasmine and honeysuckle, lychee and pear, quince and ginger, guava and passion fruit, with undertones of lime peel, limestone and grapefruit; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of “Evening in Paris” and lilac-scented face powder. Could the rest of the experience live up to this heady allure? Yes, actually, the wine — made in stainless steel as the others here are — displays admirable crispness and exuberant acidity, a suave, sleek texture, but lively and spicy, a burgeoning element of shale-and-flint-like minerality and, amid its apple and nectarine flavors, an overall crystalline existential glow. And it’s totally dry. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 or ’18, well-stored. 1,100 cases. Excellent. About $23.
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The Castello di Amorosa “Dolcino” Gewürztraminer 2011, Mendocino County, is, as its name indicates, a little sweet. The color is very pale straw-gold; notes of jasmine and honeysuckle are woven with ripe lychees and pears and hints of apples and apricots. No doubt about the sweetness on the entry, where flavors of softly roasted peaches mingle with touches of sage and baked apple, though the wine firms up nicely, under the influence of keen acidity that contributes freshness and moderate crispness to the texture. The wine, then, is lively and spicy, and the finish brings in a bit of grapefruit austerity. 12 percent alcohol. Good as an aperitif for those who like a touch of sweetness or with mildly spicy Indian or Southeast Asian cuisine. 1,849 cases. Very Good+. About $24.
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The Castello di Amorosa Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2011, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, is a full-fledged dessert wine that displays all the super-ripeness and golden honeyed slightly roasted stone fruit scents and flavors you could ask for. The color is pale gold; hints of baked apples and peaches, lychees, cloves and ginger snaps entice the nose before segueing into the mouth, where they’re enveloped by a texture that’s dense and almost viscous; the wine is even spicier on the palate, more honeyed, slightly buttery — think of lightly buttered cinnamon toast. Castello di Amorosa Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2011 is rich, tasty and appealing, but it lacks just by a degree the essential tension and tautness that keep dessert wines on the straight and narrow path of clean, thirst-quenching acidity and scintillating intensity. 11.2 percent alcohol. 2,964 cases. Now through 2018 to 2022. Very Good+. About $35 for a 375 ml half-bottle.
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