Mendoza


We can’t drink great wine all the time. Contrary to what My Readers may think, I certainly don’t. In fact, a diet of perfection would become cloying and wearisome, n’est-ce pas? Well, perhaps not, but let’s assume that most people really just want a decent bottle of wine to accompany a simple meal. Here, then, are two white wines and four reds designed to be to consumed with, say, a tuna sandwich or seafood risotto, on the one hand, or a burger or steak, on the other. Prices range from $12 to $17, with quality fairly evenly portioned along the Very Good to Very Good+ range. Will these wines — especially the reds — lodge in the memory as some of the best wine you’ve tasted? certainly not, but they get the job done, or better, at a reasonable price. If only everything in life turned out that way. Quick reviews here, intended to pique your interest and whet the palate. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.

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Stepping Stone Rocks! White Wine 2013, North Coast, California. 13.3% alc. (Stepping Stone is the second label of Cornerstone Cellars; Rocks! is, well, the second label of Stepping Stone.) “Mystery” blend of chardonnay, viognier and muscat canelli. Very pale gold color; lilac, lemon-lime and pear, slightly grassy and herbal, hint of lemongrass; quite clean, crisp, fresh and dry, with a kind of gin-like purity and snap; taut, vibrant, lean but a pleasing, cloud-like texture; crystalline acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; slightly earthy finish. Extremely attractive white blend for short-term drinking. Very Good+. About $15, representing Excellent Value.
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Tomero Torrontes 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; jasmine and gardenia, spiced pear and lemon balm, lime peel and a touch of grapefruit, a few minutes in the glass bring in whiffs of lavender and lilac, though this is not overwhelmingly floral, all is subtle and nuanced; pert citrus and stone fruit flavors; lovely body, crisp, lithe and lively yet imbued with an almost talc-like texture that slides across the palate like silk; hint of grapefruit bitterness on the finish. A superior torrontes for consuming over the next year. Very Good+. About $17.
Imported by Blends, Plymouth, Calif.
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Mandolin Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Central Coast. 13.8% alc. Brilliant dark ruby with a flush of mulberry at the rim; unfolds layers of cedar,
thyme and black olive, black currants and plums, hint of wild berry; notes of iodine and graphite; trace of wood in the slightly leathery tannins, quite dry but juicy with herb-inflected black fruit flavors; sleek and supple texture, lively acidity; spice-and-mineral-packed finish. Now through the end of 2015. Great personality for the price. Very Good+. About $12, an Amazing Bargain.
Image from brainwines.com.
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Esprit du Rhône 2013, Côtes du Rhône, France. 13.5% alc. 60% grenache, 30% syrah, 5% carignan, 5% cinsault. 1,000 cases imported. Medium-dark ruby color shading to a transparent rim; aromas of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plum with notes of cloves, briers and leather; fairly dense and robust tannins and bright acidity keep the texture forthright and lively for the sake of tasty, spicy black fruit flavors. Now through 2016. Very Good. About $12.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. Image from vivino.com.
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Nieto Senetiner Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple; briery and brambly blackberry and plum fruit deeply imbued with cloves, mocha and licorice; moderate and slightly chewy tannins for structure, an uplift of acidity; tasty black fruit flavors in a rustic, graphite-laden package. Now into 2015. Very Good. About $13.
Imported by Foley Family Wines, Sonoma, Calif.
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Tercos Bonarda 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. (From the winery of Ricardo Santos). 13.8% alc. Dark ruby hue, almost opaque; spicy and feral, blackberries and plums with notes of wild cherry, tar, graphite and licorice; heaps of rough-hewn tannins make for a sturdy mouthful of wine, though nothing heavy or ponderous to detract from ripe, delicious blackberry and blueberry flavors; loads of personality. Now through the end of 2015. Very Good. About $14.
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I started this post as a way of commemorating my 30th anniversary in wine-writing, reached, as My Regular Readers know — bless your little pointy heads and may your tribes increase — early in July. Initially, the concept was “Fifty Great Wines,” but I decided that choosing 50 “great” wines from 30 years of tasting would be an impossible and probably just stupid and futile task. In three decades, I tasted thousands and thousands and more thousands of wines — you writers know how it is — so choosing the 50 “greatest” from this immense group would be a Sisyphian exercise.

Then I realized that what would be more significant anyway would be 50 wines that, as the title states, shaped my palate, the wines that shook me to the core, that shifted my perspective about how wine is made and its various effects, that achieved a level of purity and intensity that befit the divine; the wines, in short, that were not only definitive but created me as a writer. Yes, just that. So I spent the past few weeks combing through dozens of old notebooks, through the electronic archives of the newspaper for which I wrote a weekly column for 20 years and of course through the pages of this blog.

Now let’s be frank about some issues. As a wine reviewer, I am dependent on the practice of samples provided by producers, importers, marketers and (to a lesser extent) local distributors; I depend on the occasional trade tasting, lunch with a touring winemaker, on sponsored travel to wine regions in this country and abroad. You will not, therefore, see a list that emphasizes the great wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy, though some are included, more Burgundy than Bordeaux, because I have few opportunities to encounter such wines. Perhaps, however, you will discover here wines that you had forgotten or overlooked; certainly there will be surprises. To those of my wine-writing/blogging/tasting friends who might say, “Cripes, FK, I can’t believe you didn’t put [whatever legendary fabuloso wine] on this list!” I can only reply, “I never had the chance to taste that wine and if you want to send me a bottle, I’ll be grateful but not humbled.” This is about my experience as an individual, as, you might say, a palate.

I benefited early on from the generosity of two people in Memphis, the restaurateur-wine collector John Grisanti and a figure important in wholesale, retail and wine education, Shields Hood. Many of the wines they offered me, exposed me to and sent in my direction truly changed my life and made me what I am today.
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1. Simi Pinot Noir 1974, Alexander Valley. Purchased at a local store, tasted at home March 1984 and still, at least in memory, one of the greatest California pinots I ever encountered.

2. Mercurey Clos des Myglands 1971, Faiveley. Tasted at John Grisanti’s private cellar, September 16, 1984. As in “Ah, so that’s what Burgundy is all about.”

3. Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Perignon 1976, Champagne. At a wholesaler’s tasting, with Shields Hood, September 17, 1984.

4. Chateau St. Jean Late Harvest Johannesburg Riesling 1978, Belle Terre Vineyards, Alexander Valley. Last week of September, 1984.

5. Chateau La Grange 1926, St Julien Third Growth, Bordeaux. At a special wine dinner at the long-departed American Harvest Restaurant in Germantown, east of Memphis, October 1984. As in, “Ah, so this is what an aged Bordeaux wine is all about.” I love the label.

6. Simi Reserve Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Alexander Valley. My then father-in-law bought a case of this wine at $16 a bottle. High-living in those days. At 10 years old, it was perfect, expressive, eloquent. This was at Christmas dinner, 1984.

7. Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 1971, Grivelet. At John Grisanti’s cellar, June 9, 1985, a great afternoon.

8. Sonoma Vineyards Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 1976, Sonoma County. July 27 and 28, 1985. Fine balance, harmony and integration, a sense of confidence and authority expressed with elegance and restraint. This winery was not renamed for its founder Rodney Strong until after he sold it in 1984.

9. Chateau Latour 1982, Pauillac, Bordeaux. Definitive for the vintage and the chateau; tasted at a trade event in Memphis sometime in 1985; tasted again in New York, October 1991.

10. Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon 1980, Napa Valley. Purchased at Sherry-Lehmann in NYC, for $20.50(!); consumed with Easter dinner in Memphis, April 1986.

11. Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 1977, Alexander Valley. At a tasting in Memphis of Silver Oak cabernets, sometime in 1986.

12. Chateau Haut-Brion 1937, Graves, Bordeaux. At a tasting with collectors in Memphis in 1987; this 50-year-old wine was, incredibly and from a dismal decade in Bordeaux, even better than the fabulous ’59 and ’66.

13. Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1949, Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France. One of a mixed case of wonderful wines I received for annotating a cellar, drunk at a dinner in the Fall of 1988. At 39 years old, one of the best wines I have ever tasted.

14. Beaune Clos des Ursules 1952, Louis Jadot. At lunch with Gagey pere et fils at the maison in Beaune, March 1990. When I mentioned this to a friend back in the U.S., he said, “Oh, yeah, they pull out that wine for all the Americans.” No matter.

15. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru 1983. Tasted in New York, October 1991.

16. Gaja Barbaresco 1955, Piedmont, Italy. Made by Angelo Gaja’s father, tasted in New York, October 1991.

17. Chateau Beychevelle 1928, St. Julien Fourth Growth, Bordeaux. At a large tasting of multiple vintages of Chateau Branaire-Ducru and Chateau Beychevelle going back to 1893, with collector Marvin Overton and British writer Clive Coates, in Nashville. This ’28 was even better than the examples from the god-like years of ’47, ’45 and ’29; just writing that sentence made me feel like Michael Broadbent.

18. Freemark Abbey 1978, Napa Valley. At a vertical tasting in Chicago, January 1993.

19. Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Napa Valley. I bought six half-bottles of this splendid perfectly aged cabernet from a FedEx pilot who was divesting his cellar and served them at a dinner party in 1996.

20. Chalone Chardonnay 1981, Monterey. A revelation at almost 15 years old; I bought this and some other California chardonnays from the late ’70s and early ’80s out of a cellar that had been kept at 40 to 45 degrees; tasted with LL and a friend at Cafe Society in Memphis, May 1996.

21. Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 1998, Clare Valley, Australia. Tasted at the property, October 1998, very young, filled with power and otherworldly grace.

22. Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir 1997, Gippsland, Australia. Tasted in Melbourne, October 1998; they’re not shy with oak at Bass Phillip, but this was a thrilling monument to pinot noir purity and intensity.

23. Clos Apalta 1996, Rapel Valley, Chile, 95 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet sauvignon. The initial release, tasted at the hacienda of Don Pepe Rabat, who owned the oldest merlot vineyard in Chile, with Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle and Michel Rolland, April 1998.

24. Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses Premier Cru 1998, Domaine G. Roumier. From the barrel at the property, December 7, 1999, my birthday. The earth seemed to open under my feet.

25. Chateau Petrus 1998, Pomerol, Bordeaux. Barrel sample at the property, December 1999. One of the most profound wines I have ever experienced.

26. Robert Mondavi To Kalon 1 Block Fume Blanc 2000, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

27. Robert Mondavi Marjorie’s Sunrise Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

28. Sineann Reed and Reynolds Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Tasted at the International Pinot Noir Conference, McMinnville, August 2002.

29. Nicolas Joly Clos de la Bergerie 1999, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. New York, at La Caravelle, January 2003, with the line-up of Joly’s wines.

30. Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1966, South Australia. At a comprehensive tasting of this iconic wine, 1996 back to 1955, at Spago in L.A., April 2003.

31. Chateau d’Epiré 1964, Savennières Moelleux, Loire Valley, France. At a dinner associated with the Loire Valley Wine Fair, February 2004.

32. Domaine de la Pepière Clos des Briords 1986, Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Loire Valley, France. At the estate with proprietor Marc Ollivier, one of the great tasting experiences of my life, February 2004.

33. Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2001. Tasted in New York, June 2004.

34. Tres Sabores Zinfandel 2003, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Tasted in New York, March 2006.

35. Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut 1996, Champagne, France. Tasted in New York, September 2006; fabulous but not nearly ready to drink.

36. Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets Premier Cru 2004, Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

37. Corton Grand Cru 2002, Domaine Comte Senard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

38. Chateau Montelena The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa Valley. New York, September 2007.

39. Porter-Bass Chardonnay 2004, Russian River Valley. New York, September 2007.

40. Pommard Les Epenots Premier Cru 2004, Dominique Laurent. New York, September 2007.

41. Phifer Pavit Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley. Sample for review, tasted at home October 2008. The best first-release cabernet I ever encountered.

42. Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Napa valley. Sample for review, tasted at home December 2008.

43. Heyl zu Herrnsheim Niersteiner Pettenheim Riesling Spätlese halbtrocken 1991, Rheingau, Germany. At the estate, July, 2009.

44. Quinta da Roameira Vintage Porto 2007. In Douro Valley, August 2009, at a comprehensive tasting of the 2007 ports at Niepoort.

45. Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Tasted in Piedmont, January, 2010, with winemaker Giorgio Lavagna and a ragtag gaggle of American bloggers.

46 & 47. Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec 2007, Mendoza, & Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Chardonnay 2006, Mendoza. Tasted at the property — the chardonnay with lunch — October 2010.

48. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 1998. Purchased locally and consumed on New Year’s Eve 2010, with Imperial Osetra caviar from Petrossian.

49. Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenerg Riesling Beerenauslese 2004, Pfalz, Germany. A sample for review, tasted December 2011.

50. Müllen Kinheimen Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2002, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. Tasted with Lyle Fass in New York, December 2013.

Well, I already see a couple of wines that I should have included in this roster — Chateau d’Yquem 1975, Sauternes, for example — but 50 is a good wholesome round number with an air of closure about it, so let’s leave it alone. And for the future? The process of learning, having our minds changed, our ideas and consciousness expanded never ends. Perhaps there will be candidates for this list from 2014, among them the Clos Saron Stone Soup Vineyard Syrah 2011, Sierra Foothills, made by Gideon Beinstock, and, oddly enough, the Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas, made by Dan Gatlin. We’ll see how I feel in another 30 years.

Perhaps we should all be like the young doctor whose party in the Mississippi Delta we attended some 20 years ago. He poured magnums of Chateau Margaux 1981 as house wine, and folks were knocking it back as if the night would never end. As we were trying to leave, he insisted that we finish a bottle of Echezeaux ’59; I forget the name of the producer. (He wasn’t so happy with me the next morning, after he found out that I kicked a couple of ivories off his grand piano, but that’s another story. I did apologize.) The point is that some people in a highly elevated and rarefied realm can drink great wine all the time, while most people — including yours truly — make do with more ordinary vinous material. And isn’t that really as it should be? Would we not find a constant regimen of the world’s best wines cloying, tiring, demanding? Well, perhaps not, but most consumers are content with wines that don’t require deep thought and a fund of fiduciary prowess to obtain. Here, then, are eight decent quaffs — four white, four red — drinkable, enjoyable and not overly complicated wines to accompany all sorts of meals and occasions. Nothing flamboyant or brilliant here, just wines that you would not be unhappy to sip with friends and family around the table. No need for a lot of technical folderol; just read these brief reviews and go buy a selection to get you through the next few weeks. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Alamos Torrontes 2013, Salta, Argentina. 13% alc. Very pale gold hue; jasmine and camellia, spiced pear, yellow plum and a hint of peach; notes of lilac, roasted fennel and ginger; spare, crisp, lively, very dry; shimmering acidity and limestone minerality. Quite tasty. Drink up. Very Good. About $13.
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Apothic White Winemaker’s Blend 2012, California. (A Gallo label.) 12% alc. Chardonnay, pinot grigio, riesling. Light gold color; jasmine and honeysuckle, spiced pear and slightly over-ripe peach; muscat-like muskiness, with a touch of lychee; sweet entry tamed by crisp acidity to a dry finish. Quite enjoyable. Drink up. Very Good. About $14.
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Wente “Louis Mel” Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Livermore Valley, California. 13% alc. Light gold color; fresh, clean and crisp; roasted lemon, notes of quince and ginger, lime peel and grapefruit, mildly grassy and herbal; spicy and savory; falls off a bit in the middle but offers nice follow-through with the spice-and-limestone-laced finish. Drink up. Very Good. About $15.
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Garzon Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Uruguay. 13% alc. Very pale gold; lime peel and grapefruit, pea shoot, lemongrass and celery seed, lilac and caraway; super fresh and refreshing; brings in notes of roasted lemon and fig; needs more verve and attitude in mid-palate but a delicious sip of sauvignon blanc. Drink up. Very Good. About $17.
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Pedroncelli friends.red 2012, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. Merlot, syrah, zinfandel, petite sirah. Dark ruby-purple color; warmly stacked with cloves and allspice, ripe black currant, plum and mulberry scents and flavors; notes of briers, brambles and loam, touch of graphite; mainly supported by sleek tannins and a bit of oak. Easy-going with a hint of seriousness. Drink through 2014. Very Good. About $12, making Fine Value.
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Tercos Bonarda 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. 100% bonarda grapes. Dark ruby color; earthy, rooty and sappy; ripe and spicy black currants, plums and blueberries, with a touch of dried fruit, fruitcake and pomander; mouth-filling, dense and chewy, notes of tar and beet-root; tannic and savory. Intriguing character for the price. Drink through 2014. Very Good. About $13.
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Vino dei Fratelli Primitivo 2011, Puglia, Italy. 13% alc. 100% primitivo grapes. Dark ruby-purple color; currants, plums and blueberries, cloves and graphite; dusty tannins and a velvety texture; hints of zinfandel-like briers and brambles; tasty, substantial. Now through 2015. Very Good. About $15.
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Fratelli Chianti 2011, Toscana, Italy. 13.5% 100% sangiovese. Medium ruby color; warm and spicy, laden with graphite minerality and loam; red and black cherries and currants, smoky and a little plummy; chewy, satiny tannins, dark and spicy with notes of black olive, orange zest and bitter chocolate-covered black cherries. Lots of personality. Where’s the rabbit ragu? Through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, Excellent Value.
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Here I go, pushing Spring again, when there’s treacherous snow and ice on the ground and on the roads in many regions between the shining seas. Perhaps it will do us good, though, to think in terms of Spring-like wines. The one of which I speak is the Leo Torrontes 2013, from the Valentin Bianchi winery in Argentina’s well-known Mendoza region, specifically from the estate’s Dona Elsa Vineyard in the San Rafael area, a whopping 2,493 feet above sea level. You probably know that some wines made from the torrontes grape can be overwhelmingly floral to the point of being vapid or crushingly dry and crisp beyond the point of austerity. This wine is not one of those. The quite pale Leo Torrontes 2013, made all in stainless steel, offers delicate notes of jasmine and camellia, with hints of roasted lemon, cloves, lime peel and greengage plum; tingling acidity keeps the wine lively and compelling, with a lovely structure balancing crispness with a moderately lush, talc-like texture. Acidity and limestone minerality win by a hint and a nod, however, keeping the wine glintingly honest, while its spiced citrus and stone-fruit flavors are delicious. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014 into 2015 with grilled fish or seafood risottos. Very Good+. About $17.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa Calif. A sample for review.

The wine is named for Argentine soccer superstar Leo Messi, who plays for FC Barcelona and the Argentine national team. A portion of sales of the wine benefit the Leo Messi Charity Foundation, which focuses on health care and educational development of socially-disadvantaged children.

So, tomorrow’s the Big Day, a Super Bowl with lots of spindly Roman numerals, and manly men and their womanly women with gather in front of giant television screens, as once our distant ancestors gathered around protective campfires, to watch the display of sportsmanship, athletic skill, mayhem and commercials. And, of course, chow down on all sorts of food that we understand is super-comforting but super-bad for us. I cast no aspersions; I merely offer a few red wines to match with the hearty, deeply sauced and cheesy, rib-sticking, finger-lickin’ fare. These wines display varying levels of power and bumptiousness but not overwhelmingly tannins; that’s not the idea. Rather, the idea is to stand up to some deeply flavorful snacks and entrees with which most people think they are obligated to drink beer, but it’s not so. I provide here brief reviews designed to capture the personality of each wine with a minimum of technical, historical and geographical folderol. With the exception of the Sean Thackrey Sirius 2010, which I purchased online, these wines were samples for review. By the way, I recommend opening most of these examples about the time that Renee Fleming launches into “The Star-Spangled Banner”; they’ll be ready to drink by half-time.
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XYZin Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, California. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby color; plums and fruitcake, black cherries, blueberries, note of lightly candied pomegranate around the circumference; a highly developed floral-fruity-spicy profile; very dry, dense and chewy, freighted with dusty, slightly woody and leathery tannins, but robust and lively in a well-balanced and tasty way; not a blockbuster and all the more authentic for it. Now through 2015. Chicken wings, pigs in blankets, baby-back ribs. Very Good+. About $16.
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Vina Robles “Red” 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County, California. 14.5% alc. Blend of syrah, petite sirah, grenache, mourvedre; winery does not specify percentages. Dark ruby color, almost opaque at the center; intense and concentrated; black cherries and plums, oolong tea, a little tarry and infused with elements of briers and brambles, gravel and graphite; dry grainy tannins, vibrant acidity (I thought that my note said “anxiety,” but I knew that wasn’t right); long spice-packed finish. A dense yet boisterous red for pizza and chili. Very Good+. About $17.
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Bonny Doon Contra Old Vine Field Blend 2011, Contra Costa County, California. 13.5% alc. A blend of 56% carignane grapes, 28% mourvedre, 9% grenache, 6% syrah, 1% zinfandel. Dark ruby color, tinge of magenta; robust and rustic, heaping helpings of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plums with notes of pomegranate and mulberry and hints of lavender and pomander; graphite-brushed tannins make it moderately dense, while pert acidity keeps it lively. Cries out of cheeseburger sliders and barbecue ribs. Very Good+. About $18.
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Paolo Manzone Ardi 2012, Langhe Rosso, Piedmont, Italy. 13/5% alc. 60% dolcetto d’Alba, 40% barbera d’Alba. Production was 300 cases; ok, so you can’t actually buy this, but I would make it my house red if I could. Brilliant medium ruby color; black cherry and plum, dried spice and potpourri, rose petal and lilac, but, no, it’s not a sissy wine; taut acidity and deep black and red fruit flavors; dry underbrushy tannins, lithe, almost muscular texture, graphite minerality flexes its muscles; sleek, stylish, delicious. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $18.
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Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2010, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. 85% sangiovese grapes, 15% colorino, canaiolo, merlot. Dark ruby color, lighter magenta rim; dried black cherries and currants, smoke, cloves, tar and black tea; dried spice and flowers, foresty with dried moss, briers and brambles, really lovely complexity; plush with dusty tannins, lively with vivacious acidity; terrific presence and personality. Now through 2016 or ’17. Venison tacos, pork tenderloin. Excellent. About $26.
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Allegrini + Renacer Enamore 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 15% alc. 45% malbec, 40% cabernet sauvignon, 10% bonarda, 5% cabernet franc. This wine is a collaboration between the important producer of Valpolicella, in Italy’s Veneto region, and the Argentine estate where the wine is made, but in the dried grape fashion of Amarone. It’s really something. Dark ruby color with a deep magenta rim; tons of grip, dense, chewy, earthy, but sleek, lithe and supple, surprisingly generous and expansive; black fruit, dried herbs, plums, hint of leather; earthy and minerally but clean and appealing; a large-framed, durable wine, dynamic and drinkable, now through 2019 to ’21. With any animal roasted in a pit you crazy guys dug in the backyard just for this occasion. Excellent. About $26.
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Sean Thackrey Sirius Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County, California. 15.1% alc. Opaque as motor oil, with a violet sheen; blackberries and blueberry tart, hints of lavender, potpourri, bitter chocolate and pomegranate; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of spiced plums and fruitcake; ripe, dense, chewy, dusty but not o’ermastered by tannin, actually rather velvety, exercises its own seductions; alert acidity, depths of graphite minerality. Now through 2018 to 2020. Chili with bison, venison, wild boar. Excellent. About $40.
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d’Arenberg The Ironstone Pressings GSM 2009, McLaren Vale, South Australia. 14.5% alc. Production was 300 cases (sorry). 67% grenache, 26% shiraz, 7% mourvedre. Radiant medium ruby color; “ironstone” is right, mates, yet this is a beautifully balanced and integrated wine with real panache and tone; plums and black currants, hint of red and black cherries; dust, graphite, leather, slightly gritty grainy tannins; earth and briers, granitic minerality but a core of bitter chocolate, violets and lavender. Carnitas, chorizo quesadillas, barbecue brisket. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $65.
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What I mean is, here are eight wines that I tasted in the last few months of 2013 that I wish I had written about before 2013 turned to 2014. Time, of course and unfortunately, has a way of slipping away from us, so I present these wines to My Readers today, a drippy, dreary, gloomy and chilly day (as well as several other Official Dwarves) in my neck o’ the woods, as examples of wines with total appeal in terms of presence and personality, integrity and authenticity and even, in a few cases, unimpeachable charisma. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes — oops, it’s Monday! — I forsake the technical, historical, geographical data of which I am so fond for the sake of blitzkrieg reviews, ripped from the pages of my notebooks, intended to pique your interest and whet your palates. Five are from California, two from Argentina, one from Chile; prices range from $20 to $120; that’s the breaks. Enjoy!
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Morgan Double L Vineyard Riesling 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 10.5% alc. 172 cases. Pale gold color; lightly spiced peach and pear, lime peel, notes of jasmine, mango and lychee; sleek, subtle, crystalline, faceted by bright acidity and limestone minerality, contrastingly soft as a poached peach; highlights of roasted lemon and grapefruit rind. Really lovely. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $22.
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Garcia & Schwaderer “Marina” Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 300 cases imported. A beautifully integrated and harmonious sauvignon blanc. Pale gold color; cool, restrained and elegant; grapefruit and pear, pea-shoot and tangerine, notes of lime peel and lemongrass; very crisp with brisk acidity and scintillating limestone element, lithe and supple; finishes with hints of thyme and green apple. Drink through 2015. Excellent. About $25.
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MacRostie Winery and Vineyards Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma Coast. 14.1% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely and softly ripe but lean and minerally with limestone and flint and bright acidity; clean, fresh yet earthy; apple, lemon, spiced pear; touch of mango and jasmine; deeply spicy and flavorful, especially with yellow stone fruit; elegant presentation and poise; always a favorite of mine. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.
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Catena Zapata White Stones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13% alc. Limited production. A stupendous achievement. Medium gold-yellow color; roasted lemon, spiced peach, lightly buttered toast, jasmine and lilac; limestone and gunflint; amazing symmetry, power and resonance; fills the mouth and caresses the palate but not at the expense of litheness and potent acidity; juicy and flavorful but quite dry, a little smoky, with a long finely woven finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $120.
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Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13% alc. Limited production. Medium gold-yellow color; even more intense and concentrated than its White Stones stablemate mentioned above; the roasted lemon and peach but more pear here, a smokier chardonnay, with hints of jasmine and camellia, touch of caramel, quince and ginger; the kind of wine in which you feel the tension and energy of greatness and a white wine that’s almost tannic in depth and dimension; supple and creamy but balanced by chiming acidity and resonant limestone minerality. Drink through 2020 to ’22. Certainly the best chardonnay I have tasted from South America. Exceptional. About $120.
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Lee Family Farm Tempranillo 2012, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. 98 cases. Vivid ruby-magenta color; black currants and blueberries with a pert touch of mulberry, intense and concentrated; batteries of spice and graphite; dense, chewy grainy tannins and vibrant acidity; deep black and blue fruit flavors infused with cedar, tobacco, black licorice and potpourri; very pure and vital, loads of personality. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $20.
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Bonny Doon Jespersen Ranch Syrah 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. A remarkable 12.7% alc. 483 cases. Deep ruby-purple color with a magenta rim; lovely, approachable; plums, lavender, violets and leather, earthy but fresh and scintillating; blackberries and blueberries, smoke, fruitcake, graphite with a touch of charcoal edge; beautifully balanced but with burgeoning regimen of tannin, oak and granitic minerality. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40, primarily for Bonny Doon’s wine club.
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MacRostie Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby color with magenta highlights; spiced and smoky black and red cherries and plums, notes of classic beetroot and pomegranate, violets and sassafras; a kind of definitively chiseled heft and structure, with acidity that cuts a swath, slightly raspy tannins and a hint of briers and brambles, but seductive balance and integration married to its more serious aspects. Another favorite. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $34.
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Well, the first one is a cheat; it’s $22, but the rest are $20 and under, I promise, with prices starting at $13. Every wine on this list is rated Excellent, and it’s an eclectic roster, first geographically, with five wines each for California and Argentina, three each for Italy and Spain, two each for Oregon and France, one each for Germany, Portugal, Chile, Austria and Australia, and by genre; there are no dominant cabernet sauvignons, merlots or pinot noirs on this list and only one chardonnay, but you will find pinot blanc and riesling and gruner veltliner, albariño and carménère, loureiro and treixadura, as well as sangiovese and syrah and the ever-popular bobal. These are wines that performed above their price range in terms of intensity and satisfaction, a quality that is, I suppose, what we wish from every wine we encounter.
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Balthasar Ress Schloss Reichartshausen Riesling Spätlese 2009, Rheingau, Germany. Excellent. About $22.
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Balverne Rosé of Sangiovese 2012, Chalk Hill, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $20.
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Brooks Runaway White Pinot Blanc 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 244 cases. Excellent. About $15.
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Catena High Mountain Vines Chardonnay 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $20.
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Cleto Chiarli Vigneto Enrico Cialdini 2011, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Excellent. About $15.
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Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007, Tuscany, Italy. Excellent. About $19.
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Cono Sur Reserva Especial Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $15.
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Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $18.
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Finca La Linda Malbec Rosé 2012, Lujan de Cujo, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $13.
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Fred Loimer “Lois” Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria. Excellent. About $16.
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Greg Norman Shiraz 2010, Limestone Coast, Australia. Excellent. About $15.
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Harney Lane Albariño 2012, Lodi. 716 cases. Excellent. About $19.
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Inama Carménère Piú 2010, Colli Berici, Veneto, Italy. With 25 percent merlot. Excellent. About $20.
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Kopke Vinho Branco 2011, Douro, Portugal. 50 percent arinto grapes, 45 percent gouveio, 5 percent rabigato. Excellent. About $16.
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Lee Family Farm Albariño 2010, Monterey County. 213 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, nv, Crémant d’Alsace, France. Excellent. About $20.
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Manuel Manzaneque Nuestra Selección 2005, Finca Elez, La Mancha, Spain. Cabernet sauvignon 40 percent, tempranillo 40 percent, merlot 20 percent. Excellent. About $16.50.
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Domaine de Reuilly Les Pierres Plates 2012, Reuilly, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent sauvignon blanc. Excellent. About $20.
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Santiago Ruiz 2011, Riax Baixas, Spain. 70 percent allero grapes, 15 percent loureiro, 10 percent caino, 5 percent treixadura and godello. Excellent. About $17.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.
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Sierra Norte Pasión de Bobal 2010, Utiel-Reguene, Spain. Excellent. About $15.
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Tinto Negro Co-Ferment Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. With 7 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent petit verdot. Excellent. About $20.
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Tolentino Pinot Grigio 2011, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $15.
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Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $14.
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Youngberg Hill Pinot Blanc 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 160 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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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 took the insight of Argentine winemaker Nicolas Catena to understand that chardonnay vineyards could be planted at high altitudes and produce excellent grapes. From the Andean areas of Lujan de Cuyo and Tupungato, grape-growing regions of Mendoza, and family vineyards at heights ranging from about 3,100 to 4,700 feet, comes the Catena High Mountain Vines Chardonnay 2012, from Bodega Catena Zapata, a wine that spent 10 months in French oak barrels, 35 percent of which were new. The color is radiant medium gold. Aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit, with a hint of peach and mango, are wreathed with cloves, lime peel, wet stones and a touch of buttered toast; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of jasmine and lilac. This chardonnay is distinguished by its deeply spicy nature and a lovely, seductive texture that perfectly balances the muscle and bone of limestone minerality and bright acidity with an almost cloud-like, talc-y softness. The wine picks up sinew as it goes, with a close to tannic effect, and builds to a conclusion of tremendous presence, tone and character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Winemaker was Alejandro Vigil. Excellent. About $20, a Bargain to Shiver Your Timbers.

Imported by Winebow, Inc., New York. A sample for review.

The Ricardo Santos Semillon is consistently one of my favorite white wines and one of the world’s great wine bargains. Made from 70-year-old vines, the wine delivers wonderful character for the price, actually performing far above its scale, and without the benefit (or detriment) of oak aging. Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina, offers a medium gold color and beguiling aromas of fig, roasted lemon and greengage plum with hints of fennel, cloves and a touch of dusty talc. A lovely supple texture and fleet acidity support lemon and grapefruit flavors highlighted with notes of bay leaf and dried thyme, a sunny leafy element with a hint of grass and a background of wet stones. The whole package is savory and saline, deeply spicy, bright, lively and delicious. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 850 cases, so call around and order a case. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $16.

Imported by Global Vineyards, Berkeley, Calif. A sample for review.

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