Mosel


I started this post as a way of commemorating my 30th anniversary in wine-writing, reached, as My Regular Readers know — bless your little pointy heads and may your tribes increase — early in July. Initially, the concept was “Fifty Great Wines,” but I decided that choosing 50 “great” wines from 30 years of tasting would be an impossible and probably just stupid and futile task. In three decades, I tasted thousands and thousands and more thousands of wines — you writers know how it is — so choosing the 50 “greatest” from this immense group would be a Sisyphian exercise.

Then I realized that what would be more significant anyway would be 50 wines that, as the title states, shaped my palate, the wines that shook me to the core, that shifted my perspective about how wine is made and its various effects, that achieved a level of purity and intensity that befit the divine; the wines, in short, that were not only definitive but created me as a writer. Yes, just that. So I spent the past few weeks combing through dozens of old notebooks, through the electronic archives of the newspaper for which I wrote a weekly column for 20 years and of course through the pages of this blog.

Now let’s be frank about some issues. As a wine reviewer, I am dependent on the practice of samples provided by producers, importers, marketers and (to a lesser extent) local distributors; I depend on the occasional trade tasting, lunch with a touring winemaker, on sponsored travel to wine regions in this country and abroad. You will not, therefore, see a list that emphasizes the great wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy, though some are included, more Burgundy than Bordeaux, because I have few opportunities to encounter such wines. Perhaps, however, you will discover here wines that you had forgotten or overlooked; certainly there will be surprises. To those of my wine-writing/blogging/tasting friends who might say, “Cripes, FK, I can’t believe you didn’t put [whatever legendary fabuloso wine] on this list!” I can only reply, “I never had the chance to taste that wine and if you want to send me a bottle, I’ll be grateful but not humbled.” This is about my experience as an individual, as, you might say, a palate.

I benefited early on from the generosity of two people in Memphis, the restaurateur-wine collector John Grisanti and a figure important in wholesale, retail and wine education, Shields Hood. Many of the wines they offered me, exposed me to and sent in my direction truly changed my life and made me what I am today.
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1. Simi Pinot Noir 1974, Alexander Valley. Purchased at a local store, tasted at home March 1984 and still, at least in memory, one of the greatest California pinots I ever encountered.

2. Mercurey Clos des Myglands 1971, Faiveley. Tasted at John Grisanti’s private cellar, September 16, 1984. As in “Ah, so that’s what Burgundy is all about.”

3. Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Perignon 1976, Champagne. At a wholesaler’s tasting, with Shields Hood, September 17, 1984.

4. Chateau St. Jean Late Harvest Johannesburg Riesling 1978, Belle Terre Vineyards, Alexander Valley. Last week of September, 1984.

5. Chateau La Grange 1926, St Julien Third Growth, Bordeaux. At a special wine dinner at the long-departed American Harvest Restaurant in Germantown, east of Memphis, October 1984. As in, “Ah, so this is what an aged Bordeaux wine is all about.” I love the label.

6. Simi Reserve Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Alexander Valley. My then father-in-law bought a case of this wine at $16 a bottle. High-living in those days. At 10 years old, it was perfect, expressive, eloquent. This was at Christmas dinner, 1984.

7. Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 1971, Grivelet. At John Grisanti’s cellar, June 9, 1985, a great afternoon.

8. Sonoma Vineyards Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 1976, Sonoma County. July 27 and 28, 1985. Fine balance, harmony and integration, a sense of confidence and authority expressed with elegance and restraint. This winery was not renamed for its founder Rodney Strong until after he sold it in 1984.

9. Chateau Latour 1982, Pauillac, Bordeaux. Definitive for the vintage and the chateau; tasted at a trade event in Memphis sometime in 1985; tasted again in New York, October 1991.

10. Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon 1980, Napa Valley. Purchased at Sherry-Lehmann in NYC, for $20.50(!); consumed with Easter dinner in Memphis, April 1986.

11. Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 1977, Alexander Valley. At a tasting in Memphis of Silver Oak cabernets, sometime in 1986.

12. Chateau Haut-Brion 1937, Graves, Bordeaux. At a tasting with collectors in Memphis in 1987; this 50-year-old wine was, incredibly and from a dismal decade in Bordeaux, even better than the fabulous ’59 and ’66.

13. Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1949, Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France. One of a mixed case of wonderful wines I received for annotating a cellar, drunk at a dinner in the Fall of 1988. At 39 years old, one of the best wines I have ever tasted.

14. Beaune Clos des Ursules 1952, Louis Jadot. At lunch with Gagey pere et fils at the maison in Beaune, March 1990. When I mentioned this to a friend back in the U.S., he said, “Oh, yeah, they pull out that wine for all the Americans.” No matter.

15. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru 1983. Tasted in New York, October 1991.

16. Gaja Barbaresco 1955, Piedmont, Italy. Made by Angelo Gaja’s father, tasted in New York, October 1991.

17. Chateau Beychevelle 1928, St. Julien Fourth Growth, Bordeaux. At a large tasting of multiple vintages of Chateau Branaire-Ducru and Chateau Beychevelle going back to 1893, with collector Marvin Overton and British writer Clive Coates, in Nashville. This ’28 was even better than the examples from the god-like years of ’47, ’45 and ’29; just writing that sentence made me feel like Michael Broadbent.

18. Freemark Abbey 1978, Napa Valley. At a vertical tasting in Chicago, January 1993.

19. Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Napa Valley. I bought six half-bottles of this splendid perfectly aged cabernet from a FedEx pilot who was divesting his cellar and served them at a dinner party in 1996.

20. Chalone Chardonnay 1981, Monterey. A revelation at almost 15 years old; I bought this and some other California chardonnays from the late ’70s and early ’80s out of a cellar that had been kept at 40 to 45 degrees; tasted with LL and a friend at Cafe Society in Memphis, May 1996.

21. Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 1998, Clare Valley, Australia. Tasted at the property, October 1998, very young, filled with power and otherworldly grace.

22. Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir 1997, Gippsland, Australia. Tasted in Melbourne, October 1998; they’re not shy with oak at Bass Phillip, but this was a thrilling monument to pinot noir purity and intensity.

23. Clos Apalta 1996, Rapel Valley, Chile, 95 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet sauvignon. The initial release, tasted at the hacienda of Don Pepe Rabat, who owned the oldest merlot vineyard in Chile, with Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle and Michel Rolland, April 1998.

24. Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses Premier Cru 1998, Domaine G. Roumier. From the barrel at the property, December 7, 1999, my birthday. The earth seemed to open under my feet.

25. Chateau Petrus 1998, Pomerol, Bordeaux. Barrel sample at the property, December 1999. One of the most profound wines I have ever experienced.

26. Robert Mondavi To Kalon 1 Block Fume Blanc 2000, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

27. Robert Mondavi Marjorie’s Sunrise Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

28. Sineann Reed and Reynolds Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Tasted at the International Pinot Noir Conference, McMinnville, August 2002.

29. Nicolas Joly Clos de la Bergerie 1999, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. New York, at La Caravelle, January 2003, with the line-up of Joly’s wines.

30. Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1966, South Australia. At a comprehensive tasting of this iconic wine, 1996 back to 1955, at Spago in L.A., April 2003.

31. Chateau d’Epiré 1964, Savennières Moelleux, Loire Valley, France. At a dinner associated with the Loire Valley Wine Fair, February 2004.

32. Domaine de la Pepière Clos des Briords 1986, Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Loire Valley, France. At the estate with proprietor Marc Ollivier, one of the great tasting experiences of my life, February 2004.

33. Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2001. Tasted in New York, June 2004.

34. Tres Sabores Zinfandel 2003, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Tasted in New York, March 2006.

35. Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut 1996, Champagne, France. Tasted in New York, September 2006; fabulous but not nearly ready to drink.

36. Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets Premier Cru 2004, Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

37. Corton Grand Cru 2002, Domaine Comte Senard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

38. Chateau Montelena The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa Valley. New York, September 2007.

39. Porter-Bass Chardonnay 2004, Russian River Valley. New York, September 2007.

40. Pommard Les Epenots Premier Cru 2004, Dominique Laurent. New York, September 2007.

41. Phifer Pavit Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley. Sample for review, tasted at home October 2008. The best first-release cabernet I ever encountered.

42. Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Napa valley. Sample for review, tasted at home December 2008.

43. Heyl zu Herrnsheim Niersteiner Pettenheim Riesling Spätlese halbtrocken 1991, Rheingau, Germany. At the estate, July, 2009.

44. Quinta da Roameira Vintage Porto 2007. In Douro Valley, August 2009, at a comprehensive tasting of the 2007 ports at Niepoort.

45. Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Tasted in Piedmont, January, 2010, with winemaker Giorgio Lavagna and a ragtag gaggle of American bloggers.

46 & 47. Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec 2007, Mendoza, & Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Chardonnay 2006, Mendoza. Tasted at the property — the chardonnay with lunch — October 2010.

48. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 1998. Purchased locally and consumed on New Year’s Eve 2010, with Imperial Osetra caviar from Petrossian.

49. Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenerg Riesling Beerenauslese 2004, Pfalz, Germany. A sample for review, tasted December 2011.

50. Müllen Kinheimen Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2002, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. Tasted with Lyle Fass in New York, December 2013.

Well, I already see a couple of wines that I should have included in this roster — Chateau d’Yquem 1975, Sauternes, for example — but 50 is a good wholesome round number with an air of closure about it, so let’s leave it alone. And for the future? The process of learning, having our minds changed, our ideas and consciousness expanded never ends. Perhaps there will be candidates for this list from 2014, among them the Clos Saron Stone Soup Vineyard Syrah 2011, Sierra Foothills, made by Gideon Beinstock, and, oddly enough, the Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas, made by Dan Gatlin. We’ll see how I feel in another 30 years.

Your eyes do not deceive you, My Readers. Today’s Weekend Wine Notes offer 10 wines priced under $20, in actuality, from about $12 to $19. We flaunt our eclectic nature today, reaching from various regions of California to Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Argentina and Australia, and embracing many grape varieties and styles of wine. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes I dispense with large quantities of technical, historical and geographical data to bring you quick incisive reviews meant to pique your interest and titillate your taste buds. Remember, please, that all wines are not available in all areas of our country nor even in all retail stores in the same city. That’s just the mechanics of distribution and consumer interest. In any case, enjoy these selections where you find them, in moderation, of course. Except for one wine, these were samples for review.
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Adobe Pink 2013, Paso Robles. 46% syrah, 37% grenache noir, 17% mourvèdre. 14.5% alc. Brilliant salmon-peach color with a tinge of copper; pure strawberry and raspberry and lightly curranty, hints of tangerine and candied kumquat; watermelon and raspberry in the mouth, quite dry but ripe and juicy; snappy acidity, plenty of limestone minerality and a slightly earthy, austere finish. Drink up. Very Good+. About $14.
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Bonny Doon Albariño 2013, Central Coast. 100% albariño. 13.2% alc. Pale gold color; seductive bouquet of roasted lemon and lemon balm, quince and ginger, notes of camellia, almond blossom and lime peel; quite dry and spare, savory, saline, bracing acidity; large component of limestone and oyster shell minerality; attractive, vibrant and resonant. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $18.
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Isabelino 2012, Rueda, Spain. 85% verdejo, 15% viura. 13% alc. Bright straw-yellow; earthy, savory and briny, seashell and limestone; roasted lemon and yellow plum, a hint of spiced pear and overripe peach and a shade funky; lovely silken texture riven by vibrant acidity. Line up the oysters fresh from the deep. Drink up. Very Good. About $12.
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Poggio Anima Belial 2011, Toscana I.G.T., Italy. 100% sangiovese. Medium ruby color, tinge of garnet; red and black currants and cherries, cloves and allspice; violets and potpourri; orange zest, oolong tea, slightly earthy and leathery; very dry with rousing acidity and lip-smacking tannins, lots of presence and personality for the price. Through 2015. Very Good+. About $16 (Discounted to $13 at the retail shop where I purchased it.)
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Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt “RK” Riesling, 2012, Mosel, Germany. 100% riesling. 10% alc. Pale gold color; lemon and lychee, rubber eraser, heather and hay, wisps of jasmine and honeysuckle; modestly sweet entry then bone-dry from mid-palate through the finish; spiced peach and pear, slightly earthy; lithe and lively and with scintillating limestone minerality balanced by moderate lushness in texture. A sleek, tasty beauty. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $19.
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Souverain Sauvignon Blanc 2012, North Coast. 100% sauvignon blanc. 13.5% alc. Light gold hue; lime peel, pink grapefruit, lemongrass, celery seed, hints of lilac and tangerine; quite bright, fresh, crisp and lively; lots of limestone and flint minerality; grapefruit rind and almond skin finish, with a hint of bracing bitterness. Super attractive. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $13.
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Vale do Bomfim 2011, Douro, Portugal. From the House of Dow’s. 14.5% alc. 40% tinta barroca, 25% touriga nacional, 25% touriga franca, 10% tinta roriz. Deep ruby-purple with a magenta rim; very engaging aromas: black cherries, blackberries and mulberries, lavender and potpourri, hints of graphite and blueberry jam; quite dry, sleek and supple, peppery, with raspy and briery tannins, touches of leather and woodsy spice. Now through 2015. Very Good. About $12.
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Vina Robles White(4) 2013, Paso Robles. 14.9% alc. Viognier 46%, verdelho 19%, vermentino 19%, sauvignon blanc 16%. Very pale gold hue; mango, ginger and quince, citrus and stone-fruit with emphasis on rinds and stones; jasmine and yellow plums; spare and slightly astringent floral and mineral elements; lovely texture, shapely and silky, almost lush but cut by bright acidity for liveliness and crispness. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $16.
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Wakefield Promised Land Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, South Australia. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby-purple; cedar, tobacco, dried rosemary; intense and concentrated notes of black currants, raspberries and cherries; hints of black olive, leather and loam; dense, chewy, sleek and lithe; ripe and tasty black fruit supported by earthy, leathery, very dry tannins and a touch of spicy oak. Grill a steak; open a bottle. Now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $13.
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William Cole Columbine Special Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 100% pinot noir. 13% alc. Medium ruby color; pomegranate and rhubarb, cloves and sassafras, notes of leather, tomato skin, tobacco leaf and briers, a little rooty; smooth and satiny; smoke, black cherry, fairly earthy yet with a spare, ethereal character. An interesting interpretation of the grape. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $17.
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And, boy, are they eclectic! And sort of electric in effect, by which I mean snappy, vivid, lively and crisp. Some are fairly straightforward, fruity and appealing; a few others are more complicated and inspire a little contemplation, though in these languid, humid days, a bit of contemplation harmonizes with the lap of waves at the beach or the plock-plock of tennis balls or the creak of the rope that supports your gently swaying hammock. We touch Chile, Spain, Italy, Germany, Alsace in France and several regions of Italy and California today, as well as a dazzling range of grape varieties. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, my goal is not to overload your sensibility with technical, historical, geological data, as I might in more extensive reviews but to offer incisive impressions that will pique your interest and whet your palate. Contemplating an afternoon at a picnic, by the pool, on the porch or patio? Any of these white wines would serve you well.

These wines were samples for review.
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Albamar Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 12.5% alc. Very pale straw-gold color; notably fresh and zingy; lychee and pear, lime peel and grapefruit, jasmine and honeysuckle; hints of celery seed, fennel and fig; leafy, sprightly, with a scintillating limestone edge; plenty of verve and clarity. Drink through 2015. Very Good+. About $11, a Sure-Fire Bargain.
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Blanco Nieva Pie Franco Verdejo 2012, Rueda, Spain. 13% alc. 100% verdejo grapes. Light gold color; clean, crisp and vibrant; bee’s-wax, sea salt, roasted lemon, lime peel, limestone, little waxy flowers; very nicely knit and well-balanced; bracing acidity and salinity, with a dry finish that offers a pleasing touch of candied grapefruit. Very attractive and refreshing; lots of personality. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $23.

The label image is one vintage behind.
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Conundrum 2012, California. 13.5% alc. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, semillon, muscat canelli, viognier. Is Conundrum getting drier? Is that why I actually liked this vintage of the well-known white blend? Pale gold color; fully-fleshed out notes of peaches and spiced pears, lychee and riesling-like petrol; operatically floral in the lilac and honeysuckle range, some muscat-tinged muskiness; a touch of sweetness going in but felt more as plush ripeness; crisp yet lush, sleek, polished, sophisticated; very dry finish etched with limestone. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22, often discounted.
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Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Chenin Blanc 2013, Clarksburg. 13% alc. Pale gold color; hay, roasted lemon, acacia and dried thyme; savory, spare and bracing yet graceful; hints of yellow stone fruit and tangerine; background of damp stone minerality; all bound by crisp acidity. Quite charming. Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.
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Hugel et Fils Gewurztraminer “Hugel” 2011, Alsace. 14% alc. Very pale gold color; lychee, peach and spiced pear; notes of lemon curd, honeysuckle and preserved lemon; dry but juicy with stone-fruit and hints of citrus and green apple; a cool wine, shot through with limestone and flint minerality, warmed by touches of cloves and allspice; ultimately spare, elegant, slightly astringent on the finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $22.
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J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2013, California. 13.8% alc. Light gold color; lemon and lime peel, delicate notes of honeysuckle, thyme and sage, lemon oil and orange blossom, crushed gravel undertones; very crisp and refreshing though spare and lithe; pith and peel and the bracing astringent bitterness that attends them, yet a wisp of slightly overripe peach under the spareness and a hint at briers and loamy earthiness. A thoughtful and appealing rendition of the grape, surprisingly complex for the price. Excellent. About $16, a Terrific Bargain.
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Masseria Li Veli Fiano 2012, Puglia. 13% alc. 100% fiano grapes. Pale gold color, tinge of green; cloves and allspice, jasmine and smoke; roasted lemon and bee’s-wax, talc and limestone; clean, dry and savory; lovely body, cloud-like density and supple texture but spurred by bracing acidity. Irresistibly tasty. Very Good+. About $11, representing Wonderful Value.
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St. Urbans-Hof Bockstein Ockfen Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel, Germany. 8% alc. A reisling of scintillating purity and ethereal refinement; very pale gold color; delicately struck notes of jasmine and apricot, mango and lychee, lemon peel and almond skin; vivid acidity sends an electric wave across the palate though the ultimate effect is never less than utmost elegance and elevation; a texture almost lush exquisitely balanced by the acid and the bright limestone minerality. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $18 to $20.
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Senorio de Rubios Albarino 2010, Rias Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. How well does albarino age? Beautifully, in this case. I don’t usually include
wines that are Worth a Search in the Weekend Wine Notes, but this 2010 was the sample I received, even though, apparently, the 2012 is available. Light gold color; my first reaction, “Gosh, how lovely”; not as fresh as it would have been two years ago, perhaps, but with a depth of spice and richness; roasted lemon, lemon balm and baked pear; camellia, quince and ginger; very dry, saline and savory, slightly honeyed entry leading to an earthy, limestone-inflected finish that’s a bit austere. Drink up. Very Good+ leaning toward Excellent. About $18.
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Toad Hollow Francine’s Selection Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Mendocino County. 13.9% alc. Pale gold color; lively, clean and bright, very dry, crisp and pert; notes of lemon and mango, hint of jasmine; lots of serious limestone minerality enlivened by a grapefruit finish. Quite refreshing. Very Good+. About $14.
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Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace. 12.5% alc. Very pale gold color; pear, peach and lychee, yellow plum; tantalizing floral elements, like memories of dewy violets and lilacs; a precise and incisive wine, layered with flint and limestone, crystalline acidity; earthy, though, a bit dusty; the entire effect clean, resonant and elegant. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.
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Zenato Lugana 2012, San Benedetto, Veneto. 13% alc. 100% trebbiano di Lugana grapes. Very pale shimmering gold color; super attractive, with notes of jasmine and orange rind, talc and lilac, mango and spiced pear; slightly honeyed, with hints of bee’s-wax and lanolin; touches of dried thyme and rosemary, with the latter’s slightly resinous quality; notably clean and fresh, chiming acidity and a seashell-like minerality. I could drink this all Summer. Very Good+. About $14, marking A Notable Bargain.

The label image is one vintage behind.
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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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Great wines possess a kind of intensity that flatters the nose and palate, as well as the imagination, with a comprehensive scope of sensation and character without burdening our faculties with any quality of the flamboyant or egotistical; they burn with a hard, gem-like flame — as Walter Pater bade us live — rather than self-immolating in the baroque furnaces of exaggeration and manipulation. Great wines exert a sense of finely tuned balance in addition to a paradoxical element of risk, at times almost playfulness, these qualities subsumed into the overall impression of integration, generosity and completeness. The models I look at today, both samples for review, as I am required to inform you by the Federal Trade Commission, exemplify such standards. Nothing links these wines except the fact that I tasted them on sequential days and that they’re beautifully wrought renditions of the grapes from which they’re made.

First, however, a comment on what’s called the “tasting note.” There’s a hue and cry in the recent press about the death of the tasting note; the tasting note is outmoded, assert its opponents, a relic of a time when wine critics were deemed authorities and their notes — typically involving Bordeaux Classified Growths, Burgundy Premier and Grand Crus and great German rieslings — regarded as sacred texts. Such notions, we’re told, are hopeless in the world of the Internet, instant reaction and analysis, the cohort-like animation of word-of-mouth, blogs, smart phones and hanging loose. I think that’s all fine and dandy. Certainly the tasting note as perfected by a magazine like the Wine Spectator — telegraphic, gnomic, superficial and pointed toward the all-important numerical score — seems unhelpful except to consumers primarily interested in the dynamic of that large, black, bold-face rating. Such punchy tasting notes bear the same relationship to the characterization of a wine in a full review as a capsule summary of a movie does to a review in The New York Times or The New Yorker.

If I may self-advocate here, I have been taking notes on wine for 30 years, and I use those notes to assemble not merely a review of the wine but a narrative that blends history, geography and intention with an attempt to get to the heart of a product, in detail and dimension. I want My Readers to take away from such a review a sense of where a wine came from, the importance of its origin in a place and time and climate, what it smells like and tastes like and feels like over passing moments and what its potential is for growth and development — and perhaps what foods it could profitably accompany. Much as I love the physical properties of many of the wines I taste every year, I also dote on a wine’s chronicle from vineyard through the hands of the winemaker to the bottle on your table. If any of you read this blog and utter a sigh and heartfelt, “Oh, there F.K. goes again, talking about vineyard elevation and late harvesting and oak aging,” well, you should be used to that by now, because you’re stuck with it.

It’s true that not all wines require or deserve such full-blown treatment; many of the products I mention on this blog are simple quaffing wines meant to be enjoyed without much thought, and there’s not a thing wrong with that. The wines that I find richly rewarding though and that capture my attention — as did the two wines under review in this post — seem valuable not merely because of their high quality and complex character but because they imply a narrative that extents into a personal, historical and geological past and into the future of possibility.

The first image above is from my wine notebook, actually a ledger, from 1986 and 1987; the second image represents a small portion of wine notebooks from about 1995 to 2005.
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The Villa Huesgen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2010 derives from steep vineyards that rise 100 to 200 meters above the Mosel River. The slightly fractured landscape lends the slate-impacted vineyard a faceted relationship to the sky, allowing the 30- to 35-year-old vines a multitude of exposures to sunlight as the day proceeds; the result seems to be an unusual degree of richness in the grapes, as well as a profoundly significant array of mineral elements. The estate traces its origin to 1735, when Johannes Huesgen (1697-1762) moved to the town of Traben-Trarbach in the Mosel region and began buying vineyards; in 1762, his son Johann-Wilhelm, with his mother and brother-in-law, founded a wine merchant business. Among the family’s most striking achievements is Villa Huesgen itself, one of the most famous Art Nouveau houses in Europe, designed by notable architect Bruno Möhring in 1904.

I don’t want to wax too poetical here or wade into the murky miasma of metaphor, but the bouquet and the flavors of the Villa Huesgen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2010 evince such a powerful perception of rain on dusty slate tiles, of damp lilacs, of the snap of gunflint and the mingling of crushed limestone and lime peel, of lemongrass and ginger, of quince and spiced pear that it remains with me vividly two days later. This marked intensity, however, while distinctly present in nose and mouth, is not the least overwhelming; rather it evokes an impression that’s almost poignant in its acuteness and its weaving of infinite delicacies into a fabric of strength and elegance. Close to talc-like in texture but enlivened by crisp and crystalline acidity, Villa Huesgen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2010, made all in stainless steel, is fresh and immediately appealing yet should age beautifully through 2018 to 2020. This, friends, is great riesling. 11.5% alcohol. We drank this wine with wholewheat linguine, roasted golden beets and beet greens, kale, leeks and Gruyere. Excellent. About $35.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Ca.
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The Wild Horse Cheval Sauvage Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Maria Valley, is the finest wine I have tasted from the winery in years. Director of winemaking is Clay Brock, and winemaker is Chrissy Wittmann. I don’t know to what extent the wine was a collaboration between them, but whatever the case, this is well-nigh perfect pinot. The grapes for the 2009 version all came from the well-known Sierra Madre Vineyard; previous vintages have been blends of several vineyards in Santa Maria, which, except for a tiny portion in San Luis Obispo County, lies within Santa Barbara County. Santa Maria, still largely isolated compared to wine regions farther north in the state, is cool climate, with its western-most area cooled even more by sea-breezes. It you ever stay in the vicinity, it’s wondrous to see the whole valley filled with fog early in the morning.

Wild Horse was founded in 1982 by Ken Volk; the winery and its vineyard occupy land above the Salinas River near Templeton, in northern San Luis Obispo County, in the Paso Robles appellation. In 2003, Volk sold the brand, the winery and the 64-acre property to Peak International, a subsidiary of Jim Beam Brands Worldwide. In 2007, Beam was swallowed up by the Icon Estates division of Constellation Brands. In January 2011, as reported in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Constellation decided to “cut back operations” at Wild Horse, shifting the cellaring of Wild Horse wines to Estancia Winery in Soledad and Gonzalez Winery in Gonzales. The crush occurs at the original winery, with the reserve wines still “processed” there. Few things stay the same in California (sung to the tune of “Welcome to the Hotel California”).

Wild Horse Cheval Sauvage Pinot Noir 2009 offers exactly what I want in a pinot from The Golden State, that is, an ineffable sense of tension, resolution and balance between elegance and energy, between spareness and vigor. The color is medium cherry-mulberry from stem to stern. Aromas of red cherries, cranberry and rhubarb are permeated by touches of cloves, hints of toast and licorice and, beyond all that, something fleshy, spicier and untamed, a bell-tone of wild berry and a hint of briers. This bevy of elements is not presented in a blatant fashion but rather as a tissue of subtleties and nuances exquisitely poised, dexterous and agile. The texture is supremely satiny, supple and lithe, a bit of window dressing on the stones and bones of the wine’s vibrantly acidic and scintillating earthy/graphite structure; it spent 14 months in French oak barrels. A few minutes in the glass bring in notes of blue plums, pomegranate, sassafras and fruitcake, with the latter’s attendant notes of dried fruit and spices. A refreshing 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $65.
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No snark today; it’s my birthday! So what I offer are eight wines that we have enjoyed at home recently, mainly with lunches or dinners or standing in the kitchen preparing meals, with no — all right, very few — quibbles. It’s an eclectic group: white, rosé and red; still and sparkling, originating in Germany, Hungary, France, Oregon, Sonoma County and Napa Valley. Prices range from $11 to $45; ratings go from Very Good+ to Exceptional. No technical notes and details; just heart-felt reviews designed to spark your interest and whet your palate. These were all samples for review.
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Count Karolyi Grüner Veltliner 2011, Tolna, Hungary. 12% alc. 100% grüner veltliner grapes. Very pale straw-gold color; bone-dry, spare, lean, subtly infused with green apple, lime peel and a tang of spiced pear and grapefruit; powerful strain of oyster-shell-like/limestone minerality, but winsome and attractive. 523 cases imported. Very Good+. About $11, a Raving, Cosmic Bargain.
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River Road Nouveau Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. The first California wine from 2012 that I’ve tasted. Lovely pale watermelon color; pure strawberries and watermelon in the nose; soft, supple, almost shamelessly appealing; hints of dried cranberries and mulberries, pert, tart, laced with limestone; touch of orange rind and plum skin; slightly sweet on the intake, but the finish is dry. 240 cases. Absolute delight. Very Good+. About $15.
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Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace Rosé (nv), Alsace. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. Radiant medium salmon-copper color; a constant upward swirl of tiny bubbles, glinting silver in the dusky pink; striking aromas of macerated strawberries and raspberries with touches of cloves, orange zest and lime peel; very dry, very crisp, heaps of limestone and shale; yet creamy, supple, lots of body and heft, almost chewy; a long spice and mineral-laden finish. Production was 2,500 cases. Delectable and more. Very Good+. About $25.
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Domaine Chandon Reserve Brut (nv), 82% Sonoma County, 18% Napa County. 12.5% alc. Composition is 80% pinot noir, 20% chardonnay. Medium straw-gold color with a touch of bronze; a surging whirlwind of tiny bubbles; very biscuity, roasted hazelnuts, spiced pears; lightly buttered cinnamon toast; ginger and quince and a hint of baked apple; heaps of limestone-and-flint minerality, very steely, quite elegant yet with robust underpinnings; long spicy, toast-and-limestone packed finish. Very classy. 2,046 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Cornerstone Chardonnay 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 100% chardonnay grapes. Pale straw color; pungent with pineapple and grapefruit aromas tinged with honeysuckle, lemon zest, cloves, damp limestone and a touch of mango; lots of presence, lots of personality; lively, crisp, refreshing; dense, talc-like texture, almost chewy yet taut, chiming with acidity and a vibrant limestone-and-flint minerality. Quite stylish and attractive. 166 cases produced. Now through 2014 t0 ’16. Excellent. About $35.
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Villa Huesgen Enkircher Steffensberg Riesling Kabinett 2011, Mosel, Germany. 10% alc. 100% riesling grapes. Pale straw-gold color; delicate, lithe and lacy, crisp as an apple fresh from the cellar and slightly bitter and bracing as apple skin; whiff of some dewy white flower like camellia, traces of smoke and ripe lychee, peach skin and apricot; smells like summer, what can I say? so lively that it’s almost pétillant, burgeoning quality of limestone and shale, hints of roasted lemons and pears, but all subsumed to a sense of elegance and refinement married to the power of fluent acidity and scintillating minerality. Production was 2,000 cases. Just great. Now to 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $40.
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Signorello Seta Proprietary White Wine 2011, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. 62% semillon grapes, 38% sauvignon blanc. Takes risks with oak but pulls off the feat. Light straw-gold color; spicy figs and pears, dried thyme and tarragon, greengage plums, roasted lemons, guava and ginger: yeah, quite a bouquet, in which you also sense, as ink seeps into the graven lines of the etcher’s plate, the soft permeating burr of oak and woody spices, as well in the body of the wine; yet boy what presence and tone, clarity and confidence; a few minutes bring in notes of white peach and gooseberry, something wild and sunny and definitive; crisp acidity, a modicum of stony minerality. 177 cases. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. A brilliant pinot noir; you want to hand yourself over to it. Dark ruby color with a slightly lighter violet-magenta rim; deliriously spicy and floral; black cherries, red currants and mulberries, just a hint in the background of something a little earthy and funky, very Burgundian in that aspect; super satiny texture but with a slightly roughed or sanded (as if were) surface — there’s a touch of resistance; a substantial pinot noir that fills the mouth, dense and intense; gains power as the moments pass; there’s an autumnal element: burning leaves, slightly dried moss, briers but overall gorgeous fruit. 200 cases. Among the best pinot noirs I tasted (or drank) in 2012. Now through 2016 to ’18. Exceptional. About $45.
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So, Thanksgiving is over, but the memory lingers on, at least in the form of this post about a wonderful riesling that we drank with that day’s ritual dinner. The occasion is a highly traditional, even ceremonial, but we try to cook a pretty much completely different meal every Thanksgiving, both of the sake of variety and for the challenge. On the menu this year: Clementine-salt glazed turkey with red-eye gravy; sweet potato-bacon-thyme dressing; mixed winter greens with shiitake mushrooms; bacon-crusted cornbread; and for dessert a bourbon pecan tart and a pear crisp. Now we’ve all read the recommendations from many wine critics, reviewers and writers this time of year about what wine to drink with the multifarious, many-faceted sweet-sour-savory Thanksgiving feast, and basically it distills to this advice: Drink what you like except for cabernet sauvignon and heavily oaked chardonnay, and zinfandel is great but not high-alcohol versions. Many writers advocate drinking all American wines for this American celebration, while other say (implicitly), “Who gives a crap what country’s wines we drink, just pick wines you enjoy,” and the truth is, Thanksgiving dinner is not a wine tasting, nor should it be an event where wine dominates the discussion. It’s all for pleasure and enjoyment.

I’ll confess that I followed the all-American wine trope for years, even serving the same labels: a riesling from Trefethen, the Ridge Three Valleys zinfandel blend and the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir, generally current vintages except for the Trefethen, which I like best about three years after harvest. This year, I decided to forgo the strictly patriotic route; after all, America is a country of immigrants, so why can’t we drank wine from Italy or France or Germany or anywhere on Thanksgiving. I stayed within the same grape categories, California of course for zinfandel, but Germany for riesling and France, specifically Burgundy, for the pinot noir. The roster: Weingut Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel; Ravenswood Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel 2009, Russian River Valley; Aloxe-Corton Les Vercots Premier Cru 2008, Domaine Tollot-Beaut. We were a small group, so we skipped from the riesling to the Burgundy, a wine to which I will return in a subsequent post. The point of this entry is to celebrate the quiet though complete achievement of the Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, a sample provided by the trade group Wines of Germany.

The village of Veldenz lies south of the Mosel river and the town of Mülheim in the Middle Mosel region of southwest Germany. In a south-running valley there, the vineyard of Elisenberg — hence Veldenzer Elisenberg, first the name of the village, then the vineyard — was presented to Franz Ludwig Niessen in 1813 in gratitude for his personal payment of 3,000 thalers to Napoleon to prevent the destruction of Mülheim and Veldenz. Elisenberg remains in the Richter family today; Niessen was a fifth-generation ancestor.

The year, 2010, was a short vintage, short, that is, in duration and in the quantity of grapes. Despite some difficult stretches, the year produced many excellent wines, filled with nerve and vivacity.

The Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010 is a pale but radiant straw-gold color; aromas of ripe apples, peaches and pears (with an intriguing back-tone of red fruit, say cherry or currant) are woven with notes of jasmine, flint and limestone and a hint of honey, all melded with utmost delicacy and finesse; a few moments in the glass bring up wafting touches of quince and crystallized ginger. This innate delicacy does not mean that the wine is fragile or ineffable, though, because there’s a great deal of tensile strength here, manifested in the prominent stones and bones of crisp acidity and limestone minerality that deepen, vitally and vibrantly, as the wine passes through the mouth. Lovely, tasty peach, pear and lychee flavors open to something almost exotic, like guava or star-fruit, mildly spicy and just slightly sweet initially, though from mid-palate back through the finish the wine is quite dry. That finish is slightly bitter with lime peel and grapefruit and is rounded by a final plunge into the limestone pool. 9.5 percent alcohol. Despite its exquisite character, this wine, well-stored, should drink beautifully through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About — unbelievable! — $19.

Imported by Langdon Shiverich, Los Angeles.