Mosel


You know how writers and reviewers sometimes specify the kind of apple and the species of pear that they detect in a wine’s aromas? My usual reaction to that sort of detail is, sotto voce, riesling“Yeah, right, sure.” I swear, though, that my first reaction to the Robert Eymael Mönchhof Riesling 2014, from Germany’s Mosel region, was, “Golden Delicious apples and Anjou pears.” Then slightly baked and roasted Golden Delicious apples and Anjou pears, with hints of lychee and peach, cloves and jasmine. The wine — offering a pale straw-gold hue — is fresh, clean and appealing, just barely sweet, more ripe with stone-fruit goodness than overtly sweet, yet displaying a touch of honeyed quince and ginger in the background. From mid-palate back, the crystalline acidity kicks in, as well as a scintillating element of flinty minerality, keeping the wine on a tasty and even keel. It would take a heart of stone not to find this riesling absolutely delightful. 9.5 percent alcohol. The estate goes back to 1171, with Cistercian monks, but the Aymael family acquired it in 1804, purchased from Napoleon. Robert Eymael is the sixth generation of the family to run the property. The wines are produced 70 percent in stainless steel tanks, 30 percent in large, old oak casks. Drink as a charming aperitif or with slightly spicy Asian cuisine, pork roast with apples, wiener schnitzel or charcuterie. Excellent. About $18, a local purchase; prices around the country start as low as $12 and go up to $20.

Rudi Wiest Selections, Carlsbad, Calif.

We tend to know when a wine is great from the first sniff and taste, because it possesses that ineffable yet very real quality called charisma. Renewed sniffing and tasting confirm that assessment, while adding depth and character. These factors hold true whether a wine costs $19 or $350, the range represented in today’s 2015 edition of the annual “50 Great Wines” post. I wouldn’t pay $350 for a bottle of wine — though apparently some people would — but I appreciate the occasional opportunity to encounter one. Of the wines on today’s roster, 18 rate Exceptional and 32 rate Excellent. Often the dividing line between Excellent and Exceptional is fine indeed, with permutations and intimations running silent and deep in each direction, but since my inclination is toward distinctions, rankings and hierarchies — that’s what graduate school will do for you — I always include a rating for each wine reviewed on BTYH. On the other hand, I refuse to employ the famous 100-point system; I would rather leave room for some ambiguity and imagination.

A great wine satisfies every point of interest and essence that we desire from a wine, exuding a feeling of utter completion and comprehension. Each wine accomplishes this purpose in a different way, of course, and to varying degrees, necessitating different responses. Some of these wines I admire, gravely and humbly; others, I adore rather shamelessly. The ultimate test, I think, is that when we drink a bottle of great wine, our conclusion is thus: “I wouldn’t want it to be anything other than this,” a sentiment we might also share with works of art and love affairs.

Today’s roster is presented alphabetically. Where a wine is a blend of grapes, I include the percentages that compose the blend. I also mention the case production for wines released in limited quantities, of which many on this list, not surprisingly, are. I do not include alcohol levels or names of importers or technical, geographical or historical date That sort of information is available in the reviews. These wines were selected from examples that I wrote about during 2015. The preponderance were samples for review, for which I thank the wineries, importers and marketing people who sent them.

For whatever eccentricities this list of “50 Great Wines of 2015” embodies, blame them on my taste, knowledge, experience and intuition. That is all I — or any of us — have to go on.
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achaval-ferrer-CMendoza-2013
Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $25.
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valadorna 09
Arcanum Valadorna 2009, Toscana IGT, Italy. 85 percent merlot, 8 percent cabernet franc, 7 percent cabernet sauvignon. Exceptional. About $80.

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14537_ARG-NHRS-13-F_1
Argyle Nuthouse Riesling 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon. Exceptional. About $30.
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sangioveto
Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana 2009, Toscana IGT, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. 750 cases. Excellent. About $60.
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Benovia-2013-Russian-River-Valley-Pinot-Noir
Benovia Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $38.
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occultumlapidem2012us
Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France. 50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache, 10 percent carignan. Excellent. About $30.
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BlackKite
Black Kite Cellars Stony Terrace Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 200 cases. Excellent. About $60. (Not exactly the correct label, but this is what they look like.)
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terras gauda
Bodegas Terras Gauda O Rosal 2014, Rias Baixas, Spain. 70 percent albariño, 15 percent loureiro, 15 percent caiño blanco. Excellent. About $24.
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Riesling
Chateau Montelena Riesling 2014, Potter Valley. Excellent, About $25.
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clemens-busch-vom-grauen-schiefer-riesling-trocken-mosel-germany-10529188
Weingut Clemens Busch Grauen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2012, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $30.
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Concha y Toro Terrunyo Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $26.
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cornerstone 11
Cornerstone Cellars The Cornerstone 2011, Napa Valley. 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet franc. 100 cases. About $150.
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duckhorn merlot
Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon, 2 percent cabernet franc, 1 percent malbec. Excellent. About $54.
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ehlers
Ehlers Estate Sylvanie Cabernet Franc Rosé 2014, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $28.
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FEL-Logo_850x500
FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 645 cases. Excellent. About $65.
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Foursight Jpeg Logo
Foursight Wines Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 224 cases. Excellent. About $46.
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FINAL 2013 ESS LABELb
Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Essence Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. 1,204 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
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Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. 485 cases. Exceptional. About $90.
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inman-rose
Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,500 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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iron-horse-brut-x
Iron Horse Brut “X” 2010, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. 69 percent pinot noir, 31 percent chardonnay. 500 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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jacquard
Champagne Jacquart Brut Rosé nv. 53 percent pinot noir, 35 percent chardonnay, 12 percent pinot meunier. Excellent. About $55.
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La Jota Vineyard Co. W.S. Keyes Vineyards Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. 296 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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cuvee rose
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rosé Brut nv. 100 percent Grand Cru pinot noir. Excellent. About $99.
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laurent 2006
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2006. Excellent. About $65.
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lokoya
Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $350.
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ember-site
Loomis “Ember” Red Wine 2012, Napa Valley. Syrah, grenache, mourvedre. 75 cases. Excellent. About $38.
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maggy
Maggy Hawk “Afleet” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 156 cases. Exceptional. About $66.

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MFW_Rose_Face
MacPhail Family Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 492 cases. Exceptional. About $22.
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Marco Abella Loidana 2010, Priorat, Spain. 60 percent grenache, 25 percent carignane, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $30.
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mccay zin
McCay Cellars “Trulux” Zinfandel 2012, Lodi. 479 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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mcintyre
McIntyre Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 368 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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Morgan_2012_Double_L_Chardonnay
Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 530 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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beautiful pinot gris
Mt Beautiful Pinot Gris 2014, North Canterbury, New Zealand. 1,500 cases. Exceptional. About $19.
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Pahlmeyer and Jayson Wines Line Up
Pahlmeyer Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $85.
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pfendler
Pfendler Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 350 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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post and vine
Post & Vine Testa Vineyard Old Vine Field Blend 2012, Mendocino County. 42 percent zinfandel, 37 percent carignane, 21 percent petite sirah. 143 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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quivira zin
Quivira Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. With 10 percent petite sirah, 1 percent carignane. Excellent. About $26.
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innocent
St. Innocent Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 948 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
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sequoia grove cab
Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. With 11 percent cabernet franc, 10 percent merlot, 1 percent each petit verdot and malbec. Excellent. About $38.
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smith madrone 11
Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,070 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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tonella sb
S.R. Tonella Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $29.
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2014EstateSauvBlanc
Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $35.

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tanner dafoe
Tanner Dafoe Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. 141 cases. Exceptional. About $110.

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taylor
Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Porto 2012, Portugal. Exceptional. About $53.
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joon
Tin Barn “Joon” Coryelle Fields Vineyard Rosé of Syrah 2014, Sonoma Coast. 158 cases. Excellent. About $23.
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torre
Torre San Martino Vigna della Signore 2013, Colli di Faenza Bianco, Italy. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, albana grapes. Excellent. $NA.
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two shepherds logo
Two Shepherds Grenache Rosé 2014, Sonoma Coast. 90 cases. Exceptional. About $24.
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Vietti Castiglione Barolo 2011, Piedmont, Italy. 100 percent nebbiolo grapes. Excellent. About $50.
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Chateau Villa Bel-Air 2013, Graves, Bordeaux. 65 percent sauvignon blanc, 35 percent semillon. Excellent. About $25.
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2012-Jordan-PN-300x207
Youngberg Hill Jordan Block Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley. 300 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Though the estate was founded in 1811 by Sebastian Alois Prüm, records attest that the family had been growing grapes in the Mosel prum_luminance_lab_smsince 1156. Since 1971, the 40-acre property has been run by S.A. Prüm’s grandson Raimond and his daughter Saskia Andrea, who is positioned to take over complete operations. Today, I offer for your simple enjoyment the S.A. Prüm Luminance Riesling 2013, Mosel, a delightful wine that will not set you back on your heels in wonderment nor deal your wallet a death-blow. Made from 100 percent riesling grapes, all in stainless steel tanks, the wine exudes freshness and exuberance. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of lightly spiced peaches and pears open to notes of lychee and heather, with just a hint of the grape’s petrol nature. The label says “dry,” though I would describe the wine as “mostly dry-ish,” primarily because of the gushing ripeness of its stone-fruit flavors, neatly held in check by a rather luminous limestone and slate minerality and scintillating acidity. The charming finish brings in touches of tangerine and jasmine. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the Spring of 2016 as aperitif or with light fish and seafood dishes or even a veal roast. Very Good+. About $15, a Sweet Deal.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla. A sample for review.

Sometimes all we require from a white wine is that it be clean, fresh, cold and tasty and that it goes down like a sea-breeze. Other times, however, we desire a white wine with more weight, with more character and savor, especially that latter quality. So today I offer 10 such white wines, produced from many wine regions and from a variety of grapes, a couple rather unusual. These are the white wines that stimulate the palate as well as refresh the spirit. As usual with these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew a recital of technical detail, historical perspective and geographical data — all of which I adore — to present quick and incisive reviews designed to pique your interest and whet the old taste-buds. These wines, all rated Excellent except for one Exceptional, were either samples for review or were tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event. Enjoy, but with good sense and moderation.
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Abbazia di Novacella Kerner 2013, Valle Isarco, Alto Adige, Italy. 13.5% alc. (You may add kerner to your list of obscure grapes.) Medium straw-gold hue with a faint green cast; roasted lemon, notes of quince and ginger, thyme and pine resin, touch of peach and a tantalizing hint of iris and lilac; slightly dusty and buoyant texture, focus on bright acidity and clean limestone minerality; spiced pear and yellow plum flavors with a saline edge. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $19, marking Good Value.
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Alois Lageder Haberle Pinot Bianco 2013, Sudtirol, Alto Adige, Italy. 13% alc. Pale gold color; every aspect of lemon: lemon peel, lemon balm, lemon curd, with hints of green apple, peach and grapefruit, a whiff of almond blossom and rosemary; a savory and saline pinot blanc, trussed by limestone and flint minerality that devolves to a bracing finish featuring a bite of grapefruit bitterness. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $23.
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Éric Chevalier Clos de la Butte 2013, Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu Sur Lie, Loire Valley, France. 11.5% alc. 100% melon de Bourgogne grapes. Pale straw-gold hue; unusually sizable and savory for Muscadet, with a lithe, sinewy structure based on fleet acidity and glittering limestone and flint minerality; pert and redolent with lemon and lime peel and a hint of almond blossom; notes of pear and apple; overall, glistening and glassy, delicate and finely-knit but with impressive heft. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $16, a Real Bargain.
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Clemens Busch Grauen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2012, Mosel, Germany. 12% alc. Shimmering pale gold color; distinct aromas of lychee and rubber eraser, cloves, lime peel and grapefruit and a pert gingery quality, touch of jasmine; blazing acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; quite dry but with inherent citrus and stone-fruit ripeness; lovely lithe texture with elegant heft; a hint of loamy earthiness in the finish. A brilliant riesling. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $30.
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Etre Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County. (Saxon Brown’s unoaked chardonnay.) 13.5% alc. 447 cases. Medium straw-gold color; ripe and spicy pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors; an intriguing whiff of toasted oats; cloves and orange rind; all ensconced in lime peel and limestone minerality; bare hint of honeysuckle and mango; notes of spiced pear and roasted lemon; lively but not crunchy acidity; seductively lush texture but nothing opulent or obvious. Why would this need oak? Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $28.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc grapes. Certified organic. Pale gold hue; lime peel and lemongrass, grapefruit and jasmine, mint and heather, a touch of guava, all seamlessly wreathed with a sort of breathless ease; lime and a note of peach in the mouth, a hint of thyme and timothy, lovely supple refined structure, a golden core of quince and ginger; finish is all flint, limestone and grapefruit rind. Now through 2017 or ’18. Exceptional. About $30.
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Kennedy Shah Dubrut Vineyard Reserve Riesling 2012, Yakima Valley, Washington. 13.3% alc. Pale gold color; penetrating and provocative aromas of petrol, lychee, peach and spiced pear, top-notes of lemongrass and lime peel; crushed gravel and shale; very dry but luminously fruit-filled and animated by bright acidity and a vibrant limestone presence; notes of lime pith and grapefruit bitterness on the finish. A chiseled, multi-faceted riesling with plenty of appeal. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $25 .
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André & Michel Quenard Les Abymes 2013, Savoie, France. 11% alc. 100% jacquere grapes (to be added to your roster of obscure grapes). Very pale gold color; cloves, cedar and mint, roasted lemon and spiced pear; vibrant acidity with a crisp edge, and more steel than limestone; clean and refreshing but with a woodsy aura and a touch of mossy earthiness on the finish. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $20.
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Saxon Brown Fighting Brothers Cuvee Semillon 2012, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. 334 cases. Pale gold hue; beeswax, fig, quince and ginger; slightly leafy and herbal; candied orange peel, hint of mango; back-notes of spiced and brandied stone-fruit; wonderful sleek, silken texture, slides across the tongue like money; quite spicy and savory on the palate, with lip-smacking acidity and a wisp of limestone minerality. Pretty damned irresistible. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $28.
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Schloss Schonborn Riesling Trocken 2010, Rheingau, Germany. 11.5% alc. Crystalline and transparent in every sense, with marked purity and intensity; very pale gold color; winsome jasmine and honeysuckle, ripe and spicy pear, peach and lychee; hints of lemon balm and lemon curd; incisive acidity and decisive limestone and flint elements; slightly candied lime and grapefruit peel, cloves and ginger; the finish is all hewn limestone, a little austere and aloof. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Well, thank goodness all that Thanksgiving hubbub is over and the attendant brouhaha about what wine to drink with the turkey and dressing and sweet potatoes and so on, so now we can focus just on wines to drink because we like them. Here are brief reviews of 12 such wines that should appeal to many tastes and pocketbooks. Prices range from $15 to $56; there are three white wines and nine reds, including a couple of sangiovese blends and a pair of white Rhône renditions from California, as well as a variety of other types of wines and grape varieties. As usual with these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew technical, historical and geographical data for the sake of offering incisive notices designed to pique your interest and whet the palate, after which you may choose to wet your palate. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy! (In moderation, of course.)
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Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2011, Tuscany, Italy.13.5% alc. 70% sangiovese, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 10% canaiolo. Dark ruby-purple hue; raspberry, mulberry and blueberry, notes of potpourri, dried herbs and orange peel; a bit of stiff tannin from the cabernet, but handily a tasty and drinkable quaff with requisite acidity for vigor. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.
MW Imports, White Plains, N.Y.
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Bordòn Reserva 2008, Rioja, Spain. 13.5% alc. 80% tempranillo, 15% garnacha, 5% mazuela. Medium ruby color; mint, pine and iodine, macerated and slightly stewed red and black currants and cherries; violets, lavender, pot pourri, cloves and sandalwood; very dry, autumnal with hints of mushrooms and moss, nicely rounded currant and plum flavors, vivid acidity; a lovely expression of the grape. Now through 2016 to ’18 with roasted game birds. Very Good +. About $15, a Real Bargain.
Imported by Vision Wine & Spirits, Secaucus, N.J.
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Jacopo Biondi Santi Braccale 2010, Toscano. 13.5% alc. 80% sangiovese, 20% merlot. Medium ruby color; raspberries and red currants, orange zest and black tea, hints of briers and brambles, touches of graphite, violets, blueberries and cloves, intriguing complexity for the price; plenty of dry tannins and brisk acidity for structure, fairly spare on the plate, but pleasing texture and liveliness; flavors of dried red and black fruit; earthy finish. Now through 2016 or ’17 with grilled or braised meat, hearty pasta dishes. Very Good+. About $19, marking Good Value.
Imported by Vision Wine & Spirits, Secaucus, N.J.
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Clayhouse Estate Grenache Blanc Viognier 2013, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. 70% grenache blanc, 30% viognier. Production was 650 bottles, so Worth a Search. Pale gold color; crystalline freshness, clarity and liveliness; jasmine and acacia, yellow plums, quince and ginger; beautifully balanced and integrated, exquisite elegance and spareness; saline and savory, though, with bracing acidity running through a pleasing talc-like texture; backnotes of almond blossom and dried thyme; a supple, lithe limestone-packed finish. Now through the end of 2015. Excellent. About $23.
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Les Trois Couronnes 2011, Gigondas, Rhône Valley, France. 14.5% alc. 70% grenache, 20% syrah, 10% mourvèdre. Dark ruby-violet color; lovely, enchanting bouquet of black olives, thyme, graphite, moss and mushrooms, opening to plums and black currants, pepper, leather and lavender; a bit of wet-dog funkiness aligns with dusty, supple tannins and beautifully integrated oak and acidity; rich, spicy black fruit flavors with a hint of blueberry; undertones of loam, underbrush, black licorice; spice-and-mineral-packed finish. Drink now through 2017 to ’19. Great with beef braised in red wine. Excellent. About $23.
Imported by OWS Cellars Selections, North Miami, Fla.
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Paul Dolan Zinfandel 2012, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Certified organic. Transparent ruby with a magenta rim; notes of strawberry, raspberry and blueberry with a nice raspy touch and hints of briers and brambles, black pepper, bitter chocolate and walnut shell; ripe and spicy raspberry and cherry flavors, a bit meaty and fleshy, but increasingly bound with dusty tannins and graphite minerality, all enlivened by generous acidity. Not a blockbuster but plenty of stuffing. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 55% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 19% picpoul. 1,965 cases. Very pale gold hue; green apple, peach and spiced pear; lemon balm, ginger and quince; wonderful tension and resolution of texture and structure; taut acidity, dense and almost voluptuous yet spare, tensile and vibrant with crystalline limestone minerality; seamless melding of lightly spiced and macerated citrus and stone-fruit flavors; feels alive on the palate, engaging and compelling. Now through 2016 or ’17. Exceptional. About $28.
The winery website has not caught up with the current vintage.
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Cornerstone Cellars Stepping Stone Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 14.1% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. Dark to medium ruby-mulberry color; black cherry and raspberry scents and flavors with plenty of tannic “rasp” and underlying notes of briers, brambles and loam; cloves, a hint of rhubarb, a touch of cherry cola; all enlivened by pert acidity. A minor key with major dimension. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $30.
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von Hövel “R” Spatlese Dry Riesling 2012, Mosel, Germany. 11% alc. 100% riesling. Very pale gold color; peach, pear and lychee; hints of honeysuckle, grapefruit and lime zest; a chiseled and faceted wine, benefiting from incisive acidity and scintillating limestone and flint elements; tremendous, indeed inescapable resonance and presence, yet elegant, delicate and almost ethereal; long penetrating spice and mineral-inflected finish. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $34.
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Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 81% cabernet sauvignon, 9% cabernet franc, 8% merlot, 1% each petit verdot and malbec. Deep ruby with a magenta tinge; cedar and thyme, hint of black olive; quite spicy and macerated black currants and plums with a hint of black and red cherry; lithe, supple, muscular and sleek; dense but soft and finely sifted tannins adorned with slightly toasty oak, a scintillating graphite element and vibrant acidity; long spicy, granitic finish. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
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Bonny Doon Cuvee R Grenache 2012, Monterey County. 14.9% alc. 100% grenache grapes. 593 cases. (Available to the winery’s DEWN Club members.) Dark reddish-cherry hue; dusty, spicy red and black cherries, with a curranty note and hint of raspberry; some cherry stem and pit pertness and raspiness; cloves and sandalwood, with a tide of plum skin and loam; the finely-knit and sanded tannins build as the minutes pass; clean, vibrant acidity lends energy and litheness. Terrific grenache. Drink now through 2016. Excellent. About $48.
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Plumpjack Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. (!) 91% merlot, 8% malbec, 1% cabernet sauvignon. Vivid dark ruby color; intense and concentrated aromas of cassis, black raspberry and plum; notes of cloves and sandalwood with a tinge of pomegranate and red cherry; a hint of toasty oak; sinewy and supple, almost muscular; deep black fruit flavors imbued with lavender and bitter chocolate and honed by finely-milled tannins, graphite minerality and keen acidity; a substantial merlot, not quite monumental because of its innate balance and elegance; through some miracle, you don’t feel the heat or sweetness of high alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22, Excellent. About $56.
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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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