Napa Valley

Any producer in Napa Valley will report that 2011 was a challenging season because of the cool weather, cloud cover and rain, all occurrences that inhibited ripening and delayed harvest until a burst of fine weather in October provided a respite. The five examples of cabernet sauvignon-based wines that I look at today came out fine, thank you very much, and yet despite marked similarities, especially in their acute mineral qualities, they also reveal distinct differences, several lying in the camp of opulence, others adhering to a more spare and elegant mode. These wines — all samples for review — are not cheap; prices range from what seems like a light-hearted $45 a bottle to a blockbuster $250. Go figure, Readers, and weigh the discrepancies of supply and demand, hubris and accountancy. This post is, as the title asserts, the sixth in a series that examines the cabernet sauvignon wines of Napa Valley, a region noted for its production, if not always for the finesse, of that grape. This is also the 10th post to BTYH of 2015.
Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. Jess Jackson (1930-2011), founder of Kendall-Jackson Winery, decided in 1983 that the company needed a flagship cabernet sauvignon wine to serve as a Napa Valley icon among the other well-known Napa Valley cabernets. Eventually becoming its own brand with a dedicated facility in the Oakville District, site of the old Robert Pepi winery, Cardinale indeed is a tribute to mountain-grown grapes, of which it is mainly composed, and a model of self-assurance and command. Cardinale 2011 is a blend of 89 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes and 11 percent merlot. The majority of the grapes of which it is composed — 87 percent — derive from vineyards on Mount Veeder and Howell Mountain with a bare two percent from Diamond Mountain. The wine aged 18 months in French oak, 81 percent new barrels. Winemaker is Christopher Carpenter.

Matching its nature as the embodiment of intensity and concentration, the color is opaque ruby with a tinge of magenta; the wine is boldly earthy and spicy, featuring aromas and flavors of ripe black currants, cherries and raspberries permeated by notes of briers and brambles, walnut shell and dried porcini, cloves and lavender and the slightly resinous herbal character of rosemary pared from the stalk. This is a persistent and authoritative cabernet sauvignon, framed by burnished oak and dusty, graphite-inflected tannins, all animated by penetrating acidity; as the moments pass, the fragrance deepens and expands, bringing in hints of dried fruit and flowers, and the black fruit flavors achieve a state of savory generosity, while the structure remains stalwart, tense and resonant. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’18 through 2030 to ’35. Excellent. About $250 (a bottle).
Caymus 40th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. The website for Caymus Vineyards lists no technical information about its celebratory cabernet sauvignon for 2012, released in honor of the winery’s founding in 1972, by Charles and Lorna Wagner and their son Chuck, the present owner and winemaker. Caymus grew from modest beginnings into a bulwark of Napa Valley cabernet, with its Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon a perpetual contender for top cabernet of the vintage and a darling of collectors, even as the price climbed. Through its Wagner Family of Wines, Caymus now includes Mer Soleil, Conundrum, Belle Glos and Emmolo.

The Caymus 40th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 offers an inky-purple color and chastening notes of iron and iodine that expand into exotic and spicy and quite ripe scents and flavors of macerated black currants, plums and blueberry tart; hints of cloves, lavender and licorice are swathed in touches of bitter chocolate and intense graphite. The wine is ostentatiously floral, plush with dusty, velvety tannins barely reined in by a tremendous mineral element, with back-notes of vanilla and sandalwood. Despite this panoply of riches, the wine is quite dry and finishes with a line of polished oak and some briery, brushy austerity. 14.6 percent alcohol. Best from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’25; it could stand to calm down a little. Excellent. About $60.
Cornerstone Cellars The Cornerstone 2011, Napa Valley. The Cornerstone is the flagship cabernet of Cornerstone Cellars, produced from the winery’s Oakville Station Vineyard blocks in To-Kalon District. For 2011, the blend is 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot and 5 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 22 months in all new French oak barrels. Winemaker is Jeff Keene. The winery is owned by two doctors in Memphis and a group of investors. General manager is Craig Camp, who has overseen Cornerstone’s expansion in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

The color is dark ruby shading to a lighter mulberry-hued rim; aromas of spiced and macerated black currants, raspberries and plums are permeated by elements of iodine and iron — slightly feral and sanguinary — cedar and tobacco, walnut shell and underbrush, woven with notes of lavender and caramelized fennel, aged fruitcake and loam, all making for a profoundly layered and provocative bouquet. On the palate, this cabernet is dense and chewy, lithe and lithic, deeply rooted in dusty, finely-sifted oak and tannins and propelled by keen acidity; the long, vibrant finish is packed with cloves, blueberries, bitter chocolate and graphite. A cabernet of tremendous confidence and authority. 14.4 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 through 2028 to 2030. Production was 100 cases. Excellent. About $150.
Shah Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. It’s a bold move to charge top-dollar for the initial release of a wine, but Bijal and Sinead Shah, owners of this fledgling winery, were not deterred. Shah and his wife Sinead, a pilot for United Airlines, own The Woodhouse Wine Estates in Washington, where they produce a variety of wines under the Kennedy Shah, Dussek and Darighe labels. This cabernet and its stablemate chardonnay represent the couple’s first venture south. The winemaker is Jean Claude Beck, originally from Alsace. The grapes for this 100 percent cabernet wine were grown in Caldwell’s Block 11, part of a vineyard in Coombsville, a fairly obscure AVA in southeastern Napa Valley that received official recognition in 2011. The wine aged 24 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels.

The color is deep ruby-mulberry, dark but not opaque; vivid notes of mint, eucalyptus and toasty oak, poised against a background of ferrous iodine, are meshed with ripe and very spicy black currant and cherry fruit touched with lavender and bitter chocolate; hints of dried rosemary and cedar lend a piquant earthy/herbal aspect. In the mouth, this cabernet is supple and sleek, almost chiseled in its granitic minerality and quite intense in its drenching, almost sweet black fruit flavors, woven with nuances of cloves and oolong tea. New oak intrudes somewhat on the long, spicy, mineral-flecked finish; I would recommend opening in 2016 or after; for drinking through 2022 to ’25. Production was 168 cases. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $150.
Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. The fact that brothers Charles and Stuart Smith continue to keep prices for their exemplary wines so much lower than the competition is one of those miracles and mysteries that make life interesting, and as far as I’m concerned we should not question this phenomenon. The grapes for their cabernet-based wine – for 2011 a blend of 83 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent cabernet franc and 7 percent merlot — are grown on steep, dry-farmed slopes at an elevation of 1,800 feet on Spring Mountain, west of the city of St. Helena. Made from 39-year-old vines, the wine aged 19 months in French oak barrels.

The color is intense, vibrant dark ruby; it’s a deeply loamy cabernet, saturated with closely focused black currant and cherry scents and flavors but infused with notes of graphite, briers and brambles, lavender and dried porcini, redolent with a sort of dusty rosemary, thyme and cedar aspect that’s slightly resiny; the kind of wine you could spend hours swirling and sniffing, an intellectual as well as a sensual exercise. It’s quite concentrated in the mouth, lithe and sinewy, but not lacking in a generous character; dense, chewy tannins are part velvet, part graphite, made lively by a flare of bright acidity and a faceted granitic quality and given depth by an almost primal, dusty, robust earthiness; you feel the elevation, the scrappiness and spareness of the soil, the mineral underpinnings where the roots dig deep for sustenance. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 1,070 cases. Nothing flamboyant or over-ripe here. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2025 to 2030. Excellent. About $48, a bargain in this company.

Unbate your breath, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” entry, this edition for 2014. I posted to BiggerThanYourHead 135 times in 2014 and reviewed 582 wines. These 50 Great Wines represent 8.6 percent of the wines I reviewed last year. How do I choose the 50 wines for this honor? First, any wine that I rated Exceptional automatically gets a berth in the roster. After that, the selection process involves going back over every post, looking at the reviews of the wines that received an Excellent rating, reading the notes again and looking for the words or phrases signifying that I felt a wine was exciting, provocative, intriguing, highly individual. You can be sure that this list probably isn’t definitive; how could such a selection of wines be? I cut from the field many wines that could easily have been included, but the limit is 50 and they had to be sacrificed. Even as I clicked on the “Publish” button on WordPress I thought, “Oh no, how could I leave out ……?”

Going through these wines, many of My Readers may cry “Foul!” because some of them were produced in severely limited quantities, but that’s often the case with great wines. Think of the situation as a challenge wherein you face a sort of scavenger hunt in tracking such wines down. Some of these wines were made by well-known winemakers for prominent wineries or estates; others are far more obscure, but I enjoy bringing attention to young, small, family-owned and -operated properties that otherwise might not receive the exposure they deserve. The usual suspect grapes are included, of course — chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir — but you will also find on this list proponents of trousseau gris and grenache gris, carignane and cinsault, crafted by brave pioneers of the unusual, even rare grapes. With one exception — the Dolce 2005 — these products are the current releases from their wineries, or close to it. I think all of them were samples for review or were tasted at the property. I hope this list of 50 Great Wines inspires you to look for the ones that capture your interest and to try wines you never encountered before. Prices, by the way, range from about $22 to $120. Coming in a few days will be my annual list of 25 Great Bargain Wines $20 and Under.

Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma Valley. With 7 percent petit verdot. 1,475 cases. Exceptional. About $70.

Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Elevation 950 Feet Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $75.

Animo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. With 17 percent petit verdot. From Michael Mondavi. Excellent. About $85.

d’Arenberg The Other Side Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 96-year-old vines. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.

d’Arenberg Tyche’s Mustard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.

Battenfeld Spanier Mölsheim Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen, Germany. Exceptional. About $23.

Blair Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 481 cases. Excellent. About $35.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 55% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 19% picpoul. 1,965 cases. Exceptional. About $28.

Bonny Doon Cuvée R Grenache 2012, Monterey County. 593 cases. Excellent. About $48.

Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $28.

Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.

Cenyth 2009, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 47% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 8% petit verdot, 7% malbec. The debut release from this collaboration between Julia Jackson, daughter of the late Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke, and Helene Seillan, daughter of Pierre Seillan, winemaker of Verité. Exceptional. About $60.

Chêne Bleu Aliot 2010, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, France. 65 percent roussanne, 30 percent grenache blanc, 5 percent marsanne and some smidgeon of viognier. Exceptional. About $85.

Clos Saron Out of the Blue, 2013, Sierra Foothills. 90 percent cinsault, 5 percent syrah, 5 percent graciano. (The cinsault vines planted in 1885.) 170 cases. Excellent. About $30.

Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 10% merlot. 470 cases. Exceptional. About $80.

Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. 361 cases. Exceptional. About $30.

Dolce 2005, Napa Valley. 90 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc. A majestic dessert wine. Exceptional. About $85 for a half-bottle.

Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer 2012, Alto Adige, Italy. Exceptional. About $32.

The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 261 cases. Exceptional. About $33.

FEL Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $38.

Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 200 cases. Excellent. About $24.

Gallegos Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 250 cases. Excellent. About $42.

Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.

Idlewild Grenache Gris 2013, Mendocino County. 230 cases. Excellent. About $22.

Inama Vigneto du Lot 2011, Soave Classico, Italy. Excellent. About $30.

Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $25.

Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas. Excellent. About $40.

J. Christopher Wines Lumière Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 756 cases. Excellent. About $35.

J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. With nine percent malbec. Exceptional. About $90.

Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.

McCay Cellars Carignane 2011, Lodi, 218 cases. Excellent. About $32.

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. Exceptional. About $100.

Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. With 3 percent petit verdot, 1 percent each malbec and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $100.

Pfendler Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 230 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 588 cases. Exceptional. About $30.

La Pitchoune Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 279 cases. Exceptional. About $60.

Pittnauer Rosenberg St. Laurent 2010, Burgenland, Austria. Excellent. About $27.

Quinta do Vallado 20 Years Old Tawny Porto. 83 cases. Exceptional. About $80 for a 500-milliliter bottle..

Respite Reichel Vineyard Indulgence 2010, Alexander valley, Sonoma County. A proprietary blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent malbec and 13 percent cabernet franc. 77 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2010. Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 429 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $48.

Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,302 cases. Excellent. About $45.

Steven Kent Winery Merrellie Chardonnay 2012, Livermore Valley. 504 cases. Excellent. About $34.

Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Valley. 266 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 170 cases. Exceptional. About $65.

Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2009, Sonoma Coast. 123 cases. Excellent. About $25.

Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris 2012, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley. 25 cases. Exceptional. About $25.

VML Blanc de Noirs 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.

Volta Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $60.

Wakefield St. Andrews Single Vineyard Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Clare Valley, Australia. 250 cases imported. Excellent. About $60.

Weltner Rödelseer Küchenmeister Trocken Sylvaner 2012, Franken, Germany. Excellent. About $27.

We conclude the Twelve Days of Christmas quietly, with three examples of New World champagne method sparkling wine, one from the North Fork of Long Island, the other pair from Napa Valley’s Carneros region. My aim in this series, now in the final entry of its eighth edition, is to present an eclectic roster of the world’s sparkling wines, as well as a selection of Champagnes from that hallowed region in France, during the Yuletide season when most of the sparkling wine and Champagne is consumed. Had I my druthers, I would drink these products every day, but the market, consumer sensibilities and my wallet dictate otherwise. I hope that My Readers enjoyed this latest foray into the range of the festive and obligatory beverage and will anticipate a similar exploration next December. These sparkling wines were samples for review.

I was happy to receive a sample of the Lieb Cellars Blanc de Blancs 2010, North Fork of Long Island, because I seldom — I mean never — get wines from New York state. This appealing sparkling wine is composed of 100 percent pinot blanc grapes. The color is mild gold, and the bubbles stream to the surface in a gentle but persistent fountain; apples and spiced pears, jasmine, ginger and quince are married with delicate shading to a soft effusion of limestone and flint minerality that lends support but not austerity. In essence, a very pretty and tasty sparkling wine. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was $35. Very good+. About $35.
The Frank Family Wines Blanc de Blancs 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, is a blend of 80 percent chardonnay and 20 percent pinot noir. The color is pale gold, and the tiny bubbles foam upward in a frothing swirl. This is a ravishingly elegant sparkling wine, all steel and limestone, orange blossom and lime peel, with back-notes of almond skin, grapefruit and (faintly) fresh biscuits with honey. Gradually, like a seeping tide, the mineral elements dominate, so the finish feels chiseled and faceted, distinguished and a little aloof. Make no mistake, though, this is an eminently compelling blanc de blancs, counting all the detail and dimension. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 381 cases. Winemaker was Todd Graff. Excellent. About $45.

The Frank Family Wines Brut Rosé 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, a blend of 79 percent pinot noir and 21 percent chardonnay, offers a pale onion skin hue, like rose-gold, and floods and torrents of exuberant bubbles; it’s sleek and steely and slightly floral, with hints of jasmine, dried strawberries and raspberries, cloves and pomegranate and a hint of tart cranberry that matches well with a stream of potent acidity. Heaps of limestone and flint minerality form a crystalline framework for terrific tension and energy in a sparkling wine of great appeal and tenacity. It’s also downright lovely. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 379 cases. Excellent. About $45.

So, My Readers, it’s Christmas Eve 2014, and tomorrow, not to belabor the obvious, is Christmas Day, the occasion on which I will launch the Eighth Edition of my series “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparking Wine.” I thought it would be informative, instructive and even wildly (or mildly) amusing to commemorate today the previous seven lists in the series (but not the actual reviews; you can find those through the handy and easy-to-use Search function). When I produced the first “Twelve Days,” during the 2007/2008 Yuletide season that runs from Christmas to Twelfth Night, I didn’t realize that it would turn into an annual event, but once I finished that initial effort, it seem logical and inevitable. While plenty of the usual suspects show up in the series, I tried to introduce My Readers to interesting Champagnes from small artisan houses as well as unusual sparkling wines from around the world. In 2008/2009, because of the burgeoning recession, I kept prices fairly low. In 2011/2012, every product was French because, well, it just worked out that way. Five years times 12 days would result in 60 wines, but I made it a practice to offer choices at different price points on New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night in addition to sometimes pairing or tripling products that matched well; the result is that this series, so far, presented reviews of 132 Champagnes and sparkling wines. We’ll work backward from the most recent edition to the first segment of the series.

Dec. 25, 2013, Christmas Day. Adriano Adami “Col Credas” Rive di Farra di Soligo Brut 2011, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore. Excellent. About $22.

Dec. 26. Champagne Veuve Fourny & Fils Grande Réserve Premier Cru Brut. Excellent. About $50.

Dec. 27. Juvé y Camps “Reserva de la Familia” Brut Nature Gran Reserve 2008, Cava, Spain. Excellent, About $15 to $19.

Dec. 28. Champagne Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2004. Excellent. About $80.

Dec. 29. Montenisa Franciacorta Brut. Excellent. About $35.

Dec. 30. Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $50 to $55.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Gran Sarao Cava Brut. Very Good. About $10 to $16.
Klipfel Brut Cremant d’Alsace, Very Good+. About $16.
Argyle Knudsen Vineyard Julia Lee’s Block Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Dundee Hills, Oregon. Excellent. About $50;
Domaine Chandon Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003, Napa County 52%, Sonoma County 48%. Exceptional. About $100.

Jan. 1, 2014, New Year’s Day. Laetitia Brut Rose 2009, Arroyo Grande Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent, about $28.

Jan. 2. Champagne André Beaufort Grand Cru Brut Nature 2005. Excellent. About $130 (a local purchase).

Jan. 3. Chandon 40th Anniversary Cuvée Rosé, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $40.

Jan. 4. Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007, Franciacorta, Italy. Excellent, about $32.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Adriano Adami Bosco di Gica Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore. Very Good+. About $18.
Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs, California. Excellent. About $22.
Champagne Delamotte Brut. Excellent. About $45 to $50.

Dec. 25, 2012, Christmas Day. Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut, Burgenland, Austria. Very Good+. About $19.

Dec. 26. Champagne Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $68.

(Dec. 27. Skipped. I have no idea why.)

Dec. 28. Champagne Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut. Excellent. About $45 to $55.

Dec. 29. Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.

Dec. 30. Mont-Ferrant CR20 Cava d’Aniversari per a Carme Ruscalleda 2006, Gran Reserva Extra Brut, Cava, Spain. Excellent. About $30.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Kenwood Yulupa Cuvée Brut, California. Very Good. About $9 to $12.
Gloria Ferrer Brut, Sonoma County. Very Good+. About $22.
Argyle Brut 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $27.
Champagne Philippe Fontaine Brut Tradition. Very Good+. About $28.
Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut. Exceptional. About $83.

Jan. 1, 2013, New Year’s Day. J Vintage Brut 2005, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $48.
J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $90.

Jan. 2. Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain. Excellent. About $52.

Jan. 3. Champagne Fleury Brut Millésimé 1996. Excellent. About $90 to $100.

Jan. 4. Domaine Chandon Yountville Vintage Brut 2007, Yountville, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $45.
Domaine Chandon Mount Veeder Vintage Brut 2006, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $45.

Jan 5, Twelfth Night. Domaine Mittnacht Fréres Crémant d’Alsace. Very Good+. About $19 to $24.
Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut Rosé, North Coast. Excellent. About $50.
Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $55 to $65.
Dec. 25, 2011. Christmas Day. Champalou Vouvray Brut. Excellent. About $19 to $26.

Dec. 26. Champagne Comte Audoin de Dampierre Brut Cuvée des Ambassadeurs. Excellent. About $36 to $50.

Dec. 27. Couly-Dutheil Brut de Franc, Loire Valley. Very Good+. About $21.

Dec. 28. Champagne Paul Bara Brut Réserve. Excellent. About $45 to $50.

Dec. 29. Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace. Excellent. About $26.

Dec. 30. Champagne Jean Vesselle Brut Réserve. Excellent. About $44.75

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Simonnet-Febvre Brut Blanc, Crémant de Bourgogne, Very Good+. About $15-$19.
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut, Excellent. About $45-$55.

Jan. 1, 2012, Domaine Achard-Vincent Clairette de Die Brut. Very Good. About $25.
André and Michel Quenard Savoie Brut, Very Good+. About $19-$25.

Jan. 2. Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec. Excellent. About $42.

Jan. 3. Champagne Michel Turgy Réserve Sélection Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $52.

Jan. 4. Cuvée Stéphi Ebullience, Cremant de Limoux, Very Good+. About $20.

Jan 5, Twelfth Night. J.J. Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne. Very Good+. About $23.
Champagne Taittinger Prelude Brut. Excellent. About $90.
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut. Excellent. About $140

Dec. 25, 2012, Christmas Day. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2007, North Coast. Excellent. About $36.

Dec. 26. Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace. Very Good+. About $16-$20.

Dec. 27. Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut. Excellent. About $65.

Dec. 28. Vigne Regali Cuvée Aurora Rosé, Alta Langa, Piedmont. Excellent. About $30.

Dec. 29. Iron Horse Brut Rosé 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.

Dec. 30. Jaillance Brut Rosé, Crémant de Bordeaux. Very Good. About $17.
Chateau de Lisennes Brut, Crémant de Bordeaux. Very Good+. About $17.
Favory Brut, Crémant de Bordeaux. Excellent. About $16.50.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava, Spain. Very Good. About $10-$11.
Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco, Veneto, Italy, Very Good+. About $17-$20.
J Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $35.
Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Vve Fourny et Fils Vertus Brut. Excellent. About $55.

Jan. 1, 2011. Elyssian Gran Cuvée Brut, Spain. Very Good+. About $18.

Jan. 2. Graham Beck Brut; Graham Beck Brut Rosé, South Africa. Very+ for each. About $15-$18.

Jan. 3. Champagne Heidsieck & Co. Monopole “Blue Top” Brut. Excellent. About $35-$40.

Jan. 4. Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé 2006. Excellent. About $36.
Domaine Carneros Blanc de Noirs Brut 2006. Excellent. Available only at the winery.
Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs Brut 2004. Exceptional. About $85.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Albinea Canali Ottocentonero, Lambrusco dell’Emilia. Very Good+. About $16.
Col Vetoraz Valdobbiadene Prosecco Brut. Very Good+. About $16.
Segura Viudas Brut Reserve Heredad Cava. Very Good+. About $15.
Paringa Sparkling Shiraz 2008, South Australia. Very Good+. About $10.
Lucien Albrecht Blanc de Blancs Brut, Cremant d’Alsace. Excellent. About $25.
Iron Horse Blanc de Blancs 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $40.

Dec. 25, 2009, Christmas Day. Dopff & Irion Crémant d’Alsace Brut. Very Good+. About $20.

Dec. 26. Champagne Guy Charlemagne Reserve Brut Blanc de Blancs. Excellent. About $65.

Dec. 27. Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $36.

Dec. 28. Hill of Content Sparkling Red. Very Good+. About $15

Dec. 29. Champagne Henriot Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $55-$65.

Dec. 30. Scharffenberger Brut, Mendocino County. Very Good+. About $18

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Louis Perdrier Brut, France. Good+. About $9.
Jean-Baptiste Adam Crémant d’Alsace Brut, Very Good+, about $20.
Champagne Lamiable Brut Grand Cru, Excellent, about $50-$60.

Jan. 1, 2010. Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes de Vrigny” Premier Cru Brut. Excellent. About $70.

Jan. 2. Bortolomiol Prior Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco, Veneto. Excellent. About $18.
Poema Cava Brut, Spain. Very Good+. About $13.
Finca La Linda Extra Brut, Argentina. Very Good+. about $15.

Jan. 3. Domaine du Closel Château des Vaults Brut Sauvage, Savennières, Loire Valley. Excellent. About $18.

Jan. 4. Champagne Haton & Fils Grand Reserve Brut, Excellent. About $55.
Haton et Fils Grand Reserve Blanc de Blancs Brut, Very Good+. About $55.
Haton & Fils “Cuvée René Haton” Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, Excellent. About $62.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. i Stefanini Spumante Brut, Very Good+. About $16.
Mumm Napa Cuvee M. Very Good+. About $20.
Bortolomiol Filanda Rosé Brut Riserva 2007, Veneto. Very Good+. About $22.
Champagne Guy Charlemagne Brut Extra. Excellent. About $62.

Dec. 25, 2008, Christmas Day. Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé. Very Good+. About $22.

Dec. 26. Mirabelle Brut, North Coast, California. Very Good+. About $22.

Dec. 27. Greg Norman Estates Australian Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir. Very Good+. About $18.

Dec. 28. Champagne A.R Lenoble Brut Nature. Excellent. About $35-$40.

Dec. 29. Patrick Bottex “La Cueille” Vin du Bugey-Cerdon. Very Good+. About $18-$24.

Dec. 30. J Cuvée 20 Brut, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $25-$28.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Domaine Laurier Brut, California, Very Good. About $12.
Rotari Rosé, Trento, Italy. Very Good+. About $14.
Champagne Taittinger Brut Millésimé 2002, Excellent. About $90.

Jan. 1, 2009. Champagne Roland Champion Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut. Exceptional. About $65.

Jan. 2. Dom Bertiol Proseccco Veneto. Very Good. About $16.

Jan. 3. Charles Duret Crémant de Bourgogne. Very Good+. About $20.

Jan. 4. Champagne G.H. Mumm’s Carte Classique. Excellent. About $35.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Marcato i Prandi Durello, Lessini, Veneto. Very Good. About $16.
Dec. 25, 2007. Champagne Pol Roger Reserve Brut. Excellent. About $60-$65.

Dec. 26. Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut L-P. Excellent. About $36-$45.

Dec. 27. Maschio dei Cavalieri Prosecco di Valdobbiabene Brut, Veneto. Very Good+. About $20.

Dec, 28. Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Brut Cuvée Sainte-Anne. Excellent. About $45.

Dec. 29. Champagne Bruno Paillard Rèserve Privée Blanc de Blancs. Excellent. About $60.

Dec, 30. Taltani Brut Taché, Australia, Very Good+. About $22.
Clover Hill Brut 2003, Tasmania. Excellent. About $32.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Gruet Brut, New Mexico, Very Good+. About $16.
Schramsberg J. Schram Brut 2000, North Coast. Excellent. About $90.
Champagne Veuve Clicquot Reserve Rosé, Excellent. About $70-$75.

Jan. 1, 2008. Champagne A. Margaine Premier Cru Brut, Excellent. About $45-$50.

Jan. 2. Champagne José Dhondt “Mes Vieilles Vignes” Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $70.

Jan. 3. Champagne Gosset Brut Excellence. Excellent. About $46.

Jan. 4. Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Ice Wine 2005, Niagara Peninsula, Canada. Excellent. About $85 for a half-bottle.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2004, North Coast. Excellent. About $35.
Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $45-$55.
Champagne Gosset Grande Reserve Brut. Excellent. About $63.
Champagne Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvée Rosé Brut. Excellent. About $75.
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut. Excellent. About $80.
Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Brut. Exceptional. About $110.

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

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.

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.
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.
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.

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.)

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
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.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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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