Merlot


Lordy, I haven’t posted a “Whither Napa Valley Cabernet” entry since June 30. That’s totally remiss for two reasons: First, I receive a ton of samples in that genre, and, second, California’s Napa Valley is one of the best places in the world for producing excellent cabernet sauvignon wines. Not that Napa Valley has a lock on delivering great cabernet-based wines in California; such an assessment would be unfair to Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, Sonoma Valley and Knights Valley, to Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County, and other pockets of congenial micro-climate here and there in the Golden State. Today’s post looks at nine examples of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet-based wines, mostly from 2013, with a few from 2012 and one from 2014. It’s a miscellaneous group falling under the general Napa Valley designation; two of these display more specific appellations, Oakville and Rutherford. Prices range from $45 to $90, an upper range that reflects not only supposed standards of quality but perceived reputation and the cost of doing business, as in the prices of grapes, cultivated acreage and new French oak barrels. The wines also reflect similarities and differences in philosophy and winemaking techniques. Oak regimens and blending percentages vary widely as does the scale of alcohol content. As with any consumer product, you pays yer money and you takes yer choice.

These wines were samples for review.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
acumenredwine2013sm11
The Acumen Wines Mountainside Red Wine 2013, Napa Valley, feels indeed as if it had been hewn from granite outcroppings, and in fact the grapes derive from organically farmed vineyards in Atlas Peak. The wine is a blend of 74 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent malbec and 12 percent merlot that aged 18 months in French oak, 72 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a glowing purple rim; notes of black currants, black cherries and blueberries are imbued with elements of graphite, iodine and iron that after a few minutes in the glass emit hints of rosemary, cedar and celery seed and an intense aroma of wood smoke. Steep gritty tannins and profound granitic minerality make for an experience that feels as if you’re drinking architecture, and these qualities inform the austere finish. Still, you sense the balance here, the shifting tectonic plates of structure gradually transforming itself to something equitable. A refreshing 13.3 percent alcohol. Try 2018 or ’19 through 2029-’33. Production was 1,200 cases. Winemaker was the well-known Steve Matthiasson. Excellent potential. About $45.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Amici Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 carries a Napa Valley designation but the grapes derive from specific AVAs amici_cs_napawithin the valley: 67 percent from Rutherford, 20 from Atlas Peak, 9 from Coombsville, 3 percent from Calistoga and a smidgeon of 1 percent from Spring Mountain. In other words, the wine is a canny blend of grapes from cool and warm districts, from flat areas and mountain slopes, all helping to establish a general “Napa Valley’ character to the wine. The blend is 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 11 merlot, 3 cabernet franc and 1 petit verdot; the wine aged 20 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Tony Biagi. The color is very dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; while the emphasis is on dimension and circumference defined by dusty, velvety tannins, burnished oak and vibrant acidity, the wine allows classic notes of black olive, cedar and tobacco, ripe black currants and raspberries to assert themselves. A few moments in the glass bring in hints of plums and cloves, black pepper and mocha, as well as a graphite edge, so the wine feels both warm with spice and cool with minerals, all etched by chiseled minerality that extends through the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now — with a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill — through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $45.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________
One of the flagship wines for Franciscan Estate is the Magnificat red wine blend based on cabernet sauvignon with franciscan-estate-2012-magnificat-meritage-label-frontcontributions from the other “noble” Bordeaux grape varieties. For 2012 and 2013, the wines received the same oak treatment, 20 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. The blends differ slightly, with the 2012 being 73 percent cabernet sauvignon with 19 percent merlot, three percent each petit verdot and malbec and two percent cabernet franc; the 2013 is also 73 percent cabernet sauvignon, with 24 percent merlot, two percent malbec and one percent cabernet franc, eliminating the dollop of petit verdot. Winemaker was Janet Myers. Not surprisingly, or perhaps disappointingly, these “meritage” wines are quite similar, the ’12 being slightly softer and more approachable than the ’13 but both focused on structure and foundation to a degree that feels not only solid but stodgy. The Magnificat 2012 displays real depth and breadth in its dark granitic minerality and sturdy tannins but not much in the way of the detail that makes a wine compelling and alluring, even at a relatively young age. The Magnificat 2013 feels like an ancient cathedral of a wine, very dense and intense, with dry austere tannins and profound granitic minerality; something slightly warm and spicy lends a touch of appeal but this is essentially a stout, rock-ribbed edifice established on palate-scouring tannins and acidity. After tasting this pair of cabernets, I wanted to say, “Hey, lighten up, even powerful and structured wines can be made with more deftness than these were.” Each features 14.5 percent alcohol. Each I rate Very Good+ with the admonition not to touch for five years. Each costs about $55.
______________________________________________________________________________________________
ecm291825
In the Galerie “Pleinair” Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa valley, Laura Diaz Muñozcrafted a 100 percent varietal wine whose potential lies two or three years ahead. Aged 20 months in French oak, 53 percent new barrels, bottled unfined and unfiltered, this cabernet displays a deep opaque ebony hue and profound intensity and concentration. Its initial phase of iodine, iron and graphite segues into spiced and macerated currants, raspberries and plums opening to notes — after an hour — of walnut shell, cloves and allspice, roasted fennel and caraway seed. The wine is dense and chewy but lithe and supple, dark with rooty-loamy elements, woodsy and mushroomy, and a little knotty with aspects of briers, brambles and forest floor; the black and red berry flavors course over the palate animated by bright acidity. 14.5 percent alcohol. 2018 through 2028 to ’30. Production was 1,616 cases. Excellent. About $50.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
The Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, reveals a gratifying consistency cs-2013-front_750-alcwith its cousins from previous vintages, while expressing a sense of individuality accorded by a great year. The blend is 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 11 percent merlot, 5 petit verdot, 4 cabernet franc; the wine aged 21 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels. The color is dense ruby-purple, while the whole package reflects that intensity and concentration; the initial impressions are all structural: earth, loam and walnut shell; dusty, graphite-laden tannins; a dense and chewy texture; a deep austere finish. Yet the wine is also vibrant, dynamic, resonant and strangely appealing, with its hints of tightly-packed and spicy black fruit flavors. Try from 2018 through 2028 to ’30. 14.6 percent alcohol. Excellent potential. About $69.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
The Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Rutherford, is 100 percent2013-csrf_front_with-alc cabernet sauvignon that aged 18 months in French oak, 80 percent new barrels. The color is motor oil opaque shading to a medium ruby-hued rim; as with its stablemate mentioned just above, this wine is immense in structure, deep, intense and concentrated, which character does not prevent it from delivering classic notes of cedar, rosemary and tobacco, black olive and a hint of bell pepper, all buoying a finely-chiseled melange of black currants, raspberries and plums. In fact, for all its size and dimension, this cabernet offers a ripe, spicy, meaty and fleshy aspect not quite belied by its formidable dusty, loamy tannins and its tremendous dignity and authority. 14.3 percent alcohol. Try 2018 or ’19 through 2030 or ’33. Excellent potential. About $90.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
The Jayson label is the second line from Pahlmeyer Vineyards and comes in as slightly less jay-cabexpensive than the top tier, though these are not inexpensive by any means. The Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, sees 5 percent cabernet franc with the balance cabernet sauvignon; the wine aged 17 months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels. The color epitomizes the entire experience of this wine, from its intense inky center fading to the transparent ruby-tinged rim, that is, from tremendous depth and dimension to an element of elegance and even delicacy. Most apparent, though, is the wine’s immense honed and chiseled granitic structure, abetted by polished oak and plush, dusty, rigorous tannins; it feels carved from mountainsides. Aromas of iodine and iron open to deliriously attractive notes of black currants, cherries and plums, highlighted by hints of blueberry and pomegranate, tapenade and ancho chili and wild notions of cedar and rosemary, wood smoke, lilac and lavender. Yes, this is damned heady stuff, richly layered and nuanced. The whole project is, not surprisingly, quite serious on the palate, yet its structure of wood and acidity, tannin and graphite-infused minerality does not advance on the punishing scale; the totality is balanced and integrated, though deep and multi-dimensional. 15.1 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 to ’34. Winemaker was Kale Anderson. This wine feels to me like the essence and apex of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. Exceptional. About $75.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
rmw_2013_cabernetsauvignon_oakville_lowres
The Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, utilizes the five classic Bordeaux red grapes: 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent cabernet franc and 2 percent each malbec, merlot and petit verdot; the wine aged 22 months in French oak, 72 percent new barrels. The color could not be a more dark, dense and radiant ruby-purple that shades to a glowing magenta rim; in its incisive granitic minerality and dusty graphite-tinged tannins, the wine feels absolutely true to the Oakville model; it offers ripe and slightly fleshy notes of currants, raspberries and plums infused with cedar and rosemary — with a hint of the latter’s feral, woodsy astringency — black olives and lavender melded in a seamless array of superb balance and integration. It’s quite dry, and the chiseled mineral aspects bolster the long finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 to ’25. Director of winemaking for Robert Mondavi is Geneviève Janssens. Excellent. About $60.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
rmw_2013_bdx_redwine_oakville1
More time in oak but less new oak than the previous wine was the regimen for the Robert Mondavi BDX 2013, Oakville, aging 29 months in French wood, 32 percent new barrels. BDX stands for Bordeaux; this wine is a blend of 68 percent cabernet sauvignon and 32 percent cabernet franc. I was impressed by the wine’s lovely balance and integration, for all its size and substance. A dark ruby hue shades to a bright magenta rim; aromas of ripe black currants, raspberries and plums are permeated by notes of iodine, iron and mint, making for a ferrous, sanguinary and slightly herbaceous red wine highlighted by touches of lavender and violets, cedar and tobacco. Yep, it’s a big one, quite dry and cushioned by supple dusty tannins, while animated by a beaming line of bright acidity; the finish is packed with graphite tinged minerality and an array of spicy black fruit flavors. 14.5 percent alcohol. You could drink this wine tonight with a steak or braised short ribs or wait a couple of years; it should develop beautifully through 2027 to ’30. Excellent. About $65.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Trying to be a good sport about this Merlot Month thing, so here’s a dependable example from PrintNapa Valley. The Flora Springs Merlot 2014, Napa Valley, derives from sustainable cultivated vineyards in Napa valley generally and from the St. Helena and Rutherford sub-AVAs. The wine aged 16 months in new and used French oak barrels. The color is a very dark ruby-purple that hews closely to the concept of ebony; those looking for a sensuous and seductive bouquet need look no farther than these aromas of rich and ripe black currants, cherries and plums infused with notes of cedar and mint, iodine and thyme, lavished with hints of licorice, lavender and violets and exotic woody spices. Lip-smacking acidity plows through the succulent black fruit flavors — abetted by a strain of blueberry — and long, lithe dusty tannins provide ballast and balance, all given freight by a load of penetrating graphite that gives the finish a slightly hard edge. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’22 with steaks and chops, braised short ribs and veal or lamb shanks. Winemaker was Paul Steinauer. Excellent. About $30.

A sample for review.

Here’s another selection for International Merlot Month. The Ca’ Momi Winery is owned by the cm_merlotfacelabel_black_lrsame people who own the Ca’ Momi restaurants in Napa Valley, so perhaps it’s fitting that this wine — the Ca’ Momi Merlot 2014, Napa Valley — is as wildly exuberant as Italian cuisine can be. I would be interested in knowing what the oak regimen for this wine was, but rarely have I visited a winery website so disinclined to reveal actual information about the winemaking process, even in its trade pages. Be that as it may, the wine displays a very dark ruby hue, even unto an opaque, almost black center. It’s a deep, dynamic merlot that offers scents and flavors of spice-infused black currants, cherries and plums — there’s a touch of fruitcake — with top-notes of blueberry and pomegranate. Dusty graphite comes into play and a strain of damp loam that opens to granitic tannins harboring vibrant acidity for liveliness on the palate. After 30 minutes or so, the black fruit unfurls elements of cedar and tobacco, dried rosemary and thyme, and the flavors feel somewhat macerated and roasted; the structure builds through a feral, iodine-and-mint and mineral-packed finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink this through 2019 to ’21 with steaks and chops, hearty pizza and pasta dishes or dry, mature cheeses. Excellent. About $20.

A sample for review.

For some reason, October is International Merlot Month. No one asks me about these matters, but a whole month devoted to a grape variety seems excessive. Most grapes only get one day named in their honor, like National Alicante Bouschet Day or International Pinotage Day. Some marketing 2013-merlot-edit1people got together, however, and launched the concept, so I’ll play along to the extent of using some merlots as Wines of the Day this month. First is the Ehlers Estate Merlot 2013, St. Helena, Napa Valley, a blend of 95 percent merlot and 5 percent cabernet franc, derived from 100 percent certified organic vineyards. The color is opaque black-ruby breaking to a vivid violet rim. This wine exudes confidence and elan; it just smells wealthy. Aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black currants, cherries and plums are permeated by a strain of intense graphite and lavender borne on penetrating granitic minerality. The wine is mouth-filling yet spare and sculpted; though its black fruit flavors are full-blown, ripe and spicy, the wine does not feel succulent or velvety, and in fact it rests on a foundation of dusty, almost shaggy (but not rustic) tannins and bright, vital acidity. It’s a fleet and darksome merlot whose elements of polished and finely sifted oak and deep, chiseled mineral qualities distinguish it for grip, elegance and style. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Kevin Morrisey. Drink now through 2020 to ’23 with a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill; roasted venison with huckleberry (or some such) sauce; braised short ribs; you get the idea. Excellent. About $55.

A sample for review.

So, here we are, in the 11th segment of “Whither Napa Valley Cabernet,” a series devoted to exploring the many aspects of the cabernet sauvignon wines created in the various regions of the Napa Valley. It’s a question worth asking, since, as readers will see in today’s selection of 12 examples, the cabernet wines from this legendary area and its sub-AVAs, can vary from an austere Old School character to the new style of very ripe — or over-ripe — fruit and plush textures. Most of the models in today’s post hew to the old-fashioned style of emphasis on structure, but a couple of them are over-the-top for my palate. These are mostly from 2012, with a couple of ’13s and one from 2011. Except for one wine encountered at a wholesale trade tasting, these wines were samples for review.
________________________________________________________________________________________
bv private
I tasted the Beaulieu Vineyards Georges De Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, last November at a wholesale distributor’s trade event. This great and historic label had a difficult period in the first decade of the 21st Century, but made a real effort under the direction of world-famous (and extremely busy) consultant Michel Rolland. If the 2012 is a pertinent example, the winery (owned by Diageo) is hitting on all cylinders again. The color is an obsidian-like, brooding dark ruby-purple; it’s a cool, chiseled, graphite and granite-based amalgam of power and elegance energized by swingeing acidity — call it the Lafite-Rothschild of Napa Valley — and as taut and tense a cabernet as I have encountered. Tannic? Oh, yes, but tannins that seem as generous and supple as they are sinewy and chewy. The blend is 93 percent cabernet sauvignon, 4 percent petit verdot and 3 percent malbec. Oak regimen was 22 months, 90 percent new French barrels. The alcohol is a soaring 15.5 percent, by far the highest in this roster of a dozen cabernets. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’36. Excellent. About $135.
____________________________________________________________________________________
cs12mcwlweb
The Cornerstone Cellars Michael’s Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, is named for Michael Dragutsky, a doctor in Memphis who is one of the winery’s founders. It’s a blend of 91 percent cabernet grapes and nine percent merlot; I have no information about the oak regimen. The color is ruby that is dark unto opacity; a broad pungency of intense black currants and plums infused with tapenade, fig paste and roasted fennel, graphite and lavender, iodine and iron characterizes the complex and beautifully integrated bouquet. Likewise, the wine is broad and deep and dense on the palate, though it flows like a lithe and supple source of power and elegance; fathomless, dusty, cushiony tannins support concentrated black fruit flavors poised over tremendous reserves of forest and loam. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was under 250 cases. Drink from 2017 or ’18 through 2028 to ’32. Exceptional. About $75.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
FNW_WEB_Template-Wine_CS_13
The grapes for the Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Oakville District, derive primarily from the Martin Skelling Vineyard, planted in 1978 and located just behind the winery in Oakville. The wine is a blend of 97 percent cabernet sauvignon and 3 percent petit verdot; it aged 17 months in French oak, 77 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Nicole Marchesi. The color is very dark ruby-purple with a magenta cast; this feels like classic Oakville, with its bastions of iodine and iron, graphite, cedar and lead pencil and notes of plums, black cherries and currants touched with dried thyme and rosemary — with the latter’s hint of branchy astringency — and roasted fennel. The structure is like taut muslin, fresh and snappy, full of energy. On the other hand, the wine delivers a chiseled, hard-edged character in its dusty chewy tannins that take on a velvety quality. A few minutes in the glass bring in touches of ancho chili and bitter chocolate, and the finish grows increasingly austere. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’32. Excellent. About $155.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
The Flora Springs Trilogy 2013, Napa Valley, is a blend of 87 percent cabernet grapes, seven 2013_trilogy_labelpercent petit verdot and 6 percent malbec; it aged 22 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels, 40 percent one-year-old. Winemaker was Paul Steinauer. The color is an opaque ruby-purple, black at the center; aromas of pure and intense cassis, blackberry and raspberry are permeated by notes of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and licorice, mint and eucalyptus, with iodine and loam in the background, all contributing to a pleasing balance of the exotic and the earthy. It’s a dry, large-framed cabernet whose dusty velvety tannins fuse with an indisputable oak foundation driven by vibrant acidity, all of these elements keenly balanced but needing some time to unfurl to higher usefulness. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2028 to ’32. Excellent. About $80.
________________________________________________________________________________________
Galerie 2012 Pleinair Cabernet
Winemaker Laura Diaz Muñoz aged the Galerie “pleinair” Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, 18 months in 58 percent new French oak barrels. The unforgettable color is deep ruby-purple with a thermonuclear violet-magenta rim; it’s a large-framed, dense, chewy and minerally cabernet but neither ponderous nor obvious, carrying its elements of graphite, iodine and iron, spiced and macerated black currants, raspberries and plums with pinpoint focus and fervent poise. This cabernet is mouth-filling without being plush or ostentatious, made vivid with bright acidity and a chiming tannic-mineral structure. A few minutes in the glass bring up hints of lavender and licorice driving into a long deep finish that’s dry and furnished with granitic minerality, making for an effect that’s chaste, spare and strangely elegant. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink from 2018 or ’20 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $50.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
The Grgich Hills Estate Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, derives from 11CSYT_FRONT_NO-ALCvines planted in 1959. The wine is a blend of 82 percent cabernet grapes, 14 percent petit verdot and 4 percent merlot; it aged 23 months in French oak, 80 percent new barrels. The color is an intense and warm dark ruby hue with a tinge of magenta at the rim; it’s all about structure now, filled with wheatmeal and walnut shell elements, loamy and briery, and it opens cautiously, a heavy old volume whose pages turn very slowly or, from another aspect, a block of oak buffed and burnished by sandalwood sandpaper. Velvety tannins are pumped up with notes of graphite and granite dust, while a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of plum pudding and fruitcake, lavender and bitter chocolate. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 772 cases. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’32. Excellent. About $185.00, yes, per bottle.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
allomi2
The “Allomi” tier is the entry-level cabernet sauvignon for The Hess Collection; a less expensive example falls under the cheaper “Hess Select” rubric. So, the Hess Collection Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, displays a dark ruby hue, shading to a tinge of mulberry; it offers rich black currant-cherry-raspberry scents and flavors permeated by graphite, iodine and iron, lavender and black licorice. Plush, dusty tannins have roots in underbrush and foresty elements, while ripe and spicy black fruit flavors are spicy and savory. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $30.
________________________________________________________________________________________
2011_Hess_Collection_Cabernet_Sauvignon__Mount_Veeder__bottle_shot_350x965
On the “shop” page of the winery’s website, The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mount Veeder, is described thus: “Nothing is quite so luscious as blueberries framed by hints of vanilla, cassis, creamy milk chocolate caramel and oak spice.” Gack, thank god, that’s not the character that emerged from my tasting; had that been the case, I would have given this one a definite thumb’s-down. Granted, this wine — 80 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent malbec and aged 20 months in 80 percent new French oak barrels — feels ripe and rich, but the ripeness and richness of black and red currants and raspberries are balanced by tannic elements of mineral dust, graham and wheatmeal and a touch of walnut shell, and the wine is far more intense and concentrated than the unhelpful notation quoted above implies. It’s quite dry, substantial, dense and inky, with graphite minerality and dark, oaken polish. The wine finishes with a high note of wild cherry. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink through 2022 to ’26. Director of winemaking for Hess Collection is Dave Guffy. Excellent. About $60.
______________________________________________________________________________________________
Lüscher-Ballard Wine is a project of Christina Lüscher-Ballard and Carroll Ballard, married labelformer filmmakers who own a tiny property, 2,200 feet high on Spring Mountain. John Kongsgaard makes the wine. The Lüscher-Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Spring Mountain District, fermented with native yeast and aged 22 months in French oak barrels. The color is dark ruby with a black center and a faint mulberry rim; it’s a majestic wine, freighted with massive elements of iron and iodine, graphite, cedar and tobacco, with hints of old leather, dried rosemary and ancho chili, and high-notes of lavender and bitter chocolate. On the palate the wine combines density and weight with airiness and elegance, though tannins need a few years to recede from a feral state. Fruit? Of course, in the range of spiced and macerated black currants and plums with a cast of red fruit overall. Altogether, lovely balance and integration of every element. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was about 200 cases. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 to ’32. Excellent. About $80.
_______________________________________________________________________________________
Brothers Charles and Stuart Smith deserve a Nobel Prize for consistency and integrity. Making sm_label_lr_cab_12their Smith-Madrone wines using the same methods every year and allowing the vintage to speak through the grapes, they produce chardonnay, riesling and cabernet sauvignon wines on Spring Mountain that embody ideals of realism, individuality and location. Produced from 40-year-old, dry-farmed vines and aged 18 months in French oak barrels, the Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Spring Mountain District, is a blend of 82 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 10 percent merlot and eight percent cabernet franc. The color is dark ruby from stem to stern; notes of dried sage and rosemary, briers and brambles, cedar and tobacco leaf are etched on intense elements of ripe and dried black currants, raspberries and blueberries, all balanced on a well-oiled vehicle of graphite and granitic minerality. On the palate, the wine is — no surprise — lithe and sinewy, bolstered by dusty, slightly velvety tannins and vibrant acidity. The finish is long and lean and laden with chiseled flint-like minerality. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,815 cases. Drink through 2028 to ’32. Excellent. About $48, the bargain of this group.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
1226304x
Established in 1943 and producing its first vintage in 1952, Stony Hill Vineyard, on Spring Mountain, is still operated by the McCrea family. It says something about loyalty and tradition that Mike Chelini has been making the wines since 1972. A specialist in non-malolactic, all-neutral-oak, long-aging chardonnay, the winery — probably the least known of Napa Valley’s Old School producers — only began making cabernet sauvignon wines in 2009, and it’s not surprising that the Stony Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, mirrors the philosophy that governs its chardonnays; this is not a cabernet for consumers looking for the glamorous or the gorgeous. The wine aged 18 months in oak barrels and 18 months in bottle before release. The color is dark ruby shading to medium ruby at the rim; aromas of black currants, raspberries and blueberries are intense and concentrated, permeated by notes of lead pencil, rosemary and cedar, briers, brambles and loam. Tannins feel deep, rooty and dusty, and an aura of wood-smoke pervades the whole vibrant, resonant, chiseled package. An eminently sensible 13.5% alcohol. Production was 430 cases. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2028 to ’32. Excellent. About $60.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
Young-Inglewood-VENN-Cabernet1
Young Inglewood winery touts this initial release as an “instant crowd pleaser,” but the Venn Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, did not please me all that much; everything about it, except for the moderate alcohol level, blares “contemporary Napa Valley” in the glass. The color is very dark ruby-purple shading to a glowing magenta rim; the nose draw up scents of ripe cassis, vanilla, cloves, blueberry jam, lavender, graphite and mocha, while on the palate the wine is rich and succulent, ferrous and sanguinary and framed by heaps of charcoal and graphite.
14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 209 cases. If this is a crowd-pleaser, I’ll drink alone, thank you. Very Good. About $50.
_________________________________________________________________________________________

The property known as Chateau Teyssier, in Bordeaux’s Saint Emilion region, dates back to 1714, though until the middle of the 19th Century it was tended as a traditional farm rather than vineyards. The estate, with a somewhat tarnished reputation for its wines and practices, was purchased in 1994 by Englishman Jonathan Maltus, who earned a reputation on Bordeaux’s Right Bank as a maverick, buying and expanding properties, creating estates where none had existed and Teyssier-Chateau-300x234generally improving methods in the vineyards and wineries. The refurbished and dignified little chateau (pictured here) stands in the midst of 6.23 hectares of vines — almost 17 acres — planted between 1965 and 1980.

The year 2012, with its small, late harvest, was a challenging vintage in Bordeaux, with Autumn rains making it difficult to bring in fully ripe cabernet sauvignon. The early ripening merlot fared better in spots. As with every year, in every wine region, thoughtfulness, thoroughness and care in the vineyard produced the best wines.

The Chateau Teyssier 2012, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, is a blend of 85 percent merlot and 15 teyssier percent cabernet franc. It aged in French barriques — well, of course — 1/3 new oak barrels. The color is dark ruby with a faint magenta rim; lovely aromas of cassis, cloves, violets and lavender, with undertones of tobacco, dried rosemary, walnut shell and plums, characterize an irresistible bouquet. This is a sleek, supple, fairly lithe merlot that flows across the palate in a silky display of tasty black fruit flavors that doesn’t conceal the foundation of slightly dusty tannins and chiseled graphite minerality, all enlivened by bright acidity. 12 percent alcohol. This won’t make old bones, as the British say, but drink now through 2020 to ’22 with steaks, prime rib, grilled veal chops. Excellent. About $25 to $28.

Imported by Twins America. Tasted at a wholesaler trade event.

For this edition of Weekend Wine Notes, I offer a miscellaneous group of red wines from California, dominated by cabernet sauvignon, but with entries from the merlot and pinot noir camps. Truth is, I probably receive more samples of California cabernets to review than from any other region and any other grape variety. State-wide, today, we range from Russian River Valley in the north to Paso Robles in the south. As is usual in this series of Weekend Wine Notes, I dispense with the technical, historical, geographical and personal data that I dote on for the sake of incisive and, I hope, vivid reviews ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy, and always consume in moderation.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
2011_Aleksander
Aleksander 2011, Paso Robles. 13.3% alc. 80% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon. 840 cases. Glowing medium ruby color with a transparent magenta rim; a very impressive merlot exhibiting structural qualities of generous, supple tannins, clean acidity and ebon-like minerality; mint and thyme, lavender and violets, iron and iodine, black currants and raspberries with a trace of dark plum, smoky and dusty; a little resiny with notes of rosemary and cedar; lovely shape, tone and presence. Now through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $75.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
cage pinot
J. Cage Cellars Nunes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 119 cases. Deep, vibrant ruby shading to lighter magenta; warm and spicy yet with a dark meditative aura; macerated red currants, cherries and plums, with a touch of cherry skin and pit; loam, briers and brambles; opens to notes of tar, violets and rose petals, pomegranate and sandalwood; a dense and sinewy pinot noir, enlivened by the influence of brisk acidity; elements of lithic dust, some root-like tea and a bare hint of orange rind. I’ll say, “Wow,” and “Please, bring on the seared duck breast.” Excellent. About $40.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
2013 Merlot-small
Ehlers Estate Merlot 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. With 8% cabernet franc. Opaque black-ruby shading to a vivid purple rim; very intense and concentrated, coiled power; black currants and plums infused with lavender, licorice and graphite; a scintillating core of granitic minerality that almost glitters, magnified by the wine’s bright acidity; lots of vibrancy and resonance, marred, unfortunately, by the taint of toasty oak that dominates from mid-palate back through the finish. You know what I always say, friends: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, there’s too much damn oak. Now through 2020 to ’24. Very Good+. About $55.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
Tresor-2012_304x773
Ferrari-Carano Tresor 2012, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 71% cabernet sauvignon, 9% petit verdot, 7% each merlot and malbec, 6% cabernet franc. Dark ruby color with a tinge of magenta at the rim; warm and spicy but with a cool mineral core of graphite and iron; cassis, black raspberry and plum, with notes of cedar, lavender, violets, leather and loam; dusty, velvety tannins coat the palate midst intense and concentrated black fruit flavors and bastions of wheatmeal, walnut shell and burnished oak; how the finish manages not to be austere is a wonder. Try 2017 or ’18 through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $60.
______________________________________________________________________________________________
gp_pf_pinot_noir_front_label
Geyser Peak Pluto’s Fury Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. 1,379 cases. Medium transparent ruby color; first come spice and herbs: cloves, sandalwood, sage; slightly macerated black cherries and red currants, touch of pomegranate and rhubarb; sleek, supple, lithe and satiny; generous with burgeoning elements of violets and rose petals; a well-made pinot noir that lavishes fruit and bright acidity on the palate. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $36.
______________________________________________________________________________________________
grgich merlot
Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. With 5% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby hue from stem to stern; rooty and loamy, with finely sifted elements of forest floor, dried porcini and graphite; ripe raspberry and black currant aromas inflected by seductive notes of mocha, black licorice, allspice and sandalwood; very intense and concentrated on the palate, framed by sturdy tannins that feel slightly sanded and roughened; after an hour or so, the tannins and oak flesh out and take over, giving the wine a formidable, monumental quality. No punk-ass little merlot here; this one is for the ages, or through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $43.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
KRUG_FR_HM_11 5006
Charles Krug Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. (!) 80% cabernet, 18% petit verdot, 2% merlot. Very dark ruby-purple with a bright violet rim; despite the soaring alcohol content, this is a beautifully balanced and harmonious wine, with perfect weight and presentation, yet plenty of structure for support and the long-haul; a full complement of dusty, graphite-laden tannins bolsters black currant, cherry and blueberry flavors inflected by notes of lavender, licorice, black tea and black olive; a few moments in the glass bring up hints of cedar, rosemary and tobacco; girt by a framework of granitic, mountain-side minerality, this classic cabernet is still a lovely drink, though built for aging through 2022 through 2028. Excellent. About $75.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) brave logoOpaque black-ruby with a glowing purple rim; a focused line of graphite and granite defines the space for elements of spiced, macerated and roasted black currants, cherries and plums, permeated by iodine and iron, mint and lavender; a feral, ferrous and sanguinary cabernet, somehow both velvety and chiseled, seductive and lithic; it’s mouth-filling, dynamic, impetuous. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2027 to ’30. Excellent. About $75.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
signorello
Signorello Estate Padrone 2012, Napa Valley. With 9% cabernet franc. Whoa, what is up with this 15.8 percent alcohol? That factor dominates this wine and throws it off balance, though initially it reveals deep, brooding qualities of cassis, bitter chocolate, briers and brambles, leather and loam that might blossom into harmony; sadly, the austere tannins, the astringent oak and, above all, the sweet, hot alcohol demolish that hope. Not recommended. About $150.
________________________________________________________________________________________
tongue dancer
Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Production was 125 cases. Transparent medium ruby shading to an invisible rim; indelible and beguiling aromas of pomegranate and cranberry, red and black cherries and currants, anise and lavender, with bare hints of rhubarb, thyme and celery seed; a thread of loam and graphite runs through this wine’s supple satiny texture, creating a sense of superb weight and heft on the palate, yet expressing eloquent elegance and delicacy of effect. Now through 2018 to 2020. I could drink this pinot noir every day. Exceptional. About $45.
__________________________________________________________________________________________
Trione Vineyards and Winery River Road Ranch Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Trione-2012-Pinot-NoirCounty. 14.5% alc. 1,408 cases. Medium transparent ruby hue; dark and spicy with cloves and allspice (and a hint of the latter’s slightly astringent nature); black and red cherries and currants, notes of cranberries and pomegranate; turns exotic with violets, lavender, mint and sandalwood; a lively and engaging pinot noir, incredibly floral; a lithe texture, moderate oak with lightly sanded edges. Now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $39.
The label image is one vintage behind.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
YI_2012_estate_cab_B.72
Young Inglewood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 612 cases. With some percentage of merlot and cabernet franc. Dark ruby color; redolent of graphite, iodine and mint, cassis and blueberry, cloves and sage and ancho chile; acidity that runs silent and deep through canyons of dusty, granitic tannins; plenty of spice and scintillating energy, gradually opens reservoirs of lavender, licorice and violets and stylish, polished oak that carries through the brooding but not austere finish. Touches all the moves in the Napa cabernet playbook — meaning that it’s an exemple rather than an individual — but still very impressive. Now through 2024 through ’28. Excellent. About $90.
__________________________________________________________________________________________

The joke about Bonny Doon’s A Proper Claret is, of course, that it’s a highly unproper example, even a parody, of APC13C_front_300dpiclaret, that is, of a red wine from Bordeaux. Birthed by the fervid, fevered imagination of winery owner, winemaker and celebrated punster Randall Grahm, the latest release, the Bonny Doon A Proper Claret 2013, carrying a California designation, contains 46 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent merlot and 14 percent petit verdot, all veddy proper for a Bordeaux, but the balance is filled by 15 percent tannat, 8 percent syrah and 1 percent petite sirah, grapes that would made all the Rothschild ancestors and cousins spin in their graves, now and forevermore. To say that the result is unique doesn’t begin to cover the bases. The color is dark ruby-purple; at first, the aromas are red fruit — mainly cherries and currants — that take on hints of black and blue as the minutes pass, all permeated by notes of mint and iodine, briers and brambles, a hint of dried porcini mushrooms and a remarkably intense floral element, like a bouquet of fresh and dried meadow flowers. On the palate, this is woodsy, musky and dusty, with ripe and spicy raspberries, currants and plums bolstered by firm yet pliant tannins and a dense supple texture enlivened by brisk acidity. Graphite and loam serve as foundation for an earthy element that broadens across the spectrum with meaty, feral, ferrous dimension. Quite a performance; loads of tantalizing and ineffable personality. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018. Excellent. About $16, marking Great Value.

A sample for review.

Or luscious wines, or wines that a certain writer calls “sexy” or “hedonistic,” or wines that base their raison d’etre on ripeness and juiciness, succulence and opulence. I think that these wines reflect the infantile nature of the American palate trained to sweetened iced tea and sugary sodas or, for the Baby Boomer generation, Kool-Aid and Tang. American wine consumers seem to want their taste buds coddled and cosseted by the saturated ripeness of long-hanging grapes plumped with sugar and by velvety textures that slide comfortingly through the mouth and down the throat.

As a culture, Americans typically desire immediate gratification, a tendency that’s probably our most consequential export to the rest of the world. With a sniff and a sip, the gorgeous wine gets right in there and provides quick fulfillment, a burst of pleasure. “Wow, that’s gorgeous!” What happens next, though? Such wines may be superficially attractive, even seductive, and I won’t deny that a wine with the capability to draw you in irresistibly isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In the end, however, the gorgeous wines don’t deliver the true promise that great wines hold: elegance and finesse married to power and dynamism; a structure that feels embedded in the grapes’ origin in the vineyard and the vineyard in a region; acidity that brings the necessary matanzas merlotvitality to the wine’s essence and cuts a swath on the palate; the balance among fruit, tannin, acid, oak and minerality that soothes, stimulates and challenges the senses and the intellect.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. A couple of nights ago, to accompany meatloaf and roasted potatoes, I opened a bottle of the Matanzas Creek Jackson Park Vineyard Merlot 2012, Bennett Valley. (Matanzas Creek is owned by Jackson Family Wines.) Bennett Valley, approved as an AVA in 2003, largely at the instigation of Matanzas Creek Winery, lies almost entirely within the Sonoma Valley AVA and overlaps somewhat into Sonoma Coast and Sonoma Mountain AVAs. The vineyard stands at an average elevation of 600 feet. The wine is 98 percent merlot with one percent each cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc; it aged 20 months in French and American oak, the French being 23 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Marcia Monahan-Torres. Yes, that’s the wonky technical data that may bore you silly, but I love it.

The color is deep ruby-purple with a glowing magenta rim. The aromas launch from the glass in what’s initially a subdued skein of ripe and slightly macerated black and red currants and cherries with notes of raspberry and blueberry; a few minutes’ airing brings in hints of cloves and sandalwood and then a great bloom of violets and lilacs, backed by licorice and bitter chocolate, all in a lovely welter of sensual delight. Yeah, pretty damned gorgeous. Within this panoply of pleasure, however, lurks a deeper influence of graphite, something root-like, briery and brambly, with sage and a touch of rosemary, and deeper yet, a layer of lithic iodine and iron. The wine is shifting, you see, from gorgeous to profound, a transition that occurs on the palate, also, where the ripeness and allure of the spicy red and black fruit flavors are bolstered by bright and active acidity and given depth and dimension by dusty, woodsy tannins that partake of dried mushrooms and forest-floor and a burgeoning tide of granitic minerality. This is in no way, you see, a merely gorgeous wine. The Matanzas Creek Jackson Park Vineyard Merlot 2012 doesn’t sate your desire for wine or weary your palate by its opulence and velvety succulence. Instead, it leads you on from sip to sip, a wine to savor for the very savory qualities that more flamboyant wines lack. This should drink beautifully through 2020 to ’24. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $60.

Perhaps the virtues I extol demand too much of wine, which is, after all, only a beverage, an agricultural product, though I think that wine — including Champagne and the adjuncts Port and Cognac — possesses the capacity to be the most complex and satisfying result of agricultural endeavor. (I’ll hear arguments for Scotch, too.) Not that every wine ought to promote deep contemplation and examination; sometimes you just want a decent quaff to knock back with a burger or pizza. Still, I think we deserve wines that exhibit finer character and more essential structure than the prettiness and hyperbole of ripeness and plumpness allow.

Here’s a red wine blend that will warm your hearts during these chilly January days and nights and serve as gratifying accompaniment to hearty winter-time fare. You might think that the Head High Red Wine 2013, North Red-595x960Coast, made a stab at an interesting Bordeaux-style blend, with unusual emphasis on malbec, what with its 36 percent malbec, 20 percent merlot and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, but the addition of 13 percent zinfandel and 11 percent grenache ensures that we’re in classic, eclectic California blend territory. The wine qualifies for a North Coast designation by way of 74 percent Sonoma County, 14 percent Lake County and 12 percent Napa County. It aged 15 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Samuel Spencer. The color is dark ruby with a glowing magenta rim; aromas of red and black currants and plums are bolstered by notes of blueberries, cloves and sandalwood, while a few minutes in the glass bring in tones of iodine and mint, briers and brambles. These multi-layered qualities segue naturally to the palate, where the wine builds a dusty, graphite-laden tannic presence that leads to a dry, lithic finish, neither factor diminishing spicy and tasty black and red berry flavors. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. For every two bottles of Head High wines sold, $1 goes to the charities, Sustainable Surf and Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. Excellent. About $30.

A sample for review.

Next Page »