Napa Valley


When the Mondavi family sold the Robert Mondavi Winery to Constellation Brands in 2004, no one assumed that the children of patriarch Robert Mondavi (1913-2008) — Michael, Tim and Marcia — would roll over and find jobs outside the wine industry, say in teaching or marketing or going to law school. No, wine and the Napa Valley were in their blood. Ten years later, Tim and Marcia own Continuum Winery on Pritchard Hill (whose products I have not tasted), while Michael and his family, wife Isabel and children Rob and Dina, preside over an empire of sorts that under the Folio Fine Wine Partners umbrella includes an arm that imports wines primarily from Italy but also Germany, Austria and Spain, and Michael Mondavi Family Estate, which includes the Isabel Mondavi, Emblem, Animo and M by Michael Mondavi labels. It’s the last three cabernet-based wines that concern us today.

Cabernet sauvignon is a natural fit for Napa Valley and for the Michael Mondavi family. That grape variety grew in importance with the reputation of Napa Valley and the Robert Mondavi Winery, which, along with others, exploited key vineyard sites to produce profound wines. Whether the grapes come from the valley floor, foothills or mountainside, cabernet sauvignon and Napa Valley are inextricably linked. Michael and Isabel Mondavi and their children presciently purchased the vineyard on Atlas Peak, renamed Animo, in 1999. It provides grapes for the flagship M by Michael Mondavi label but only became its own brand with the 2010 vintage reviewed below. True to the vineyard name, the Animo 2010 and the M 2010 feel imbued with a life force of vibrant animation. I found previous renditions of the Emblem wines well-made and flawless technically but somewhat stolid and uncompelling. For 2011, however, while the ‘regular” Emblem requires a year or two to lose some youthful brusqueness, the Emblem “Oso” is fine-tuned and engaging.

These wines were samples for review. Image of the Mondavi family from jamesbeard.org.
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Poor Emblem Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, falls between the cracks on the winery’s website, which lists the 2012 for sale but explicates the full technical details about the 2010. I can tell you only that the wine aged 22 months in French oak barrels, 66 percent of which were new. The color is dark ruby fading to pretty translucence at the rim; intense and concentrated aromas of black currants, black raspberries and plums are infused with notes of loam and some pleasant briery-brambly raspiness; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of cloves, lavender and graphite. This is a wine of tremendous substance and presence, filling the mouth with dusty, grainy tannins and granite-like minerality, being rather sinewy and lithe in character. Alcohol % NA. The wine feels a little inchoate presently; two or three years should bring it around and smooth the edges. Very Good+. About $35.
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The grapes for the Emblem Oso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley — 87 percent cabernet, 13 percent petit verdot — were grown in the eponymous vineyard at about 1,250 feet between Sugarloaf and Howell mountains in the northeastern region of the appellation. The wine aged 20 months in French oak, 77 percent new barrels. The deep ruby color shades into magenta at the rim; the lovely, seductive bouquet features notes of mulberries, black currants and cherries, with hints of cardamom and ancho chili, violets and lavender and lightly toasted bread; a few minutes in the glass bring in a touch of macerated plums. It’s an elegant, fit and trim cabernet that has been working out at the gym faithfully, as evidenced by its sleek, supple texture and lithe structure built upon finely sifted tannins and polished oak; stay with the wine for an hour or so and you detect leathery tannins and more prominent graphite minerality, leading to a taut, rather austere finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $60.
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Animo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. This wine contains 83 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes and 17 percent petit verdot, derived from the 15-acre Animo Vineyard on Atlas Peak, elevation from 1,270 to 1,350 feet; it aged 20 months in French oak barrels, 87 percent new. The color is dark ruby with a tinge of magenta at the rim; the first impression is of graphite perfectly sifted with loam, charcoal and granitic minerality, followed by notes of iodine and iron, underbrush and walnut shell. This description makes the wine sound as if it’s all structure, but it unfolds elements of spiced and macerated and deeply ripe black currants and cherries with a touch of plum, highlighted with hints of blueberry tart, lavender and black licorice. You feel the mountainside in the wine’s indubitable lithic character, but ultimately it turns out to be a fitting marriage of power and elegance, a multi-faceted cabernet etched with fine particulars; the finish is long and a bit austere, packed with spice and minerals. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now, with medium-rare dry-aged rib-eye steaks, hot and crusty from the grill, through 2020 to ’25. Production was 860 cases. Excellent. About $85.
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Also from the Animo Vineyard but 100 percent varietal, the M by Michael Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley, spent 28 months in French oak, 87 percent new barrels. The grapes were harvested from small selected areas at the highest point of the vineyard. The color is opaque ruby; boy, this is a fleshy, meaty, sanguinary cabernet, flush with ripe and slightly roasted-feeling black currants, raspberries and plums permeated by mocha, tobacco and granitic minerality and a back-note of plum pudding and all the touches of dried spices and candied fruit such confection allows; a few minutes in the glass bring in earthy elements of burning leaves, dried porcini and underbrush. This is, as you can see, a bouquet of impressive layering and complexity. In the mouth, well, this behemoth coats the palate with dusty grainy tannins, burnished yet not obtrusive oak and graphite; the texture is lithe, sinewy and supple, and all its qualities, included surprisingly succulent black fruit flavors, are sewn together by fresh acidity. While M 2010 is a powerful, dynamic cabernet — don’t look for elegance — its grave dimensions are tempered by attention to detail, though the finish is substantial, dignified and fairly austere. 14.3 percent alcohol. Try from late in 2015 or 2016 through 2025 or ’28. Excellent. About $200.
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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 rated the first release of the Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2005, “Exceptional” and included it in my roster of “50 Great Wines of 2008″ as “the best debut wine from Napa Valley that I’ve tasted in the 21st Century.” The 2006 and ’07 I also rated “Exceptional.” Then the wine slipped off my radar, and I thank the winery for sending me samples of the current release 2011, as well as 2010, ’09 and ’08. All of these wines derive from the all-organic Temple Family Vineyard in Napa County’s Pope Valley, north of Howell Mountain in the region’s extreme northeast area. Production is small, ranging from the 233 cases of 2008 to the relatively huge 875 cases of 2011. Winemaker is Ted Osborne. The Phifer Pavitt winery itself, owned by Shane Pavitt and Suzanne Phifer Pavitt, is on Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail near Calistoga. Each of the wines under review today rates Excelllent. You’re thinking, “What happened to those Exceptional ratings for the 2005. ’06 and ’07?” I’ll be honest. These four wines are very well-made, complex, capable of opening and unfolding and offering multitudes of detail and dimension, and I absolutely recommend them to lovers of potentially long-lived Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. What they seem to lack is an ultimate charisma, the ineffable, magical incisiveness and penetrating power that lift a wine above the order of excellence into the realm of the extraordinary. Did anything change in the vineyard or winemaking process? Not that I am aware of. On the other hand, I liked each one of these cabernets and would happily taste and drink them again. Each represents a model of the purity and intensity of the cabernet grape in a manner that’s unique to this winery.
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The Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, is the winery’s current release. It contains 2 percent petit verdot and aged 18 months in small French oak barrels, 75 percent of which were new. The color is dark ruby shading to medium ruby at the rim; aromas of ripe black currants and raspberries are woven with notes of sandalwood, lavender and leather, with hints of cedar, bell pepper, black olive and mocha. Nothing too extracted, though a few moments in the glass bring up touches of briers and brambles, with a little of the raspiness of raspberry leaves and stems, a bit of caramelized fennel. On the palate, however, the wine is large-framed and dimensional, quite dry but succulent with ripe and spicy black fruit flavors founded on sleek, grainy tannins, graphite minerality, polished oak and vivid acidity, all balanced and integrated but all readily apparent. The finish is long, packed with spice and fairly austere. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 875 cases. Drink from 2016 or ’17 through 2026 to ’30. Excellent. About $80, according to the winery website, $85 on the sticker affixed to the sample bottle.
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For 2010, the Phifer Pavit Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon comes awfully close to being 100 percent varietal, except for a scant one percent petit verdot. The wine aged 19 months in French oak barriques, 80 percent new barrels. The color here is an intense dark ruby fading to transparency at the rim; at first the bouquet is all about structure, with elements of walnut shell, leather and wheat meal, but gradually there’s an unfolding of spiced and macerated black currants, raspberries and plums, as well as autumnal notes of burning leaves, moss and dried flowers. In the mouth, this cabernet is saline and savory, offering touches of iodine and iron and intense and concentrated clove-and-incense-infused black fruit flavors; tannins, however, are hard-driven, oak is a bit intractable and the granitic mineral character feels unassailable, though every quality is tied together with resonant acidity; the finish is dry, mineral-inflected and austere. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 561 cases. Drink from 2016 or ’18 through 2028 to ’32. Excellent potential. About $80.
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The Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, contains two percent petit verdot and aged 19 months in French oak barriques, 70 percent new barrels. The color is dark to medium ruby; the bouquet amalgamates notes of iodine and iron, in a sanguinary/ferrous communion, with cloves, cinnamon and ancho chili, spiced and macerated black currants, cherries and plums with back-notes of walnut shell and leather; the 09 is the driest, most tannic and austere of this quartet of Date Night cabernets, coating the palate with deep and dusty elements of granitic minerality, spice-laden oak and lip-smacking acidity, as well as earthy and loamy qualities that evince a moss-mushroom-underbrush character. Still loads of personality in evidence and great potential from 2016 or ’18 through 2028 to ’30. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Production was 513 cases. Excellent. About $80.
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After a day of tasting these four Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernets from 2011, ’10, ’09 and ’08, this 2008 was the one we drank the rest of with dinner of leftover boeuf bourguignon. It contains four percent petit verdot; it aged 19 months in French oak barriques, 65 percent new barrels. Notes of leather, lavender and iodine, wheatmeal, black olive and rosemary teem in the glass, along with pungent aromas of dried baking spices and graphite minerality; scents and flavors of black currants, cherries and plums are a little roasted, a bit stewed, an element that adds depth and resonance to the fruit. This wine slowly builds layers in the glass, adding power and character as the minutes elapse; those shadings include the essential vibrant acidity, a deep-seated lithic element and finely-sifted and polished tannins. The finish is long, packed with spice and minerals and only becomes slightly austere after an hour or so. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was a minuscule 233 cases. Drink now through 2022 to 2026. Excellent. About $80.
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The Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Napa Valley, illustrates the manner in which a wine can be carefully calibrated without feeling manipulated or over-cossetted. It’s a blend of 90 percent sauvignon blanc and 10 percent semillon; 89 percent of the grapes came from two vineyards in Napa Valley, 11 percent from Mendocino County. O.K., here’s where it gets complicated: 60 percent of the juice was barrel-fermented, eight percent of that in new oak; the other 40 percent fermented in stainless steel; the wine aged five months in French oak barrels on the lees, that is, the residue of yeast. So, you’re thinking, Why go to all this trouble? Can’t they just make the wine and let me drink it? The point is to create a wine that thoughtfully balances richness and substance with fresh brightness and crispness, a task this one does handily. The color is very pale gold; aromas of jasmine and lemongrass, lime peel and guava are wreathed with spiced pear and tangerine, touches of hay and dried thyme, and back-notes of limestone and flint. On the palate, this sauvignon blanc offers a lovely, soft talc-like texture animated by scintillating acidity and limestone minerality, buoying the spice-inflected citrus and stone-fruit flavors that open to hints of melon, quince and (barely) fig. It’s a leafy, sunny sauvignon blanc that displays marked presence and character. Director of winemaking at Robert Mondavi is Geneviève Janssens. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2015 as aperitif or with seafood risottos and stews or grilled shrimp or mussels. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.

This wine was a sample for review.

I love the sauvignon blanc grape, and given my druthers I would chose sauvignon blanc wines over chardonnay any day of the week. Oh, sure, you can get bland sauvignon blancs but usually not over-oaked, buttery, super-ripe fruit-bombs, as can happen with chardonnay. Today I present brief reviews of 15 sauvignon blanc wines, mainly from different regions of California, but also two from Sancerre, in France’s Loire Valley, one from New Zealand and a surprisingly delightful example from the state of Virginia. With the exception of the Sancerre wines, these were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Amici Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 50% sauvignon blanc/50% sauvignon musque. 10% barrel-fermented in French oak and malolactic. Pale gold; quite fresh and clean; lemon and tangerine, hint of mango and lemongrass; hint of honeysuckle; moderately lush but crisply balanced; river-rock minerality; lime peel and flint finish. Quite attractive. Very Good+. About $25.
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Terroir Coquerel Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Calistoga, Napa Valley. 12.5% alc. Seven months in French oak, 10% new barrels. Very pale gold color; grapefruit, tangerine, lime peel, hint of peach, notes of lilac, lavender and fennel; a few moments in the glass bring up touches of roasted lemon and celery seed; a little leafy and herbal; taut, crisp, vibrant, loads of personality and presence; tensile slightly dusty grapefruit-limestone finish. Just terrific. Excellent. About $32.
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Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. 853 cases. Five months in mature French oak barrels. Pale gold hue; lemongrass, green olive, lime peel, smoked grapefruit: a sauvignon blanc for grown-ups; very dry, crisp, packed with limestone and flint elements and enlivened by crystalline acidity; almost talc-like texture but lithe and lean; roasted lemon, preserved lemon rind, spiced pear; chalk and flint finish. Drink through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $30.
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Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block-Jane’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. Four months 74% old French oak barrels, 26% stainless steel. Pale gold; almost glistens with liveliness and crispness; pineapple, grapefruit, cloves and thyme; wholly clean and fresh but a touch exotic with lavender, lilac and roasted fennel; sunny and leafy, hints of figs and hay; scintillating limestone and grapefruit finish, brings up some earthiness. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $25.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc 2013, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; lemon, lime and grapefruit, hints of figs and yellow plums; leafy, slightly grassy, a bit saline; very dry, crisp and lively with bright acidity and limestone minerality; nothing complicated but tasty and delightful. Very Good+. About $14, an Unbeatable Bargain.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 14.1% alc. Pale gold; grapefruit and lime peel, spiced pear, jasmine and lilac; pert, tart and sassy; lots of limestone and flint minerality; nicely balanced and integrated. Standard style but tasty. Very Good. About $18.
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Galerie Equitem Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Knights Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 55% neutral French oak, 45 percent stainless steel. Pale gold color; lemongrass, celery seed, smoke, hint of cumin; lemon drop and lime peel, hints of jasmine and lilac; lovely almost powdery texture riven by bright acidity; quite vibrant and resonant; limestone-packed finish. Drink through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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Galerie Naissance Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. 51% neutral French oak, 49% stainless steel. Pale gold; delicate peach, pear and tangerine aromas, notes of lemongrass, grapefruit and honeysuckle; back note of guava; clean, bright acidity, lovely taut, lithe texture, vivid citrus and stone fruit flavors slightly subdued by limestone minerality. Through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. about $30.
Image from vivino.com.
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Niner Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 14.4% alc. 90% sauvignon blanc, 5% semillon, 5% sauvignon musque. Certified sustainable. Very pale straw color; honeysuckle and acacia, roasted lemon and spiced pear, touch of fig and fennel; very dry, earthy, almost loamy for a sauvignon blanc; dense, vibrant, resonant; unusually intense style. Very Good+. About $22.
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Paul Dolan Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Potter Valley, Mendocino County. 14% alc. (Organic) Pale gold; subtle, supple, mildly grassy and herbal — think hay and thyme — roasted lemon and grapefruit, hints of lime peel and spiced pear; very dry, with brisk acidity and a chalk/limestone finish; lovely presence and texture. Very Good+. About $18, representing Good Value.
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Pierre Cherrier et Fils Domaine de la Rossignole Cuvee Vieilles Vignes 2012, Sancerre, Loire Valley. 13% alc. Pale gold; quince and ginger, jasmine and lemon balm, grapefruit and lime peel, hints of smoke and limestone; very dry, dense and almost malleable, packed with chalk, flint and damp limestone; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of yellow plums and (faintly) sage and camellias; lovely complexity and dimension. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by The Country Vintners, Ashland, Va.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 588 cases. Pale gold; lemongrass and lime peel, roasted lemon; almond blossom and lemon balm; ginger and quince, yellow plum; piercing acidity and penetrating limestone minerality; exquisite balance between a soft, petal-like texture and dynamic leanness and litheness; finishes with grapefruit, pear skin and bitter almond; tremendous personality and presence. Drink through 2016 to ’18. Exceptional. About $30.
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Jean Reverdy et Fils La Reine Blanche 2013, Sancerre, Loire Valley. 13% alc. Very pale gold color; lime peel and roasted lemon with high notes of ginger and quince and a tinge of grapefruit; very dry, taut, vibrant, teems with chalk and limestone minerality; brings in hints of lilac and spiced pear; great balance and tone through the slightly austere mineral-packed finish. Through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
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Stinson Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Virginia. 12% alc. 150 cases. Pale gold; very delicate, subtle, delightfully wreathed with jasmine, peach, green grass and gooseberry; hedge and heather; back notes of cloves and crystallized ginger; quite dry, taut, bright and clean yet with an attractive element of moderate lushness and a spicy finish. Loveliness. Excellent. About $23.
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Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand. 13% alc. Very pale gold hue; typical NZ with its lime peel, celery seed, bell pepper, gooseberry and grapefruit snappiness but quite clean and well-balanced, nothing exaggerated; crisp, lively scintillating, a touch leafy and figgy; bright zippy finish. Irresistible personality. Excellent. About $18, a Great Bargain.
Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill.
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Cakebread Cellars was the first winery I visited on my first trip to Napa Valley, in 1987, covering the Napa Valley Wine Auction. The winery celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, having been founded in 1973 by Jack Cakebread, photographer and owner of Cakebread’s Garage, an auto repair shop in San Francisco started by Leo Cakebread in 1927. I say that Jack Cakebread founded the winery, but his wife Dolores and sons Steve, Bruce and Dennis cannot be left out of even a brief account of the Cakebread history. The company is still family-owned and has grown from its original 22 acres to hundreds of acres with vineyards throughout Napa Valley and a pinot noir outpost in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Jack Cakebread is CEO, Bruce is president and COO, and Dennis is senior vice president for sales and marketing. Winemaker since 2002 has been Julianne Laks, previously the winery’s assistant winemaker.

The three cabernet sauvignon-based wines from 2012, ’11 and ’10 reviewed in this post are powerful expressions of the grapes and the Napa soil and sub-strata from which they grew. If your ideal notion of cabernet wines is finesse and finely-tuned nuance, the wedding of dynamism and elegance, these are not your models. Winemaker Julianne Laks fully exploits all elements for their deepest dimensions of tannin, oak and mineral-like qualities, building unimpeachable structure, in addition to drawing from wells of sometimes exotic spice and ripe, macerated fruit, the latter requiring a decade to develop completely. While the wines can be daunting initially, there are rewards for those with patience. Cakebread is not a winery that kowtows to fashion. The label is basically unchanged from how it was designed 40 years ago; the style does not lean toward high alcohol, super-ripeness or layers of toasty new oak. Such solidity and sense of tradition may seem staid and stodgy to some consumers, but to my mind they form a gratifying display of dedication and common sense.

These wines were samples for review. The image immediately above shows Bruce, Jack and Dennis Cakebread back in the day, that is, sometime in the 1980s.
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The Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, is a blend of 84 percent cabernet sauvignon, six percent each merlot and cabernet franc and four percent petit verdot. This is a valley-wide wine, its components deriving from vineyards throughout the appellation. It aged 18 months in French oak, 54 percent new barrels. The color is deep ruby-red with a magenta rim; a full-blown woodsy bouquet of moss, loam, underbrush and walnut-shell opens to notes of cassis with spiced and macerated blueberries and plums underlain by whiffs of coffee, cedar, tobacco and graphite; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of bell pepper and black olive. The wine fills the mouth with dusty, grainy tannins and polished oak; it’s lithic and granitic, yet possesses inner richness and ripeness; still the mineral, oak and tannic elements preside for the time being. The finish is large, dry, highly structured and rather austere. Twelve hours overnight merely deepened and broadened the wine’s essential framework. 14.3 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’25 or ’26. Excellent potential. About $61.50.
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The Cakebread Cellars Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, is 100 percent cabernet grapes, taken from two vineyards in the slopes in the west of the Rutherford AVA; the wine aged 19 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby, though not quite opaque, with a slightly lighter rim; the bouquet is characterized by notes of cedar and rosemary — with a touch of the resinous quality implied — walnut-shell and graham meal, iodine and graphite; some moments of airing reveal hints of tapenade and loam. This is a very dense, chewy wine, with bales of oak and tannin that coat the palate with dusty, front-loaded minerality; it requires considerable swirling of the glass to free the spicy and balsamic-inflected blackberry-blueberry-and-black-cherry scents and flavors. The texture embodies the classic Napa Valley “iron-fist-in-velvet-glove” plushness married to granite and deep earthy tones. Even the next morning, the wine exhibited tannins that should read you your Miranda rights before you imbibe. 13.6 percent alcohol. A bit inchoate now, this will need three to five years to attain balance and integration and then develop through 2025 to ’29 or ’30. Very Good+. Not yet released; prices for previous vintages were about $90 to $110.
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The Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, contains six percent cabernet franc and 1 percent merlot in the blend; the vineyards go up to 1,800-foot elevation. The wine aged 19 months in French oak, 39 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby-magenta; if a wine could be described as both monumental and winsomely exotic, this is it. The whole enterprise is intense and concentrated in every detail and dimension, and while the first impression is of utter clarity and freshness, the second impression is laden with deep graphite minerality, iron-like but finely-milled tannins and polished ecclesiastical oak — I mean, think of ancient burnished altars, dusty velvet drapery and incense, the latter notion leading to the wine’s exotic nature in notes of lavender, sandalwood, cloves and black licorice. Still, fruit is a buried stream here; you sense rather than feel the latent intensity of ripeness, though the rich, savory quality is undeniable. Twelve hours later, the tannins formed a bastion that will demand three to five years to soften and admit entrance, drinking then through 2028 to ’30. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent potential. Unreleased, but previous vintages priced about $100 to $125.
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Today’s post continues my investigation into the character and evolution of cabernet sauvignon wines produced in Napa Valley. The first post in this series provided an introduction and reviews of six examples. Now I look at the current-release cabernet-based wines of Newton Vineyard.

The winery was founded by Peter and Su Hua Newton on Spring Mountain in 1979, two years after Peter Newton sold his share in Sterling Vineyards to Coca-Cola. (That move on Coke’s part didn’t work out; the company sold Sterling to Seagram’s, and it’s now owned by Diageo.) Newton was British, a horticulturalist and garden designer. The Newtons bought 650 acres, basically a square mile, on the mountain, west of the town of St. Helena, and planted vines on about 60 acres of steeply terraced sites. The winery, a grandiose building surrounded by extensive formal gardens, focuses on several levels of cabernet or cabernet-based wines, as well as merlot and chardonnay. Vineyard area is 120 acres, ranging from 500 to 1,600 feet above sea level, divided into 112 blocks and cultivated for different soil characteristics. LVMH acquired a majority interest in Newton Vineyard in 2001; the winery is now part of the luxury goods company’s Estates and Wines Collection. Peter Newton died in 2008, at the age of 81.

The cabernet sauvignon wines produced by Newton are powerful and dynamic yet restrained when it comes to ripeness, alcohol content and oak regimen, almost managing to be elegant. The first two wines, the Claret 2011 and the Cabernet 2011, derive from a multitude of vineyards that range from the north to the south of Napa Valley; they display Napa County designations. The Unfiltered Cabernet 2011 and The Puzzle 2010 are made from estate blocks on Spring Mountain and in particular offer a deep earthy mineral-laced character. These are not cheap wines, and in fact I would quibble at the hyperbolic prices — the Claret should be about $20 instead of $28, but no one asked me — still, Newton’s The Puzzle, even at $100, is one of Napa Valley essential flagship wines. Winemaker at Newton is Chris Millard.

These wines were samples for review. Image from tripadvisor.com.
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Newton Claret 2011, Napa County. The blend here is 54 percent cabernet sauvignon, 28 percent merlot, 10 petit verdot, 4 syrah, 3 cabernet franc and 1 percent malbec, a sort of Bordeaux red blend with a dollop of syrah; the wine aged 20 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry rim, and as far as being shaped in the Bordeaux model, the wine offers a rather St.-Julien-like bouquet of black currants and black cherries permeated by notes of black olives, rosemary and walnuts, tobacco leaf and cigarette paper. It’s smooth and lithe on the palate, a beautifully integrated package of dark, lightly spiced black fruit, vibrant acidity, slightly dusty tannins and supple oak. Exciting, racy, demanding? No, but very satisfying, delicious and well-structured. 14 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $28.
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Newton Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa County. This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon, aged 12 months in French oak, percentage of new barrels not specified. The color is deep ruby with a tinge of magenta; the overall impression is of lovely weight, heft and balance, beginning with aromas of ripe black currants and raspberries mixed with dried fruit, potpourri and lavender and a whole snootful of exotic spices; this is, however, a cool, clean graphite-laden cabernet, freighted with lithic influence and etched with granite (and a note or two of violets and licorice). Flavors of black currants and cherries, with touches of blueberry and plum, are highlighted by resolute acidity and fairly prominent tannins that are dense without being ponderous. The slightly austere finish is packed with spice and minerals. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $30.
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Newton Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. There’s a bit of a blend here, with three percent petit verdot grapes, all derived from Newton’s Spring Mountain estate vineyards; the wine aged 22 months in French oak barrels, 50 percent new. The color is dark ruby, with a hint of purple; the emphasis is on structure, so while the bouquet fairly seethes with ripe, spicy black currants and cassis, those elements are circumscribed by graphite, iron and iodine; fine-grained velvety tannins and dense, slightly creamy oak frame black fruit flavors enhanced by tense acidity. A great deal of power and energy don’t detract from the essential balance and integration of this wine, though it requires a bit of aging to achieve real poise. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2010, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. This proprietary wine is a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 18 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot and 4 percent malbec. Because it contains less than 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, it cannot state the majority grape on the label. The Puzzle 2010 aged 22 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels. The color is dark, dense ruby-purple; the wine embodies that lovely and gratifying paradox of being intense and concentrated yet generous and expansive, so while it feels ferrous, sanguinary and feral (though Olympian in its brooding character), it also displays an innate delicacy and elegance of balance and harmony, all effects marshaled under the tempering influence of plangent acidity and dusty, graphite-packed tannins. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Exceptional. About $100.
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When the first European settlers entered what became California’s Napa Valley in the early 1830s, they found six small tribes of Native American Indians who spoke different dialects and were often at war. A smallpox epidemic in 1838 put an end to that situation. George Yount, perhaps the first Anglo settler in the area, built a log house on the Mexican land grant in received in 1836 and planted the first vineyard in Napa, though Charles Krug established the first winery, in 1861. Though by the end of the 19th Century Napa Valley was home to 140 wineries, the rest is not exactly history, at least not of the straight-line sort, because the plant louse Phylloxera followed by the scourge of Prohibition brought a halt to grape-growing and commercial wine production.

Napa Valley’s real influence emerged after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 and the proliferation of and focus on the cabernet sauvignon grape. Such wineries as Beaulieu Vineyards, Inglenook, Louis M. Martini and Charles Krug took the lead in finding the best sites for the vineyards and in putting the name of the grape on the label. These wineries of what I’ll call the first generation were joined in the 1960s and ’70s by a second wave in the form of Mayacamas, Diamond Creek, Heitz, Clos du Val, Freemark Abbey, Cakebread Cellars, Robert Mondavi, Duckhorn, Dunn, Burgess, Chateau Montelena, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Smith-Madrone, Joseph Phelps and many others. Excellent vintages like 1968, ’74, ’78, ’84, ’85 and ’86 and the cabernet wines they produced caught the attention of wine buffs all over the country and in the Old World. It didn’t hurt that two Napa Valley wines, Chateau Montelena Chadonnay 1973 and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars SLV Cabernet Sauvignon 1973, beat their counterparts from Burgundy and Bordequx in the ground-breaking (and infamous) Paris Tasting of 1976. Napa Valley became a name to conjure with in terms of cabernet sauvignon, though of course most of these wineries also made other sorts of wine: merlot, zinfandel, pinot noir, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc.

The third generation, coming into prominence in the 1990s and often involving huge outlays of fiduciary prowess in acquiring expensive vineyard land and building showplace facilties, includes such “cult” wineries as Screaming eagle, Harlan Estate, Bryant Family and Colgin, followed in the 21st Century by such recent additions as Sloan Estate and Hundred Acre, most sold primarily by mailing list and avidly sought by collectors.

Anyone who has tasted Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon going back to the 1970s will attest to a vast change in style over the decades, a transformation that includes higher alcohol levels — even to 15 percent and over; riper, jammier fruit; and voluptuous textures. The reasons for these changes may be attributable to several factors: global warming, consumer taste and the exigencies of the market, the palates and dictates of high-profile critics and wine publications. Whatever the case, it is and has been fascinating to observe and experience the evolution of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, even if I don’t always agree with the results. I tend to favor more structured, lean and elegant cabernets, the iron fist in the velvet glove approach (in Warren Winiarski’s phrase), as opposed to the more flamboyant and opulent renditions, though I can be swayed by adequate acidity.

Anyway, today I launch a series of posts dedicated to Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon wines, beginning with detailed reviews of six examples, including two Old-School models — Chateau Montelena and La Jota Vineyard — and two quite recent start-ups — Calla Lily and Volta. Some are traditional Bordeaux-style blends, others are 100 percent cabernet sauvignon; some see all new oak for several years, while others are subjected to a less rigorous regimen. These are from 2011, 10 and ’09. The series will continue with group reviews and with posts dedicated to products from a single winery. Napa Valley cabernet has become legendary in the world of wine, but even legends must bear scrutiny.
These wines were samples for review. Map of Napa Valley and its sub-appellations from napavalleypassport.com.
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Calla Lily Ultimate Red Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. This bold effort, aged 25 months in French oak barrels, is the first release from a fledgling winery, established in 2013 in Pope Valley, east of Calistoga. The color is dense ruby-purple with an opaque center. Altogether, it displays the gratifying paradox that balances intensity and concentration of all aspects with a generous and expansive character. Highly expressive aromas of lavender and black licorice, espresso and graphite, toasted walnuts, fruitcake and just a whiff of vanilla open to notes of ripe black currants, black cherries and plums; this is succulent on the palate, plush and powerful, quite dry and packed with dusty, velvety tannins and oak that gives off elements of dried woody spice and a hint of exoticism. The finish is austere, high-toned but lithe and supple. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drinkable now with steaks and braised short ribs or try from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $80.
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La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. La Jota fell off my radar for quite a few years, meaning that I didn’t write about the wines because I received no samples. Then — boom! — comes to my door this dignified-looking bottle of cabernet sauvignon. The winery dates back to 1898, when Swiss immigrant Frederick Hess purchased 327 acres of George Yount’s Rancho La Jota land grant on Howell Mountain. (The jota is a Spanish folk-dance, in 3/4 or 6/8 time, that achieved broad popularity in the mid 18th Century.) Within a few years, La Jota wines were winning awards at national and international competitions. Phylloxera and Prohibition put an end to the winery’s accomplishments, and the estate did not see a revival until 1974, when the original stone winery and 40 surrounding acres were bought by former oilman Bill Smith and his wife Joan. They planted new vines and added acreage, developed several new varieties and were instrumental in persuading what was then the BATF to declare Howell Mountain a separate American Viticultural Area within Napa Valley. In 2001, Smith sold La Jota to Markham Vineyards and its parent company Mercian Corp. The late Jesse Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke acquired La Jota in 2005, and it is now a part of Jackson Family Wines. Winemaker for La Jota is Chris Carpenter.

La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Howell Mountain, is a blend of 82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent merlot, 4 petit verdot and 6 cabernet franc. The wine aged 19 months in French oak, 91 percent new barrels. The color is deep ruby-purple with a magenta cast; marked by intensity and concentration in every respect, the wine offers aromas of graphite and charcoal, lavender, violets and bitter chocolate, spiced and macerated black cherries, raspberries and plums. It fills the mouth with dense, chewy, dusty tannins and a texture that feels sleek and chiseled, like arrowheads carved from obsidian; a few minutes in the glass bring out notes of fruitcake and plum tart, sandalwood and ancho chile. Wine reviewers are fond of saying that they can sense the high origins of mountainside wines; I’ll go so far as to say that in this case the prominent granitic minerality feels like a permanent ledge that time in the bottle will gently erode. While the wine developed some notions of being broad and expansive, after an hour or so, it began to shut down. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’18 to 2025 to ’30. Excellent. About $75.
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Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Calistoga, Napa Valley. Chateau Montelena is another estate whose roots go back to the late 19th Century. The winery was founded in 1882 by Alfred Tubbs, who commissioned the looming Chinese-Gothic castle that appears on Montelena’s labels. Tubbs’ efforts failed, however, early in the 20th Century, and the property was a “ghost” winery until 1972, when it was bought by James L. Barrett, an attorney from Southern California. His son Bo Barrett is now the winemaker for Montelena. The winery received a huge boost when its Chardonnay 1973, made by Mike Grgich, was named best white wine in the legendary (or infamous) Paris Tasting of 1976. I have a bias toward the cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays produced at Chateau Montelena, because they fall exactly into the parameters that I prefer in such wines, representing an ideal of purity and intensity, without being overripe, flamboyant or scrumptious. You could not find a better metaphor for the perfectly balanced marriage of power and elegance.

The Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Calistoga, is a blend of 91 percent cabernet grapes, seven percent merlot and two percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 14 months is a combination of French and Eastern European oak, only 12 percent of which were new. The color is medium ruby, but fairly opaque at the center; cabernet sauvignon’s classic notes — what to me are classic notes — of cedar, black olives and thyme are meshed with elements of dusty graphite and whiffs of lightly spiced and macerated black and red currants, black cherries and raspberries, all poised over a clean, vivid backdrop of briers, brambles and loam. Tannins are stalwart and slightly lithic, yes, but etched with hints of lavender, black licorice and potpourri, while black and red fruit flavors evolve into a finish that’s sleek and polished yet faintly austere with touches of walnut shell and underbrush. 13.4 percent alcohol. Drink now or let it rest through 2016 or ’17 for consumption by 2023 to 2025 or ’26. Excellent. About $50.
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Sanctuary Usibelli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Not many wineries place the name of the winemaker on the front label — or the back label for that matter — but there is Dennis Martin’s name at the top, albeit in small letters. He is assisted by a young woman with the wonderful name Zidanelia Arcidiacono, though she is mentioned not on the label but on the winery’s website. Sanctuary obtains grapes from vineyards throughout California’s major regions for its wines, in this case from the Usibelli Vineyard in Napa Valley’s Rutherford AVA.

This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon. It rested 14 and a half months in French oak barrels, percentage of new barrels not specified. The color is an entrancing deep ruby hue with a magenta rim, brimming with health and intrigue; penetrating aromas of iodine, iron and graphite smolder in the glass, along with notes of spiced, macerated and lightly stewed red and black currants, raspberries and black cherries; the whole effect is of rather fleshy fruit briefly grilled over charcoal. Matters turn fairly serious on the palate, where the wine unlimbers leathery tannins, elements of walnut shell, underbrush and forest floor, and brings the oak slightly to the foreground. Still, the spicy black and red fruit flavors, though spare, are delicious, nestled into a sensuous velvety texture. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.
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Silverado Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. The Silverado Vineyards compound perches like its own Italian hilltown above the Silverado Trail in eastern Napa Valley. The winery was established in 1981 by Lillian Disney (1899-1997), widow of the world-famous animator and entrepreneur; her daughter Diane Disney Miller (1933-2013); and the latter’s husband Ron, former president and CEO of Walt Disney Productions. The emphasis at Silverado is on cabernet sauvignon, merlot and sauvignon blanc. Winemaker is Jon Emmerich.

Grapes for the Silverado Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley, derive 40 percent from Stags Leap Vineyard, next to the winery; 55 percent from Mt. George Vineyard, east of the city of Napa; and five percent from Oakville Station in the Oakville AVA, the heart of Napa Valley. The wine is a blend of 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 16 percent merlot, 2 percent petit verdot and 1 percent cabernet franc; it aged 17 months in French oak (90 percent) and American oak (10 percent), the total of new barrels being 44 percent. O.K., enough with the percentages. This one radiates an intensity of purpose and confidence as well as bastions of spicy oak, buttresses of dusty tannins and flashes of electrifying acidity, which is to say that there’s balance here, of sorts, and great liveliness and appeal, but the wine needs some time to let fruit emerge from the structure. The color is a ravishing deep ruby-purple; aromas of red and black currants and red and black cherries are permeated by touches of loam and graphite, cloves, lavender and walnut shell. On the palate, this is dense, chewy, lithe, supple, managing to be both sleek and substantial; the finish is packed with woody spice and granitic minerality. 14.7 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $48.
The image on the winery website has not caught up with newer releases.
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Volta Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. This recently founded winery is owned by music industry veteran Steve Lau and finance and real estate expert Frederick McCarthy. Winemaker is Massimo Monticelli, who learned the ropes during a five-year stint at Silver Oak Cellars. The wine is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon from the certified organic Mission Ridge Vineyard; it aged 22 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels. Production for Volta 2009 was 450 cases. The color is deep ruby-purple, markedly opaque at the center; aromas of ripe and macerated black currants, black cherries and plums pull you in to a bouquet that seethes with cloves and walnut shell, lavender and licorice and bitter chocolate, all encompassed by a circumference of graphite, slightly toasty-vanilla tinged oak, iodine and iron. There’s an air here of artfulness but also a tinge of the feral; the wine is dense and chewy, powerfully and dynamically tannic, but also light on its feet, almost balletic in its sense of elevation and wildness. Still, it has some aging to go through, so try from late in 2015 or 2016 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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Take your choice. Either at our backs we always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near OR the world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers. Choice, did I say?! Or, did I say?! Heck no, it’s both, incessant, ceaseless, seemingly infinite! So, anyway, it’s difficult to keep up with all the wines I need to review, so here, today, I offer 12 wines, rated Very Good+ to Exceptional, that I should have written about this year but didn’t have the time or space. I’m trying to make amends. There should be something in this post to appeal to a variety of palates. Most of these wines are from California, but we also touch on Oregon’s Willamette Valley; Baden, in Germany; France’s Alsace region; and Clare Valley in South Australia. With one exception today, I purposely avoid technical and geographical information in favor of quick, incisive reviews designed to pique your aching interest and whet your anticipatory taste-buds. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy — in moderation, of course.
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Josmeyer Pinot Blanc 2009, Alsace. 12% alc. Bright medium gold color; slightly honeyed ginger and quince, papaya and mango, quite floral with hints of jasmine and honeysuckle; slightly dusty limestone minerality, a touch of diesel; a sweet impression because of the ripe juicy roasted lemon and stone-fruit flavors but actually very dry, enlivened by bright acidity and that scintillating limestone element. Taut yet generous, a real beauty. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $20 to $22.
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Steven Kent Winery “Lola” Ghielmetti Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Livermore Valley. 13.9% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. 401 cases. Very pale straw-gold hue; gorgeous aromas of honeysuckle and camellia, tangerine, lime peel and lemongrass, cloves and ginger, hints of hay and thyme; lemony with a touch of peach and guava; wonderful talc-like texture riven by bristling acidity and bright limestone minerality; touch of celery seed and grapefruit bitterness on the finish. Irresistible. Now through Summer 2015. Excellent. About $24.
Image from cuveecorner.blogspot.com.
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McCay Cellars Tres Blanc 2013, Lodi. 14.5% alc. Blend of vermentino, verdelho, muscat and pinot noir. 218 cases. Pale gold color; intensely floral with jasmine and lilac; celery seed, fennel, roasted lemon, spiced pear, slightly leafy, with notes of fig and lime peel; dry but juicy, keen acidity and lovely viscosity; limestone and grapefruit finish. Very charming. Drink through Summer 2015. Very Good+. About $24.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 13.55 alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Pale gold color, shimmering; grapefruit, lime peel, roasted lemon, hint of peach; lemongrass and thyme; exotically floral, lilac, hyacinth; extraordinary texture, tense and tensile with steely acidity, limestone and damp rocks but contrastingly soft, silky, caressing, all this in perfect balance, along with notes of yellow plum, quince, ginger and just a hint of mango. Consistently one of the best sauvignon blanc wines made in California. Now through 2017 or ’18. Exceptional. About $30.
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Alexander Laible “Chara” Riesling trocken 2012, Baden, Germany. 13% alc. 100% riesling. Medium gold color; peach and pear, lychee and jasmine, wet stones, touch of apricot and diesel; very ripe entry, just a brush with sweetness but quickly turns dry; huge limestone element and chiming acidity give it tautness and resonance; lovely, lively delicate texture, yet plenty of lithe muscularity. Just terrific and delicious. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $40.
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Waterstone Pinot Noir 2011, Carneros. 14.5% alc. 100% pinot noir. 868 cases. Medium ruby color; red currants and cranberries, cloves and cinnamon; touch of candied cherries; rhubarb and pomegranate; very warm and spicy; mild tannins and a subtle oak presence; slightly foresty and briery, hints of leaf smoke, moss, a bit autumnal but fresh and clean. Quite appealing. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $22.
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McCay Cellars Carignane 2011, Lodi. 13.5% alc. 100% carignane from a vineyard planted in 1908. 218 cases. Medium ruby-mulberry color; briery red currants and cranberries; rose petals, sandalwood, potpourri, brings up an infusion of red and black cherries; a little sappy and loamy; the whole package grows more expansive, generous and exotic as the minutes pass; supple but slightly smacky tannin and straight-arrow acidity; grows richer and more powerful through the brambly, flinty finish. Tasty and individual. Well worth a search. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $32.
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Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. 100% pinot noir. Lovely, limpid medium ruby-mulberry hue; raspberries and plums, touch of black cherry, with a slightly raspy character; rose hips, violets, exotic with potpourri, lavender and sandalwood; rooty, loamy and a bit leathery; lithe and sinewy with lively acidity that cuts a swath on the palate; spare, savory, somehow like autumnal bounty slightly withheld. Tremendous integrity and authority, yet graceful, elegant, thoughtful. A pinot noir such as we do not often see made in the United States of America. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $35.
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Eponymous Syrah 2009, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. With 4% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; a syrah of real class and purpose; blackberries, blueberries and plums; clean earth, loam, graphite and new leather; hints of violets and lavender, dried rosemary and roasted fennel; touch of fruitcake; very dry, iron-like tannins and dusty oak; long spice-packed and granitic finish. Tremendous tone and presence yet sleek, elegant, light on its feet. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $38.
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Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 100% merlot. Dark to medium ruby color; smolders with lavender and licorice, meaty and fleshy black currants and black raspberries, cloves and allspice; there’s a pungent dusty charcoal-graphite edge; a sizable, vibrant, resonant mouthful of merlot, with elements of leather, briers and brambles, underbrush and tannins of deep deliberation, all in all intense and concentrated yet sleek, well-balanced and integrated. Drink now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $42.
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Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. With 16% merlot, 7% petit verdot, 1% malbec. I typically don’t mention technical details in these Weekend Wine Notes, but I highly approve of the thoughtful oak regimen for this wine: 12 months aging in 74% French and 24% American oak barrels, of which, collectively, only 39% of the barrels were new. How sane! How rational! Thank you! Deep ruby-purple color; utterly classic, suave, delicious, well-structured; blackberries, black cherries and plums, hints of fennel, lavender, licorice and violets; though the wine is characterized by velvety, cushiony tannins, the tannic nature firms up in the glass and builds a sort of walnut shell-briers-and-brambles austerity through the finish; a perfect display of power and elegance. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $53.
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Wakefield “The Visionary” Exceptional Parcel Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Clare Valley, South Australia. 14% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby color; mint, iodine and iron, spiced and macerated black currants, plums and cherries; graphite and granite minerality that accumulate like a coastal shelf; dusty tannins, walnut-shell and loam; dense, chewy. A powerhouse of presence, tone and resonance, yet not in the least overwhelming or ponderous. Try from 2016 through 2030. Excellent. About $120.
Image from wineanorak.com
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Few wineries in Napa Valley and indeed in California are as iconic, both physically and metaphysically, as the Robert Mondavi Winery. Its mission-style facility on Hwy 29 on Napa Valley is unmistakable. The story has often been told of how Robert Mondavi (1913-2008), in a feud with his brother Peter about the operation of the Charles Krug winery, left that business and launched his own winery in 1966, eventually becoming a wine-juggernaut of world-wide innovation and influence. As they say, the rest is history, though the history of the winery related on a timeline on the company’s website skips from 2002 to 2005, omitting the fact that the over-extended family sold the kit-n-kaboodle to Constellation Brands in November 2004 for a billion dollars. The wise move that Constellation made was to retain Genevieve Janssens as director of winemaking, a position she has held since 1997, thus lending a sense of continuity and purpose. Modavi continues to release a dizzying array of products — a rose! a semillon! (neither of which I have seen) — but the concentration is on the varieties that made its name, often produced at levels of “regular” bottlings, single-vineyard and reserve: cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Today, in this series, I consider the Robert Mondavi Reserve Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, from 2012.

These wines were samples for review.
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Let’s start with red, this one being my favorite of the pair. The Robert Mondavi Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley, spent 10 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels, and to my mind that’s a lot of new oak for pinot noir. Despite my opinion, however, the grapes soaked up that oak, and the wine came out sleek and satiny; this is no ethereal, evanescent pinot noir, but a wine of substance and bearing. The color is dark ruby with a purple/magenta tinge; aromas of black cherry and raspberry are bolstered by notes of pomegranate and sassafras, oolong tea, graphite and loam, all in all retaining a winsome quality in the earthiness. Nothing winsome on the palate, though; while the texture is wonderfully supple and attractive, and the black and red fruit flavors are deep and delicious, this is a pinot noir that takes its dimensions seriously, as elements of new leather, briers and brambles and slightly woody spice testify. 14.5 percent alcohol. At not quite two years old, the Robert Mondavi Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley, is still in its formative years; try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
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Unfortunately, the Robert Mondavi Reserve Chardonnay 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley, pushes all my wrong buttons as far as the chardonnay grape is concerned. The color is medium straw-gold; with its rich and ripe mango-papaya trajectory, this is more tropical than I would want a chardonnay to be, not even accounting for its creamy elements of lemon curd and lemon tart, its vanilla and nutmeg and touch of lightly buttered cinnamon toast. The wine aged a sensible 10 months in French oak barrels, 58 percent new — that’s the sensible part — but its over-abundant spice and its nuances of toffee and burnt match detract from the grape’s purity of expression, and it lacks by several degrees the minerality to give the wine balance and energy. I know, I know, many of My Readers are going to say, “Well, look, FK, this is an argument about style, not about whether this is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ wine,” and I will reply, “Yes, I’m aware of that fact, but a style of winemaking that obscures the virtues of the grape is folly.” This is, frankly, not a chardonnay that I would choose to drink. 13.5 percent alcohol; that’s a blessing. Now through 2017 or ’18, but Not Recommended. About $40.
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