Monterey County


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Callia Alta Torrontés 2011, Valle de Tulum, San Juan, Argentina. Very Good+. About $9.
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Cima Collina Cedar Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. Excellent. About $16.

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Count Karolyi Grüner Veltliner Veltliner 2011, Tolna, Hungary. Very Good+. About $11.
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Hess Allomi Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $16.

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

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

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

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

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Domaine Mittnacht Fréres Terre d’Etoiles Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $19.
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Morgan Winery R&D Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” in the edition for 2012. Why 50? It’s a nice comfortable round number, but it also makes me work hard to determine those 50 great selections.

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

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

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”
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Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
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Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
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Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
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Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
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M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
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M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
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Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
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Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
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Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
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Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
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Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
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Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
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Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
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Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
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La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
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Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
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Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
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Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
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Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.
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Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
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Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
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Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
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Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
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Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
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Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
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St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
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Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
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Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
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Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.
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Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Except for Santa Lucia Highlands, which I’m still working on as some separate posts since I published this post on October 12. Represented today though are Russian River Valley, Monterey, Cienega Valley, Carneros, Sonoma Coast and Edna Valley, as well as one example with a general California designation; all are from 2010 or 2009. I don’t burden the “Weekend Wine Sips” (formerly the “Friday Wine Sips”) with technical detail, narrative sweep, personnel histories or geographical and geological grandeur; these are brief notes, often transcribed directly from the pages of my notebooks, designed to give you a quick glimpse into the essence of the wine. These were samples for review.

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Pietra Santa Pinot Noir 2009, Cienega Valley, San Benito. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby, slightly brickish color; ripe and spicy black and red cherries, cola and cloves and sassafras; a little fleshy, with hints of dried fruit and spices, earthy, loamy, satiny; you feel the sticks and briers in the slightly austere underbrushy finish, which falls a bit short. Drink up. Very Good+. About $18.
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Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, California. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; a pretty pinot noir, bright and spicy red with blue fruit scents and flavors, a pleasing smooth texture and plenty of smooth-grained tannins for structure. Through 2013. Very Good. About $19.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2010, Monterey. 13.5% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) A real mouthful of pinot noir, rich and very berryish, dark, spicy; cranberry-magenta color; cherries galore, very clean, pure and intense, lipsmacking acidity, quite dry; the oak comes up a bit in the finish, but a well-made and appealing wine. Through 2013. Very Good+. About $20, representing Good Value.
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Toad Hollow Goldie’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.9% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color; black cherries, red currants and plums, nicely balanced between richness and spareness, touches of rhubarb and cloves; undertone of brown sugar or something slightly caramelized; smoke and satin, sweetly succulent yet dry, a little sanded and burnished in effect; an edge of foresty austerity through the finish. Through 2014. Very Good+. About $20, Excellent Value.
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Rodney Strong Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; beetroot, cloves, sassafras and coloa under black cherries and plums; satiny, slick and sleek; oak influence subdued to balance and integration; sapid, supple, savory; dense and almost viscous but cut by bright acidity and smooth-bore tannins; finish permeated by briers and brambles. Through 2014. Excellent. About $25.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 13.9% alc. Medium ruby color; earthy, briery style, moss, mushroom, leather and the clove-cola-sassafras syndrome with black and red cherries and a hint of rhubarb; large-framed, dense, lithe, lively, pronounced tannins though polished and well-knit; succulent without being opulent; long fruit-and-spice packed finish with a final edge of graphite. Through 2015.
Excellent. About $25.
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MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; entrancing bouquet of currants and plums, smoky and softly ripe, a little fleshy, touches of fruitcake, rhubarb and lilac; slightly roughened tannins boost the texture; very dry though tasty; leather and loam in the finish where the wood comes up. Through 2013. Very Good+. About $27
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Frank Family Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros-Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby with a slightly lighter ruby rim; rich, warm and spicy, more syrah-like in heft and flavor than is good for its supposition as pinot noir; a muscular manner that blunts nuance. Very Good. About $35.

(Eight others follow)
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The influence of geography and geology on vineyards, grapes and ultimately a bottle of wine is inestimable. In fact, geology and geography form the Alpha and the Omega of the biological foundation and agricultural process that in collaboration with weather — born itself of geographical and stratospheric principles — pump life into dormant vines, unfurl the leaves and encourage the buds, plump the grapes and bring them to fullness so they may be harvested and turned into wine. It’s not a magical or miraculous occurrence; aside from weather, which is the most variable factor in the tapestry, the elements of geography and geology change little over hundreds of thousands of years. (Global warming and climate change are different issues.)

Monterey County nestles against the Pacific Ocean, slanting to the southeast away from Monterey Bay, where it begins. You might picture, if you will, a flat valley, the Salinas Valley, the runs from the northwest to the the southeast between mountain ranges, the Santa Lucia Range to the west and the Galiban and San Benito ranges to the east. The Salinas Valley, a broad flatland, acts as a wind tunnel, drawing wind currents down from Monterey Bay, home to one of the world’s unique oceanographic features, the so-called Blue Grand Canyon, a name trademarked by the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association. Whatever it’s called, this two-mile-deep (from the surface of Monterey Bay) and 60-mile-long trench in the ocean floor, located less than 100 yards off the coast, generates a colossal amount of cold air that influences the climate of Monterey’s vineyard regions as far south as San Lucas, where the Salinas Valley peters out. As you can see from this relief map, most of Monterey County — the county line is pink — is mountains; the Salinas Valley spikes down between the ranges. The light green area toward the bottom, surmounted by what look like bunny ears, is the San Antonio Valley. (Map from landwatch.org)

The entire valley and the foothills of its adjacent mountain ranges are filled with fog from early morning to late morning or early afternoon, when rising temperatures click on the wind tunnel effect and winds of up to 30 miles per hour begin to churn from the bay down through the valley. The resulting Thermal Rainbow — another trademark — regulates temperatures from the bay, where it’s coolest, down through the Salinas Valley all the way to the Hames and San Antonio AVAs, where the temperature is the warmest, sometimes to a differential of 40 degrees. In the cooler areas, pinot noir, chardonnay, syrah and riesling vines flourish; farther south, the vineyards hold cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and some Rhone Valley grape varieties. The climate of the Central Coast and Salinas Valley is characterized as Mediterranean, meaning dry summers and cool, wet winters, though “wet” is a relative terms for a region where the rainfall averages 17 inches annually, and that’s between November and April. (The image above shows the Panorama Vineyard at the western edge of Arroyo Seco AVA, looking toward the Santa Lucia Range.)

Monterey County is an American Viticultural Area, so designated in 1984, but that doesn’t mean that you can plant grapes anywhere in the county and expect to say so on the label. The Monterey AVA is restricted to the narrow, central part of the county as well as an arm that reaches to the coast around Carmel. Lying along or within the Monterey AVA are eight smaller appellations, some of which are much better known than others: Chalone (1982), high above Soledad in the Gabilan hills below Pinnacles National Monument, home to one winery, Chalone Estate, and two other vineyards, 300 acres planted; Carmel Valley (1983), with five wineries and 300 acres of vines; the crowded Arroyo Seco (1983), with 37 wineries and vineyards and 7000 acres of vines; the seldom seen San Lucas (1987), home to eight vineyards that total 8,000 acres; the increasingly prestigious Santa Lucia Highlands (1991), with 29 vineyards and wineries and 5,900 planted acres; the also seldom seen Hames Valley AVA (1994), with eight vineyards totaling 2,200 acres; San Bernabe (2004), whose raison d’etre is 4,300 acres of vines owned by Delicato Family Vineyards; and the vast and largely empty San Antonio Valley (2006), which boasts three wineries and another vineyard totaling 600 acres.

My concern today (and in a subsequent post), after this introduction, is Santa Lucia Highlands, a long, narrow and increasingly populated AVA that over the past two decades has built a solid reputation for wines made from (especially) chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. SLH perches along the eastern terrace of the Santa Lucia Range, on the west side of the Salinas Valley, looking across to the distant Chalone AVA and Pinnacles National Monument (see accompanying image, from santaluciahighlands.com). From any vantage point or dizzy coign, the valley spreads northwest and southeast in a fertile quilt-like patchwork of various intense green hues, the country’s abundant basket of lettuce, cabbage and other leafy vegetables, that would not be possible without irrigation. SLH benefits from its semi-lofty placement on the escarpment — vineyards go from about 300 to 1,400-feet-elevation — where morning fog from Monterey Bay brings moisture and late morning sun and afternoon winds dry the grapes; the cool winds also slow photosynthesis, ensuring a long, even ripening of the grapes. Soil is primarily fine alluvial sandy or gravelly loam.

I’ll look today at SLH products from two young (or youngish) winemakers, Sabrine Rodems at Wrath Wines (she also has some Monterey AVA wines) and Chris Weidemann, who owns Pelerin Wines. A post coming next week (at a rough estimate) will discuss Figge Cellars, Tudor, Boekenoogan and Hahn Estate’s Lucienne single-vineyard pinot noirs. All of these wines were tasted on a sponsored trip to Monterey during the second week of September.
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Sabrine Rodems is fast-talking, brash, opinionated, animated, funny and sincere and totally dedicated to making authentic wines with balance, integrity, grace and no small measure of power. As winemaker for Wrath Wines — formerly San Saba Vineyards –she produces very limited quantities of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and syrah under three labels: Ex Anima Wines, Winemaker Series and Single Vineyard Series.

The Wrath Ex Anima Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Monterey, practically climbs out of the glass with its brash bright notes of green apple, grapefruit and gooseberry and hints of fresh-mown grass; made all in stainless steel, this is very clean, crisp and tart, with appealing personality and mineral grip. 12.9 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $19. The Wrath 3 Clone Chardonnay 2010, Monterey, goes the whole route: barrel-fermentation, 10 months in “40 or 50 percent” (Rodems said) new French oak and full malolactic; almost miraculously, the result is not overwhelming richness but exquisite balance, lovely heft, density and texture, reams of spice-infused apple, grapefruit and pineapple scents and flavors heightened by a trace of jasmine and deepened by shimmering limestone and flint minerality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $35.

The Ex Anima Pinot Noir 2010, Monterey, aged 10 months in a combination of stainless steel tanks and two-to-four-year-old French oak; no window-dressing here, this is all pinot noir purity and intensity, cleanness and freshness, with clove-and-cola- inflected raspberry and red currant scents and flavors, a sleek satiny texture and invigorating acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25. Rodems makes a pinot noir from the Boekenoogan Vineyard (about which more later); the version for 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, reveals a bit more obvious hand with oak, but the wine is essentially well-balanced, smooth, suave and polished. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $49.

Finally, the Wrath Fairview Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, offers all the blackberry and blueberry fruit, baking spice and black pepper and potpourri you could ask for in a supple package bolstered by plenty of dusty, briery tannins and earthy graphite-like minerality. 14.6 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $35.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Sometimes you encounter wines that seem such an embodiment of grace and elegance, purity and integrity that you would like to drink them forever. It’s fitting that the labels of Chris Weidemann’s Pelerin Wines feature the profile of an elderly pilgrim depicted as if part of an ancient mural; that sense of classical decorum and timelessness is intrinsic in Weidemann’s wines, all of which carry the Santa Lucia Highlands designation. He specializes in chardonnay, pinot noir and red and white Rhone Valley grape varieties and produces about 2,200 cases annually.

The Pelerin Paraiso Vineyard Les Tournesols 2010 is a blend of 58 percent viognier and 42 percent roussanne grapes; the wine spent six months in neutral oak barrels, that is, barrels used several times before. What a completely lovely, perfectly balanced wine, with notes of jasmine, fig, melon and roasted lemon and a hint of lime peel and limestone; audacious acidity and a firm but limpid limestone element support a structure and texture of beguiling shading and dimension. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $27. The Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 offers a bright gold color and grapefruit-pineapple scents and flavors that hint at the tropical without falling into the trap of overstatement or ungovernable ripeness; it’s a beautifully balanced and harmonious chardonnay, smooth, subtle and supple but with an edge of spice and flint, ginger and quince that raises the level of discourse a notch or two. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $42.

People often say, “Words fail,” an assertion I find ridiculous, because words and language are adequate for all purposes; it’s not the words that fail, it’s us and our imaginations. So, words don’t fail at the prospect of describing the Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, but they certainly stand rather awe-struck. Not that there’s anything super-dimensional about the wine; just the opposite, and if you’re weary of pinot noir wines from California that push the limits with extraction and richness and ripeness and alcohol, then this pinot noir is what you have been longing for. The fruit profile is red and blue, as in red currants and plums and blueberries with a hint of the tartness of cranberries and notes of cola and cloves; supple, satiny, yes, but spare, elegant and understated, except for the essential crisply-etched acidity that plows a row on the palate and a seemingly fathoms-deep element of graphite-like minerality and earthy briers and brambles, all this panoply subdued in honor of divine harmony. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2014 or ’15. Exceptional. About $42.

Finally, the Pelerin Paraiso Vineyard Les Violettes Syrah 2008 is a model of balance, purity, intensity and utter drinkablility, yet behind that sapid facade, with its tasty black and blue fruit flavors, lingers a savory bastion of tar and tapenade, leather, black pepper and graphite. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $36.
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Seven white wines and one rosé; seven Californians and one Spanish wine (not the rosé). Several chardonnays and a viognier made exactly in the fashion I like best. And some irresistible bargains. I do it all for you. No technical data, no paeans to place, no exploring the byways of personnel and personality; just brief reviews designed to perk up your interest and whet your thirst. Enjoy. These were samples for review.
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Pepi Chenin Blanc Viognier 2011, California. 13% alc. 66% chenin blanc, 34% viognier. Pleasant enough and drinkable but the grape varieties get lost in each other; a little citrusy, a little spicy, pleasing texture; no great shakes, but you can’t beat the price. Good to sip when you don’t want to hurt your brain too much. Good+. About $10.
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Sumarroca Temps de Flors 2011, Penedes, Spain. 12% alc. 48% xarel-lo, 40 % muscat, 12% gewurztraminer. Pale straw-gold color; very attractive but with some spareness and slight astringent factor, like little white mountain flowers that don’t take any crap from you, thank you v. much; pear, yellow plum, hint of white peach; acacia with a touch of honey and bees’-wax; lovely, lively, lithe and totally charming. Now into Spring 2013. Very Good+. About $14, offering Great Value.
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St. Clement Chardonnay 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. Pale straw-gold color; just lovely; slightly smoky and steely pineapple- grapefruit scents and flavors, clove and limestone-flecked and with a beguiling trace of honeysuckle; spiced apples and pears, hint of citrus, sleek, smooth, supple and tingling with brisk acidity, superb balance between tense and teasing nervous energy and lightly honed richness, the finish laved with damp limestone and flint. My style. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $19, a Terrific Value.
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Ventana Dry Rosato 2011, Arroyo Seco, Monterey. 13.5% alc. 500 cases. 90% grenache, 10% syrah. Pale melon color; strawberry, dried cranberries and mulberries, hint of dusty limestone; supple texture with crisp acidity; a delightfully delicate and well-knit rosé with pleasing heft for drinking through Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $22.
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Ventana Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Arroyo Seco, Monterey. 14.2% alc. Pale straw-gold color; notably clean and fresh; lemon and pear, dried thyme and tarragon, hints of honeysuckle, lemongrass and gooseberry; vibrant, lively, spicy, engaging, but dry, spare, almost elegant. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $22.
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Ventana Chardonnay 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; pineapple and grapefruit, a bit of mango, a few minutes bring up notes of greengage and quince and cloves; crisp and lively, texture moderately lush but tempered by acidity and a burgeoning limestone element; very nicely balanced, holds the richness of fruit in check for the essential structure. Through 2013. Excellent. About $22.
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Chamisal Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2010, Edna Valley. 13.9% alc. Very pale gold color; fresh clean aromas of candied quince and ginger, grapefruit and pineapple with a backnote of mango and delicately smoky oak; flavors of green apple and pineapple are boldly framed by baking spice, slightly woody dried spices (and a trace of dried flowers) and a hint of baked lemon; all held in check by bright acidity and a scintillating limestone element. This qualifies as radiant. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $28.
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Stags’ Leap Winery Viognier 2011, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Pale gold color; vibrantly clean, fresh, lissom, elegant; a wine of stones and bones with a hint of jasmine and tarragon laid over tart lemon and pear flavors bolstered by taut acidity and a bracing sea-salt and grapefruit finish; paradoxically, the texture is seductive and enveloping. For people weary of the overwhelming floral style of viognier. Now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $30.
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Morgan Winery was not on the agenda for the small group that I traveled around Monterey County with in the middle of September, but keeping with the spirit of that trip and with the day we spent in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation, I’ll make the Wine of the Week the Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir 2010, the grapes for which were drawn from the winery’s own Double L Vineyard — 56 percent — and from several other vineyards in Santa Lucia, including Tondre Grapefield and Gary’s. The winery was founded by Dan Morgan Lee and Donna Lee in 1982; winemaker since 2005 has been Gianni Abate. The wine is named for the 12 original pinot noir clones in the Double L Vineyard, though now there are 14.

The Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir 2010 offers a seductive color of medium ruby-cerise with a touch of magenta at the rim; the bouquet is a welter of cloves and sassafras, spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries with a back-note of plum and deeper hints of briers and brambles The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 36 percent new barrels, the rest one- and two-years-old, and you feel that wood slightly in the wine’s subtle and supple nature, because this is, above all, beautifully balanced and integrated, though clean acidity cuts a swath and keeps this pinot noir bright and lively, while a satiny texture wraps all elements. Black and red fruit flavors are buoyed by a hint of graphite minerality and potpourri; the finish is long and packed with spice and foresty touches and just a hint of oak’s austerity. 13.9 percent alcohol. The winery made 10,000 cases, so there’s plenty to go around. Now through 2014 or ’15, with roasted chicken or grilled salmon, or, what the hell, a grilled cheese sandwich. Excellent. About $32.

A sample for review.

Here are reviews of 10 wines — one syrah, two sauvignon blancs, three chardonnays and four pinot noirs — that I tasted late in the afternoon of Monday, September 10, at the Holman Ranch in Monterey County’s Carmel Valley, a beautiful setting for trying mainly excellent wines. As usual in these Friday Wine Sips I forgo the technical data of history, geography, vineyard practices, winemaking and personalities in which I typically indulge for the sake of straightforward reviews of a more incisive nature. These producers — Dawn’s Dream, Cima Collina, Silvestri — are small in scale, each making between about 2,500 to 3,500 cases annually, but large in talent. Enjoy…
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Dawn’s Dream Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 13% alc. Very pale straw color but shimmering radiance; grapefruit, limestone and gunflint; jasmine and honeysuckle, pears and lemons, mildly herbal and grassy, subtle and supple but crisp and lively acidity with scintillating limestone minerality; finish is sleek, elegant, more spicy. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $24.
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Dawn’s Dream Chardonnay 2011, Arroyo Seco. 14.1% alc. Very attractive chardonnay in the spare, lithe fashion; very dry, bursting with cloves, ginger and quince, hints of grapefruit and pineapple; a floral element grows, twining itself around ripe fruit; mainly structure through, lots of stones and bones; finish falls a tad short. Drink through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $24.
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Dawn’s Dream Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. 14.1% alc. This will be the last Carneros pinot noir that Dawn Galante makes. Purple-magenta color; very spare, dry, almost sinewy, black and red currants and hints of cranberry and rhubarb permeated by cola and tobacco over layers of briers and brambles, underbrush, spicy oak and dry, brushy tannins; acid cuts a swath; nothing overdone, obvious or voluptuous but capturing the essential cool-climate character of the grape. Now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $24.
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Dawn’s Dream Alyssa Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.1% alc. Entrancing light cherry-magenta color with a faint violet rim; rhubarb, pomegranate, sassafras, cloves; another dry, slightly foresty/slightly feral rendition, with a lean, keen graphite edge, plangent acidity and just a little too much oak on the finish, still quite enjoyable and a little challenging. Now through 2015 to ’17. Very Good+. About $24.
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Cima Collina Cedar Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Arroyo Seco, 14.7% alc. 320 cases. Pale straw-gold color; remarkably full-bodied, rich and spicy for an all stainless steel sauvignon blanc; scents and flavors of roasted lemons and spiced pears, hints of dried herbs and a slight tendency toward a grassy-meadowy character; quite dry yet juicy with macerated stone fruit flavors; brisk and bracing acidity, touch of sea-salt. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $16 and Worth a Search.
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Cima Collina Chula Vina Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Monterey County. 14.4% alc. 318 cases. Big, bright and bold; perfectly balanced and integrated; seething with limestone and flint minerality and vibrant acidity yet bears itself with calmness and dignity; a great example of a chardonnay wine seamlessly segueing from youth to maturity; flavors of spicy yellow plums, quince, ginger and pineapple arrow through a finish supple with grapefruit and a hint of oak. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $33.
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Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14% alc. 325 cases. Enticing color of moderate ruby-mulberry with a tinge of violet-magenta at the rim; wow, what a perfect pinot noir, with exquisite balance, tone, harmony and elegance (and seductive spicy red and black currant and rhubarb flavors) yet supported by an almost rigorous structure of graphite-washed minerality; earthy, slightly mossy elements of underbrush, briers and brambles; and acidity the plows a row or two on the palate. Now through 2016 or ’17. Exceptional. About $48 and definitely Worth a Search for fans of SLH pinot noir from one of my favorite vineyards.
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Silvestri Vineyard “Bella Sandra” Chardonnay 2009, Carmel Valley. 14.1% alc. 968 cases. Despite the spicy, slightly vanilla-tinged oak in the background, this manages pleasing restraint and decorum in a subtle, supple package; embellished with burgeoning floral elements and limestone-shale minerality; roasted lemon, spiced pear flavors with hints of bright pineapple and grapefruit that extend through a mineral packed finish; fresh and vibrant at three years old. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $20, a Remarkable Value.
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Silvestri “Rising Tide” Pinot Noir 2009, Carmel Valley. 14.3% alc. 1420 cases. Dark ruby-magenta color; red and black currants and plums, mocha and sassafras, touch of cranberry; foresty briers and brambles, rooty and minerally, very dry, resonant almost resolute acidity; close to sleek above the touch of robust rusticity, and you feel the oak a bit in the finish. Try from 2013 or ’14 through 2017 to ’19. Very Good+. About $32.
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Silvestri Syrah 2009, Carmel Valley. 14.5% alc. 200 cases. Dark ruby-purple with a motor-oil black center; very pure and intense, riveting graphite-like minerality that bursts through lavender, licorice and leather, blackberries, blueberries and plums; slightly fleshy and meaty with a touch of wet dog and black pepper, all wrapped around a core of dry, grainy tannins and bitter chocolate. If this is what people can do with syrah in Carmel, they ought to plant more. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $18, and they’re practically giving it away.
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