Merlot


… and if anything really bad happens today, don’t blame it on me or this post. Nine from California, two each from Chile and Argentina.
These brief notices encompass a couple of pleasant, interesting and inexpensive cabernets that you can enjoy tonight as well as a diverse range of more serious and complex efforts intended for consuming anywhere from now or 2014 through the early 2020s. As usual with these Weekend Wine Sips, the only technical information I include is information about the varietal composition of the wines; anything else in the nature of history, geography and personnel is omitted for the sake of brevity and immediacy. These wines were samples for review.
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Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Ruby-purple color with a magenta cast; seductive bouquet of ripe black currants and raspberries, lavender and lilac, leather and loam, shale and graphite; gritty, slightly bitter tannins, vibrant acidity, firm yet supple body and structure, very tasty, dusty, almost succulent black fruit flavors but with a serious edge of tannin and foresty elements in the finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $13, a Great Bargain.
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Domus Aurea 2009, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. 14% alc. 85% cabernet sauvignon, 7% merlot, 5% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot. A polished cabernet that radiates individuality, authenticity and character. Deep ruby-purple color; beguiling aromas of blueberry and mulberry, pomegranate and mint, with touches of toasted cumin and ancho chili and a host of underlying mineral elements like graphite and flint; give it a few moments and traces of lavender, violets and licorice emerge; then a powerful expression of dusty tannins, granitic minerality, hefty tone and presence on the palate, yet sleek, lithe, panther-like, permeated by slightly spiced and macerated black and blue fruit flavors; a long spice- and mineral-packed finish. Perhaps Chile’s best cabernet. Exceptional. About $60.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Meritage 2008, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 33%, merlot 30%, cabernet franc 17%, malbec 14%, petit verdot 6%. Dark ruby color; ripe, warm and spicy; mint and mocha, intense and concentrated black currants and plums with a hint of blueberry tart; bright acidity, very dry, swingeing tannins and a finish piled with forest floor, briers and brambles for a trace of austerity. Try 2014 through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $30.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Endeavor 2008, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 91% cabernet sauvigon, 7% petit verdot, 2% merlot. 490 cases. Dark ruby color; dense, intense and concentrated yet ravishing, like graphite-lined velvet and ripe port-infused black currant jam; lip-smacking acidity and smacky tannins, toasty oak and vanilla, quite spicy, and the oak feels a little crunchy around the circumference; dry and austere; needs a few years to come together. Try 2015 or ’16 to 2020 or ’22. Excellent (potential). About $65.
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Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. From Huneeus Vintners, the makers of Quintessa. 83% cabernet sauvignon, 13% merlot, 3% malbec, 1% cabernet franc. Dark but radiant ruby-purple; pure bitter chocolate, mocha, lavender and graphite sifted with fervent, close to vehement notes of black currants, raspberries and plums; dense, chewy, almost powdery texture, grainy tannins plow furrows and acid cuts a swath, adding to a powerful structure, yet nothing here is overdone, and the ultimate impression is of innate poise, a sense of deliberation and dignity. Try from 2014 or ’15 to 2020 or ’24 — or tonight with a steak. Excellent. About $55.
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Hestan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 550 cases. Dark ruby color; very dry yet vibrant, resonant; you feel the new oak unfurling to a spine of warm spice; graphite, iodine and mint; scintillating purity and intensity of black fruit and vivid minerality; tremendous heft and bearing and imperturbability; cloves, white pepper, leather; incredibly dense and chewy with plush and dusty tannins; nothing of Bordeaux-like elegance here but asserts its own Californian character of immediate ripe fledgling appeal balanced with monumental dimension. Try from now or 2014 through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $100.
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Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. 77% cabernet sauvignon, 18% merlot, 5% petit verdot. Dark ruby color with a tinge of magenta at the rim; one of the most structured and concentrated Jordan Cabs I have tasted; nose of leather, walnut shell and wheatmeal notched with hints of cedar, tobacco and black olive, black currants and cherries; a few minutes in the glass bring up touches of violets and potpourri; dense and chewy but sleek, lithe, supple, a little chiseled in its clean, faceted fashion; plenty of dusty, charcoal-laced tannins but while the finish is spare and reticent, it’s not austere. Begs for a medium rare ribeye steak or, no, even better, rack of lamb. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $52.
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The Steven Kent Winery Home Ranch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Livermore Valley. 14.2% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Fewer than 125 cases. Dark ruby color, opaque center; a high wild note of black cherry and blueberry draws you in, and you stay for the mint and iodine, the penetrating granitic, slate-like minerality, the intimate hints of black licorice and violets, black currants and raspberries and intriguing touch of blueberry preserves; all presented in a remarkably spare, dusty, elegant yet statuesque structure that does not overemphasize any element; a highly individual and thoughtful interpretation of the grape. Now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $65.
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Lawer Family Wines Three Coins Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 89 cases. Dark ruby color; leather and violets, black licorice, lavender, smoke and graphite, black currants and blueberries, very ripe and spicy, touch of fruitcake, really tending toward an over-ripe zinfandel character; sweet alcohol dominates; very dry, dense and chewy, increasingly austere and awkward from mid-palate back through the finish; increasingly unbalanced by the alcohol, strident spice and over-sweet ripeness; ultimately incoherent. Not recommended. About $42.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Sonoma County. 13.8% alc. Cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petite sirah. Deep ruby color with a magenta rim; a darkly fruity spicy cabernet, dense, chewy, dusty; typical ripe and slightly fleshy black currant and raspberry fruit; good acidity and fairly stalwart but functional tannins; solid, well-made, unexciting. Through 2015 or ’16. Very Good. About $18.
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Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 83% cabernet sauvignon, 12% merlot, 4% cabernet franc, 1% syrah. Dark ruby color, almost opaque; graphite-and-shale-like mineral qualities dominate but lovely, pinpoint balance from start to finish; furled yet vigorous black currant, cherry and plum scents and flavors slathered with lavender and licorice, potpourri and bitter chocolate; dusty, iron-flecked tannins increase in scale as the moments pass, leading to a dense, vibrant finish; a polished, sleek and personality-packed cabernet. Try from 2014 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $28.
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Peñalolén Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maipo Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Cabernet sauvignon with cabernet franc and merlot. Deep, rich ruby color; very dark and evocative cabernet, tobacco, cedar, black olive; dark chocolate-covered black currants and raspberries, touch of plum; dense and dusty graphite-tinged tannins; rustic, exuberant, spicy, an engaging personality. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $19.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.4% alc. Blend N/A. Dark ruby color; fleshy, beefy, beetroot and graphite, mint and iodine, cedar, smoky black currants and plums; firm velvety tannins that coat the mouth, dense, dusty and chewy; bright ripe black fruit flavors; loads of personality. Fire up the grill and throw on some beef, lamb, pork and goat, as they do in Argentina. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $16, representing Great Value.
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This second edition of Weekend Wine Sips for 2013 offers seven red wines from California. There’s cabernet sauvignon, of course and a couple of pinot noirs from the Sonoma Coast appellation and also a great merlot and a seductive grenache. Prices range from $22 to $65, and I have few quibbles about any of the wines. I offer little in the way of technical, historical or geographical information in this series of brief reviews, other than alcohol content and the make-up or blend of grapes in each wine; if a wine is limited in production, I mention the number of cases that were made. These wines were samples for review.
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Tower 15 “The Swell” 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. The Tower 15 label is a venture of The Pali Wine Co., noted for pinot noir. 14.8% alc. 31% cabernet sauvignon, 28% malbec, 27% merlot, 14% petit verdot. Dark ruby color; clean, fresh, spicy, wildly berryish and very appealing; black currants and plums with hints of blueberry and mulberry; dusty graphite, a bit earthy and loamy; pliant and lithe, close to sexy; the finish rather more serious with influx of walnut-shell and forest-like austerity. 707 cases. Very Good+. About $22.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 13.9% alc. 100% pinot noir. Jeeze, what a sweetheart of a pinot noir! Medium ruby-mulberry color; black cherry, sour cherry candy, rhubarb and cola with notes of rose petal and watermelon; flows across the palate with beguiling heft and drape and deft delicacy; still, though, plenty of earth and loam, hints of underlying briers and brambles; then overtones of pomegranate and sandalwood. Just lovely. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $25.
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Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Primarily cabernet sauvignon with dollops of syrah and petit verdot. A lovely cabernet; dark ruby-purple color; ripe, fleshy black and blue fruit scents and flavors; classic notes of cedar, black olive, truffles and oolong tea with hints of loam and violets; supple, dense and chewy, slightly dusty tannins and graphite-like mineral elements; spicy oak lends support; long, complex, fully-formed finish. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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Gundlach-Bunschu Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 100% pinot noir. Dark ruby-magenta color; deep, rich, succulent; black cherries and plums, notes of rhubarb, cola and cloves and a hint of sassafras; lovely satiny texture; quite spicy, lipsmacking acidity and a slight drying effect through the finish from oak and gentle tannins. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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Chamisal Vineyards Grenache 2009, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. 14.8% alc. With 10% syrah. Medium ruby-magenta color; attractive, soft fruity spicy bouquet; plums, red currants and cranberries, cloves and Red Hots, spiced apple; earthy and minerally, moderate tannins and oak beautifully balanced and integrated; opens to briery and slightly mossy elements on the finish. An evocative rendition of the grape. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $38.
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Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2008, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Certified biodynamic. 100% merlot. Dark ruby color, hint of magenta at the rim; black currants and blueberries with a touch of mulberry, notes of cedar and tobacco; earthy and flinty, tremendous presence and resonance, clean, intense and pure; a faceted and chiseled merlot, with tannins that feel as if they’ve been turned on a lathe; dense, sleek, polished and elegant but with an untamed edge. An impressive and expressive merlot. Excellent. About $42.
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Hawk & Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Red Hills, Lake County. 14.8% alc. Certified biodynamic. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Deep, pure, vivid and vibrant, totally attractive; ripe, smoky and fleshy red and black currants and mulberries, hint of black cherries; very spicy and lively, practically glitters with granite and graphite and resonates with bright acidity; dense and chewy and thoroughly grounded but exhilarating in its balletic wildness and elevation. Quite a performance. 1,350 cases. Now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $65.
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So, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” in the edition for 2012. Why 50? It’s a nice comfortable round number, but it also makes me work hard to determine those 50 great selections.

I reviewed 642 wines on this blog in 2012, so 50 choices represent only 7.78 percent of the wines I reviewed. Wines that I rated as “Exceptional” automatically make the cut. In 2012, I ranked 16 wines “Exceptional,” or only 2.5 percent of all the wines I reviewed. How did I ascertain the other 34 wines? That’s where the task got difficult. I read all the reviews of wines that I rated “Excellent” and wrote down the names of 68 that seemed promising, but of course that was already way too many wines; I had to eliminate half of that list. I went back through the reviews and looked for significant words or phrases like “an exciting wine” or “a beautiful expression of its grapes” or “epitomizes my favorite style” or “I flat-out loved this wine,” terms that would set a wine apart from others in similar genres or price ranges, even though they too were rated “Excellent.” By exercising such intricate weighing and measuring, by parsing and adjusting, by, frankly, making some sacrifices, I came to the list of wines included here, but I’ll admit that as I went over this post again and again, checking spelling and diacritical markings and illustrations, there were omissions that I regretted. You get to a point, however, where you can’t keep second-guessing yourself.

Notice that I don’t title this post “50 Greatest Wines” or “50 Best Wines.” That would be folly, just as I think it’s folly when the slick wine publications select one wine — out of 15,000 — as the best of the year. The wines honored in this post are, simply, 50 great wines, determined by my taste and palate, that I encountered and reviewed in 2012. Some of them are expensive; some are hard to find. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, though, at how many of them are under $40 or even in the $20 range; the price of a wine can be immaterial to its quality, and I mean that in both the positive and the negative aspects. Where I know the case limitation, I make note. With wines that are, for example, chardonnay or pinot noir, you can count on them being 100 percent varietal; in other cases, I mention the blend or make-up of the wine if I think it’s necessary.

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”
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Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
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Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
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Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
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Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
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M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
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M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
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Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
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Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
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Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
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Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
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Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
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Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
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Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
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Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
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La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
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Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
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Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
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Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
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Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.
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Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
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Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
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Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
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Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
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Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
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Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
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St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
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Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
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Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
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Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.
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Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
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Welcome back, Weekend Wine Sips, after a two week hiatus! “Thanks, FK, glad to be back!” So what do we have in store today? “Well, FK, since this segment of BTYH took some time off, I thought I’d assemble a vastly varied group of 12 wines that should appeal to just about every taste and pocketbook as well as hitting diverse regions.” Sounds good, WWS, can you be more specific? “Of course! We have four white wines, three rosés and five reds, and we’re looking at two regions of Spain, Argentina, Italy, Alsace, different areas of California and Washington state.” Sounds exciting! “Thanks! I think our readers will find a lot to ponder and enjoy.” And as usual –? “Right you are, FK! No tech notes, no history or geographical info, just quick, pithy, insightful notes and remarks that grab the essence of the wine and shake it out on the table!” Ah, perhaps I wouldn’t have put the case exactly in those words, but what the hell! “Indeed! And I say, let the show begin!” Don’t forget to mention, as per FTC regulations — “Oh, damn! These wines were samples for review.”
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Viña Reboreda 2011, Ribeira, Spain. 11.5% alc. 40% treixadura grapes, 20% each godello, torrontés and palomino. Pale straw-gold color; clean, fresh aromas of roasted lemons and spiced pears permeated by hints of dried thyme and limestone; taut, bracing acidity; texture indulges in lushness that feels almost powdery, like electrified talcum powder; citrus and stone-fruit flavors persist through a finish that pours on the limestone. Very Good+. About $13.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. 100% semillon grapes. Pale straw-gold with a faint greenish cast; fig and pear, green pea, hint of grapefruit; sleek and smooth but with a touch of wildness in its weedy-meadowy quality; ripe and almost luscious but quite dry, crisp and lively and truly spare and high-toned; hint of almond skin bitterness on the finish. Extraordinary power and character for the price. Production was 1,000 cases. Excellent. About $16, marking Tremendous Value.
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Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Pinot Gris 2009, Alsace, France. 100% pinot gris. 13.5% alc. Medium straw-gold color; beguiling bouquet of pear, peach and melon heightened by jasmine and cloves and a tinge of honeyed grapefruit; quite spicy and lively in the mouth, just this side of exuberant yet a wine imbued with the dignity of limestone and flint; slightly sweet initially but shifts smoothly to bone-dry through the mineral-and-grapefruit flecked finish. Drank this with the soup made from the Thanksgiving turkey carcass. Excellent. About $20. How can they sell it so cheaply?
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Jordan Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Clean, fresh, spare, elegant; lovely balance and integration; pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors permeated by ripe slightly spicy stone fruit and hints of ginger and quince; seductive texture that’s almost cloud-like yet enlivened by crystalline acidity and an inundation of liquid limestone. Very dry, a bit austere through the finish; one of the most Chablis-like of California’s chardonnays. Excellent. About $29.
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Viña Zorzal Garnacha Rosato 2011, Navarra, Spain. 13% alc. 100% garnacha grapes. Entrancing bright cherry magenta; pure raspberry and strawberry, touches of watermelon and mulberry; dark, more full-bodied than most rosés; notes of briers and slate for an earthy undertone. Quite charming, but nothing light or delicate. Very Good+. About $13.
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Heller Estate Merlot Rosé 2011, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 100% organic merlot grapes. Light cherry-violet color; raspberry, mulberry and melon with a touch of pomegranate; very stony and spicy, with hints of damp slate and dusty herbs; vibrant acidity keeps it lively and thirst-quenching. Lots of personality. Very Good+. About $21.
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Lasseter Family Winery Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 13.2% alc. 73% syrah, 24% mourvèdre, 3% grenache. Entrancing shimmering pale salmon-copper color; delicate, spare, elegant; dried raspberries and cranberries with hints of melon and pomegranate, backnotes of cloves and orange zest; quite dry but subtly ripe and flavorful; “I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows”; pert acidity, slightly stony but not austere. Quite lovely rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Michele Chiarlo Le Orme 2010, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. 14% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Medium cherry-ruby color; a beguiling mélange of smoky and sweetly ripe red cherries and red currants with hints of blueberry and mulberry; undertones of violets and potpourri and gentle touches of briers and graphite-like minerality, with a smooth segue into the mouth, all elements supported by moderately chewy tannins, bright acidity and subdued granitic earthiness. Excellent. About $15, marking Great Value.
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Lasseter Family Winery Chemin de Fer 2010, Sonoma Valley. 14.8% alc. 49% grenache, 38% syrah, 13% mourvèdre. Medium ruby-purple with a hint of violet at the rim; wow, smoke on silk and tattered on briers and brambles; graceful, balanced and integrated but gathers power and dimension as the moments pass; luscious and spicy blackberry, raspberry and blueberry flavors but not over-ripe, held in check by a taut spine of acid and sinew of dense and dusty tannins. Love this one. Excellent. About $40.
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Candaretta Windthrow 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.6% alc. 36% syrah, 29% mourvèdre, 18% counoise, 17% grenache. Very dark and dense in every way; deep ruby-purple color; spiced and macerated blackberries, black currants and plums with an undertow of blueberry; smoke and a charcoal edge, leather and graphite; touch of earth and wet dog; incredibly lively and vivid, royal tannins and imperial acidity. Drink through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $50.
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Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.9% alc. 100% syrah. Classic in shape, proportion and tone; dark ruby-purple with a violet-magenta rim; volcanic in its elements of smoke, ash, graphite; tar, leather, fig paste and fruitcake; black currants and plums, very spicy, very lively; finely milled tannins, dense and chewy; long dry, earthy finish. Drink through 2019 or ’20.
Excellent. About $50.
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Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2009, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 85% petite sirah, 15% field blend of at least 16 other grape varieties. Just what petite sirah should be. Deep ruby-purple color; dark, dense, ripe, packed with dusky blackberry, black currants and blueberry scents and flavors; plum jam and an intensely highlighted dusty graphite element; smoke and ash, leather and tar; robust and rustic, with large-scale but palatable velvety tannins. Bring on the braised short ribs or the grilled pork chops with cumin and chillies. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $80.
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I think I first wrote about the wines of Renaissance Vineyards and Winery in 2001, when I mentioned in what was then my weekly newspaper column (distributed nationally by the Scripps Howard News Service until 2004) the Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1993 and, under the winery’s second label, the Da Vinci Late Harvest Riesling 1987. In the succeeding 11 years, I have reviewed numerous wines from the small producer in the remote North Yuba appellation of the Sierra Foothills north of Sacramento. Renaissance became noted, under the tutelage of Gideon Beinstock, winemaker there since 1994, for its hands-off approach that produced wines of admirable spareness and elegance, low alcohol, an almost fanatic resistance to new oak and an unheard of delay in releasing wines, as in sometimes 10 or 12 years after harvest. The winery and vineyard occupy a large estate on land purchased by the Fellowship of Friends in 1971; the group is controversial in its beliefs or at least its former leadership, and as a business entity (separate from but owned by the Fellowship) Renaissance has had to shake off the perception that the Fellowship is a cult.

The inspiration for creating a vineyard came from German-born Karl Werner, the founding winemaker at Callaway Vineyards, way south in Temecula. Under his guidance, members of the Fellowship chiseled terraces from the steep slopes at altitudes of 1700 to 2300 feet and drilled 150,000 holes to plant vines. The first harvest, in 1979, took 20 minutes and produced one barrel of cabernet sauvignon. Werner died in 1988, and his wife, Diana, took over winemaking duties. When Beinstock became winemaker early in ’94, he turned the winery away from its former goals of deep extraction and heavy, densely tannic wines to minimal manipulation, gentle extraction, no yeast inoculation and, gradually, to organic methods in the vineyards. Due to Beinstock’s efforts, Renaissance has produced a series of remarkable, authentic and largely age-worthy wines (in minute quantities) that are like nothing else in a California besotted by super-ripeness, toasty new oak and sweet alcohol.

Beinstock, for the past few years, has worked on a side project, that is, his own winery Clos Saron. He is no longer winemaker at Renaissance, and I would say, Alas that such is the case, except that I don’t know the circumstances of his departure. I do wonder what the direction will be for Renaissance without him.

What I offer today are notes on three of Beinstock’s red wines, the Claret Prestige Red Wine 2001 and 1997, the Renaissance Premier Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, and, a piece of history, the Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon 1984, one of the last wines made by Karl Werner. Yes, a small amount of the latter wine is still available, and I urge those who are fascinated by the history of the California wine industry or who are looking for a unique and quite wonderful wine to track it down.

These wines were samples for review. Image of Gideon Beinstock from mobile.indievinos.com.
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The Renaissance Claret Prestige Red Wine 2001, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba, is a combination of 29 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent merlot, 19 percent malbec and nine percent each syrah, cabernet franc and petit verdot, a sort of classic Bordeaux blend except for the presence of the syrah. The wine aged 25 months in what is described as “old oak 225L barrels (American and French),” exemplifying Beinstock’s typical avoidance of new oak. The color is radiant medium ruby shading to lighter ruby at the rim. At eleven years old — and the wine was released just two years ago — this Claret Prestige is ripe and spicy and buoyant, with notes of macerated red and black currants and cherries profoundly framed by gripping acidity and graphite-etched tannins in a package so complete, so well-balanced that it feels timeless. A whisper of black olive and dill adds detail to the expansive depth and breath of the wine’s structure and replete yet spare flavors, though the whole feeling of the wine is deftness and lightness. A true marriage of elegance and power. 12.6 percent alcohol. Production was 128 cases. Now through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $65.
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The Renaissance Premier Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba, at 15 years old, is, in four words: Not. Ready. To. Drink. A blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15 percent merlot and six percent cabernet franc, the wine aged 27 months in American, French and German oak barrels. It was bottled in March 2000 and released in September 2010. This Renaissance Premier Cuvee 1997 features towering (but not astringent) tannins; stunning (but not sharp) acidity; forceful (but not overwhelming) granitic and graphite-like mineral elements; and glimmers of ripe, fleshy, spicy and slightly roasted flavors of red and black currants and mulberries. For all this and despite its forthright rigorous character, the wine feels fresh and invigorating, but I wouldn’t touch it until 2015 or ’16, and it’s a cinch to go the long haul, say 2027 to ’30. Alcohol content is 13 percent. 370 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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For 1997, the Renaissance Claret Prestige, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba, is a blend of 43 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent merlot, 12 percent cabernet franc, 6 percent each syrah and sangiovese and 3 percent malbec; the wine aged 27 months is “old oak 225L barrels (French, American and German).” Benefiting from fine weather, the vintage was excellent overall in California, with potentially long-lived cabernet-based wines of exceptional quality; certainly this Claret Prestige and the preceding Premier Cuvee exhibit the deep and profound structure of true vins de garde. The color is dark ruby at the center with a slightly lighter rim; it takes some coaxing, but after a few minutes a ripe, fleshy bouquet emerges, shot with notes of macerated and smoky black cherries and raspberries with touches of black currants, dried fruit, potpourri and sandalwood. Gripping acidity animates the package, while pretty darned hard, unyielding tannins — dusty and granitic — lend deep support through an engaged through fairly austere finish. 12.6 percent alcohol. Production was 430 cases. As with the previous wine, try from 2015 or ’17 through 2027 to ’30. Excellent. About $55.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Now for the treat. Only 54 cases remain of the approximately 1,200 cases that Karl Werner made of the Renaissance Cabernet Sauvignon 1984, North Yuba; Werner was the estate’s founding winemaker. This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon that aged — are you ready? — 34 months in new German oak barrels; that’s right, German oak. At 28 years old, there’s not a thing either fragile or sharp or diminished about this wine, which feels like a finely sifted amalgam of every essential element a cabernet sauvignon should possess but in a barely perceptible autumnal mode. It fills the mouth with a packed yet supple sensation of dried red and black fruit, potpourri and pomander, woody spices like cloves and sandalwood, soft powdery tannins, still lively acidity and bass notes of underbrush and graphite. Truly lovely. 13.5 percent alcohol. I wouldn’t be surprised if this wine drinks well for another decade. Excellent. About $65.
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All right, after consulting with my board of directors and executive committee and conducting a straw pool among undecided voters in swinging states, I decided to change the name of the “Friday Wine Sips” project to “Weekend Wine Sips,” mainly because I more often post this entry on Saturday or even Sunday than on Friday. At least I don’t have to feel guilty, which for me is a blessing since I would confess to the assassination of the Queen of Romania if pressed to do so; whew, don’t have to worry about that for a while. Anyway, today we have red wines that range from lighthearted to impressive, from drink-right-now to wait-a-few-years. We touch Argentina, Italy, France and California; we have organic wines; we have blends and 100 percent varietal. What we don’t have are reams of technical and historical information, the purpose of these Friday Wine Sips, oops, Weekend Wine Sips being to provide lightning quick appraisals designed to strike to the heart of the wine. These were samples for review or tasted at trade events. Ratings vary from a sad “Good Only” to “Excellent.”
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Cavicchioli Lambrusco Dolce, nv, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. 7.5% alc. Startling bright cherry-mulberry color; mildly effervescent; pure cherry and raspberry, sweet and quite ripe initially but vibrant acidity dries the wine from mid-palate back, without subtracting from its dark juiciness; intriguing contrast and balance between the ripeness of the red fruit and the hints of spice and slightly earthy minerality; avoids the Kool-Aid® aspects of so many lambruscos. Quite charming and you’d be surprised how well it goes with savory food. Very Good. About $9, a Great Price.
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Cecchi Chianti Classico 2009, Tuscany, Italy. 13% alc. 90% sangiovese, 10% colorino Toscano. Rough and rustic, shaggy tannins, leans toward the anonymous, generic side of sangiovese. Should be better. Good only. About $13.
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Bonterra Merlot 2010, Mendocino County. 13.6% alc. Certified organic. “With added touches of petite sirah, syrah and carignane.” Dark purple with a lighter ruby-magenta rim; smoke, black currants and blueberries; quite dense and chewy with dusty tannins; barest hint of black olives and cedar; bright acidity, earthy finish where you feel the oak. Very Good. About $16.
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Bonterra Zinfandel 2010, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Certified organic. With “a little petite sirah.” Beautiful ruby-magenta color; nice mouthful of wine but could be cabernet or merlot; what are the distinguishing characteristics, except for a bit of ripe, berryish vitality? Good+. About $16.
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Wild Horse Merlot 2010, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. With 5% malbec, 2% cabernet sauvignon and 4% “other red.” Dark ruby color; black currants and plums, lavender and roasted fennel, cedar, black tea and loam; firm yet supple structure, sustaining acidity, almost succulent but balanced by slightly grainy tannins; no great depth but an attractive individual rendition. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $19.
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Wild Horse Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. With 1% syrah. Dark purple shading to medium ruby rim; cedar and tobacco, mint and eucalyptus, spicy black currants and plums; smooth, velvety, slightly dense and chewy; backnotes of oak and dusty tannins; clean, lively finish. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $20.
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Chakona Estate Selection Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple, close to opaque at the center; a strapping wine, deep and broad; formidable structure balances grainy tannins, spicy oak and vibrant acidity for a complete package — purposeful and dynamic — that doesn’t entirely conceal lovely character and breeding. Now (with grilled meat) or from 2014 to 2018. Excellent. About $25.
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Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zinfandel. Deep ruby-purple color; fresh, bright and fruit, spicy and savory; not a blockbuster but immediately drinkable; black currants, plums and blueberries with hints of briers and brambles, tar and graphite; pulls up squinchy, mouth-coating tannins and adds some mineral-fueled power through the finish. Now through 2014. Production was 212 cases. Very Good+. About $25.
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Artezin Zinfandel 2010, Dry Creek Valley. 14.8% alc. With 3% petite sirah and 1% syrah. Dark ruby-purple; deep, rich and spicy; blackberries and plums with a hint of boysenberry and blueberry tart; a few moments in the glass bring up touches of fig paste, tapenade and soy sauce; very dry, with well-knit tannins and integrated, spicy oak; black and blue fruit a little fleshy; a strain of earthy, graphite-laden minerality dominates the vibrant and slightly austere finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 360 cases. Excellent.
About $25, representing Great Value.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.1% alc. 58% merlot, 22% cabernet sauvignon, 18% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot. From Margerum Wine Company. Consumed at a restaurant, later tasted at a trade event. Dark ruby color; seductive bouquet of black cherries and currants, touch of plums and black mulberries, deeply spicy and savory; lavender, violets, graphite; black olive and thyme; deep foundation of dusty, lithic tannins and smoky oak, coats the mouth and laves the palate with ripe and velvety black and blue fruit flavors that never get blatant or slushy; firm, gripping hand of vital acidity cuts a swath. Frankly delicious. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Hecht & Bannier Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2009, Languedoc, France. 14.5% alc. 55% grenache, 25% syrah, 15% mourvèdre, 5% carignan. Dark ruby with a lighter ruby rim; meaty and fleshy red and black currants, wildly spiced and macerated, over hints of roses and violets; vibrant, lively, engaging yet deeply imbued with dense dusty tannins and a powerful earthy, graphite-like mineral character; smoke, brambles, touch of moss through the finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $26.
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Marziano Abbona Barbera d’Alba Rinaldi 2010, Piedmont, Italy. 14.5% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Dark ruby color; dried spices and flowers, lavender and potpourri, hint of pomander, red and black fruit scents and flavors; deeply foresty and earthy, brushy and briery tannins, precisely balances succulence with a strict regimen of acidity and granitic minerality. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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Pay attention, Readers. These are wines to buy by the case for drinking anywhere from the next year to three or four years from now. At these prices, you can afford them. Four of these are French, one Spanish and one Argentine; in the grape categories, they are completely various and diverse. Three are white, three red. What they share is attractiveness, appeal and accessibility. They are widely available. No technical data or historical or geographical information; the Friday Wine Sips are designed to give you quick insight into a wine’s character. These wines are imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, in Winchester, Va., at the north end of the Shenandoah Valley. Tasted at a local wholesaler’s trade event.
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Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet 2011, Coteaux de Languedoc, France. 12.5% alc. 100% picpoul grapes, aka folle blanche. A perennial fave on BTYH. Savory and spicy, bursting with sunlight and sea-breeze and scintillating limestone and shale elements; roasted lemon and lime peel, touches of thyme, fennel and lilac; dry, delicate, evanescent yet with real substance. Through Spring 2013. Very Good+. About $12.
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D. Coussergues Chardonnay Viognier 2011, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France. 13.5% alc. 60% chardonnay/40% viognier. Very pretty wine; pale straw-gold color; clean, fresh and floral (honeysuckle, camellia); lemon-lime and hint of grapefruit; touch of viognier’s inherent waxiness and honeyed richness; but very dry, vibrant with crisp acidity, a stones-and-bones finish. Delightful. Through Spring 2013. Very Good+. About $13.
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Nuna Torrontes Reserve 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.5% alc. 100% torrontes grapes. Lovely white with a touch of austerity for balance; hints of almonds, jasmine and honeysuckle; roasted lemon and pear, very shapely, round yet breached by taut acidity and limestone minerality; quite dry, gets more spare, almost elegant through the finish. Through Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $15.
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El Cortijillo Tempranillo 2011, La Mancha, Spain. 12.5% alcohol. 100% tempranillo grapes. All freshness, brightness and immediate appeal; red cherries and currants and touch of blueberries, hint of dried spices; undertow of briers and brambles, dry grainy tannins slip-slidy with velvety texture and clean acidity. Have a spare rib lying around? A lamb chop? Simple, direct, tasty. Very Good+. About $12.
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Castelmaure Col des Vents 2010, Corbieres, France. 13.5% alc. 50% carignan, 35% grenache, 15% syrah. Another BTYH fave. Bright, clean, very appealing; scents and flavors of spiced and roasted black currants and blueberries infused with smoke and minerals; wild, pungent and peppery, dusty briers, brambles and underbrush, great for everyday drinking. Through 2013, with pork chops, meatball sandwiches and the ilk. Very Good +. About $12.
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Chateau Bellevue 2009, Cotes de Castillon, Bordeaux, France. 13.5% alc. 65% merlot, 35% cabernet franc. You feel both the balance and the slight tug of each grape; dark ruby color; black currants and cherries, touch of mulberries; thyme and black olive, graphite and cedar; plush texture leavened by the seriousness of oak and fairly dense tannins with brisk acidity keeping the package fresh and lively. Through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $17.
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How often does one get to try what is commonly regarded as New Zealand’s greatest wine? Not often, I would say, and certainly not in my case. What is that wine? Hint: It ain’t sauvignon blanc.

I was at a meeting last week of a new board for the glossy year-old local wine magazine Cork It! Memphis, and of course people on the board of a wine magazine would bring wine to the meeting, n’est-ce pas? I took a bottle of the Trimbach Gewurztraminer 2007, a wine transcending to a state of beautiful pure minerality. Enough of that though, because another member of the board brought the Te Mata Estate Coleraine Cabernet/Merlot 1998, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. That’s right, 1998. Where do people get these wines?

The Hawkes Bay wine region (without an apostrophe) occupies a semi-circle of geography around Hawke’s Bay in the southeast area of New Zealand’s North Island. Muddying the waters, however, the Hawkes Bay wine region is sometimes also written with an apostrophe, so if you are the kind of person who gets Stag’s Leap, Stags’ Leap and Stags Leap mixed up, you’ll be right at home here. Though the region is the oldest wine-producing area of New Zealand — the first winery was established there in 1851 — and home now to about 75 wineries, that’s a recent development, in vinous terms; even in the early 1970s, there were fewer than 10.

The winery dates back to 1896 and was acquired by present owner John Buck in 1974. Launched in 1982, Coleraine was made from a single vineyard until 1988; since that vintage, it has been made from parcels of vines in other Te Mata estate vineyards but with the preponderance of the cabernet sauvignon coming from the original Coleraine Vineyard.

Te Mata Estate Coleraine Cabernet/Merlot 1998, Hawkes Bay, is a blend of 68 percent cabernet sauvignon and 32 percent merlot. The wine aged 20 months in French oak barriques. The estate’s website touts Coleraine as a 10 to 15-year wine, and I would say that at the age of 14 it’s definitely fully mature and will remain on this plateau for another four to six years. The wine — this bottle, anyway — was as smooth and mellow as you could ask a cabernet/merlot blend to be, with richness and succulence defining the spicy, slightly macerated black currant and plum aromas and flavors, while structure was founded on depths of well-honed tannins and polished oak which, like the Holy Spirit, were everywhere present but nowhere visible. Beyond those factors was a permeation of earthy, graphite-like minerality and still vital (and essential) acidity that tied the wine together, both lively and grounded. Wines like Coleraine Cabernet/Merlot 1998 exist on a plane of integrity, confidence and completeness all their own; when the opportunity to taste one comes along, take it and thank the people who can afford it and offered you a glass. I don’t mind being humble. Current vintage is 2010. Excellent. About $110.

Devotees of adding grape varieties to their Century Club roster may find a few candidates among the wines reviewed in this edition of Friday Wine Sips, posted for you actually on Friday! The theme today — not that we always have a theme — is blended red wines, and not the usual cab/merlot/cab franc/petit verdot or syrah/mourvèdre/grenache agenda but some blends that draw perhaps on those grapes but even more on eclectic notions of what grapes are right, fit and proper together. The inclusion of a couple of wines from Portugal that feature indigenous varieties guarantees a couple of grapes that some of my readers may be unfamiliar with, while for the first time in the epic history of this Higgs boson-haunted cosmos I feature a wine from Turkey and a pair of grapes that will tip the mercury in your thermometer of exoticism. Once a producer blends four or five or six red grapes from a broad area or from several regions, the point obviously is not to pay homage to the purity of a grape variety or the integrity of a vineyard but to assemble a wine that’s appealing and tasty or, perhaps more important, that structurally and philosophically makes sense on its own terms. Several of the wines considered today accomplish this task handily, a few range from decent and acceptable to a little iffy, and one employs five grape varieties from three counties in California and succeeds only in manufacturing something generic. As usual in these Friday Wine Sips, I avoid most technical, historical, specifically geographical and personal information for the sake of quick, incisive notices designed to make you say “Hot damn, gimme some o’ that!” (Or not.)

These wines were samples for review.
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Esporão Alandra Red Table Wine nv, Portugal. 13% alc. A blend of moreto, castelão and trincadeira grapes. Dark mulberry-plum color; very smoky and spicy, ripe black and blue fruit scents and flavors; deep, dense, chewy, sapid and savory, heaps of robust grainy tannins; finish packed with slate, forest, thyme and dried porcini; sort of amazing presence and personality for the price. Begs for grilled sausages (though it’s not a wine to beg, really, more like demand). Very Good. About $7, an Outrageous Bargain.
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Bonny Doon Vineyards Contra Old Vine Field Blend 2010, California. 13.7% alcohol. 69% carignane, 31% syrah. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; pungent, ripe, fleshy, black cherry and black currant with hints of plums, blueberries, smoke, graphite; intense core of potpourri and bittersweet chocolate; very spicy, quite dense and chewy with grainy tannins, vibrant acidity, lots of structure; an old-fashioned, rather rustic, juicy, briery California quaffer for burgers, steaks, pizzas. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value.
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Peter Lehmann Layers 2010, Barossa Valley, Australia. 14.5% alc. 55% shiraz, 18% tempranillo, 17% mourvèdre, 10% grenache. Dark ruby-purple color; intriguing aromas of black currants, blackberries and plums with touches of black pepper, iodine, cloves and foresty elements; dense and chewy yet smooth and mellow, drinks like a charm; deep, spicy black and blue fruit flavors, delicious and unfettered; a satisfying, moderately long finish packed with spice and earthy notes. We drank this wine with a hearty pizza. Very Good+. About $17.
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Ghost Pines Red Blend “Winemaker’s Blend” 2009, Napa County 46%, Sonoma County 36%, San Joaquin County 18%. (A Gallo label.) Cabernet sauvignon 33%, petite sirah 29%, zinfandel 22%, merlot 10%, syrah 6%. Solid, well-made, symmetrical and unexciting; good acidity and smooth tannins, tasty black fruit flavors, but lacks personality and delineation. Maybe it would be O.K. at five dollars less. Very Good. About $20.
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Highflyer Centerline 2008, California. 14.8% alc. 81% syrah, 12% petite sirah, 4% tempranillo, 3% zinfandel. Deep purple-black with a motor oil-like sheen; very intense, very concentrated; black currants, black raspberries and plums with some plum-skin bitterness and underbrush on the finish; iron and iodine, exotic, wild, coats the mouth with brooding tannins and yet elevating touches of sandalwood, cloves and fruitcake; still, needs a year or two or a huge medium-rare steak hot and crusty from the grill. Try 2013 through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $20.
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Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2009, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. 42% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 17% cabernet franc, 6% zinfandel, 3% syrah, 3% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Dark ruby color; packed with spice, earth, shale-and-slate-like minerality; very intense and concentrated, pretty damned densely tannic and oaky; robust, almost exuberant, but needs a couple of years to ease the reins of its furled nature (furl its reins? rain on its fur?). Try 2013 or ’14 through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $24.
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Kayra Imperial 2008, Elazig, Denizli, Turkey. 14% alc. Okuzgozü 80%, bogazkere 6%, syrah, 7%, petit verdot 7%. Very dark ruby-purple; bright, vivid, very spicy; blueberries and mulberries, smoke and graphite-like minerality; very appealing, furry tannins and a velvety texture, but oak and tannin also give it some structural rigor, all being nicely composed and well-knit; a bit of austerity on the finish. A fascinating wine. Very Good+. About $25.
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Esporão Reserva 2009, Alentejo, Portugal. 14.5% alcohol. A blend of aragonez (that is, tempranillo), trincadeira, alicante bouschet and cabernet sauvignon. Color is inky-purple; first impression: oak and tannins pretty blatant; smoky, fleshy and meaty, lots of spice, touch of mint, slightly herbal, dark and succulent black fruit flavors; there’s a personality here waiting to unfold but give it a year or two or three. Very Good+. About $25.
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Spelletich 3 Spells Blend GHK Red Wine 2007, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 57% merlot, 28% sangiovese, 15% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby-purple; rates an initial “wow”; ink, iodine and iron, graphite, lavender and licorice, violets and bittersweet chocolate; black and red cherries, raspberries and plums; smooth and mellow but something born free about it, almost feral; plush and voluptuous but held in check by resonant acidity, substantial tannins and granite-like minerality; definitely Californian and all the better for it. 300 cases. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $26 and Worth a Search.
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After a career in the publishing business, John Shafer moved his family to the Napa Valley in 1972, purchasing a 210-acre estate — with 50 acres of vines — in what is now the Stags Leap District AVA, officially designated without an apostrophe. The first crush occurred in 1978. The winery’s vineyard property gradually increased to 205 acres, with 79 acres in Stags Leap, 60 acres just south of SLD in Napa Valley and 66 acres in Carneros. By variety, the breakdown is 97 acres devoted to caberet sauvignon (Napa’s great hero grape), 66 of chardonnay, 24 of syrah, 12 of merlot and 6 of petite sirah. John Shafer’s son Doug became winemaker in 1983; when he was elevated to company president in 1994, assistant winemaker Elias Fernandez became winemaker, a position he still fills today.

Shafer is one of Napa Valley’s elite wineries, and if California possessed a system similar to the classification of Bordeaux — don’t worry, that will never happen, at least not “officially” — it would certainly be listed among the First Growths. The commitment is to cabernet sauvignon, though forays into chardonnay and syrah have proved highly successful. The wines tend to see a boodle of new French oak, 100 percent new oak for some of the wines, but they seem to absorb that wood and make it an integral part of the package; I have never tasted a wine from Shafer tainted by the blatant, smoky vanilla qualities of new barrels. The winery is making an effort to enumerate more accurately the alcohol content of its wines, once listed as a blanket 14.8 percent. Since federal regulations allow a one-degree leeway, an indication of 14.8 percent could mean anywhere from 13.8 to 15.8. The degrees indicated now represent an attempt to tell consumers what they’re actually getting.

Tasted at a trade event.
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The Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay 2010, Carneros, is an absolutely exquisite and classic representation of the grape. The wine aged 14 months in 75 percent new French oak barrels and 25 percent stainless steel tanks. Since it does not go through what’s called malolactic fermentation, the wine delivers a sense of grace, purity and intensity that does not involve the extraneous and often cloying creamy, dessert-like aspects that the process can produce (and which some wine publications unaccountably dote upon), while the oak influence is subtly revealed only in the wine’s sleekness and suppleness and its spicy nature. The color is pale gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are tinged with quince and ginger and hints of cloves and limestone. In the mouth, ripe and spicy stone-fruit flavors are ensconced in a texture that’s almost lush and powdery, though balanced, indeed cut, by powerful limestone and flint minerality and the scintillating effect of crystalline acidity; tremendous presence, heft and tone, yet exquisitely drawn and finely detailed, right through the spare, elegant finish. 14.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 or ’17, well-stored. Excellent. About $48.
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Sometimes I think that I would rather drink hot grease than another merlot from California, but then an example like the Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley, comes along to gladden my heart and make the world seem fit to live in. This is a merlot of jewel-like transparency, detail and definition; I mean, it feels effortless, though there’s nothing delicate or evanescent about it. (There’s 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec in the blend.) The wine aged 20 months in French oak, 75 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby-purple; aromas of ripe and macerated mulberries, black raspberries and blueberries are highlighted by notes of rose petals and brambles, white pepper, bittersweet chocolate and penetrating graphite-like minerality. The heft and balance, the absolute confidence and insouciance of this merlot are truly lovely, though the wine does not neglect the important aspects of a rigorous tannin and acid structure that lends a sense of tension and grip. It you love merlot and sometimes despair of its fate, don’t fail to get a few bottles of this quite beautiful model. 15.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’20. Exceptional. About $48.
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You could call the Shafer Relentless 2008, Napa Valley, a blend of 75 percent syrah and 25 percent petite sirah, a blockbuster — I kept using the word tremendous in my notes — except that it displays so much finesse; its, um, tremendousness feels like an inextricable weaving of infinite strands of subtlety and nuance bound by, er, tremendously huge tannins and tautly wrought acidity. (The wine aged an astonishing 30 months in 100 percent French oak barrels.) The color is deep, dark ruby-purple; the bouquet bursts from the glass in a dynamic welter of black and blue plums, black currants and blueberries, mocha and black pepper, violets and lavender and the classic Northern Rhone notes of wet fur, tar and hot stones; if ever a bouquet could be called muscular, it’s this one. Still, for all its tannic and oaken power and its iron-like minerality (and shall we mention 15.6 percent alcohol content and the bravado ripeness of its black and blue fruit flavors?), the wine does not feel ponderous or overbearing; it takes a lot of skill and experience to assemble these components into a balanced, coherent wine that feels utterly faithful to its constituent grapes. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
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The Shafer One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Stags Leap District — 98 percent cabernet with 2 percent petit verdot — offers a deep almost opaque purple color and burgeoning aromas of cassis and black raspberry, smoke, bittersweet chocolate, underbrush, iodine and iron. (This aged 20 months in 100 percent new French oak.) There’s a great deal of depth and grip and forceful tautness here, an energetic element that makes the wine lively and resonant — the tannins, at least, are finely milled, seeming well-oiled and seamless — yet of the five wines under review here, this is the one that feels the least integrated. Perhaps it’s simply the earthiest (I wouldn’t say rustic) and just needs a couple of years to come together, say 2014 to ’15 and then drinking until 2020 or so. 15.3 percent alcohol. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $70.
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Shafer’s flagship wine is the Hillside Select, Stags Leap District, which for 2007, the 25th Anniversary vintage, brings together all the virtues of place and grape for a virtuoso performance. This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon; the wine aged 32 months in all new French oak barrels. Real weight, heft and substance here, stupendous earthy-granitic minerality, roiling acidity and deeply-rooted grainy tannins; this is not about elegance or finesse, but it is about power, balance and total integration of all elements into dynamic, resonant completion, the whole package feeling as if it had been lightly sanded and burnished. There’s some toughness here, too, dense, tense, a little truculent for the next few years, yet, paradoxically, the wine is almost voluptuous in texture, a fitting cushion for heady and penetrating qualities of ripe, bright cassis, black cherry and dark plum flavors. 15.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to 2025. Exceptional. About $225 (a bottle).
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