Mendocino County


Inexorably we drift from Spring into Summer, so in honor of this transitional state I offer a dozen savory, zesty white wines. The grapes range from the familiar — sauvignon blanc, riesling — to the unfamiliar and exotic — grillo, gouveio, while the geography takes us all over the place. Prices rise from about $12 to $28, giving space for some real bargains and great values. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew all technical, historical, geological and personal data — as interesting as those items may be — for the sake of quick and incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebook, and designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Unless otherwise noted, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Alois Lagerder Haberle Pinot Blanc 2013, Südtirol Alto Adige, Italy. 13% alc. Production was 1,125 cases. Very pale straw hue; ripe, spice, macerated and lightly roasted stone-fruit with a halo of white flowers; notes of dried thyme and fennel; lithe and supple texture, offering vivid acid cut and limestone dimensions of structure; very dry but juicy with peach, pear and yellow plum flavors; real personality and character. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $23.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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erste-neue
Erste + Neue Pinot Grigio 2015, Alto-Adige. 14% alc. Pale gold color; very appealing, with notes of green apple, pear and lemon balm, heather and meadow grass; heady and floral; lovely silken texture; quite dry, with pert acidity and shimmering limestone minerality; nothing complicated, just altogether irresistible. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $16.
Imported by T Edward Wines, New York.
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assobio
Esporao Assobio 2014, Douro, Portugal. 13% alc. 40% viosinho grapes, 30% gouveio, 20% verdelho, 10% arinto. Pale straw color; pear and acacia, heather and thyme; a bracing aura of sea-breeze and salt-marsh; very dry, with pert acidity, layers of damp flint and shale minerality; an exotic spicy-herbal flare; lean and supple. Now through 2017 to ’18. Very Good+. About $14, marking Great Value.
Imported by Aidil Wines, New York.
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semillon
Esporao Private Selection Semillon 2013, Alentejano, Portugal. 14% alc. Medium gold hue; elevating aromas of quince and ginger, spiced pear, lemon oil and orange rind; slightly honeyed in aspect but quite dry and spare; a fragile infusion of tropical fruit and flowers with a hint of fig; lovely silky texture, moderately lush but honed by limestone. Now through 2018. Excellent. About $28.
Impoted by Aidil Wines, New York.
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Gewurz
Lazy Creek Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.2% alc. Production was, alas, only 65 cases. Pale straw color; classic notes of lychee, pear, jasmine and rubber eraser, with hints of cloves and ginger; lithe texture, with crystalline clarity, acidity and limestone drive, great vibrancy and appeal; the limestone-flint minerality builds through the dynamic finish; grapefruit finish with a touch of bracing bitterness. A terrific example of the grape. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $22.
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Matetic EQ Coastal Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. Pale straw color; Matetic EQ Coastal SB 14 Ftgrapefruit, lilac, greengage; celery seed and fennel with back-notes of lime peel, quince and ginger; crisp and lively, with riveting acidity and a plangent limestone element; a lithe, almost sinewy texture with depths of fruit, spice and minerality bolstering a scintillating, transparent finish. Now through 2017. Excellent. About $20.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa Calif. The label image is one vintage behind.
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Chateau Puyanché Franc 2014, Cote de Bordeaux Blanc. 75% sauvignon blanc, 25% semillon. Pale straw-gold hue; assertive notes of dill and celery seed, caraway and lime peel, with pink grapefruit and ethereal back-notes of melon and apple skin; just a lovely wine in every way: slightly powdery texture, stone-fruit and citrus scents and flavors, bright acidity and limestone minerality; sleek, chiseled finish. Now through 2018. Excellent. About $15, a Real Bargain.
Imported by Twins America. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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plotzner
St. Pauls Plotzner Weissburgunder 2015, Südtirol Alto Adige. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw color; spice pear and roasted lemon, hay and autumn meadows, chalk and flint; a little earthy, as if its toes were still in the vineyard; clean and incisive acidity and chiseled limestone minerality. An exhilarating pinot blanc for drinking through 2019 to ’20. Excellent. About $20.
Importer N/A.
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Tascate Buonora 2014, Sicilia. 12% alc. 100% carricante grapes. Pale straw-gold hue; a rich, Stampagolden wine, with spiced pears and yellow plums, sage and thyme, green tea, quince and acacia; scintillating limestone and flint minerality; sea-salt and meadow; spicy and savory. A great deal of charm. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $20.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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blanc
Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc 2013, Russian River Valley. 12.9% alc. Roussanne 50%, marsanne 25%, viognier 13%, grenache blanc 6%, grenache gris 6%. Production was 100 cases. Pale straw-gold hue; peach, pear and quince, bee’s-wax, dried thyme and sage; apple skin and pear nectar; lilac and acacia; yellow plums and a bare hint of mango; all these elements inextricably encompassed in a package that feels irrevocably vital, vibrant, real, bound to the earth yet ethereally delicate and delicious. An extraordinary wine. Exceptional. About $30.
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grillo
Vento di Mare Grillo 2014, Terre Siciliana IGT. 12.5% alc. Made from organic grillo grapes. Pale straw-gold hue; savory and saline, with yellow plum and roasted lemon scents and flavors, notes of heather, dried thyme and sea-grass, clean-cut acidity and limestone minerality and a chalk-flinty element that increases through the herb-and-spice laden finish. Drink up. Very Good+. About $12, an Amazing Bargain.
Imported by Middleton Family Wines, Shandon, Calif.
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wakefield riesling
Wakefield Riesling 2015, Clare Valley, Australia. 12% alc. Pale straw gold color; peach and pear, lychee and jasmine, with a hint of zesty grapefruit and its pith; very dry, with a burgeoning limestone and chalk element, all wrapped in delightful vitality. Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $17.
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Other than as a blending element in the Rhône Valley and Roussillon, the late-ripening carignan grape doesn’t get a lot of love. In fact, in the 2006 edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine, no less an authority than Jancis Robinson calls carignan “the bane of the European wine industry” and concludes the grape’s entry in that volume by writing, “Let some interesting old Carignan vines be treasured but let it not be planted.” Well, my goodness, surely there is carignan and than other, better carignan. For the two wines under consideration today, William Allen of Two Shepherds took grapes from the 40-year-old Trimble Vineyard, in Mendocino County, where the vines are 40 years old, head-trained and certified organic. He did not submit the grape to too much oak and certainly to no new oak, because apparently, Allen considers new oak with the same affection that the Dowager Countess bestows on a locust perched on a tea cake. William Allen produces minuscule quantities of impeccably made Rhône variety wines that do what few other produces do — provide an experience that is pure, spare, elegant and true to its origins.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Two Shepherds Trimble Vineyard Carignan Rosé 2015, Mendocino, fermented and aged 50 percent in stainless steel and 50 percent in neutral French oak. The grapes are picked on purpose for CarignanRose15-F_ttbthis wine, two weeks before picking for the red wine; in other words, this rosé is not an after-thought or a bleeding off. The color is pale copper-salmon that seems to blend into smoky topaz; bright, clean aromas of strawberry and melon are slightly burnished by notes of dusty rose petals and violets, hawthorn and heather and bare hints of peach, pomegranate and tomato skin. The wine is permeated by a soft, talc-like floral nature and texture that’s animated by vibrant acidity and a limestone element burgeoning gently yet insistently from mid-palate back through the finish. On the palate, the fruit definitely offers the strawberry-melon-raspberry range, but with a glimmer of raspberry’s faint brambly raspiness. 12.3 percent alcohol. An extraordinary rosé, for drinking through 2016 with such picnic fare as fried chicken, deviled eggs, cucumber and watercress sandwiches and terrines of rabbit and duck slathered on crusty bread. Production, unfortunately, was 50 cases. Exceptional. About $22.
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Made from the same vines as the Carignan Rosé 2015 mentioned above, the Two Shepherds Trimble Carignan-14-FVineyard Carignan 2014, Mendocino, aged nine months in old barrels of French oak, lending the wine shape and suppleness but no real wood influence. Displaying a light ruby-strawberry hue, the wine is bright, lively and vital, with a whip-like spine of briers and brambles, cloves and raspberry leaf. The bouquet is characterized by notes of cherries and raspberries, with deeper tones of oolong tea, dried thyme and graphite and hints of rose petals. Snappy acidity refreshes the palate and whets your appetite for another sip. It’s a bosky, meadowy, spicy red, just slightly loamy and paradoxically, for all its delicacy, imbued with tensile power. 12.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. We had it with pork chops marinated in olive oil and lime juice, cumin and smoked paprika. Production was 125 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Today’s post is about wine and women, friendship and family. The wines are chardonnay and pinot barbara_0noir from Cambria Vineyards and Winery and WindRacer. The women include Barbara Banke, chairwoman and proprietor of Jackson Family Wines (image at right); her daughters, Katie and Julia Jackson; winemakers Denise Shurtleff and Elizabeth Grant-Douglas; and Banke’s longtime friend and business partner, Peggy Furth. Together, they carry on the legacy of Barbara Banke’s husband and Katie and Julia’s father, Jess Jackson (1930-2011), who founded what was known as Kendall-Jackson in 1982. Through fairly aggressive marketing and acquisitions and different manifestations of the company and its name, Kendall-Jackson eventually became Jackson Family Wines.

One of Jess Jackson’s purchases, occurring in 1986, was about 700 acres of the Tepusquet vineyard in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. The estate was the site of a Mexican land grant in 1838. Vines were planted here in 1970 and ’71 by the Lucas brothers, who sold to Jackson and Banke after financial reverses. In 1989, Jackson built a large winery at Tepusquet and named it Cambria. The vineyard, as in most of the rest of Santa Maria Valley, was planted primarily to chardonnay and pinot noir. The wines were issued as “Katherine’s Vineyard” for chardonnay and “Julia’s Vineyard” for pinot noir, though for the current releases reviewed below those designations became the catch-all “Benchbreak.” Katie and Julia Jackson are described on the winery’s website as “family spokespersons.” Winemaker is Denise Shurtleff.

WindRacer is a chardonnay-and-pinot-noir-only brand born of an on-going discussion between Barbara Banke and her friend Peggy Furth about the merits of those grape varieties in Anderson Valley and Russian River Valley, Banke championing Anderson Valley, Furth advocating for Russian River Valley. Furth is a partner with Banke in WholeVine Products, a company that produces grapeseed oil, gluten-free cookies and grapeseed and skin flours; she is former co-proprietor of Chalk Hill Vineyards. While the conventional view might be that Anderson Valley (in Mendocino County) is cooler, so the wines will be more focused on structure, and Russian River Valley is warmer, so the wines will be riper and richer, I found these chardonnays and pinot noir wines to be more complicated, with more wealth of detail and dimension, than that assessment would dictate. Winemaker is Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, who also makes excellent pinot noir at Maggy Hawk, another Anderson Valley pinot noir producer contained within Jackson Family Wine’s Spire Collection of top-flight labels.

These wines were samples for review. Image of Barbara Banke from jacksonfamilywines.com..
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BenchbreakChard_2
The Cambria “Benchbreak” Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, derives from 15 vineyard blocks cultivated individually. The wine aged six and a half months in 76 percent French oak, 14 percent new barrels; we are not told but I assume the balance aged in stainless steel. The color is pale gold; pert aromas of green apple and spiced pear offer freshness and immediate appeal, while a few moments in the glass bring in deeper notes of pineapple and peach; a clean, earthly line runs through it. The wine is quite dry, riven by bright acidity and a scintillating limestone element, while delivering juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors, with a bare hint at the tropical; the oak influence remains on the periphery, subtle but persistent. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or 2020. Very Good+. About $22.
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BenchbreakPinot_0
The Cambria “Benchbreak” Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley, aged eight months in French oak, 27 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby shading to a nearly invisible rim; this is an incredibly attractive pinot noir that opens with notes of black cherry, cranberry and rhubarb, cloves, sandalwood and potpourri, tied off with a tinge of violets; a few moments in the glass add hints of loam, pomegranate and sauteed mushrooms. The lovely texture drapes the palate with satiny grace, while a finger of acidity stirs in the depths; it’s a sleek, suave and delicious wine burnished by a backwash of bristly tannins, smoke and graphite. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $25.
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The WindRacer Chardonnay 2012, Anderson Valley, aged 14 months in French oak, 26 percent new ECM187824barrels. It offers a pale straw-gold hue and quickly noticeable aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince, talc and lilac, with a slender hint of mango. It’s a very dry chardonnay, enlivened by lip-smacking acidity and limestone-chalk minerality and altogether a wine of beautiful shape, presence and tone. It’s pretty dense on the palate, with a slightly powdery texture that remains crisp and clean and fresh. The oak lends nuance and layering, coming out more prominently on the finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 513 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $40.
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So, is the WindRacer Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, a mirror of its Anderson Valley cousin, a simulacrum or its opposite? The color is pale gold, and the aromas of jasmine and mango open to more incisive elements of pineapple and baked grapefruit; the wine is a touch creamy, with notes of baked pear, roasted lemon and lemon balm. Still, I was pleased with the decisive acidity and limestone minerality that characterize this chardonnay’s structure and keep it from being too rich and lush; in fact, you detect the oak a bit more in this wine than in the previous chardonnay, particularly (but not dominantly) from mid-palate back through the shimmering, slightly sinewy finish. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 1,015 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Very Good+. About $40.
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Give the WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, a few minutes in the glass and it becomes ECM187824extravagantly floral, displaying winsome notes of rose petals, lilac and lavender. Before that panoply — with its transparent medium ruby hue shading to a pale, delicate rim — the wine offers aromas of smoky black cherries and raspberries, permeated by cloves and pomegranate, sassafras and loam. The texture is dense, passionately satiny, intense and talc-like yet deeply imbued with elements of briers and brambles, graphite-tinged tannin and straight-arrow acidity; there’s a sense of interior rigor and energy that brings ultimate balance to the package. The finish is quite dry, layered with flint, dried blueberries and something dark, rooty and tea-like. 14.5 percent alcohol. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Production was 1,007 cases. A marvel of nuance and expressiveness. Exceptional. About $50.
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And as to that wine’s Russian River Valley counterpart? While the WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is, as expected, bolder, denser and more exotic than its Anderson Valley stablemate, it’s also even more rigorous, with a healthy dose of dust and graphite, a woodsy, loamy pinot noir that’s supple and satiny and fairly surprising in its mineral-laden tannins. The wine practically smells velvety — the color is dark ruby with a glowing magenta rim — and it delivers seductive notes of smoky black cherry and raspberry with a touch of plum and hints of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and violets and an interesting bit of almond skin. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 28 percent new barrels; you feel a dollop of that oak through the penetrating, vibrant finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,527 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $50.
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The idea behind producing wines from one designated vineyard is that such a piece of land, its geology and geography, its soil, bedrock and micro-climate, will result in a wine distinctive in character from a different vineyard, say one across the valley or even down the road. That macphailprinciple drives the fame and fortune of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, for example, because the reputation of that narrow region in eastern France rests on the individual nuances supposedly expressed by vineyards that lie across a country lane from each other or a ball-toss across an ancient stone wall. A slightly different tilt of a slope toward the southeast, a minute diversion in a vineyard’s elevation at exactly the perfect pitch on a hillside, a variation in the type of underlying limestone: These factors influence the quality and character of Burgundy’s renowned and rare Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines and help determine their stratospheric prices.

We must remember that these vineyards in the Côte d’Or, many of minute size, have been cultivated, discussed, parsed and celebrated for upwards of 1,000 years. That cannot be said of vineyards in California, yet the belief inheres in the state’s wine industry — and in Oregon and, to a lesser extent, in Washington — that wines from single vineyards are (potentially) superior to wines that derive from a more general regional application. The stature of such vineyards as Bien Nacido, Durell, Sangiacomo, Beckstoffer George III and To-Kalon, Old Hill and many others testifies to the efficacious effect of individual micro-climates on vines and grapes. The point, however, is that the wines produced from such hallowed areas honor not only the character of the vineyard but the nature of the grape. Great wines perform both functions, seamlessly, with balance and integration.

These remarks serve as prelude to reviews of a handful of single-vineyard pinot noirs produced by MacPhail Family Wines, a division of Hess Family Wine Estates. Three of these pinot noirs originate in the Sonoma Coast AVA, the other three from the Anderson Valley AVA in Mendocino County. The first wine is not single-vineyard designated, while the rest in this roster are.

James MacPhail launched his brand in 2002, focusing on pinot noir and chardonnay from Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley. He built his winery in Healdsburg, in his backyard, in 2008. Hess Collection acquired the Macphail brand and inventory — but not the winery — in 2011, freeing James MacPhail to make wine and not concentrate on the business side of wine-producing and -selling.

I like these wines a great deal, though they emphasize the muscular and dimensional possibilities of the pinot noir grape rather than its elegance and delicacy. Still, in their wealth of detail and their thoughtful background, they remain fine examples of the potential of single-vineyard bottlings.

These wines were samples for review.
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We begin with a wine that is not single-vineyard designated, the MacPhail Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, drawing on eight vineyards from areas in the vast Sonoma Coast appellation, including the well-known Dutton, Pratt and Sangiacomo vineyards. The wine aged 11 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, 30 percent one-year-old and 30 percent two-years-old. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent rim; cherries, cherries and cherries in every form — black and red, spiced and macerated, slightly fleshy and roasted — characterize the aromas and flavors here, with hints of plum, pomegranate, cranberry and sassafras. The texture is sleek, lithe and supple, while the wine’s structure feels large-framed, deep, a bit brooding, all leading to a finish packed with fruit and spice and dominated by graphite minerality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,025 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $40.
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We’ll stay in Sonoma Coast — a widely diverse AVA more than 500,000 acres in extent — for the MacPhail Wildcat Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. The vineyard is owned by Steve MacRostie, no slouch himself when it comes to making pinot noir, and perches on a hillside in the Petaluma Gap, straddling Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Coast AVAs, where the maritime winds and fogs are a profound influence. A dark ruby hue shades to a transparent garnet rim; the first impression is of red and black cherries and currants infused with rhubarb, cranberry, sassafras and cloves, with high notes of graphite and mint and low tones of leather and loam, picking up, with air, interesting hints of melon and apple skin, iodine and iron. In other words, lovely and intriguing complexity but leaning toward the grape’s muscular potential, its darkness and power. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 225 cases. Now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $49.
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Nineteen wineries make designated pinot noir from grapes purchased from Sangiacomo Vineyards in Petaluma Gap. The MacPhail Sangiacomo Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, offers a luminous, transparent medium ruby color and aromas of ripe and slightly roasted red and black cherries and raspberries. The wine aged 11 months in French oak, 28 percent new barrels. A few moments in the glass bring up hints of violets, sassafras, smoke and tobacco and notes of plum and sour cherry. There’s a slight aura of dried herbs here — sage, cedar — and a tang of acidity to keep the wine lively and engaging. A silky-smooth texture benefits from a lift of graphite minerality and lightly dusted tannins. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 250 cases. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $49.
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For the remaining wines, we move north to Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. The MacPhail Toulouse Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, aged 11 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, the rest one- and two-years old. Though the color is transparent medium ruby, there’s nothing shy or ephemeral about this pinot noir, which builds power, depth and presence in the glass. It’s a warm and spicy wine, bursting with notes of lightly braised cranberries, black and red currants and hints of cola, cloves and smoke, violets and lavender, briers and brambles, while a few minutes in the glass produce elements of leather and loam. This is a fleshy, full-bodied pinot noir, gushing with ripe, meaty, spicy red and black berry flavors in a structure that grows increasingly dense, chewy, velvety and tannic. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 525 cases. Try from 2017 through 2022 through ’24. Not my favorite style of pinot noir, but certainly well-made. Excellent. About $49.
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The MacPhail Anderson Creek Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, comes on rather strong for my taste, being a wine whose lip-smacking viscosity and keen acidity augment a lack of grace and elegance. It aged the standard 11 months in French oak, new barrels at 40 percent, if you believe the back label, or 50 percent, if you go by the printed technical sheet. (Let’s coordinate, team!) Pungent with aromas of pomegranate, rhubarb and sassafras, cherries and plums, the wine is supremely satiny and drapery-like on the palate, admitting touches of loam and mocha and a bit more oak than its cousins in this roster. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 225 cases. Try from 2017 through 2022 to ’24. Very Good+. About $49.
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OK, now we’re talking. The MacPhail Wightman House Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, derives from a two-acre vineyard planted to one clone, the Martini; it aged 11 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. The color is medium transparent ruby shading to an almost invisible rim; aromas of spiced and slightly macerated black cherries and raspberries are preceded by notes of iodine and beetroot, with hints of violets, lavender and cloves; the whole effect is exotic without being pushy or flamboyant. This is an intense pinot noir, dense and chewy with dusty, velvety tannins and enlivened by bright acidity that powers the wine from mid-palate back through the graphite-laced finish. Though it sounds as if the entire motif here rests on authority and substance, the wine achieves a fine balance between energy and the elegance of tendril-like effects centered on mint, black tea, delicate roots and filigrees of wild blueberries. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 100 cases. A great effort for drinking now through 2020 to 2024 or ’25. Exceptional. About $55.
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masut 14
On February 8, 2014, I posted the first entry about Jake and Ben Fetzer and the initial offering from their all-pinot noir winery, Masút. I liked their Pinot Noir 2012, Mendocino County, quite a lot and gave it an Excellent rating. Here’s a link to that post and review. Now, we come to the offerings — a regular bottling and a “reserve” — from vintage 2013, which I tasted four to six months ago, and the just released 2014. Notice that the ’12 version aged 10 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels, while the ’13 and ’14 aged 15 months in French oak, 50 percent new. The ’13 “Two Barrels” aged 15 months in 100 percent new French oak. The increase in the oak regimen is a conscious choice by the winemakers that I consider somewhat misguided — the wines lack the elegance, finesse and eloquence of the best pinot noirs — but particularly in the case of the “Two Barrels.” On the other hand, for pinots that plumb the grape’s dark side, I like the regular ’13 and ’14 very much.

These wines were samples for review.
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Let’s start with that current release. The Masút Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Eagle Peak, Mendocino County, offers an ebon ruby hue shading to a transparent magenta rim; first come the spices and earthiness in the form of damp loam, cloves and sandalwood, followed by notes of ripe black cherries and currants permeated by smoke and graphite; a few minutes in the glass bring in heady aromas of rose petals steeped in oolong tea. Yes, the effect is almost deliriously attractive. On the palate, this is a deep, almost brooding pinot noir, rich, supple and lithe, with a structure prolonged by slightly dusty tannins and bright acidity; the black fruit flavors feel firmly rooted in the soil from which the vines sprang. This is the dark succulent side of pinot noir. 14.7 percent alcohol. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. Production was 1,800 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22, especially with seared duck breast or grilled veal chops. Excellent. About $45.
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The color of the Masút Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Eagle Peak, Mendocino County, is dark ruby shading to a transparent mulberry/magenta edge; what appealing life and vibrancy this pinot noir displays, with its extraordinary bouquet of red cherries and currants, rose petals and red licorice, rhubarb, sassafras and cranberry; it’s a large-framed pinot noir — the alcohol content is 14.9 percent — generous and expansive, supple and satiny, warm and spicy but with a finger of cool minerality running through it. A few minutes in the glass bring in notes of heather, sage and pomegranate. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. 1,500 cases. Drink now through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $40.
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The Masút Two Barrels Pinot Noir 2013, Eagle Peak, Mendocino County, has one barrel too many for my taste. (Actually, it’s a selection of what the brothers considered the best two barrels from the harvest.) It aged 15 months in all new French oak barrels, and, friends, that was too much time in too much new oak. The color is dark ruby shading to a mulberry-magenta rim and a fine line of transparency; spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants are inflected with notes of plums, rhubarb, graphite and loam. The texture is supremely supple and suave, but it takes just a few moments for you to feel the tug of wood, a tide that gradually takes over, permeates the wine and mutes any of the grape’s expressive qualities. The 51.1 percent alcohol content doesn’t help either. Production was 50 cases. If you like oak and alcohol, this one’s for you, but it’s not for me. About $60.
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I know that some of My Readers are thinking, “Um, F.K., why are you telling us about pinot noirs from 2012? Haven’t these wineries released their 2013s? Aren’t you, like, a little behind the times here?” Laggard, yes, but trying to catch up. And besides, many of these pinots from 2012 still have a retail presence around the country, in physical stores and online. Where you can find them, buy them, because at a bit more than three years after harvest, some of these pinot noirs are drinking beautifully and will continue to do so for four to six more years. To clarify matters, I didn’t just taste these wines; they have been in my notebooks in jottings that go back to last Spring. I am not behind in the experience but in the organizing and publishing. I offer, then, brief reviews of 18 wines that range geographically from Mendocino County in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south. As usual in the Weekend Wine Notes, I avoid technical, historical, geological and personal information for the sake of incisive but heart-felt reviews meant to tease your taste-buds and pique your interest. These wines were all samples for review.
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FC anderson
Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson valley. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby color; a finely meshed web of smoky black and red cherries and currants (a bit macerated and roasted), briers and loam, lavender and rose petals; bright acidity, moderately sleek and satiny texture, with supporting slightly dusty tannins and integrated oak; the spice element burgeons from mid-palate back through the finish. Now through 2017 to ’18. Very Good+. About $30.
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FC middleridge_pinot_noir_2012
Ferrari-Carano Middleridge Ranch Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. 14.6% alc. Medium ruby color, slight fading to magenta; smoky and spicy black and red cherries; dust, graphite and loam; bare hints of lavender and violets; very dry, with leathery tannins and dominating oak that feels a bit sanded and polished; could use more balance, meaning less oak. Now through 2017 or ’19. Very Good. About $NA.
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FC sky-high2012
Ferrari-Carano Sky High Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Mendocino Ridge. 14.5% alc. 700 cases. Medium ruby-meganta hue; intense and concentrated, with a focus on black and red cherries and currants permeated by graphite and loam and a trailing edge of black pepper, cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate; this is deep, rich and spicy on the palate, more velvety than satiny or silky; lithe, supple, a little muscular, with a real mineral edge and acid cut. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $48.
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Gary_Farrell_2012_RRS_PN_Bottle
Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry hue; intoxicating bouquet of cranberry, blueberry and plums permeated by rhubarb, lavender and violets, cloves, iodine and brambles with a touch of sandalwood; marvelously svelte, sleek and supple texture enlivened by bright acidity and a subtle graphite accent. Delicious and delightful but with some depth. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $45.
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Gary_Farrell_2012_Hallberg_PN_Bottle
Gary Farrell Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Limpid ruby-magenta color; this single-vineyard pinot noir resembles its regional cousin mentioned directly above but with the difference of marked intensity and concentration; rhubarb, cranberry and pomegranate; cloves, sassafras and beet-root; briers and brambles and a touch of loamy earthiness; very sleek and satiny but with a peppery rasp; the spicy element builds, as do the slightly dusty, graphite-tinged tannins; keen acidity cuts a swath on the palate. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $55.
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GB pinot
Gundlach-Bundschu Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color; cranberry, rhubarb, pomegranate; cloves, rose petals, lilac; a lovely mid-palate, with a dusty silky texture, slightly earthy with notes of briers, underbrush and loam, though paradoxically, the earthy element grows while the finish falls a bit short. Not quite a success. Very Good. About $39.
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kendall_jackson_estate_outland_LRG
Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Outland Ridge Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby shading to medium ruby at the rim; a powerful expression of the grape, delivering notes of iodine and iron, savory black plums, cherries and raspberries, with hints of cloves, white pepper and loam; a large-framed pinot, dry, polished, a bit chiseled in its graphite minerality, velvety tannins and vibrant acidity; the finish is focused and a bit austere. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $35.
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lazy
Lazy Creek Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. 14.3% alc. (Owned by Don and Rhoda Carano.) 257 cases. A cherry-berry color for a cherry-berry pinot noir, all black and red with touches of rhubarb, cranberry, lavender and loam and hints of briers, brambles and underbrush; dense and almost chewy, tending toward the heavier satin drape; lively and dynamic, with vibrant acidity supporting a dry, foresty structure and finish. Another fairly lithe and muscular pinot noir. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
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macmurray
MacMurray Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim; ripe, meaty and fleshy; black cherries and plums steeped in cloves and oolong tea; an earthy and loamy pinot noir, satiny in texture but feeling slightly roughened and sanded around its tannic edges. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $28.
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Orentano Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. From R. Buoncristiani Vineyard. 305 cases. Transparent orestano pnmedium ruby hue with a lighter, ethereal rim; dried red and black cherries and potpourri; deceptively unextracted — the mild color and its blithe footfall on the palate — yet displaying notable intensity and rootiness; hints of orange peel and black tea, mocha and tobacco; gains power and grip while not losing hold of elegance and proportion; lithe, not clingy or drapy; acidity plows a furrow on the palate. One of my favorite pinot noirs from tasting over the past six months. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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dolan pn
Paul Dolan Pinot Noir 2012, Potter Valley. 13.5% alc. Certified organic. Transparent mulberry-magenta color; black cherry, cranberry and pomegranate; cloves, cinnamon, touches of allspice and cola; the tannins expand, fairly dusty and leathery, and the oak comes up too, dominating the wine from mid-palate back through the finish. Could use more balance and integration. Very Good. About $30.
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Patz & Hall Burnside Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.2% alc. 413 cases. Beautiful transparent patz hall pn burnsidemedium ruby/mulberry hue; spiced and macerated and slightly fleshy red and black cherries and plums highlighted by notes of cloves, rhubarb, rose petals and sandalwood; a lovely, supple silky texture; quite dry, and after a few minutes in the glass, you feel the tannin and oak come up, not formidably but definitely there; still a display of exquisite balance and proportion. Now through 2017 to 2019. Excellent. About $75.
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patz chenoweth
Patz & Hall Chenoweth Ranch Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.8% alc. 871 cases. Dark ruby shading to a magenta rim; a pinot cast in the dark shades of black cherries, currants and plums, with notes of cloves and allspice and a hint of sandalwood; dense and substantial, supernal in its silky/satiny character; brings in touches of tobacco, smoke and briers. Immensely appealing. Now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $60.
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Saxon Brown Glass House Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.7% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry hue; exotic, fleshy, even a bit — gulp! — sexy; cloves, sandalwood, allspice, sassafras; black cherries and plums, pomegranate and cranberry; fills the mouth and strokes the palate in a satiny profusion, but you feel the burgeoning rigor of slightly dusty tannins and polished oak in the depths; along with bright acidity and a tinge of loam. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $48.
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Stemmler Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros. 14.2% alc. Transparent medium ruby-magenta color; black and red cherries, mulberries and cranberries, cloves and cola, plum dust, notes of briers and brambles, loam and graphite; a dark and spicy pinot noir, highlighted by touches of lavender and potpourri and characterized by a mouth-filling presence and a draping of supple satin on the palate; long, lithe, muscular. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $44.
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Stemmler Estate Nugent Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.3% alc. 873 cases. Yes, this is RS_11nugent_frontreaching back pretty damned far, but so be it. Transparent medium ruby-cranberry hue; roots and branches, briers and brambles, a hint of dried porcini and loam; sweet and smoky and ripe black and red cherries and currants offering a distinct aura of lavender and violets, cloves and sandalwood; supple, lithe and sinewy, with dusty, slightly leathery tannins and a finish packed with plums, flint-like minerality and slightly burnished oak. A big deal pinot for those who desire big deal wines, which I generally don’t, but I would certainly drink this one again. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $44.
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Three Sticks Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. 14.6% alc. Transparent and ethereal ruby-cranberry hue; red and black currants, cranberries and mulberries; cloves, sassafras and rhubarb, notes of loam and leather, smoke and brambles; opens to a tinge of tobacco and black pepper; a very satiny texture enfolds the palate yet the wine feels light on its feet, fleet and dynamic; even the moderate tannins and hint of graphite minerality seem blithe and spontaneous. A lovely pinot noir. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $60.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.7% alc. Dark ruby color with a slightly lighter rim; full-blown spicy, floral and fruity pinot noir, offering an array of black currants, cherries and raspberries etched with cloves and sassafras and notes of rich loam; dense and super-satiny, with deep dimensions and layers of spice, black fruit, vibrant acidity and fairly firm tannins bolstered by a graphite-flinty mineral element. Just terrific. Now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $65.
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Today’s edition of Weekend Wine Notes — a day early, but we don’t care, do we? — continues with the Catching Up on California Pinot Noir theme but focusing on three wineries: Donum Estate, FEL Wines and Lutum Wines. I depart from my usual procedure today and offer a bit more detail about winemaking and about the wines than I usually do in these posts. Still, as I typically inform My Readers, the Weekend Wine Notes are not intended to provide scads of information about history, geography, personalities and technical data. The idea is to inspire your interest and whet your palates. These wines were samples for review.
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Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. This wine aged 12 months in French oak, 64 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby-magenta, almost beet-red; aromas of ripe black and red currants and plums are intense and concentrated, though opening to notes of cloves, sandalwood and allspice, with a trace of the latter’s slightly astringent, earthy quality. Velvety and vigorous tannins feel imbued with graphite and loam, and the black and red berry flavors are deeply spicy and rather rigorously proportioned. 14.7 percent alcohol. This could use a bit more charm. Now through 2019 or ’20. Production was 732 cases. Very Good+. About $72.
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Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, Sonoma County. The aging regimen was 11 months in French oak, 59 percent new barrels. In contrast to the color of the previous wine, this one offers a transparent medium ruby hue; it’s a warm and spicy pinot noir that builds inextricable layers of red cherries, cloves and sandalwood, sassafras and cranberry, with hints of earthy moss and mushrooms. The texture is dense and chewy, superbly satiny and flowing, seeming to drape the palate, while elements of graphite-tinged minerality and bright acidity keep the wine honest and true to scale. 14.5 percent alcohol. Lovely balance and integration. Production was 766 cases. Drink now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $72.
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Donum Ten Oaks Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. Of this quartet of pinot noir wines from Donum Estate, this is the one that captured my heart. A transparent medium ruby hue shades to light mulberry at the rim; ethereal notes of cola, cloves and beetroot wrap around scents of ripe black cherries and raspberries that reveal traces of smoke and cranberries, rose petals and lavender; Readers, you could eat it with a spoon. Delicacy and elegance, robustness and vivacity balance deftly here, though while the texture is suavely silky and almost succulent, dry, dusty tannins provide ballast. Alcohol content is a pleasingly low 13.4 percent. An exquisite pinot noir with the proper amount of tension and resolution. Production was 160 cases. Excellent. About $72.
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Donum Estate West Slope Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. Another deceptively light and lithesome pinot noir that turns out to be muscular and sinewy. The color is a graceful transparent ruby-magenta; notes of black and red cherries are flush with hints of sassafras, tar and black tea, while a few minutes in the glass bring in an intensely floral quality of violets and roses. Though the wine’s structure is powerful and drawn out through the dynamic finish, the weight on the palate feels fleet and refined. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 273 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $90.
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FEL Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley. This is the “regular” bottling from this winery, as distinguished from the Savoy single-vineyard offering remarked upon below. The color is a beguiling transparent medium ruby; aromas of sandalwood and sassafras, cloves and tobacco leaf, pomegranate and cranberry serve as exotic highlights to notes of black and red cherries and currants that deepen to a layer of underbrush and loam. This pinot noir displays lovely limpidity, suppleness and lightness of being, but not without elements of tannic muscle and mineral power. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 2,347 cases. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $38.
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FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley. The color is dark ruby shading to a purple-magenta rim; the wine delivers a fairly rigorous structure, with slightly dusty tannins and acidity that plows a furrow on the palate, but, withal, it’s a beautifully balanced and integrated pinot noir that exudes tons of confidence and elan. Scents and flavors of red and black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of cloves and sassafras, violets and pomegranate, while a super satiny and supple texture bathes the taste-buds in luxury; the grace of pinpoint graphite minerality saves ther wine from being too opulent. The wine aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 59% of which were new. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 605 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $70.
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Lutum Wines La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills. The color is pale ruby-magenta with a very delicate rim; it’s a wine of quicksilver effects and changeability, with notes of cranberry and pomegranate, cherries and rhubarb, cloves and sassafras strung like twinkling lights on lines of loam, underbrush, heather and leather and oolong tea; for all its ethereal character, however, this pinot noir delivers plenty of tannic power and acid structure for liveliness and longevity, as well as a silky-satiny texture that feels like a scarf draping a warm shoulder. I loved it. 14.5 percent alcohol. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels. Production was 225 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Lutum Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley. The color is a ravishing pale ruby-magenta shading to a transparent rim; the wine is intense, rich and focused, driven by bright acidity and chiseled flint-like minerality, yet open and generous with its black cherry, currant and plum fruit and its exotic touches of rhubarb, sassafras, sandalwood and lilac. The wine is quite dry, permeated by elements of briers and brambles, loam and dusty, earthy tannins, but it never loses a grip on its inner delicacy and buoyancy. 13.42 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $50.
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Lutum Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. Here’s a darker pinot noir, with a dark to medium ruby hue, high-toned intensity and concentration and lip-smacking acidity. Scents and flavors of ripe and smoky black cherries, currants and plums unfold to hints of cloves, lavender and violets, cranberry, pomegranate and loam; passing moments develop an elusive strain of red currant and sour cherry. This is a richly detailed and very dry pinot noir whose dimensions are framed by dusky tannins and a bosky briery and brambly character. 14.13 percent alcohol. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels. Production was 250 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $60.
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Well, damn it, this is sort of embarrassing. I have so many pinot noirs from California to catch up on reviewing that I have to divide the effort into two parts. Perhaps three. As usual in the Weekend Wines Notes, I eschew technical, historical and geographical information for the sake of incisive reviews, ripped from the pages of my notebooks, designed to tease your interest and whet your palate.
These 12 examples, all samples for review, are from vintages 2012 and 2013. The order is alphabetical, not hierarchical. Enjoy.
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anaba
Anaba Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.3% alc. A glowing medium ruby hue shading to a transparent magenta rim; a cool and mineral-laden pinot noir that features spiced and macerated black and red cherries with hints of loam, briers and brambles; incisive acidity and graphite minerality, notes of mint and iodine and a savory fleshy quality; lots of tone and subtle shape, beautifully balanced and integrated. Excellent. About $34.
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ferrari pn
Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley. …% alc. Limpid medium ruby color; the typical range of smoky black cherry, currant and plum scents and flavors filigreed with notes of cloves, sassafras and sandalwood, yet couched in a texture of supernal silky suppleness and deepening to a dark, rooty loamy layer bolstered by mildy dusty tannins and bright acidity; displays more power than elegance, but certainly plumbs the depths of the grape. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $35.
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Gary_Farrell_2012_RRS_PN_Bottle
Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Ineffable medium ruby hue shading to light mulberry; an elevating and enticing bouquet: macerated red currants and cherries with a hint of slightly briery raspberry and notes of cloves and sassafras, smoke, lavender and heather; super supple and satiny; dusty tannins infused with underbrush and moss; pulls up roots and branches and wild floral elements; quite dry but seductive in every sense. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.
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HeadHigh_2013_SCPinotNoir_Label
Head High Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Transparent medium ruby, brick-red at the rim; a subdued manner that features pert acidity and fairly tart red berry fruit, though highlighted by notes of smoke and cloves, sassafras and pomegranate; it becomes deeper and broader in the glass, after 30 or 40 minutes, building a dimension of blue plums, blueberries and graphite, becoming more intense and vibrant. A lovely pinot noir, ephemeral yet with sleek backbone, for drinking through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $35.
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Heintz_pinot
Heintz Ranch Swan Selection Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 13.3% alc. 200 cases. Lovely limpid medium ruby color; cherries, cranberries and rhubarb; cloves and tobacco, sandalwood and loam; supple and satiny texture, feels generous on the palate yet enlivened by clean acidity and graphite-tinged minerality; dried spice and wild flowers emerge after a few minutes in the glass. Very attractive personality and character. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $48.
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follette
La Follette Pinot Noir 2013, North Coast. 13.8% alc. Medium ruby fading to a lighter magenta; remarkable depth and dimension for the price; black cherry, cranberry and cloves, sassafras and sandalwood; quite intense and pure, with a lithe and supple texture; richness and density cut by vibrant acidity; brings in touches of smoke and dried spices, briers and loam, with dry, dusty tannins. Now through 2017 or ’18 If you’re looking for a house pinot noir, this is it. Excellent. About $20, representing Fine Value.
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MacMurray Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013, Central Coast. This Gallo brand used to be called MacMurray Ranch and sported an altogether more pleasing label than the new generic model, but nobody asked me. 14.8% alc. Dark ruby shading to a transparent mulberry rim; black raspberries and currants with hints of plums, cloves and sassafras; very satiny and supple, with appealing substance on the palate; savory, and with some elements of briers and brambles and slightly dusty tannins and graphite. A nice rendition. Very Good+. About $23.
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Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.4% alc. 1,211 cases. Dark ruby shading Double_L_Pinot_Noir_2013to lighter ruby and a transparent magenta rim; ravishing bouquet: cloves and sandalwood, smoky black cherries and plums, rose petals and lavender; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of Necco wafer, raspberry jam, leather and violets; beautifully lithe and supple on the palate, spicy and savory, with lovely weight and heft; dry and loamy, dense and fairly tannic in a dusty, graphite-laden fashion; all melded by fleet acidity and deftly handled oak. A real beauty; drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $58.
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Paul Hobbs CrossBarn Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley. 14.1% alc. Transparent medium ruby hue; pure fresh black crossbarnraspberry and plum infused with cloves and sassafras and a hint of leather and loam; a few moments in the glass bring up notes of red currants and cherries; smoky and dusty, with plenty of stuffing, though tannins are supple and manageable; keen acidity cuts a furrow on the palate. Very attractive, for drinking through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $35.
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Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-magenta with a pale rim; patza pure and intense expression of lightly macerated red raspberries and cherries with a touch of blue plum; cloves, sandalwood and sassafras, hints of graphite and loam; super satiny, spicy, smoky and savory, the red berry flavors a bit fleshy, all directed by a stern finger of dusty tannins and lip-smacking acidity. a joy to drink. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $70.
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strong
Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Beguiling transparent ruby hue shading to a rim of delicate invisibility; bursting with notes of sassafras, cloves, pomegranate and cranberry opening to smoky black cherries and currants; lovely purity and intensity, with a sleek silky texture, abundant acidity and slightly briery tannins, all at the service of bright yet slightly loamy cherry-berry flavors. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $25.
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Saxon Brown Durell Vineyard Hayfield Block Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Fewer than 100 cases. Dark ruby hue at the center shading to medium ruby-magenta at the transparent rim; dusty plums and red currants, loam, cloves and allspice, with a tantalizing note of the latter’s fragrant woody astringency; iodine and graphite tending toward a granitic element, softened by a supple texture exquisitely poised between silky lushness and lithe muscularity; it feels married to the earth. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, or at least, say, until 2020 or ’22. Exceptional. About $48.
The wines of Saxon Brown are sold by allocation through a mailing list. Contact saxonbrown.com for information.
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We tend to know when a wine is great from the first sniff and taste, because it possesses that ineffable yet very real quality called charisma. Renewed sniffing and tasting confirm that assessment, while adding depth and character. These factors hold true whether a wine costs $19 or $350, the range represented in today’s 2015 edition of the annual “50 Great Wines” post. I wouldn’t pay $350 for a bottle of wine — though apparently some people would — but I appreciate the occasional opportunity to encounter one. Of the wines on today’s roster, 18 rate Exceptional and 32 rate Excellent. Often the dividing line between Excellent and Exceptional is fine indeed, with permutations and intimations running silent and deep in each direction, but since my inclination is toward distinctions, rankings and hierarchies — that’s what graduate school will do for you — I always include a rating for each wine reviewed on BTYH. On the other hand, I refuse to employ the famous 100-point system; I would rather leave room for some ambiguity and imagination.

A great wine satisfies every point of interest and essence that we desire from a wine, exuding a feeling of utter completion and comprehension. Each wine accomplishes this purpose in a different way, of course, and to varying degrees, necessitating different responses. Some of these wines I admire, gravely and humbly; others, I adore rather shamelessly. The ultimate test, I think, is that when we drink a bottle of great wine, our conclusion is thus: “I wouldn’t want it to be anything other than this,” a sentiment we might also share with works of art and love affairs.

Today’s roster is presented alphabetically. Where a wine is a blend of grapes, I include the percentages that compose the blend. I also mention the case production for wines released in limited quantities, of which many on this list, not surprisingly, are. I do not include alcohol levels or names of importers or technical, geographical or historical date That sort of information is available in the reviews. These wines were selected from examples that I wrote about during 2015. The preponderance were samples for review, for which I thank the wineries, importers and marketing people who sent them.

For whatever eccentricities this list of “50 Great Wines of 2015” embodies, blame them on my taste, knowledge, experience and intuition. That is all I — or any of us — have to go on.
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achaval-ferrer-CMendoza-2013
Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $25.
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valadorna 09
Arcanum Valadorna 2009, Toscana IGT, Italy. 85 percent merlot, 8 percent cabernet franc, 7 percent cabernet sauvignon. Exceptional. About $80.

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14537_ARG-NHRS-13-F_1
Argyle Nuthouse Riesling 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon. Exceptional. About $30.
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sangioveto
Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana 2009, Toscana IGT, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. 750 cases. Excellent. About $60.
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Benovia-2013-Russian-River-Valley-Pinot-Noir
Benovia Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $38.
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occultumlapidem2012us
Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France. 50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache, 10 percent carignan. Excellent. About $30.
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BlackKite
Black Kite Cellars Stony Terrace Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 200 cases. Excellent. About $60. (Not exactly the correct label, but this is what they look like.)
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terras gauda
Bodegas Terras Gauda O Rosal 2014, Rias Baixas, Spain. 70 percent albariño, 15 percent loureiro, 15 percent caiño blanco. Excellent. About $24.
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Riesling
Chateau Montelena Riesling 2014, Potter Valley. Excellent, About $25.
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clemens-busch-vom-grauen-schiefer-riesling-trocken-mosel-germany-10529188
Weingut Clemens Busch Grauen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2012, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $30.
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Terrunyo_Sauvignon_Blanc_Front_Label-300x218
Concha y Toro Terrunyo Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $26.
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cornerstone 11
Cornerstone Cellars The Cornerstone 2011, Napa Valley. 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet franc. 100 cases. About $150.
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duckhorn merlot
Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon, 2 percent cabernet franc, 1 percent malbec. Excellent. About $54.
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ehlers
Ehlers Estate Sylvanie Cabernet Franc Rosé 2014, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $28.
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FEL-Logo_850x500
FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 645 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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Foursight Jpeg Logo
Foursight Wines Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 224 cases. Excellent. About $46.
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FINAL 2013 ESS LABELb
Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Essence Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. 1,204 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
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Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. 485 cases. Exceptional. About $90.
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inman-rose
Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,500 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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iron-horse-brut-x
Iron Horse Brut “X” 2010, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. 69 percent pinot noir, 31 percent chardonnay. 500 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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jacquard
Champagne Jacquart Brut Rosé nv. 53 percent pinot noir, 35 percent chardonnay, 12 percent pinot meunier. Excellent. About $55.
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La Jota Vineyard Co. W.S. Keyes Vineyards Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. 296 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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cuvee rose
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rosé Brut nv. 100 percent Grand Cru pinot noir. Excellent. About $99.
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laurent 2006
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2006. Excellent. About $65.
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lokoya
Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $350.
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ember-site
Loomis “Ember” Red Wine 2012, Napa Valley. Syrah, grenache, mourvedre. 75 cases. Excellent. About $38.
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maggy
Maggy Hawk “Afleet” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 156 cases. Exceptional. About $66.

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MFW_Rose_Face
MacPhail Family Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 492 cases. Exceptional. About $22.
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loidana-nueva-imagen-def_0_0
Marco Abella Loidana 2010, Priorat, Spain. 60 percent grenache, 25 percent carignane, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $30.
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mccay zin
McCay Cellars “Trulux” Zinfandel 2012, Lodi. 479 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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mcintyre
McIntyre Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 368 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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Morgan_2012_Double_L_Chardonnay
Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 530 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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beautiful pinot gris
Mt Beautiful Pinot Gris 2014, North Canterbury, New Zealand. 1,500 cases. Exceptional. About $19.
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Pahlmeyer and Jayson Wines Line Up
Pahlmeyer Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $85.
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pfendler
Pfendler Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 350 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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post and vine
Post & Vine Testa Vineyard Old Vine Field Blend 2012, Mendocino County. 42 percent zinfandel, 37 percent carignane, 21 percent petite sirah. 143 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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quivira zin
Quivira Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. With 10 percent petite sirah, 1 percent carignane. Excellent. About $26.
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innocent
St. Innocent Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 948 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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sequoia grove cab
Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. With 11 percent cabernet franc, 10 percent merlot, 1 percent each petit verdot and malbec. Excellent. About $38.
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smith madrone 11
Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,070 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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tonella sb
S.R. Tonella Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $29.
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2014EstateSauvBlanc
Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $35.

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tanner dafoe
Tanner Dafoe Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. 141 cases. Exceptional. About $110.

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taylor
Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Porto 2012, Portugal. Exceptional. About $53.
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joon
Tin Barn “Joon” Coryelle Fields Vineyard Rosé of Syrah 2014, Sonoma Coast. 158 cases. Excellent. About $23.
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torre
Torre San Martino Vigna della Signore 2013, Colli di Faenza Bianco, Italy. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, albana grapes. Excellent. $NA.
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two shepherds logo
Two Shepherds Grenache Rosé 2014, Sonoma Coast. 90 cases. Exceptional. About $24.
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Vietti Castiglione Barolo 2011, Piedmont, Italy. 100 percent nebbiolo grapes. Excellent. About $50.
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Chateau Villa Bel-Air 2013, Graves, Bordeaux. 65 percent sauvignon blanc, 35 percent semillon. Excellent. About $25.
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2012-Jordan-PN-300x207
Youngberg Hill Jordan Block Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley. 300 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Napa Valley’s Chateau Montelena is best-known for its long-lived chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon wines. Riesling is something of a Rieslingsideline, but that doesn’t mean the approach is casual. The Chateau Montelena Riesling 2014, Potter Valley, is anything but off-hand. Potter Valley, in Medocino County, was approved as an American Viticultural Area in 1983; it’s the northernmost AVA in the vast North Coast region. This is a riesling of crystalline intensity and presence that begins with a pale gold hue and continues with arresting aromas of peach and lychee, spiced pear and lime peel, jasmine and lilac; there’s a snap of gunflint and a whiff of damp limestone. Chiming acidity cuts through a talc-like texture that whatever its burgeoning lushness feels spare, chiseled and elegant, presenting a thoughtful paradox of sensations to the palate. The wine is quite dry yet juicy with flavors of slightly dusty roasted lemon and candied kumquat; the finish brings in touches of limestone and spiced grapefruit, ending with a bracing saline note. 13.5 percent alcohol. We drank this wine last night with salmon dusted with fennel pollen rub and seared in a cast-iron skillet. Winemaker was Matt Crafton. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

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