Napa Valley


From the winery’s warmest vineyard (above Calistoga) and from a warm year, the Grgich Hills ZN12-FRONT_750Estate Zinfandel 2012, Napa Valley, tips the scale at 15.5 percent alcohol, a factor that accounts for the wine’s sizeable presence on the palate without sending it into the over-ripe, cloying camp. The zinfandel grapes were fermented with two percent petite sirah, all certified organic; the wine aged 15 months in large French oak casks, so there’s very little wood influence (and no new oak vanilla), more a sense of shaping the wine’s suppleness and depth. The color is a pleasing medium ruby hue, not dark or extracted; aromas of plums, black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of black pepper, tar and oolong tea, with deeper hints of cloves, boysenberry and blackberry jam. It’s a very dry zinfandel, framed by dusty tannins and buoyant acidity over fathoms of briery-brambly elements and chiseled graphite minerality; the spicy black fruit flavors, tinged with blue, make a delicious melange with the wine’s suave structure. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with grilled steaks and pork chops or similar hearty meaty fare. Excellent. About $36.

A sample for review.

For this edition of Weekend Wine Notes, I offer a miscellaneous group of red wines from California, dominated by cabernet sauvignon, but with entries from the merlot and pinot noir camps. Truth is, I probably receive more samples of California cabernets to review than from any other region and any other grape variety. State-wide, today, we range from Russian River Valley in the north to Paso Robles in the south. As is usual in this series of Weekend Wine Notes, I dispense with the technical, historical, geographical and personal data that I dote on for the sake of incisive and, I hope, vivid reviews ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy, and always consume in moderation.
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2011_Aleksander
Aleksander 2011, Paso Robles. 13.3% alc. 80% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon. 840 cases. Glowing medium ruby color with a transparent magenta rim; a very impressive merlot exhibiting structural qualities of generous, supple tannins, clean acidity and ebon-like minerality; mint and thyme, lavender and violets, iron and iodine, black currants and raspberries with a trace of dark plum, smoky and dusty; a little resiny with notes of rosemary and cedar; lovely shape, tone and presence. Now through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $75.
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cage pinot
J. Cage Cellars Nunes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 119 cases. Deep, vibrant ruby shading to lighter magenta; warm and spicy yet with a dark meditative aura; macerated red currants, cherries and plums, with a touch of cherry skin and pit; loam, briers and brambles; opens to notes of tar, violets and rose petals, pomegranate and sandalwood; a dense and sinewy pinot noir, enlivened by the influence of brisk acidity; elements of lithic dust, some root-like tea and a bare hint of orange rind. I’ll say, “Wow,” and “Please, bring on the seared duck breast.” Excellent. About $40.
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2013 Merlot-small
Ehlers Estate Merlot 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. With 8% cabernet franc. Opaque black-ruby shading to a vivid purple rim; very intense and concentrated, coiled power; black currants and plums infused with lavender, licorice and graphite; a scintillating core of granitic minerality that almost glitters, magnified by the wine’s bright acidity; lots of vibrancy and resonance, marred, unfortunately, by the taint of toasty oak that dominates from mid-palate back through the finish. You know what I always say, friends: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, there’s too much damn oak. Now through 2020 to ’24. Very Good+. About $55.
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Tresor-2012_304x773
Ferrari-Carano Tresor 2012, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 71% cabernet sauvignon, 9% petit verdot, 7% each merlot and malbec, 6% cabernet franc. Dark ruby color with a tinge of magenta at the rim; warm and spicy but with a cool mineral core of graphite and iron; cassis, black raspberry and plum, with notes of cedar, lavender, violets, leather and loam; dusty, velvety tannins coat the palate midst intense and concentrated black fruit flavors and bastions of wheatmeal, walnut shell and burnished oak; how the finish manages not to be austere is a wonder. Try 2017 or ’18 through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $60.
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Geyser Peak Pluto’s Fury Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. 1,379 cases. Medium transparent ruby color; first come spice and herbs: cloves, sandalwood, sage; slightly macerated black cherries and red currants, touch of pomegranate and rhubarb; sleek, supple, lithe and satiny; generous with burgeoning elements of violets and rose petals; a well-made pinot noir that lavishes fruit and bright acidity on the palate. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $36.
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grgich merlot
Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2012, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. With 5% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby hue from stem to stern; rooty and loamy, with finely sifted elements of forest floor, dried porcini and graphite; ripe raspberry and black currant aromas inflected by seductive notes of mocha, black licorice, allspice and sandalwood; very intense and concentrated on the palate, framed by sturdy tannins that feel slightly sanded and roughened; after an hour or so, the tannins and oak flesh out and take over, giving the wine a formidable, monumental quality. No punk-ass little merlot here; this one is for the ages, or through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $43.
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Charles Krug Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. (!) 80% cabernet, 18% petit verdot, 2% merlot. Very dark ruby-purple with a bright violet rim; despite the soaring alcohol content, this is a beautifully balanced and harmonious wine, with perfect weight and presentation, yet plenty of structure for support and the long-haul; a full complement of dusty, graphite-laden tannins bolsters black currant, cherry and blueberry flavors inflected by notes of lavender, licorice, black tea and black olive; a few moments in the glass bring up hints of cedar, rosemary and tobacco; girt by a framework of granitic, mountain-side minerality, this classic cabernet is still a lovely drink, though built for aging through 2022 through 2028. Excellent. About $75.
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Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) brave logoOpaque black-ruby with a glowing purple rim; a focused line of graphite and granite defines the space for elements of spiced, macerated and roasted black currants, cherries and plums, permeated by iodine and iron, mint and lavender; a feral, ferrous and sanguinary cabernet, somehow both velvety and chiseled, seductive and lithic; it’s mouth-filling, dynamic, impetuous. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2027 to ’30. Excellent. About $75.
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signorello
Signorello Estate Padrone 2012, Napa Valley. With 9% cabernet franc. Whoa, what is up with this 15.8 percent alcohol? That factor dominates this wine and throws it off balance, though initially it reveals deep, brooding qualities of cassis, bitter chocolate, briers and brambles, leather and loam that might blossom into harmony; sadly, the austere tannins, the astringent oak and, above all, the sweet, hot alcohol demolish that hope. Not recommended. About $150.
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tongue dancer
Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Production was 125 cases. Transparent medium ruby shading to an invisible rim; indelible and beguiling aromas of pomegranate and cranberry, red and black cherries and currants, anise and lavender, with bare hints of rhubarb, thyme and celery seed; a thread of loam and graphite runs through this wine’s supple satiny texture, creating a sense of superb weight and heft on the palate, yet expressing eloquent elegance and delicacy of effect. Now through 2018 to 2020. I could drink this pinot noir every day. Exceptional. About $45.
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Trione Vineyards and Winery River Road Ranch Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Trione-2012-Pinot-NoirCounty. 14.5% alc. 1,408 cases. Medium transparent ruby hue; dark and spicy with cloves and allspice (and a hint of the latter’s slightly astringent nature); black and red cherries and currants, notes of cranberries and pomegranate; turns exotic with violets, lavender, mint and sandalwood; a lively and engaging pinot noir, incredibly floral; a lithe texture, moderate oak with lightly sanded edges. Now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $39.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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YI_2012_estate_cab_B.72
Young Inglewood Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 612 cases. With some percentage of merlot and cabernet franc. Dark ruby color; redolent of graphite, iodine and mint, cassis and blueberry, cloves and sage and ancho chile; acidity that runs silent and deep through canyons of dusty, granitic tannins; plenty of spice and scintillating energy, gradually opens reservoirs of lavender, licorice and violets and stylish, polished oak that carries through the brooding but not austere finish. Touches all the moves in the Napa cabernet playbook — meaning that it’s an exemple rather than an individual — but still very impressive. Now through 2024 through ’28. Excellent. About $90.
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If your ideal of chardonnay from California is a wine that’s opulent, bold, brash, rich and spicy, tropical and creamy, tinged, perhaps, with vanilla and butterscotch, stop reading right here. The chardonnay I nominate for Wine of the Day, No. 109, takes the opposite stance from all of those burdensome qualities and maintains a character consistent with the vision that Eleanor and Fred McCrea had when they produced their first bottling from vintage 1952. That is, a chardonnay that sees no new oak and undergoes no malolactic fermentation. Those who possess knowledge of the history of the Golden State’s wine industry know that I’m referring to Stony Hill stony hill chard labelVineyard, a winery perched on Spring Mountain above St. Helena that since its inception refused to follow the standard procedures of winemaking and marketing and went its own way, a model of individuality and authenticity. Fred McCrea died in 1977 and Eleanor in 1991, but the winery’s tradition continues with their son Peter, his wife Willinda and their daughter Sarah. Winemaker Mike Chelini has been at Stony Hill since 1971.

The Stony Hill Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley, fermented in French oak and rested 10 months in barrels that were six to 26 years old. Malolactic is inhibited, so the wine retains a scintillating element of fresh and vibrant acidity. The color is very pale straw-gold; subtle aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince and ginger are touched with smoke and a hint of peach and spiced pear. The purity and intensity of this chardonnay, its beautiful balance and integration are incredibly gratifying. On the palate, the texture feels like talc or powdered limestone, while the structure is lithe and supple, flowing across the tongue with vibrancy and mineral-laced resonance. Ripe but not ostentatious citrus and stone-fruit flavors are backed up by the pith and vigor of the wine’s crystalline roots in the earth and the shapely modulation of those old French oak barrels. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 1,852 cases. Drink now through 2023 to 2028; it has the framework and foundation to last. Exceptional. About $45.

A sample for review.

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Not many chardonnay wines feel as pure and intensely varietal as the Pine Ridge Le Petit Clos Chardonnay 2013, Stags Leap District. The wine’s name refers, in French, to a small enclosed vineyard, in this case a tiny area, within a larger vineyard, lying in the shadow of the ridge for which the winery is named. While Le Petit Clos Chardonnay 2013 is barrel-fermented, it ages only seven months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels, and malolactic fermentation is inhibited. The result is a chardonnay of shimmering and simmering integrity, lovely as it can be but with a dynamic core of bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. The color is mild gold; aromas of roasted lemon and lemon balm are heightened by notes of pineapple and grapefruit, baked apple and cloves; from the background surges a whiff of gun-flint and shale. The acid and minerality lend sinew to a moderately lush, talc-like texture that cushions a fluid layering of ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors, hints of quince and ginger, traces of chalk and flint and a suave, subtle, supple oak influence. 14.9 percent alcohol. A downright beautiful chardonnay, for drinking through 2019 to ’23. Excellent. About $75.

A sample for review.

Gary Andrus founded Pine Ridge Vineyards in 1978, acquiring 50 acres, planted mainly to chardonnay vines, on the Silverado Trail in Stags Leap District. After planting cabernet sauvignon vines and purchasing other vineyards, logo-Pine-Ridge-VineyardsPine Ridge earned a reputation for its full-bodied, multi-dimensional cabernet sauvignon wines, as well as chardonnay and, later, a popular and inexpensive chenin blanc-viognier blend that pays the rent. Anders put the winery on the market in 2000, and it was purchased by The Crimson Wine Group, which also owns Archery Summit, in Oregon, and Seghesio, in Sonoma County. Pine Ridge owns vineyard acreage in many parts of Napa Valley, and produces limited bottlings of wines from these classic AVAs. Under review today are the examples from Rutherford, Oakville District and Stags Leap District. Rutherford and Oakville stretch across the central Valley floor, while Stags Leap, backing up to the Vaca Range, is hillier, even fairly steep in places.

These three wines receive the same oak regimen, 18 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels, but it’s interesting that the blend on each is different, making accommodations to the vineyards and the landscape and micro-climates involved. Wimemaker and general manager is Michael Beaulac. These are stalwart — and expensive — cabernets, that seem to me to epitomize what makes Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon so well-known in the world of both casual drinkers and astute wine collectors: the sense of acute minerality; the poised and rugged tannins; the deep black fruit permeated by the unique combination of tea, dried herbs, loam and dust; the ultimate balance and integration, in the best years. The vintage in question here, 2012, though a warm year, is undeniably one of the best.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Pine Ridge Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, is a blend of 76 percent cabernet sauvignon and 24 percent petit verdot. With its intensity and concentration, its huge, dynamic lithic structure and its exquisite balance that paradoxically verges on elegance, this wine conforms to my ideal of an Oakville cabernet. The color is very dark ruby with a tinge of purple at the rim; taking some time to swirl the wine and sniff allows whiffs of black fruit shading to blue and dried meadow flowers to emerge, almost reluctantly it seems, while the big build-up is in the precincts of dust and graphite, iodine and iron. Still, tannins are plush on the palate, and the wine, despite its depth and dimension and the tautness of its acidity, flows through the mouth with lively aplomb. A wine that needs some time to open, though it would be tempting with a medium-rare strip steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’34. Excellent. About $85.
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The Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, offers a dark ruby hue with a glowing magenta rim; the nose is distinguished by incisive graphite minerality that bears hints of iodine and iron, ancho chili and bitter chocolate, opening gradually to deeply spiced and macerated red and black currants and raspberries; these aromas take on an incredibly floral aspect, blending lavender, violets and lilacs with a twist of black licorice. Though rigorous in structure, supported by bastions of dry, dusty tannins, this Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is lively, vital and vigorous, almost engaging, though a few minutes in the glass give it burgeoning depth and dimension; oak stays firmly on the periphery, yet the influence is undeniably there. The finish is long, dense and freighted with a kind of powdery granitic quality. The blend is 82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15 percent malbec, 3 percent petit verdot. 14.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $85.
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Stylistically, the Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, bears resemblance to its cousins also mentioned in this post but feels even denser, more stringent, bottomless, as if it siphoned up all the bedrock of the steep hillside vineyards where it was born. It’s a blend of 77 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent malbec. The color, of course, is dark, almost opaque ruby that shades to a lighter mulberry rim; the bouquet is a stirring melange of graphite, tar, ancho chili and bitter chocolate, roasted fennel and ripe, macerated red and black currants and cherries; a bit of time brings in notes of cloves, sage and rosemary. Yes, it’s massive on the palate, deeply tannic, yet fleet of foot too, aided by plangent acidity and a deft touch with oak, which feels polished and lightly sanded. It will need a few years aging to bring out more of the black fruit flavors, so try from 2017 to ’19 through 2030 to ’35. 14.7 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $125.
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… and, yes, friends, it looks like it’s climbing clear up to the sky.
jayson
What is this trope about table wines that bear the cloying impress of alcohol levels over 15 percent, even 16 percent and higher? Some winemakers in California seem to fall into the same camp as many producers of craft beer, who believe that the hoppier a brew is the better it is, intrinsically, so, by parallel reasoning, since wine is an alcoholic beverage, let’s pump up the alcohol for a wild ride.

There was a time when wines produced in California came in at alcohol levels between about 11.5 and 12.5 percent, maybe up to 13.5. The norm now is 14.5 percent, with the result that red wines — cabernets, pinot noirs, syrahs, merlots and, especially, zinfandel wines — are riper and juicier but also convey an impression of sweetness and sometimes, on the finish, of heat. These exaggerated qualities increase as the alcohol content creeps past 15 percent and inches toward or past 16. The problems intensify because many of these wines are also exceedingly tannic, so any sense of balance is lost in an entity that turns out to be powerful and dynamic but awkward, clunky and incoherent. I read the deliriously approving descriptions of some of these wines and reviews from other writers, and I have to think, surely we’re not talking about the same product, as I’m sure they will think about me and my fairly harsh evaluations.

So, today, I offer brief notices of beyond-the-pale, high-alcohol, lurching, unbalanced red wines, along with a few that manage to pull off the feat and achieve a measure of poise. Notice that most of these examples are zinfandels from Lodi, Amador County and Dry Creek Valley; the great and surprising exception is a beautifully-made Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon that registers 15.2 percent alcohol. The order is by increasing amounts of alcohol, starting at 15 percent. Proceed at your own risk.
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Renwood Clarion Red Wine 2012, Amador County. 15% alc. Dark ruby color; pungent with ripe raspberry and blueberry infused with briery-brambly notes, graphite and lavender; very dry, quite spicy, juicy with red and black fruit flavors; you feel a touch of raisiny heat on the finish. Very Good+. About $20.
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Renwood Grandpere Zinfandel 2012, Amador County. 15% alc. Medium ruby hue with a light garnet rim; sweet spices, mint, ripe cherries and cranberries with touches of blueberry and boysenberry; quite dry, plush, velvety tannins, large-framed but palatable; a bit of alcoholic heat mars the dense, lithic finish. Very Good+. About $40.
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Priest Ranch Coach Gun 2011, Napa Valley. 15.1% alc. A cabernet sauvignon-based blend. Dark ruby color; smoke, loam, graphite, lavender; black currants and cherries and blueberries, all deeply spiced and macerated; cedar and mint; energized by pert acidity; very dry dusty out-of-scale tannins, austere finish that falters out of balance. Not a success. About $75.
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Bradford Mountain Grist Vineyard Syrah 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 15.2% alc. 75% syrah, 25% zinfandel. Opaque black-ruby with an intense violet rim; big, bold and very spicy; ripe and fleshy blackberry and blueberry fruit with an infusion of ligonberry, blackberry jam and blueberry tart; deep, plush, dusty tannins that coat the palate; every element that I look for in a syrah wine is absent, muted into anonymity by ripeness, alcohol and tannin. Awkward and unbalanced. About $32.
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Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley. (The second label of Pahlmeyer.) 15.2% alc. A complete, harmonious and complex red wine. Dark ruby-purple hue; a very ripe, fruit-infused wine, high-toned and surprisingly elegant in its balance; intense and concentrated, with notes of cassis and red and black cherries permeated by iron and iodine, graphite, ancho chili and meat blood; powerfully dynamic, ferrous and savory, deep, rich and spicy with a resonant mineral core and a concluding touch of blueberry tart; a sleek, polished and chiseled cabernet. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $65 to $75.
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Truett-Hurst Old Vine Burning Man Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 15.3% alc. Opaque black-ruby with a magenta rim; a strapping, palate-stomping tannic wine, pungent with spiced and macerated black currants, plums and blueberries, pomegranate and boysenberry; lots of leather and loam; formidable structure, dusty, gravelly and austere. Not a success. About $38.
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Renwood Premium Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Amador County. 15.5% alc. Medium ruby hue with a garnet rim; a lovely blooming, floral and spicy bouquet, evolves to fruitcake, loam and brambles, bitter chocolate; blueberries, mint and pomegranate; a bit of an after-burn but not heavy, over-ripe or obvious; still, the finish is tight and austere. Very Good+. About $20.
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Michael David Winery Earthquake Zinfandel 2012, Lodi. 15.5% alc. Moderately dark ruby hue; very ripe, spiced and macerated plums, currants and cherries with a slightly raisiny fruitcake inflection; large-framed and quite lively; dense, dusty, chewy, infused with graphite and lithic tannins that coat the palate; still, surprisingly well-balanced, really luscious for those who want luscious wines (not me). Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $26.
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Tin Barn Vineyards Coryelle Fields Vineyard Syrah 2012, Sonoma Coast. 15.5% alc. Opaque ruby hue with a magenta rim; both intense and concentrated while being very ripe, smoky and spicy; heaps of leather and loam and a tide of black fruit flavors, but distinctly more zin-like than syrah, with a high-alcohol zin’s off-balance element of cloying fruit and austere tannins. Doesn’t work. About $27.
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Tin Barn Los Chamizal Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Sonoma Valley. 15.6% alc. Dark ruby with a much paler rim; a lovely bouquet of smoke, lavender and cloves, mint, sandalwood, fruitcake and blackberries; a big, firm, tannic wine that just manages to hold the line against over-ripeness and austerity; it takes a risk and the risk feels worth it; still, you feel some slightly sweet/parching alcoholic heat on the finish. Very Good+. About $29.
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Tin Barn Gilsson Vineyard Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley. 15.6% alc. Solid dark ruby hue; a refreshing bouquet of mint, lavender and black cherries until the alcohol wafts up and sort of stops everything in its tracks; very dry, spicy, dense, tannic and austere. Not recommended. About $29.
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Watts Winery Upstream Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne, Lodi. 15.6% alc. Dark ruby hue with a mulberry rim; an immense presence, fairly well-balanced, considering, but takes on overwhelming ferrous and sanguinary elements and huge dusty tannins; the saving grace is that it’s not sweet, hot or cloying, but not quite coherent or reconciled either. Very Good. About $25.
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Truett-Hurst Old Vine Red Rooster Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 15.7% alc. Medium ruby-cherry color, not super-dark or extracted; very ripe, very spicy and fruity; black and red currants and plums with touches of lavender, licorice and saturated boysenberry; an alcohol after-burn of heat, spice and sweetness, so the finish clashes with the wine’s dryness and austerity on the palate, fundamentally unbalanced. Doesn’t work. About $35.
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Bradford Mountain Grist Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Dry creek Valley. 15.8% alcohol. 88.2% zinfandel, 10.6% syrah, 1.2% petite sirah. Medium ruby color with a lighter rim; cloves, red and black berries, interesting notes of caraway and sandalwood, but tromps across the palate with boots of dry, austere and astringent tannins coupled with the sweetness of high alcohol in the finish. Nope. About $32.
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Truett-Hurst Old Vine Rattler Rock Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 15.8% alc. Radiant medium ruby hue; a broad, deep, very dry, quite austere wine, awkward, unbalanced, hot and sharp on the finish. Nuff said. About $35.
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Harney Lane Zinfandel 2011, Lodi. 15.9% alc. Dark ruby-purple; ripe, spiced and macerated blackberries and blueberries infused with cloves and graphite, a sort of mineral-laced cocktail of sweet and roasted black and blue fruit, touched with pomegranate and brandy-soaked raisins; acidity plows a row on the palate, preceding formidably dusty, lithic tannins leading to an austere finish. Maybe with a steak, or maybe not. Very Good+. About $22.
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Priest Ranch Somerston Estate Zinfandel 2012, Napa Valley. 16.2% alc. Medium ruby with a garnet rim; cloves, allspice and sandalwood make an exotic festoon; black and red currants and plums, with notes of blueberries, lavender and red licorice; outlandishly plush, dusty yet rigorous tannins dominate the palate, yet the finish is over-ripe and sweet. Awkward and ungainly. Forget it. About $40.
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Martinelli Lolita Ranch Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley. 16.3% alc. 253 cases. When I see that a table wine tops the charts at 16.3 percent alcohol, my reaction tends to run along the lines of “You have to be fucking kidding me,” but no, they’re not kidding. Moderate ruby color, almost transparent; roasted blackberries, currants and plums; fruitcake; very spicy and peppery; cloying alcoholic sweetness and heat; very dry, formidably austere tannins; clunky and chunky. Doesn’t work. About $52.
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Rombauer Vineyards is well-known for its zinfandels, which I consider among the best in California, and its rich, full-throated, California-style chardonnays, which I cannot drink. Today, however, I am happy to include, as the 2014 Romb_SB_f+b_v5100th entry in the Wine of the Day series, the Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Yes, 2015! Harvest for the grapes occurred in the second and third weeks of August last year, the wine was made and rested for a few months, 90 percent in stainless steel tanks, 10 percent in neutral French oak barrels, and will actually be released in February, so jot down one of those little remindy note things on your phone. This wine marks the first national release of a sauvignon blanc for the winery; the first vintage, the 2014, was available only through the tasting room. So, the color is a shimmering pale straw-gold with an allusive green inflection. The lively bouquet offers grapefruit, lime peel and lemongrass, gooseberry and a subliminal trace of jasmine and honeysuckle, all enveloped in a lovely dusty-sunny-leafy fig character. The wine slides across the palate with a sense of supple presence yet with litheness and lightness; spiced pear and stone-fruit dominate in the mouth with the merest touch of guava and mango. Neither the tropical nor the floral element is emphasized, lending this fairly tart, limestone-influenced sauvignon blanc a feeling of ineffable balance. The finish concludes with a wisp of bracing grapefruit peel. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review.

How do the Smith brothers do it? Normally, I would find a chardonnay that was 100 percent barrel-fermented and aged in 100 percent new French oak barrels (for eight months) undrinkable because of the influence of wood, but Charles and Stuart Smith, who produce only limited bottlings of chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and riesling, smith madrone chardonnaymanage, once again, to deliver a chardonnay notable for its bright, clean brilliance; its chiseled restraint that still allows for the grape’s natural richness; its lithe, supple juiciness. Perhaps this result has to do with the age of the mountain-side vineyard, where the vines were 41 years old for this vintage, or with the fact that the vineyard is dry-farmed, seeing no irrigation during periods of little rain, so the roots have to struggle to find nutrients and moisture, a sort of vinous variation on the “no pain-no gain” principle. In any case, the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, is a beauty. The color is pale straw-gold with a faint green tinge; classic aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit carry a thread of mango and cloves, with high notes of jasmine, talc and limestone. The intimation of limestone, and its aide-de-camp, flint, in the nose expands righteously on the palate, and combined with chiming acidity produces a chardonnay of crystalline clarity that feels lit from within. Despite the oak regimen, any wood activity lies in subtly shaping and sculpting the wine, a significance as gentle but urgent as a Summer zephyr. Flavors are more stone-fruit — peach, yellow plum — than citrus, and all elements devolve to a long, limpid and luminous finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. An essential chardonnay, exquisite in its parts, elegant in balance, dynamic in total. Production was 806 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $32.

A sample for review.

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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Terrunyo_Sauvignon_Blanc_Front_Label-300x218
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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loidana-nueva-imagen-def_0_0
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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11_barolo_castiglione1-232x686
Vietti Castiglione Barolo 2011, Piedmont, Italy. 100 percent nebbiolo grapes. Excellent. About $50.
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chateau-villa-bel-air-graves-france-10213716
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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duval lerot rose
The Champagne house mentioned yesterday in this space, Ayala, was founded in 1860. For today’s entry, we skip back one year to 1859, when the house of Duval-Leroy was established by the melding of two well-known families in Champagne. Duval-Leroy is still run by the family, with Carol Duval-Leroy at the head, assisted by her sons, Julien, Charles and Louis. Master of the cave is Sandrine Logette-Jardin. A major contribution of the house to the Champagne industry occurred in 1911, when Raymond Duval-Leroy created the first Champagne made exclusively from Premier Cru vineyards, opening the door to a level of focused, upscale products. Our Champagne today is the Duval-Leroy Premier Cru Rose Prestige, composed of 90 percent pinot noir and 10 percent chardonnay, aged on the lees a minimum of 36 months. The color is an entrancing smoky topaz-light copper hue, given liveliness by a upward surge of tiny bubbles. First, on the nose, come notes of strawberry, raspberry and orange rind, deepened, after a few moments, by hints of brioche and lightly-buttered cinnamon toast, quince and orange marmalade. Make no mistake, this is a high-toned, dry Champagne, flush with elements of limestone and flint, satin and steel, yet immensely appealing in its touches of red berries, cloves and a bracing fillip of sea-salt, all expressed with the utmost delicacy and tenderness over a tensile structure. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $80.

Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill. A sample for review.
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PRBR_Web
Here’s another brut rose, this one from Napa Valley. Priest Ranch is a label of the Somerston Wine Co. that includes Somerston Wines and Highflyer. Craig Becker is general manager and director of winemaking and viticulture. The Priest Ranch Brut Rose 2011, Napa Valley, was made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes. The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks and neutral French oak barrels; produced in the traditional Champagne method, it spent 18 months in the bottle en tirage, on the lees. The color is medium salmon-topaz with a core of tempest-like tiny bubbles. Lots of steel and flint in evidence, a crisp and lively sparkling wine, it offers notes of blood orange, apple peel and lime with hints of almond skin and orange blossom; a few minutes in the glass nurture elements of sweet red fruit and juicy currants. An intense limestone edge and brisk acidity lead to an austere finish that builds layers of chalk and damp shale. 12.5 percent alcohol. A fresh, lovely, vibrant brut rose for drinking through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review.
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