Monterey County


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.”
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

No, Disappointing Herons is not the name of my next band, it’s an expression of my dismay at the quality of some of a recently tasted group of products from Heron Wines, a company founded by Laely Heron (image at right) in 1995. Her idea was straightforward: own no vineyards but buy grapes from reliable, preferably sustainable sources, make wines with as little manipulation as possible and sell them at a reasonable price, in other words, to fill the role of a responsible negociant.

My first encounter with a wine from Heron was in the form of the Heron Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, which I received as a sample and subsequently reviewed in a post on January 24, 2009, otherwise known as The Dim Past. Here’s what I wrote:

If you can find the Heron Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, California, anywhere, buy it by the case. Sporting a mild but effective 13 percent alcohol, this irresistible cabernet is a lovely medium purple-magenta color. Aromas of smoke, minerals and earth, cedar, tobacco and black pepper wreathe notes of ripe and slightly roasted black currants and black cherries. The wine is dense and chewy in the mouth, with grainy tannins that permeate succulent and very spicy black currant and black cherry flavors. Aged a judicious eight months in French oak, the wine delivers a firm yet yielding structure that opens to reveal a hint of underbrush and dried porcini on the finish. There’s a lot of heart here for the price. Very Good+ and a phenomenal bargain at about $14.

Now that sounds like a wine you could get behind and feel happy about every time you opened a bottle. Unfortunately, the Heron Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mendocino, not only has no heart but it lacks soul, conveying the impression of a “red wine” at its most generic common denominator. My notes conclude, “What a shame!”

I tasted five current releases of Heron products courtesy of a local wholesaler now carrying the wines in our market. Two I can recommend, and three, including the Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, I cannot. The other two not recommended are the Merlot 2010, Mendocino County, again a matter of a wine tasting more generic and blah than varietal (though with merlot sometimes I wonder what varietal means) and the Chardonnay 2011, California (a blend of grapes from Russian River Valley, Carneros and Santa Maria Valley, one-third each) that channels the inner sauvignon blanc to which all chardonnays must surely aspire.

Here, though, are the Heron wines that I recommend:
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The all stainless steel Heron Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Mendocino County — that is to say, 75 percent Mendocino and 25 percent Yountville, in Napa valley — displays a bright medium straw color and enticing aromas of lime peel, roasted lemon, grapefruit, thyme and tarragon, with back-notes of smoke and a burgeoning, penetrating tide of limestone and flint minerality. That mineral character permeates spicy and savory flavors of citrus and stone-fruit highlighted by keen acidity and a lean and taut structure that nevertheless admits of a winsome, almost talc-like texture; the contrast is delightful. 13 percent alcohol. Loads of personality; restaurants and bars could sell the hell out of this wine in by-the-glass programs. Drink now through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $14, a Terrific Value.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Heron Pinot Noir 2011, California, derived from Monterey (75 percent), Paso Robles (20 percent) and Russian River Valley (5 percent) and aged a careful nine months in French oak, a combination of new, one-year-old and two-year-old barrels. The color is an entrancing cerise with a touch of magenta; this is clean and fresh pinot noir that offers an engaging Beaujolais-Villages-like aspect of ripe black and red cherries, hints of raspberry and mulberry and a touch of rose petals and violets, with undercurrents of slightly funky earthiness and graphite. There’s enough tannin to give the wine a slight dusty edge, and sufficient acidity to lend vibrancy and liveliness. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2014. Again, this would be a very attractive restaurant and bar wine to sell by the glass; pair it with a roasted chicken or mushroom omelet. Very Good+. About $14, representing Real Value.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Weekend Wine Sips and it’s only Friday afternoon. If you live in the Northeast, you probably won’t be able to get to a liquor and wine store tonight — two feet of snow? 50- to 75-mph winds? — but for the rest of the country, time’s a-wasting! There’s one wine in this post that I strongly do not recommend, otherwise these range from pleasant to impressive to memorable. Six eclectic white wines and four reds today, ranging in price from about $13 to $25, with a couple that merit ranking as Bargains and Values. As usual, little in the way of historical, geographical or technical detail; instead I offer quick reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. These were all samples for review, and the order is alphabetical.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Angelini Sangiovese 2008, Colli Pesaresi, Marche, Italy. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; lovely warm sangiovese nose of dried red currants, cloves, black tea and orange zest; pert acidity, an element of graphite-like minerality and a rather lean structure contribute to a sense of spareness and angularity, though the wine never loses its charm and appeal. Drink through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $16.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Brancaia “Tre” 2010, Toscana, Italy. …% alc. 80% sangiovese, 20% merlot and cabernet sauvignon, from three estates, hence “Tre.” Deep ruby color; intense and concentrated; dried red and blue fruit, dried flowers (lavender and potpourri), dried spices like cloves and allspice; hints of thyme, rosemary with its slightly resiny quality, earthy and slate-like minerality; black tea and black olives; the oak comes out on the finish a bit obviously, but lots of personality. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Edna Valley Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Central Coast, California. (Owned by Gallo since 2011) 13.9% alc. Very pale straw color; scintillating bouquet of lime peel, lemongrass, kiwi, tarragon and grapefruit; segues smoothly to the palate, enhanced by rousing acidity and a keen limestone edge. Now through the end of 2013. Totally attractive. Very Good+. About $15.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Franz Keller “Schwarzer Adler” Pinot Blanc 2010, Baden, Germany. 13% alc. Pale straw-gold color; pear and peach with a trace of lychee and spicy backnotes; very crisp, lively and flinty; vibrant acidity, taut, clean, fresh; touch of limestone-laced earthiness to buoy the ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors; svelte, elegant, lots of authority yet charming. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
Hooker Betsy’s Vineyard “Home Pitch” Syrah 2010, Knights Valley, Sonoma County, California. 14% alc. Deep ruby color with a magenta rim; robust, intense and concentrated, roasted and fleshy, smoke and ash, damp mossy earth and leather; ripe blackberry and black currant scents and flavors with notes of wild raspberry and plums; a little nutty and toasty; builds power as it goes, accumulating layers of graphite, licorice, bitter chocolate, briers and brambles. Pretty darned classic. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $24.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Poliziano Lohsa 2010, Morellino di Scansano, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. Unusual blend of 80% cabernet sauvignon and 20% alicante, petit verdot and carignano (carignane). Dark ruby color; black currants and plums, touch of red cherry, deeply imbued with spice and brambly elements, notes of oolong tea, mushrooms and sour cherry; neatly balanced rusticity with pleasing poise and integration; slightly shaggy tannins abound. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Santiago Ruiz 2011, Rias Baixas, Spain. 13% alc. 70% albariño, 15% loureiro, 10% caiño, 5% treixadura and godello. Pale straw color; spanking fresh and clean as new ironed sheets, with a savory, bracing sea-salt, sea-breeze exhilaration as well as a stony and steely backbone; thyme and mint, peach, kumquat and quince, touch of bay leaf; deftly handled texture halfway between prettily lush and bony spare; very polished sense of heft and presence. Now through the end of 2013. Excellent. About $17, a True Bargain.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
Treana 2010, Central Coast, California. 14.5% alc. (Hope Family Wines) 50% each marsanne and viognier. Again and again, I try to like this wine but cannot. Two grapes that are capable of lovely finesse and ardent dimension are treated in such manner that the wine comes out brassy, over-ripe and florid, stridently spicy, candied and over-blown. Oh, and way too oaky. I know that people love this wine, but I don’t recommend it. About $23.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Wente Riverbank Riesling 2011, Arroyo Seco, Monterey, California. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; a very appealing riesling at the right price; a touch of sweetness in the entry tones down to just off-dry across the palate; jasmine, lychee, pear and a hint of ripe peach; a little fleshy but good acidity; a hint of grapefruit on the finish. Now through Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $13, representing Real Value.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
William Hill Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, California. 14.5% alc. (Gallo acquired William Hill from Beam Wine Estates in 2007.) Pale gold color; a generous and expansive version of the grape, fresh and vibrant with enticing personality and authority; dry, crisp and bright, with moderately ripe pineapple and grapefruit flavors barely touched by mango and jasmine and what people like to describe as “a kiss of oak”; nothing bold or brassy here, just clean balance and integration and, through the finish, a hug of limestone minerality. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $25.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bring in the roller of big cigars, the pigs in blankets, the barbecue brisket nachos with black beans and jalapenos; bring in the slow-cooked ribs slathered with tangy sauce, the cheeseburger sliders and short-rib quesadillas, the fried chicken and the firehouse chili. For, lo, tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday, and who gives a flip who’s playing and where, because the party and the food are the name of the game. And while I know that many of you out there will be downing your favorite beer with the rich, bountiful, caloric Super Bowl-type party food, allow me to recommend some Kick-Ass Bad Boy red wines that will serve you equally well. We draw on Argentina and Chile, Australia and France’s Loire Valley and several points through California. Not much in the way of technical, historical and geographical data here; just incisive reviews meant to whet your palates and perhaps your football-addled imaginations. Snap that ball, Froggie, and plow for the uprights! Or whatever.

These wines were samples for review.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
MontGras Quatro 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. 40% cabernet sauvignon, 35% carmenere, 15% malbec, 10% syrah. Dark ruby, almost opaque; piercing shale and graphite minerality; ashes and currants say the bells of St. Lawrence, with dried thyme, cedar and tobacco; jubilant acidity and rollicking tannins with deep roots; not forgetting intense and concentrated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; multitude of layers and unfoldings though keeps something hidden that feels slightly perverse, definitely a Dark Knight of a wine. Excellent. About $14, an Incredible Value; Buy a Case.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Gascon Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. Dark ruby color; deeply saturated black currants and plums, very spicy and earthy, yet clean and fresh; a tense core of lavender and potpourri, bitter chocolate and cocoa powder; dusty, chewy tannins; a surprising touch of blueberry tart and fruitcake. Very Good+ and Very Good Value. About $15.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby color; clean, sleek but robust; deeply spicy and flavorful; black fruit galore borne by a tide of blueberry with hints of rosemary, cedar and tobacco; stalwart tannins fit the mix with burly yet beneficent insistence. Always a solid performer. Very Good+. About $16, representing Great Value.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Nuna Bonarda Reserva 2010, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby color; tar, lavender and licorice, intensely ripe and spicy black currants, plums and mulberries; touches of fruitcake and plum pudding; polished and seductive yet very dry, densely tannic, resonant, a little brooding even, full-bodied, rustic. Very Good+. About $17.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley, Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color shading to medium ruby at the rim; pure and intense, a furnace of shiraz, huge presence of smoke and ash and the symmetry of a chiseled monument; very concentrated but deeply spicy blackberry and black currant scents and flavors; chewy, dusty, muscular yet with an element of fleetness and light. Through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $18, a Fantastic Bargain.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Tower 15 Petite Sirah 2010, Paso Robles. 14.9% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; robust, rough-hewn, vibrant acidity and chock-a-block tannins, wild berries, black plums, blackberries and blueberries; backnotes of cloves and licorice, coiled potpourri; a little exotic but with characteristic earth-bound, graphite elements. Sadly only 167 cases, so Worth a Search. Very Good+. About $18.50.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Morgan Winery Syrah 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.6% alc. Deep purple-mulberry color; smacky tannins, whiplash acidity; smoke, ash, leather, edgy graphite; oh, yes, juicy and spicy red and black cherries and plums with hints of blueberries and mulberries; earth, briers, wet dog, the whole syrah kit ‘n’ kaboodle. Lots of personality. Excellent. About $20.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Catherine et Pierre Breton La Dilettante 2010, Bourgueil, Loire Valley, France. 12% alc. 100% cabernet franc. Light ruby-cranberry color; lithe and wiry, scintillating acidity and flint-like minerality; briers and brambles, thyme and black olives, hints of coffee and tobacco; black currants and blueberries; slightly shaggy tannins. A scrappy little wine despite its deceptive lightness. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $25.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Federalist Dueling Pistols 2009, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 15% alc. 50% syrah, 50% zinfandel. No, this wine is not dedicated to the NRA; the name is based on the fatal duel fought by Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Dark ruby-purple color; inky, ashy, slinky; deep. rich with very ripe spicy black fruit scents and flavors yet taking the cool course of dominant flint and shale-like minerality; cigar box, tobacco, thyme; the zinfandel and syrah don’t so much duel here as kiss and make up. A real mouthful of wine. Excellent. About $36.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. How old are those “Century Vines”? The vineyard was planted before 1877, so we’re talking at least 136 years old. Dark ruby shading to magenta; deep, spicy, ripe and roasted, a little earthy/funky; blackberry and blueberry with a touch of mulberry but none of that sissy, jammy boysenberry stuff; leather, briers and brambles, burgeoning tannins yet a serene air that’s appropriate for the venerable age of the vineyard. Now through 2149; just kidding! Make that 2019. Excellent. About $40.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-purple; stalwart and vigorous; smoke, ash and graphite with a charcoal edge; defines dense and chewy and full-bodied, but not ponderous or weighty; very intense and concentrated black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors (touch of mocha); dry but ripe and juicy; heaps of depth and dimension; a big but well-modulated wine. Excellent. About $45.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, McLaren Vale. 14.5% alc. Sorta sexy, sorta beastly, but you won’t hate yourself in the morning for hooking up. Dark ruby-mulberry color, close to black; smooth and mellow yet somehow voluminous, with a tang of acidity and a distinct faceted charcoal/granitic character; very spicy, slightly macerated and roasted black currants and plums; clenched tannins give you a soft wallop in the finish. Excellent. About $45.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It may surprise My Readers to know that it’s even more difficult to decide on the “25 Great Wine Bargains” than it is the “50 Great Wines.” I could probably, from 2012, have compiled a completely different roster of 25 bargain wines, but after much cogitation, meditation and drinking, I thought, No, just leave it alone, because these are all terrific wines. The break-down is 18 white wines, 6 reds and 1 rose; by country or region: California 9, Argentina 4, Spain 4, Chile 3, Washington state, Italy, France and Hungary each 1. Go for it. The order is alphabetical; no hierarchies here.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Airfield Estates Riesling 2010, Yakima Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $16.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Apaltagua Envero Gran Reserva Carménère 2010, Calchagua Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $14.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Aventino Tempranillo 2007, Ribera del Duero, Spain. Excellent. About $13.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2010, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy. Excellent. About $16.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Vineyard Albarino 2011, Central Coast, California. Excellent. About $18.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Burgo Viejo Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain. Excellent. About $19.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bodegas Carchelo “C” 2010, Jumilla, Spain. 40 percent each monastrell and syrah, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $16.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Callia Alta Torrontés 2011, Valle de Tulum, San Juan, Argentina. Very Good+. About $9.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cima Collina Cedar Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. Excellent. About $16.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Count Karolyi Grüner Veltliner Veltliner 2011, Tolna, Hungary. Very Good+. About $11.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hess Allomi Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $16.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

J Pinot Gris 2011, California. Excellent. About $15.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lee Family Farm Silvaspoons Vineyard Verdelho 2010, Alta Mesa, Lodi. Excellent. About $15.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Meli Dry Riesling 2011, Maule Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $13.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Michele Chiarlo Le Orme 2010, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. Excellent. About $15.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Mittnacht Fréres Terre d’Etoiles Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $19.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Morgan Winery R&D Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $18.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Navarro Pinot Grigio 2011, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $16.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Numero III Rosado de Monastrell 2011, Bulles, Spain. Excellent. About $12.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Quirvira Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $15.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

St. Clement Chardonnay 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $19.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

San Huberto Malbec 2010, Castro Barnas, La Rioja, Argentina. Excellent. About $11.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Terrazas Reserva Torrontés 2011, Cafayate Terrace, Salta, Argentina. Excellent. About $15.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ventisquero Queulat Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $18.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.”
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Nothing thrilling today, you’re not going to get goose-bumps, but a roster of primarily well-made solid red wines that should make for an enjoyable and possibly interesting experience, especially with the robust fare we tend to partake of now that the Northern Hemisphere rolls toward winter. No tech info, no winery or estate or family histories, no geographical particulars, no humorous asides; just quick notes intended to pique your curiosity. If you want to twist my arm — ouch! — I would say that the real go-to wines today are the Zaco Tempranillo 2010 and The Spur Red Wine 2010.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ergo Tempranillo 2010, Rioja, Spain. From Bodegas Martin Codax. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby with a magenta cast; ripe and fleshy with dried spices and dried fruit, touch of fruitcake; black cherries and plums with touches of licorice, cloves and leather; slightly resinous like pine and rosemary. Pleasant but one-dimensional. Very Good. About $12.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Buried Cane “Roughout” Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.1% alc. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 23% merlot, 2% syrah. Deep ruby color with trace of garnet flushing the rim; bright, clean and fresh, immediately appealing with a real lift; quite dense and chewy, with black cherries and currants, hints of cedar and thyme, tobacco and lead pencil and a backnote of black olive; dusty tannins and a medium length spicy finish. Very Good+. About $15.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Clayhouse Caberbet Sauvignon 2009, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.5% alc. 80% cabernet sauvignon, 20% petit verdot. Medium ruby color; smooth, spicy, fruity; smoke and tobacco, spiced and macerated black cherries and currants; pleasing heft and texture, moderately packed-in tannins and graphite-like minerality; burgeoning spice and lively acidity; solid finish. Very Good+. About $15.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Vina Zaco Tempranillo 2010, Rioja, Spain. 14% alc. Bright medium ruby color; wood and spice and woody spices; plums, black currants, leather; a wine to chew on in every sense; tannins coat the palate; an intense and concentrated core of graphite, bitter chocolate and lavender; a finish packed with spice and dusty, earthy minerals. Cries out for big steaming bowl of lamb stew. Very Good+. About $15.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Spur Red Wine 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. From Murrieta’s Well. 14.5% alc. 48% cabernet sauvignon, 24% petit verdot, 23% malbec, 5% petite sirah. Very attractive, almost-Bordeaux-style red blend. Black cherries and plums, very spicy with seething graphite and bitter chocolate qualities, and a backwash of some red fruit (and hint of lavender); vibrant acidity keeps it lively, while slightly earthy, velvety tannins lend depth and texture. A great steak, meatloaf or burger wine. Excellent. About $25.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Heller Estate Cachagua Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. All organic. 81% cabernet sauvignon, 11% merlot, 8% malbec. Deep ruby color; plums, currants, mint, thyme and cedar; quite spicy, a little fleshy and macerated; quite intense earthy-dusty-graphite element with plush tannins and a hint of lightly sanded wood; dark black fruit flavors; a long spice-and-tannin-laden finish. Now through 2017 to ’19. Very Good+. About $28.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Reata Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Radiant medium ruby color; cola, cloves and rhubarb, black cherries and plums; slightly earthy and loamy, a touch of woody spices and slightly buffed tannins; brings up an intriguing note of dried herbs; smooth, supple, nicely integrated but thins out through the finish. Now to 2014. Very Good+. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Heller Estate Pinot Noir 2009, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. All organic. If you take the Jura region as the model instead of Burgundy, you’ll get the drift of this interpretation of the grape. Medium ruby-color with a slight garnet rim; mint, rhubarb and pomegranate; hints of fruitcake and tomato skin; dried cherries and melon; cloves, touch of brown sugar (though the wine is dry) with a slight graphite-charcoal edge; more delicate and elegant (and slightly eccentric) than powerful. Now through 2014 or ’15. Made for roasted game birds. Excellent. About $48.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

One of the criteria for the Wine of the Week, besides being a good example of a wine in its style, quality and price, is availability. Obviously it would not do to recommend a bottle to my readers as the Wine of the Week and conclude by writing, “Oh, by the way, only 137 cases were produced, so good luck, suckers!” As much, then, as I would like to have made the Morgan Double L Vineyard Riesling 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, a Wine of the Week, I could not in good conscience do that, considering the minuscule amount of the wine there is. If, however, you run across the Morgan Double L Vineyard Riesling 2011, do not hesitate to buy as much as possible. This is the second vintage for the winery’s venture into the riesling grape. The color is pale straw-gold; enticing aromas of ripe pears and peaches offer hints of lychee and apricot nectar and, after a few minutes in the glass, orange zest and orange blossom, lightly traced with cloves. The wine is clean, fresh and lively — no oak is involved — silky and supple, delicately sweet initially but succumbing to a cool bracing breeze of damp limestone and savory salt-marsh elements. Then, to complete the progress of its tasty yet spare citrus and roasted pear flavors, comes a finish imbued with flint and the slight bitterness of grapefruit pith and apple skin. 10.5 percent alcohol. The vineyard is certified organic. Winemaker is Gianni Abate. We drank part of the bottle one night with turkey and dressing and gravy leftovers and another night with pasta in a carrot greens-and-almond pesto with diced yellow peppers. Production was 210 cases; see, I told ya. Excellent. Abut $22, and Worth a Search.

A sample for review.

« Previous PageNext Page »