Monterey County


Two weeks ago in this space I dissed a number of chardonnay wines from Cuvaison, Davis Bynum, La Follette and La Rochelle wineries. Today, in addition to other pinot noir wines from California, I offer some reviews of successful pinot noirs from the aforementioned producers, not in recompense — I would never do that — but to show that they can indeed make wines that are balanced and authentic. So, 12 wines, brief reviews, no emphasis on technical, historical, geographical or personal data but just my notes, some taken directly — ripped, as it were — from my notebook pages, some expanded upon a bit; but all designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Most of these pinots, whose ratings fall into the narrow range of Very Good+ to Excellent, do not conform to my notion of the grape’s hallowed ideal of delicacy, elegance and tensile strength, being more about structure and power, though on the California model they tend to perform well. These were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Cuvaison Estate grown Pinot Noir 2011, Napa Valley Carneros. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color; very spicy, earthy and rooty, with moderate tannins and acidity that cuts a swath; still, super satiny in a fairly lithe manner and quite attractive with notes of red and black cherries, red currants, hints of rhubarb, cranberry and cloves; briers and brambles in the background and a touch of graphite. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River valley. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color, slightly lighter ar the rim; exotic nose of cloves, allspice and sandalwood, like incense in your hippie pad; plums, red currants, cranberries; dense, chewy a bit more drapery than ordinary satin; rich with smoky plum flavors, black and red cherries; one feels indulged, a little decadent, though the earth-mint-mineral elements surge forth through the finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $40.
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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Garfield Block Pinot Noir 2011. Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 500 cases. This more limited version of the previous wine (in origin and production) is a shade darker in color, a little tighter, a bit more focused and delineated; it’s very supple and satiny but displays more of a tannic and mineral presence under its dark, succulent and spicy red and black cherry fruit with overtones of plums and mulberries; long, deep, earthy finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $60.
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DeLoach Vineyards Olivet Bench Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley.13.5% alc. 499 cases. Medium ruby-mulberry color; plums and rhubarb, red and black cherries with a hint of cranberry after a few moments; dusty graphite, very spicy, exotic; dry, minerally, muscular, almost rigorous but super-satiny in texture; you feel the rooty-barky qualities and the undertow of tannin and oak. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $NA.
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Frank Family Pinot Noir 2011, Napa Valley Carneros. 14.5% alc. Radiant ruby-cranberry color; cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate, red cherries and currants, white pepper; smooth, sleek, suave and satiny; fairly tannic and rigorous after 30 or 40 minutes, with a full complement of earthy, briery, underbrushy and graphite elements but doesn’t lose its essential succulence and flavorful sway. Now through 2016 to ’17. Excellent. About $35.
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La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 12.9% alc (lovely!) 536 cases. Medium ruby with a touch of violet-blue magenta; meaty and fleshy, spiced and macerated; succulent and smoky red cherry and plum flavors imbued with briers, brambles and an underbrushy element; intensely spicy, intensely floral; superbly satiny texture but a rather startling structure for a pinot noir that needs a couple of years to find its footing. Try 2015 through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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La Rochelle Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands. 15.2% alc. 381 cases. Medium ruby color with a trace of garnet at the rim; big, dense, pithy, sappy pinot noir, rich, warm and spicy but thrown off balance a bit by the high alcohol, which makes a distinct presence on the finish. Very Good+. About $38.
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La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 14.7% alc. 259 six-packs. Medium ruby color with lovely transparency; better balance here than with the previously noted wine; the drawers of the bureau of exotic spices thrown wide, making for a heady and seductive bouquet and intriguing flavors of red and black currants, pomegranate and rhubarb; bright acidity plows a furrow through layers of briers, brambles and graphite, all the while the wine displays beautiful purity and intensity. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $75.
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MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2011, Central Coast. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color, trace of magenta at the rim; notes of pomegranate, cranberry and rhubarb open to red and black cherries permeated by cloves and cola; quite dry, a little mossy and briery; ripping acidity; attractive, lively and tasty though no great depth. Very Good+. About $23.
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MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; rhubarb, cranberry, cola and cloves, touch of plum, interesting note of mint; leans more to black and red cherries in flavor; gains body and substance as minutes pass, a little rooty and mossy with tannins and earthy elements; very dry finish, oak and granitic minerality. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $28.
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MacMurray Ranch Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 15.2% alc. Dark ruby color with a touch of garnet; big, dry, leather and graphite; comes close to being dramatic; quite rich, warm and spicy but riven by scintillating acidity and dusty, dusky tannins; you feel the oak and alcohol on the finish. Not my favorite style for pinot noir. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $37.
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Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Luicia Highlands. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color with a pure violet rim; black and red cherries and currants; pomegranate, rhubarb and sassafras, hint of cloves; succulent but spare, elegant, lithe and muscular; scintillating acidity and granitic minerality; riveting purity and intensity of the grape and the vineyard. Always a favorite in our house. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $54.
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I keep reading that all the instruments agree that Millennials really love blended wines, but they must be drinking examples other than most of those mentioned in this post, because I found them to be bland and generic. The exception is Sokol Blosser’s Evolution American Red Wine, now in its Second Edition; it’s a cross-state wine — hence the “American” designation — “based on syrah” and heir to the reputation of the popular Evolution White Wine that debuted 13 years ago. There are other red wines in this roster of brief reviews, but frankly, other than the Evolution Red, not much roused my interest enough to subject my heavily insured palate to more than a few sips. Lotta wine went down the drain this morning! Glug, glug, glug! Quick reviews, mainly taken directly from my notes; no truck with technical, historical or geographical data; just the real deal. Enjoy — or not. Truly, sometimes I wonder why producers even bother. These were samples for review.

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Alamos Red Blend 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Malbec, bonarda, tempranillo. Dark ruby color; solid, firm; juicy and spicy black and blue fruit flavors; dusty tannins and walnut-shell-tinged oak; a touch of graphite minerality. Fine for barbecue ribs or burgers. Very Good. About $13.
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Alamos Seleccion Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. Dark ruby color; aromas of black currants and black cherries, touch of blueberry; briers and brambles; robust and rustic, bright acidity plows a furrow, rollicking dusty tannins; black fruit flavors open to a core of violets, bittersweet chocolate and graphite; don’t look for elegance here, this is forthright, spicy, flavorful and solidly made. Very Good+. About $20.
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Albamar Pinot Noir 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.9% alc. Very pretty light ruby color; earthy, briers and brambles, a little stalky and weedy; a schizo conflict between sweet ripe berry fruit and bruisingly dry austere tannins; way off base and unbalanced. Not recommended. About $13.
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Edna Valley Vineyard “Paragon” Pinot Noir 2011, Central Coast. 13.9% alc. (A Gallo label.) Neither smells nor tastes like pinot noir; generic, bland, innocuous, forgettable. Not recommended. About $20.
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Evolution American Red Wine, 2nd edition. 13% alc. Bottled by Sokol Blosser. “Syrah-based.” Dark ruby color; roots and branches, earthy yet ripe, fleshy, a little funky; very berryish, very spicy; lots of personality and engagement; black currants, cherries and plums with a touch of mulberry; dusty, pretty serious tannins, lively acidity; tasty but with plenty of stuffing. Says, “Bring me a lamb chop.” Very Good+. About $15, marking Good Value.
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Four Vines Truant Old Vine Zinfandel 2010, California. 14.4% alc. 77% zinfandel, 13% syrah, 5% petite sirah, 3% barbera, 2% sangiovese. Medium ruby color; generic but pleasant, which is better than being generic but unpleasant. Good only. About $12. And how old were those vines?
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Gascon Colosal Red Blend 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.1% alc. Malbec, bonarda, syrah, cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby color; fresh, clean and bright, fruity but not distinctive, fairly generic but no real flaws. Good only. About $15.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2011, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Intense ruby-mulberry color; lovely bouquet of beetroot, cloves and sassafras and a spectrum of red and black fruit, hint of earthy briers and brambles; very spicy and earthy in the mouth, plum and cherry fruit is slightly roasted and fleshy; quite dry, the tannins and oak assert themselves in a welter of woody spice and dusty graphite; finish is a bit short but a very enjoyable, moderately complex pinot noir. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $23.
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The Spur 2011, Livermore Valley. 13.5% alc. (From Murrieta’s Well) Petite sirah 31%, petit verdot 29%, cabermet sauvignon 27%, malbec 8%, cabernet franc 5%. Dark ruby color; mint and iodine, lavender, bittersweet chocolate; blackberries, black currants and blueberries, quite spicy; dry plush tannins, dusty graphite, zinging acidity, almost too lively; tannins coat the mouth, from mid-palate back the flavors feel curiously bland. Very Good. About $25.
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Waterstone Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc (tech sheet says 15.1). Dark ruby color; solid, firm structure; deep dusty tannins and graphite minerality; black and red currants and cherries, touch of plum; nice complexity of cedar and dried rosemary, tobacco and black olive; stalwart tannins, dusty and earthy; finish packed with spice, tannin and graphite. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.
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I keep reading that there has been a general toning down of oak in chardonnay wines produced in California, but you wouldn’t know it from the wines I taste, of which I offer today a selection of 16. I’ve uttered these sentences before, and I’ll probably utter them many more times before I close the computer a final time and drag my weary fingers to the catacombs, and I don’t care if you’re tired of reading them; to wit: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, it has too much oak. AND: Oak should be like the Holy Spirit, everywhere present but nowhere visible. Oak barrels are instruments, and they should not define a wine or establish its character; definition and character derive from the vineyard and the grape. It traduces every aspect of common sense that winemakers would want to send out into the world and into the grasp of innocent consumers chardonnays that taste as if they were made from liquid sawdust, yet many chardonnay wines feel exactly like that … and they’re not cheap. To those who say, “But, FK, plenty of people like their chardonnays to smell and taste like oak,” my reply is “Fine, start your own blog. Call it ILoveToastyOak.com.” This, however, is my blog, and on this blog we abhor wines that obliterate the purity and intensity of the grape and the authority of the vineyard through the heavy-handed agency of oak barrels.

Anyway, the scorecard today reads Excellent, 4; Very Good+, 5; Very Good, 1; Good, 1; Not Recommended 5. Among the Not Recommended chardonnay’s but also earning an Excellent rating are three from La Rochelle, a winery I admire for its individuality and willingness to take risks, though that’s a stance that to my palate doesn’t always work, as you can see. Still, I would rather a winery extend itself and skate sometimes over the edge than produce more bland innocuous “me-too” wines.

As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes (previously Weekend Wine Sips and before that Friday Wine Sips), I eschew reams of technical, geographical, geological, climatic and historical data for quick incisive reviews designed to pique your interest, if not, in some cases, whet your palate. Enjoy! (Or not.)

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Artesa Chardonnay 2011, Carneros. 13.8% alc. Pale gold color; clean and fresh, touches of apple and pear, hint of pineapple; quite spicy, smooth and supple, not creamy or viscous, “just right” as Goldilocks said; almost savory in its slightly roasted fruit qualities and modulated spicy aspects; bright acidity, and the limestone and flint elements and sense of oak expand through the finish. Nicely-made. Very Good+. About $20.
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Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay Reserve 2010, Carneros Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. A bold and powerful expression of the grape but balanced and integrated; bright medium gold color; pineapple and grapefruit, ginger and quince, hint of cloves; wet stones and flint mineral element that grows as the moments pass; no doubt about the oak but it contributes creaminess to the mid-palate, a supple texture and spice; long spice-and-mineral-packed finish; tremendous tone and presence. 14.9% alc. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $55.
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Cuvaison Estate Grown Chardonnay 2011, Carneros Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. The last Carneros Chardonnay I reviewed from Cuvaison was the 2007; I rated it “Excellent.” Not this example. Pale to medium gold color; bright, bold, ripe, spicy; you feel the oak from the moment you take a sip; grapefruit and pineapple, notes of lemon and lemon curd; plays a subtle floral card; plenty of acid and limestone minerality; supple texture at first but it feels as if the wine stiffens and becomes slightly unyielding with oak, which coats the palate and leave an astringent sensation in the mouth. Perhaps a year or two will help. Good only. About $25.
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Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. First note: “Man, that’s a lot of wood.” & it goes on from there. Medium gold color; insistently spicy and cloying; austere and astringent oak dries the palate unpleasantly; like drinking liquid sawdust. Not recommended and consistent with my reviews of Davis Bynum chardonnay (and pinot noir) from previous vintages. About $30.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Foggy Oaks Chardonnay 2010, Russian River valley. 13.5% alc. Medium gold color; apples, pears and grapefruit, undercurrent of pineapple, moderately spicy, firm foundation of gunflint and limestone; lovely balance and poise, shaped by vibrant acidity and a burgeoning oak element that provides a modulating quality to the wine’s richness. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $20, signifying Great Value.
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Ferrari-Carano Tre Terre Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. “Vineyard Select Limited Production.” Bright medium gold color; banana and mango, baked grapefruit and pineapple, cloves and smoke; big, deep, rich and savory; bacon fat, ginger, lemon balm, have mercy; feels like multiple layers of limestone and flint-like minerality; a bit daunting and needs a little nuance and elegance, but not over-oaked, not cloying. Perhaps it needs a year of age. Very Good+. About $32.
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Gallo Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. 87% Laguna Vineyard, 13% Del Rio Vineyard. I always thought the winemaker’s thumbprint — in this case Gina Gallo, whose name is on the front label twice — was too heavy on this wine; bright medium gold color; rich, warm, spicy, almost dense and chewy for a chardonnay; very ripe citrus and tropical scents and flavors; butterscotch, vanilla, cloves — what is this, a dessert cart? the oak and spice elements are overwhelming; so unbalanced. Not Recommended. About $30.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; fresh, clean, bright; pungent with cloves, slightly roasted peaches and yellow plums melded with pineapple and grapefruit with a whiff of white pepper; smoky oak, smoky caramel around the edges, quite dry yet feels innately balanced. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $35.
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You could call this, if you were generous, and I know you are, an Early Weekend Wine Sips instead of what it is, a Way Late Weekend Wine Sips, but the weekend starts tomorrow, right, so everything is OK. Nous sommes tres eclectic today, as we touch several regions of California, as well as Chile, Portugal, Washington state and France’s renowned Bordeaux region. We are eclectic, too, in the various genres, styles and grape varieties featured here. Minimal attention to matters technical, historical, geographical and personal, the emphasis is these Weekend Wine sips being in instantaneous and incisive reviews designed to whet your interest as well as your palate. These were all samples for review. Enjoy! Drink well, but moderately! Have a great life…
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Meli Dry Riesling 2012, Maule Valley, Chile. 12.5% alc. Always one of our favorite rieslings, made from 60-year-old vines. Terrific personality; pale straw-gold color; peaches and pears, lychee and grapefruit, hints of petrol and honeysuckle; sleek with clean acidity and a flinty mineral quality, yet soft and ripe; citrus flavors infused with spice and steel; quite dry, a long flavorful finish tempered by taut slightly austere structure. Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.
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Six Degrees Pinot Noir 2011, California. 13.5% Alc. So, whatya want in a $14 pinot? Medium ruby color; pleasant and moderately pungent nose of red and black cherries and raspberries, notes of cola, cloves and rhubarb; attractive mildly satiny texture, undertones of briers and brambles; smooth, spicy finish. Drink up. Very Good. About $14.
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Quinta do Vallado Rosado 2012, Douro Valley, Portugal. 12.5% alc. 100% touriga nacional grapes. Pale pinkish-onion skin color; charming and rather chastening as well; dried strawberries and currants, hints of cloves and orange zest; lithe and stony, clean acidity cuts a swath; a few minutes in the glass unfold notes of rose petals and rosemary; finish aims straight through limestone minerality. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, Good Value.
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Morgan Winery “Highland” Chardonnay 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 14.2% alc. Medium straw-gold color; boldly ripe and fruity, boldly spicy, suave and sleek with notes of pineapple and grapefruit, lightly macerated peach; hints of quince and ginger; real abs of ripping acidity for structure, lithely wrapping a damp gravel mineral element; oak? yep, but subtle and supple; finish packed with spice and minerals. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $27.
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Chateau Durfort-Vivens 2006, Margaux, Bordeaux, France. 13% alc. 70% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot. (Second Growth in the 1855 Classification) Medium ruby color; ripe, fleshy, meaty and spicy; black and red currants and raspberries; classic notes of cedar, tobacco and bay leaf, hint of pepper and black olive; dry, highly structured, grainy but polished tannins. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45 (up to $60 in some markets).
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Les Fiefs de Lagrange 2010, Saint-Julien, Bordeaux, France. 13.5% alc. 50% cabernet sauvignon, 50% merlot. The “second” label of Chateau Lagrange. Dark ruby color, almost opaque at the center; smoky, spicy, macerated black and red berry scents and flavors; deeply inflected with notes of cedar, thyme and graphite; deep, dry dusty tannins and an imperturbable granitic quality, best from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent potential. About $50 (but found as low as $35).
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Bonny Doon Beeswax Vineyard Reserve Le Cigare Blanc 2010, Arroyo Seco. 12.4% alc. 56% roussanne, 44% grenache blanc. 497 cases. Demeter-certified biodynamic. Pale gold color, hint of green highlights; beeswax indeed, dried honey, lightly spiced pears and peaches, touch of roasted hazelnuts, backnotes of straw, thyme and rosemary, with rosemary’s slight resinous quality; very dry, paradoxically poised between a generous, expansive nature and spare elegance; savory, saline, clean and breezy; roasted lemon and grapefruit flavors, all tunneling toward a suave, spicy, limestone inflected finish. Wonderful wine with grilled or seared salmon and swordfish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $50 .
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SKW Ghielmetti Vineyard “Small-Lot” Cabernet Franc 2010, Livermore Valley. (Steven Kent Winery) 13.6% alc. 48 cases produced. Deep ruby-purple color; smoky, earthy, loamy, granitic; notes of blueberries and black raspberries, sandalwood and cloves; leather, licorice and lavender; a hint of tobacco and black olive; prodigal tannins and potent acidity, with a fathomless mineral element, all tending toward some distance and austerity but neither overwhelming the essential succulent black and blue fruit flavors; a physical and perhaps spiritual marriage of power and elegance. Now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $50.
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Cakebread Cellars Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino. 14.5% alc. Translucent medium ruby color; pure red licorice and raspberries; red currants, cloves, pomegranate; briery and brambly; fairly rigorous tannins from mid-palate back; acidity cuts a swath; exotic spice, lavender; builds tannic and mineral power as the moments pass but retains suavity and elegance. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $50.
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Morgan Winery Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.9% alc. 187 cases. Deep, lush, delicious, warm spice and cool minerals; black raspberries, rhubarb and a touch of sour cherry and melon; cloves and sassafras; sweet ripeness balanced by savory qualities; berry tart with a hint of cream but essentially modulated by bright acidity and a slightly briery foresty element. Just freaking lovely. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $54.
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Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color; iron, iodine and mint, ripe and intense cassis and raspberries, inflected with cloves, allspice, lavender and licorice; deep, dark, earthy, the panoply of graphite and granitic minerality; dense, dusty packed fine-grained tannins coat the mouth; tons of tone, presence and character. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’24. Great merlot. Excellent. About $60.
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En Route Les Pommiers Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Ravishing medium ruby color with a magenta-violet rim; a penetrating core of iodine and graphite minerality; black and red cherries, black and red currents, fleshy, earthy, savory and saline; dry, chewy yet super-satiny without being plush or opulent, keeps to the structural side, though, boy, it’s delicious. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $65.
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The whole Anything But Chardonnay trope can be justified because the poor grape is often treated so barbarically in the winery that the results are hideous to drink. On the other hand, there are scads of lovely chardonnays out there to choose from. On the other hand, again, if you’re looking for an alternative to chardonnay — one that’s not, say, sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio — look for wines made from the albariño grape, a mainstay of Rias Baixas, the most important wine region in the province of Galicia in northwest Spain, right up against the Atlantic coastline above Portugal. Albariño does not take well to oak, and its quality diminishes exponentially when it is over-cropped, so care must be taken in the vineyard and the winery. (These wines were samples for review.)

The first examples we look at today were made by Bodegas Terras Gauda, which produces just these two wines, one that’s all albariño, the other a blend. Both wines are made completely in stainless steel to retain freshness and immediate appeal. First is the Abadia de San Campio Albariño 2012, Rias Baixas, sporting a bright gold color and enticing aromas of roasted lemon, lime peel and cloves; this is very spicy, lively with bracing acidity and saline qualities and unfurling notes of orange blossom, fig, limestone and dried thyme. Abadia de San Campio Albariño 2012 is a sleek, tasty, moderately complex and highly drinkable wine that we happily tried over several nights with different fish entrees. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20. This wine’s stablemate is the Terras Gauda 2012, Rias Baixas, a blend of 70 percent albariño, 20 percent loureira and 10 percent caiño blanco. The addition of the loureiro and caiño blanco grapes lends the albariño here both heft and suavity, as well as touches of lemongrass, quince and ginger, a bit of leafy fig. This too is bracing and saline, offering a hint of brisk salt-marsh austerity to a tone and texture that come close to elegance, while a slightly chiseled limestone finish edges up the spice quotient. 12 percent alcohol. Fabulous with seared swordfish and held its own with tomatillo-braised pork tenderloin. Excellent. About $24, representing Real Value.

Imported by Aveniu Brands, Baltimore, Maryland.
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I mentioned up top that the albariño grape doesn’t take kindly to oak, unless the regimen is carefully applied. That’s the case with the Lee Family Farm Albariño 2012, Monterey, a 100 percent albariño that aged a brief four months in neutral French oak barrels, meaning barrels that have been used several times previously, so their influence is not only subtle but almost subliminal. That’s the case here, any wood effect being in a super supple structure that feels as if it has a bit of give to it and a below-the-radar permeation of cloves and ginger. There’s fresh green apple here, the roasted lemon and lemongrass that we expect, a hint of pears and a backnote of grapefruit, with just a smidgeon of grapefruit bitterness on the finish and a slightly leafy quality. This mainly features tremendous character and polish, beautiful tone and balance, and a texture that flatters the palate without being opulent or obvious. Lee Family Farm is the side-project of Dan Lee, proprietor of Morgan Winery; the knowledge and experience show. 13.5 percent alcohol. 213 cases. Excellent. About $18, a Phenomenal Bargain.
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Here I am on chardonnay from California again. I like some of these wines very much, enough to pass out a few Excellent and Exceptional ratings. Some, however, the ones over-oaked and malolactic-ed to a fare-thee-well get Not Recommended ratings. And I ask the question I have posed so often in the past: Why would anyone make such undrinkable chardonnay? Anyway, the point of the Weekend Wine Sips, even for the wines I loathe, I mean, the wines I don’t recommend, is concision and quick insight, therefore I do not include much in the way of technical, historical or geographical info. What you read is what you get. These chardonnays, as the title of this post states, are from vintages 2011, ’10 and ’09 and hail from Sonoma and Monterey counties, Napa Valley and Carneros. These examples were samples for review.
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La Crema Chardonnay 2010, Monterey. 13.9% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) Pale gold color; candied pineapple and grapefruit, cloves, allspice, lemon balm and lime peel, roasted almonds, penetrating gunflint and limestone minerality; ripe and rich, very spicy; dense texture, almost viscous; quite dry, growing austerity through the finish; feels unbalanced, the parts don’t mesh. Good only. About $18.
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La Crema Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) Pale gold color; huge oak influence, very spicy, very creamy — you feel that “malo” — ; way too ripe and tropical; candied and roasted citrus and mango; exotic spice; lots of smoke; cloying and unpalatable to this palate; how can people choose to make chardonnay in such an impure fashion? And yet the pinot noirs from this winery are pure, intense and beautiful. Not recommended. About $30.
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La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Robert’s Road Block Chardonnay 2010. Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Medium gold color with a faint green flush; pineapple and backed apple; ripe and fleshy, a little toasty; roasted lemons and yellow plums, cloves and ginger; very spicy and very dry; brings up a touch of butter and caramel; supple, dense and viscous; heaps of limestone minerality. Pushes the limits but still beautifully balanced. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
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La Follette Lorenzo Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.3% alc. Highly individual, almost exotic in spiciness; you feel the oak as an intrusive agent that dries the palate; almost tannic in character; pineapple and grapefruit, touch of banana; very dry and the spice gets pretty strident; curious and off-putting combination of fruit candy, creamy desserts and spicy, woody oak. Not recommended. About $38.
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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 502 cases. How beautiful. Medium straw-gold color; fresh, clean, crystalline, restrained and elegant yet displaying inner richness and depth; lively and spicy, quince and ginger, pineapple and grapefruit, roasted lemon; you scarcely perceive the oak except for a tinge of burnished slightly dusty wood on the finish; unfurls a hint of camellia and lilac; a powerful limestone mineral element that expands through the wine’s generous spirit. Exquisite balance and harmony and resonance. Now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $35.
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Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.1% alc. 400 cases. Certified organic. Wonderful clarity, purity and intensity; jasmine and lilac, roasted lemon, spiced pear, lemon balm and verbena; backnotes of cloves and flint; bountiful presence and tone yet firm in structure and texture, almost robust and savory; blazing acidity, very dry, finish packed with spice, flint and limestone. Incredible authority yet fleet, light on its feet, elegant. Best from 2014 through 2020. Exceptional. About $45.
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Gary Farrell “RR Selection” Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; boldly ripe and spicy, classic grapefruit and pineapple scents and flavors tinged with mango and slightly over-ripe peach; a bright and golden chardonnay, a little earthy; very lively and spicy, cloves, touch of brown sugar; dense, almost chewy texture; you feel the tug and sway of oak in the background. Very Good+. About $32.
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Boekenoogan Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.3% alc. A gorgeous character-filled chardonnay, deep and broad and generous; boldly rich and spicy pineapple-grapefruit flavors permeated by limestone minerality of the most demanding nature; seductive, almost talc-like texture emboldened by clean, bright acidity; the fruit currently subdued by the structural elements, though the oak influence feels supple, close to subliminal. Drink now, sure, but this is a 10 to 15-year chardonnay. Exceptional. About $35.
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Signorello Estate Hope’s Cuvee Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. Medium gold color; not my preference at all in chardonnay: very spicy, very ripe, lots of oak; caramel, brown sugar, burnt match; caramelized pineapple and candied grapefruit; exaggerated, strident. I hear rumors that people exist who enjoy this sort of chardonnay; not me, brother. Not recommended. About $70.
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Donum Estate Chardonnay 2010, Carneros. 13.5% alc. Bright medium gold color; cloves and sandalwood, pineapple and grapefruit, ripe peach and pear; quite ripe, a little funky and earthy but with a real edge of limestone minerality and spicy oak; a chardonnay that feels vast and close to tannic, though oak stays in the background and burgeons only from mid-palate back through the finish. Definitely an individual styling for the grape yet it has attractions for the brave. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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Stemmler Estate Chardonnay 2011, Carneros. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; boy, this is woody and harshly spicy; yes, the necessary lip-smacking acidity and a scintillating limestone element, but so burdened by oak and a sharp smoky candied burnt sugar-cloves-roasted grapefruit edge and a texture that’s dauntlessly dry yet viscous at the same time; unresolved, unbalanced. Not recommended. About $24.
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Jordan Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely, taut, vigorous; roasted lemon and lemon curd, lime peel, orange blossom and a hint of toasted almonds; quite dry, limned with chalk and limestone, clean, fresh pineapple-grapefruit flavors touched with buttered toast, a hint of cloves, a squeeze of green apple; very Chablis-like for Sonoma. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.
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Yes, it’s your lucky day, because today I offer reviews of 12 wines that all rate Excellent. No duds! No clunkers! And boy are we eclectic! Two whites, three rosés and seven reds, all representing myriad grape varieties, styles, regions and countries, including, on the broader scope, California, Oregon, Australia, Italy, Chile and France. Dare I assert that there’s something for everyone here? As usual in these Weekend Wine Sips, the notion is to present concise and incisive reviews, cropped from the fertile fields of my tasting notes, in such a manner as to pique your interest and whet your palate, while omitting the sort of info pertaining to history, geography and technical matters that I include with other more detailed posts. Straight to the point, that’s the Weekend Wine Sips philosophy!

With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
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J Pinot Gris 2012, California. 13.8% alc. Pale straw-gold color; delicate hints of roasted lemon and lemon balm, hints of cloves and spiced peach; lovely soft texture endowed with crisp acidity; back wash of yellow plums, lilac and lavender; finely etched limestone minerality. Irresistible. Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Brooks “ARA” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 11.5% alc. 300 cases. Very pale straw-gold color; a blissful state of pure minerality lightly imprinted with notes of rubber eraser, pears, ginger and quince, highlighted with smoke, lilac, chalk and limestone; shimmering acidity, whiplash tension and energy, spare and elegant, yet so ripe and appealing. A great riesling. Excellent. About $25.
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SKW Ghielmetti Vineyard “Lola” 2012, Livermore Valley. (Steven Kent Winery) 13.7% alc. 65% sauvignon blanc, 35% semillon. 260 cases. Pale pale straw color; lemon balm and lemongrass, touches of peach, lime peel and grapefruit, quince and cloves; a few minutes bring out notes of fig and dusty leaves (bless semillon’s heart!); very dry, almost taut with tingling acidity; pure limestone from mid-palate back through the finish. Excellent. About $24.
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St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Pale straw color; pure grapefruit, lime peel, pea shoot, thyme and tarragon, notes of gooseberry and kiwi; totally refreshing and exhilarating, juicy with lime and grapefruit flavors, hints of orange zest (and almond blossom in the bouquet), very dry with resonant acidity; slightly leafy and grassy; picks up limestone minerality from mid-palate through the finish. Delightful. Excellent. About $20.
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Stepping Stone Corallina Syrah Rosé 2012, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. A shade more intense than onion-skin, like pale topaz-coral; dried strawberries and raspberries, just a touch of melon; traces of cloves and thyme, sour cherry and pure raspberry with a slightly raspy, bristly edge; very dry but lovely, winsome; a bit chiseled by limestone and flint through the spare finish. A thing of beauty. Excellent. About $20 .
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La Rochelle McIntyre Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.4% alc. 112 cases. The true pale onion-skin color; elegant and delicate in every sense yet with a tensile backbone of acidity and minerality that scintillates in every molecule; hints of strawberries and raspberries, touches of dried red currants, fresh thyme, a clean, slightly resiny quality that cannot help reminding you of Provence, many thousands of miles away. Fervently wish there were more of it. Excellent. About $24.
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Rosé de Haut-Bailly 2011, Bordeaux Rosé. 13% alc. 50% cabernet sauvignon, 50% merlot. Ruddy light copper color; strawberries both spiced/macerated and dried; raspberries and red currants woven with cloves, hints of cinnamon and limestone; lithe, supple texture, just a shade more dense than most classic French rosés, otherwise deft, quite dry, elegant; light red fruit flavors filtered through violets and gravel. Exquisite but with a nod toward heft and structure. Excellent. About $25, an online purchase.
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Inama Carmenere Piú 2010, Colli Berici, Veneto. 14% alc. 75% carmenere, 25% merlot. Camenere in the Veneto! Who knew? Dark ruby color; pungent, assertive, robust, quite spicy, lively, lots of grainy tannins; deep, ripe black currant and plum scents and flavors permeated by notes of sauteed mushrooms, black olive, dried rosemary and lavender; a little tarry and foresty, with real grip, yet polished and sleek. Begs for grilled or braised red meat. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $20.
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Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 14.3% alc. Deep ruby-mulberry color; that enticing blend of red and black currants and red and black cherries permeated by notes of smoke, cloves, rhubarb and sour cherry; seductive super satiny texture; furrow-plowing acidity bolstering lissome tannins for an all-over sense of balance and harmony. Just freakin’ lovely. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
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Halter Ranch Block 22 Syrah 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 15.2% alc. With 13% grenache, 11% tannat. 175 cases. Deep, dark ruby-purple; scintillating in every respect; while it delivers the earth-leather-graphite qualities and the fruit-spice-foresty intensity we expect of the best syrah (or shiraz) wines, the manner of presentation is gorgeously attractive, though (paradoxically) with a sculpted, lean schist and flint-like effect. Beautiful is not a word I often apply to syrahs, but it’s merited for this example. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $36.
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Ventisquero Grey [Glacier] Single Block Trinidad Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maipo Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color; earth, leather, dust, graphite; very intense and concentrated black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors; dense, chewy, solid, grainy tannins but with appealing suppleness and animation; deep core of bitter chocolate, lavender and granitic minerality. Today with a steak or 2014/15 to 2020. Excellent. About $21, a Fine Value.
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Penley Estate Special Select Shiraz “The Traveler” 2009, Coonawarra, South Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby with a tinge of mulberry at the rim; a real mouthful of graphite, dusty tannins and intense and concentrated black fruit with tremendous acidity and iron-iodine minerality in a package that manages, whatever its size, to express a really attractive personality; touch of blueberry tart, something wild, flagrantly spicy, long dense finish. Smoking ribs this weekend? Look no further for your wine. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $50.
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Perhaps we really are in Spring now, or even tending toward Summer, and while it may be banal to say it — or merely a trope of the winewriting and reviewing gig — I think people are looking for lighter wines that provide delight as well as flavor. In fact, if you’re grilling shrimp or making chicken or tuna salad, an appropriate wine to uncork would be the Heller Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, from Carmel Valley in Monterey County, a blend of 87 percent organically grown chenin blanc and 13 percent riesling, made all in stainless steel. The color is pale gold with a faint green shimmer; the bouquet, well, you could swim in the bouquet or dab it behind your ears, this winsome and pert amalgam of prickly and briery ripe peach and pear with intensely pungent elements of camellia and lilac with a back note of lavender and a burgeoning hint of limestone. True to its principal grape, in the mouth there’s a touch of hay and yellow plum along with those spiced pear and peach flavors, while the limestone and flint minerality expands from mid-palate back and crisp acidity keeps the wine lively and appealing. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2013. I always look forward to this wine. Excellent. About $23.

A sample for review, as I am required to inform you by ruling of the Federal Trade Commission, an injunction that does not apply to print media.

I stayed one night at Holman Ranch last September, and the serenity and beauty of the place — the stillness, the magnitude of stars in the night sky — cannot be emphasized too much. Deep in the hills of Carmel Valley, inland and south of Monterey Bay, Holman Ranch occupies land bestowed upon the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo — hence, later, Carmel Valley — during the reign of Spain in these lands. After the mission properties were secularized, the area passed through many owners until in 1928, a Spanish-style hacienda was built and the ranch became an outpost or retreat for Hollywood stars and producers. Clarence Holman, of the Holman Department Store family in Pacific Grove, acquired the ranch in the 1940s and with business-like acumen transformed it from a private hideaway to a resort, which was still popular with Hollywood’s elite. Present owners Thomas and Jarman Lowder, who purchased Holman Ranch from Dorothy McEwen in 2006, restored the facility, the original hacienda, the quaint cabins and the grounds to full operation and comfort.

If you Google “Holman Ranch” you’ll see that the property’s raison d’etre focuses on events and meetings but particularly weddings. Indeed, it would be difficult to think of a more spectacular setting for tying the matrimonial knot. For my purposes, however, it’s more important that Holman Ranch produces small quantities of well-made wines (and olive oil), samples of which were recently sent to me. I found the white wines and the rosé to be engaging and highly drinkable, while the two pinot noirs bordered on exquisite. Search though I did in the brochures that accompanied the wines and on the Holman Ranch website, I found no mention of a winemaker; surely credit must be given when it is earned. All these wines are designated “Estate Grown.”
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Holman Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. This sleek sauvignon blanc offers a pale gold color and beguiling aromas of lime peel and grapefruit, roasted lemon, hints of thyme and tarragon and a lift of lemongrass. An element of limestone minerality produces a whiff of gunflint and also, in the mouth, bolsters citrus flavors lightly touched with fig and fresh-mown grass, all tied together with brisk acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. 224 cases. Quite charming, but drink up. Very Good+. About $20.
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Holman Ranch Pinot Gris 2011, Carmel Valley. The color is very pale straw; pure apples and pears pour from the glass, imbued with notes of cloves and lime peel, camellia and jasmine. The wine is quite dry, crisp and zesty, eminently refreshing; citrus and pear flavors are bolstered by a burgeoning limestone and flint element, leading to some austerity through the spicy and slightly steely finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. 323 cases. Very Good+. About $20.
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Holman Ranch Chardonnay 2010, Carmel Valley. This is an elegant and stylish chardonnay, from its pale straw-gold color, to its spare citrus and stone fruit scents and flavors, to its hints of jasmine and honeysuckle and dried herbs; there’s a bright undercurrent of crisp acidity and a distinct influence of limestone minerality. The wine is tasty, well-balanced and integrated but a little delicate (especially for a barrel-fermented chardonnay), so its match will be more delicate hors-d’oeuvre and seafood entrees. 12.5 percent alcohol. 205 cases. Very Good+. About $28.
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Holman Ranch rosé of Pinot Noir 2011, Carmel Valley. Here’s a superior rosé whose brilliant hue of raspberry-tourmaline at least esthetically enhances its aromas of strawberry, watermelon and rose petals; its raspberry-watermelon flavors permeated by hints of pomegranate, cloves and (barely) cinnamon; its appealing touch of dried thyme and limestone minerality; its pert, thirst-quenching acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. 144 cases. Drink through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $22.
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Holman Ranch Pinot Noir 2010, Carmel Valley. The enchanting hue is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of black cherries, mulberries and red plums are infused with notes of sassafras, pomegranate, cloves and a hint of rhubarb. This pinot noir evinces a lovely lightness of being at the same time as it embodies intensity of black and red fruit flavors and an exquisite satiny texture. A few minutes in the glass bring in touches of smoke and graphite; the finish is medium-length, supple and subtle. 12.5 percent alcohol. 500 cases. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $33.
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Holman Ranch Heather’s Hill Pinot Noir 2011, Carmel Valley. The color is radiant medium ruby; the whole aura is warm, ripe and spicy, the display is impeccably balanced. Notes of spiced and macerated red currants, black raspberries and cranberries open to hints of cloves and cola. The wine is earthy, with elements of briers and brambles under flavors of red and black currants and cherries, yet it’s elegant, silky, integrated. After 30 or 40 minutes, you feel increasing dryness as the oak and mild tannins assert themselves, but overall this is beautifully made pinot noir. 14 percent alcohol. 444 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $37.
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No sense evading the truth: I’m a fan of Morgan Winery’s pinot noir wines from Santa Lucia Highlands, a northeastward-facing, hillside appellation in Monterey County. Dan Lee started the winery in 1982, while he was winemaker for Durney Vineyards in Carmel, taking the project full-time in 1986. Originally focusing on full-blown and thoroughly oaked chardonnay, the winery has changed emphasis considerably over several decades, the wines displaying much more finesse and elegance and with single-vineyard pinot noirs taking a definite lead in the roster; Morgan does not, however, neglect a full line-up that includes sauvignon blanc and pinot gris, syrah, a Rhone-style blend, an well-known unoaked chardonnay (Metallico) and a new riesling among other wines. Today, in the Weekend Wine Sips, I offer brief reviews — no historical, geographical or geeky tech info allowed — of Morgan vineyard-designated pinot noirs tasted over the past year and a half, from vintage 2010 back to 2007. Winemaker since 2005 has been Gianni Abate. These wines were samples for review.
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Morgan Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.9% alc. 575 cases. Dark ruby color; smoky black cherries, plums and currants; a little briery, with leafy and mossy elements, hint of mushrooms; pretty intense and concentrated; super satiny drape on the palate, lithe and supple; passing glance at cloves, cola and rhubarb; mainly about structure for the present. Try 2014 through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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Morgan Double L Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands. 13.8% alc. 670 cases. Medium ruby color, slightly lighter mulberry rim; moss, briers and brambles; cranberry, cola and mulberry; rhubarb, cloves and sandalwood; lavender and lilacs, smoky, spicy black cherries and plums; black tea, hint of tapenade; dense, chewy, supple, lithe; dry, a touch austere on the spice-and-mineral-packed finish. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $50.
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Morgan Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.3% alc. 302 cases. Medium ruby-magenta color; has the earthiness and minerality that I associate with Garys’; deeply spicy, bright, briery, intense and concentrated; evocative red and black cherry and currant scents and flavors; gradually brings up the rose petal and lilac floral elements; slightly furry tannins and a touch austere in the finish; the muscular side of pinot nor. Now through 2015 to ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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Morgan Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands. 13.8% alc. 375 cases. Dark ruby color with a touch of magenta; ripe yet spare notes of black cherry, black raspberry and mulberry with undertones of rhubarb, cranberry and cola and subtle elements of clean earth, moss and briers and brambles: classic! Yes, it’s dry, but black and red fruit flavors are both succulent and balanced by bright acidity and a spine of graphite, while the finish, smooth and satiny, teems with cloves, sandalwood, underbrush and a touch of granitic minerality. Now through 2015 or ’16. Exceptional. About $48.
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Morgan Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands. 13.8% alc. 550 cases. Medium ruby with a flush of mulberry at the center; deep, bright, clean and vivid; iodine with a touch of iron, beetroot, rhubarb and black cherry, cloves and sassafras; very supple, lithe (but not muscular) and satiny, drapes the palate like a scarf of some significance; earthy, not so much moss as mushrooms and truffles, a sleek element of graphite to close the generous finish. Now through 2014 to ’15. Excellent. About $48.
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Morgan Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands. 13.9% alc. 190 cases. Gary’s 09 is more structured than Double L 09; you feel the tannin and the graphite/granitic minerality more, as well as more spicy wood; this is also more spiced and macerated with the black and red fruit scents and flavors; bright acidity cuts a swath on the tongue; with this pinot noir’s audacity yet beautiful balance, I am reminded of the Burgundian estate of Domaine de Montille in Volnay; this is vital, alive, dense with character but with nothing obvious or gratuitous to the grape and vineyard. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $48.
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Morgan Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands. 13.5% 95 cases. First note: “Bliss.” Not to go just absolutely delirious, but of this group of extremely well-made and presented Morgan SLH pinots from 2008, the Tondre Grapefield — and I love this vineyard, 80 acres of pinot noir grapes, 21 of chardonnay — is a singular example. Radiant medium ruby color, intensely magenta-like at the center; ripe and slightly smoky black cherry, black currant and plum scents and flavors, with notes of cranberry and pomegranate, rhubarb and cloves; extremely finely milled and grained, fabulously satiny texture yet properly spare and elegant, floats on the palate; long, dense finish, seething with spice, graphite, briers and brambles. Now through 2016 to ’18. Exceptional. About $48.
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Morgan Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.4% alc. 550 cases. Medium ruby-mulberry color, darker at the center; black and red cherry, cranberry and cola, packed with cloves, sassafras and sandalwood; loads of personality, shines with vigor and resonance without beyond blatant; dense and chewy but not in the least heavy or obvious; clean, satiny texture, vibrant acidity; you feel the oak from mid-palate back, a bit more controlling than one would like, but still a well-balanced Garys’. Now through 2015 or ’16.
Excellent. About $48.
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