Napa Valley


A passel of sauvignon blanc wines today, most from California, but one from New York, a pair from Chile and one from New Zealand are included. With three exceptions, these are from vintage 2016. Prices range from about $14 to $50, and a number of real bargains can be found. As is typical with the Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew most technical, historical, geological/geographical and personnel data for the sake of quick and incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks and designed to pique your interest and stimulate the palate. Enjoy! And always consume in moderation.

These wines were samples for review.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amici Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 1,700 cases. Pale straw-gold hue; grapefruit and lime peel, fennel and pea-shoot, touch of pear; highlights of grass, hay and dried thyme; balances silky talc-like texture with bright crispness and liveliness; lilac and limestone, with a slightly bracing grapefruit finish. Lovely stuff. Excellent. About $25.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bridge Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, New York State. 12.9% alc. 1,100 cases. Second label of Lieb Cellars. Fresh as a daisy and clean as a whistle; lime peel, lilac, grapefruit and flint, and a touch of melon; a delicate sauvignon blanc of wisps and hints, with bright, lively acidity. Nothing profound, tasty for beach or patio parties. Drink up. Very Good. About $16. Also available in 3-liter boxes and 20-liter kegs, so party down.
Image from pullthatcork.com.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Concha y Toro Ribera del Rapel Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13% alc. Light straw-gold with a faint green cast; very bright, fresh and clean, with pert notes of lime zest and gooseberry, lemongrass and fennel, spearmint and jasmine; a fairly individual sauvignon blanc, lean, lithe and chiseled, with heaps of limestone and damp flint minerality, but also generous and expansive; the finish features more spice and dried herbal elements. Excellent. About $17, marking Good Value.
Excelsior Wine Company, Old Brookville, N.Y.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 14.5% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; a honed and faceted sauvignon blanc that gleams like crystal; dominated by sassy gooseberry, lime peel, grapefruit and fennel qualities, opening to notes of tangerine and intriguing hints of white pepper and paper whites; zesty acidity and a well-tuned limestone element give it class and vibrancy. Excellent. About $20.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 13.2% alc. Very pale straw color; lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit, etched with some astringent mountainside blossoms and herbs; like biting into a fresh Granny Smith apple but also meadowy and heathery; crisp as new currency, lively and electric; spare, lean and lithe, with a wafting of lilac and almond blossom and a finish layered with grapefruit pith, limestone and almond skin. Very impressive. Exceptional. About $32.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Yountville, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lime peel, lemongrass, gooseberry; pea-shoot, spiced pear, tarragon, grapefruit rind and pith, the latter especially from mid-palate back through a slightly bitter finish; texture poised excitingly between soft lushness and lithe crispness; bright acidity plows a furrow through burgeoning limestone minerality; entrancing body and presence; the considerable oak brought to the making of this wine is supple and subtle, a shaping but not dominating force. Consistently one of the best sauvignon blancs made in Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25, a True Bargain.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Illumination Sauvignon Blanc 2015, 58% Napa County, 42% Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. With 13% semillon grapes. From Huneeus Vintners. Pale gold in hue; clean, fresh, leafy and spicy, slightly honeyed, with a note of bee’s-wax; fig, roasted lemon and fennel, lemongrass, chalk and flint; quite crisp and lively, slightly raspy and bitter with grapefruit pith; very dry, scintillating acidity and limestone minerality. Excellent. About $50.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Kunde Family Winery Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma Valley. 13.8% alc. Pale straw-gold; spiced pear, lemongrass and lime peel; slightly herbal and grassy, with a lovely greenness, like celery and fennel; honeysuckle and jasmine with a note of damp hay; very crisp and vibrant, slightly earthy, with flint-like minerality and a touch of seashell salinity on the finish. Excellent. About $17, marking Great Value.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold with faint green highlights; a green and leafy sauvignon blanc, notable for its lemon balm and fig character, its pert notes of lime peel, lemongrass and grapefruit, with a background of fennel and licorice, limestone and preserved lemon; a pleasing talc-like texture riven by bristling, lip-smacking acidity. Excellent. About $20.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Sonoma County. 13.6% alc. With 4% semillon grapes. Very pale gold hue; lime and tangerine, fennel and lemon drop, with hints of lemon balm and jasmine, ginger and thyme; quite dry and tart, like a distillation of damp limestone and flint electrified by bright acidity. Very attractive. Very Good+. About $15.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. With 7% semillon. Medium straw-gold color; Granny Smith apples and Key limes, pink grapefruit and white pepper; broader dimension than its stablemate mentioned above but also more subdued and elegant; soft and more supple but still quite crisp and taut, with a dry powdery texture; heaps of limestone minerality from mid-palate back. Excellent. About $20.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2016, North Canterbury, New Zealand. 14.1% alc. Pale gold; lime zest and green bean, grapefruit and pea-shoot, gooseberry and roasted fennel, with penetrating notes of iodine and seashell; a pert, tart and sassy sauvignon blanc that tickles the palate with an herbal edge and bright acidity; a bracing, saline finish. Rich with nuance and not exaggerated. Excellent. About $16, a Great Bargain.
Imported by Mt Beautiful USA, Benecia, Calif. The label image is one vintage behind.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pedroncelli East Side Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw-gold; lime zest, peach and grapefruit, with a tropical note of guava; a bit green and leafy; hints of jasmine and lemongrass with a limestone background; snappy acidity, real pizzazz; quite dry but juicy and engaging, heaps of limestone and flint from mid-palate back through a finish that brings in fennel and lavender. Very Good+. About $17.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shooting Star Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Lake County. 13.5% alc. The second label of Steele Wines. Very very pale, almost colorless; lemongrass, lime peel, grapefruit; heather, thyme and flint; quite crisp and vibrant and offering surprising density and texture for the price. Quite enjoyable. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.
The bottle image is one vintage behind.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Terrunyo Los Boldos Vineyard Block 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13% alc. From Concha y Toro. Shimmering pale gold color; pure celery seed and celery leaf, pea-shoot, lime peel and grapefruit; caraway seed and fennel; crisp and lively, with a supple, lithe structure bolstered by vibrant limestone minerality. Real personality and character. Excellent. About $26.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Robert Mondavi Winery established a reputation for the sauvignon blanc grape soon after the charismatic and innovative Robert Mondavi broke away from his family and established his own winery in 1966. Long a neglected grape in California, used for blending generic proprietary white wines or badly made on its own, sauvignon blanc became in his hands a fresh, grassy, appealing wine that bore a made-up French name on the label, “Fumé Blanc,” a nod to the Pouilly-Fumé appellation in the eastern Loire Valley, where sauvignon blanc reigns supreme. The result was a marketing triumph. In fact, some wineries in California still maintain a theoretical distinction between sauvignon blanc wines, supposedly made in the fashion of white Bordeaux, and fumé blanc wines, fashioned in the Loire Valley manner, if such distinctions can practically be made.

Today I look at three fumé blanc wines from Robert Mondavi. While I give out two Excellent ratings here and one Very Good+, my caveat is that the winery seems to make a fetish of French oak barrels and of employing every possible winemaking technique to shape a sauvignon blanc in a particular image rather than — especially in the instances of the Oakville 2014 and Reserve 2014, made from the almost hallowed To Kalon Vineyard — allowing the character of the vineyard to achieve eloquent expression. One feels, again particularly for the Reserve ’14, that the wines were poked and prodded and minutely examined rather than being allowed a natural development. Still, two Excellent ratings out of three ain’t bad. I especially liked the basic Fumé Blanc 2015, which at about $20 rates as a distinct bargain.

Director of winemaking for Robert Mondavi is Genevieve Janssens.

These wines were samples for review.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The winery’s basic product in this iteration is the Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, a blend of 96 percent sauvignon blanc grapes and 4 percent semillon. The grapes derived from a Wappo Hill vineyard in Stags Leap District (70 percent); from Mondavi’s famed To Kalon Vineyard (13 percent), with the balance from Napa Carneros. Eighty-five percent of the juice was barrel-fermented — the rest in stainless steel — and then aged five months in French oak barrels on the lees, hand-stirred twice a month. This is a smoky sauvignon blanc, truly fume, that offers a very pale straw-gold color and entrancing aromas of roasted lemons and lemon balm, lime peel, pea shoot and lilac. The texture is silky, talc-like but balanced by bright acidity and the burgeoning edge of limestone minerality, all in support of pert and tart flavors of guava, greengage, lemon and heather, the latter for a subtly grassy touch; spicy oak stays at the filigreed periphery. 14.5 percent alcohol. One of my favorite sauvignon blanc wines of the year. Drink now through 2019 or 2020. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2014, Oakville District, contains 21 percent semillon grapes, a factor that lends the wine notes of honeydew melon and fig and a particular sunny-leafy aspect that I associate with the variety. Ninety-one percent of the wine fermented in French oak and then aged on the lees for eight months, undergoing regular bâtonnage (hand-stirring); only eight percent of the oak was new barrels. Grapes for this wine derived from the renowned To Kalon Vineyard that surrounds the winery in Oakville. The color is pale gold; besides the features I already mentioned, the wine teems with hints of lime peel and lemongrass, crushed gravel, verbena and fennel, hay and heather. Vivid acidity and scintillating limestone minerality provide the balance between fruit and oak, which indeed as the moments pass becomes a dominating aspect of the wine: dry, spicy and burnished, a bit more powerful than I would like. Still, this sense of tension and resolution in texture and structure gives the wine its exciting quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Strangely, or sadly, my least favorite of this trio of sauvignon blancs is the Robert Mondavi To Kalon Reserve Fumé Blanc 2014, Napa Valley. The amount of new oak increased to 42 percent, the aging to nine months, from the previous example; a small difference one might think, but enough to make this wine feel burdened by its wood regimen rather than enhanced, at least from mid-palate back through the finish. There’s a bare two percent semillon. The grapes came from the To Kalon Vineyard, half from Robert’s Block, first planted in 1960. A small portion of the fruit was fermented in cement egg-shaped containers and was added to the final blend. Of course the wine was barrel-fermented and hand-stirred in barrel. The color is very pale straw-gold; aromas of lime peel and celery leaf, lemongrass and preserved lemon are woven with notes of spiced pear, tangerine and just a hint of fig, all abetted by a snap of gunflint and graphite. The wine offers a texture almost dense in its fluid materiality, though it’s lightened and heightened by vibrant acidity and a sense of lithe energy. That oak, though, develops from a subtle haze to a formidably drying factor in the mouth, powering over all other aspects to become the wine’s raison d’etre. Through all the technique exercised in the winery, does the character of the vineyard shine through? It just feels all too handled. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $52.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

We recognize that the kings of Napa Valley are cabernet sauvignon and merlot, while the queens are chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, but the storied region is home to a spectrum of interesting and intriguing grapes, especially in the white category. Think, for example, of the rieslings produced by Smith-Madrone, Trefethen and Stony Hill. Perhaps an improbable grape for the region is the Rhone variety grenache blanc, yet here is our Wine of the Day, the Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc 2016, Napa Valley, made all in stainless steel from grapes grown on the Somerston Estate at an elevation of 1,250 feet in the Vaca Range that defines the area’s eastern boundary. This is one of the palest wines I have encountered, its hue as ineffable and pure as water; distinct aromas of lemon balm, peach and spiced pear are woven with notes of straw and heather, while after a few minutes in the glass hints of dried honey, jasmine and bees’-wax emerge. The wine is clean, precise and dry on the palate, crisp and vibrant yet offering lovely balance between litheness and a soft, almost talc-like texture; it’s the sort of contrast that makes a wine exciting to drink. Flavors of roasted lemon, peach and melon are inextricably melded with bright acidity and a burgeoning element of limestone minerality; the finish is bracing in its marsh grass-sea breeze austerity and seashell salinity. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19 with seafood risottos, seared salmon or swordfish or as a scintillating aperitif. Production was 1,271 cases. Winemaker was Craig Becker. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

Not that I would expect any of My Readers to purchase these 12 wines collectively, even if they could be assembled, but in these models we see some of the best of what Napa Valley can be. These cabernet-based wines share a sense of vigor and rigor, of abundance and luxury married to earthy, brooding qualities that never descend to truculence. Some of the high quality of this group derives from the years, 2013 and 2014 being two and three of a trio of fine vintages. Equally important is the treatment of the grapes and the wines in the winery; it feels almost miraculous that whatever the widely diverse nature of the oak regimens practiced and new oak barrels applied, none of these feel unduly influenced by wood. It’s true that I tend to approve of the more sinewy, reticent style of cabernet sauvignon (see Stony Hill, below), but I try to keep to keep my receptors open even for the more florid, succulent models.

These wines were samples for review.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Amici Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, is composed of 80 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent cabernet franc, 4 percent petit verdot and 2 percent each merlot and malbec, thereby touching all of what used be be called the five classic Bordeaux red grapes, though in truth there’s very little malbec in Bordeaux nowadays — it emigrated to South America — and not a lot of petit verdot. The wine aged 22 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels; the grapes derived 60 percent from vineyards on the valley floor, 40 percent from mountain vineyards. The color is dense ruby-magenta with a mulberry rim; the glass teems with notes of walnut shell, briers and brambles, graphite and loam, cedar, tobacco and dried rosemary, tending, after a few minutes in the glass, to exotic hints of espresso and bittersweet chocolate, cloves and sandalwood, and finally admitting a slightly meaty and fleshy element of intense and concentrated black currants, cherries and plums. Yes, there’s a lot going on here, but all these aspects are balanced with pinpoint precision and integration. If satin could be woven from iron filings, well, there’s a metaphor for this wine’s dense, mineral-inflected structure, yet it presents a real mouthful of juicy, spicy black fruit and berries propelled by vibrant acidity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Calistoga, is a blend of 86 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent merlot and a 1 percent smidgen of cabernet franc; the wine aged 16 months in French and Eastern European oak — usually being Slovenian or Hungarian — 27 percent new barrels, a completely rational oak regimen. The color is a typical dark ruby shading to a purple edge; classic notes of cedar and tobacco, dried thyme and rosemary are woven with ripe and spicy black currants, cherries and plums (with a surprising blueberry undertone) and hints of mocha and oolong tea, loam, walnut shell and graphite. This complex layering continues on the palate, where you feel the sway of the earth and the power of surging acid that lend the wine grounding and energy; flavors of ripe and spicy black and blue fruit are bolstered by forceful dusty, graphite-inflected tannins and a background of subtle, supple oak. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2024 to ’30. Excellent. About $58.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

If ever a wine qualified as a theoretical “First Growth” of Napa Valley cabernet-based wines, the Chateau Montelena “The Montelena Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon would be one of them. For 2013, the fine-tuned blend of the winery’s top cabernet is 97 percent cabernet sauvignon, with 1.5 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot; the wine aged two years in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color, if you can call it that, is opaque purple-black with a vivid magenta rim; the wine is, as you might expect, a cauldron of graphite, iodine and iron that seethes with loam, briers and brambles, with spiced, macerated and roasted black currants and plums. These elements segue seamlessly onto the palate, where they feel wrapped around an intense core of crushed lavender and violets, licorice and bittersweet chocolate, with a helping of more graphite. Dusty, velvety tannins reach far into the depths, where they meet bastions of supple, subtle oak and streams of vibrant acidity; the wine tends toward Olympian austerity through the formidable finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Matt Crafton. A wine of this character and costing this much entails a sense of responsibility on its owner, so don’t treat this one frivolously; cellar until 2019 to ’21 and consume through 2033 to ’35. Exceptional. About $160 (a bottle).
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, from Huneeus Wines, draws cabernet grapes mainly from the Rutherford and Coombsville AVAs, with smaller portions from Yountville, Mount Veeder and Atlas Peak, making this wine a representative of a general Napa Valley notion. It aged 19 months in French oak barrels. The color is opaque ruby-purple shading to a glowing magenta rim; the aromas radiate sweet Asian spices, graphite and iodine, infusing fruit that feels like a macedoine of black currants, cherries and plums infused by lavender and violets, rosemary and cedar and grilled bread. The wine is heady and voluminous, offering perfect weight, heft and balance; it flows across the palate in a resonant tide of lip-smacking acid and tannin, flint and granitic minerality; it’s very dry, and you feel the burgeoning elements of walnut shell and forest floor in the depth, while on the surface, notes of lilac and loam appear. 14.8 percent alcohol. Drinkable now, with a steak, or try from 2019 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $55.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Flora Springs Trilogy Red Wine 2014, Napa Valley, is a blend of 86 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent malbec and 6 percent petit verdot; the wine aged 22 months in 85 percent French oak, 15 percent American oak. The color is dense dark ruby; the nose is very ripe, spicy and intense, with black currant and cherry scents deeply imbued by a whole, old wooden box of dried spices and grilled herbs and penetrating notes of iodine and iron. The wine is quite dry, and the entire enterprise leans to, even rushes toward, austerity from mid-palate back. No problem with that, of course, just give it time, but Trilogy 2014 at this point feels like a four-square house from the 1910s in a good neighborhood, solidly-built on a firm foundation but pretty much unexciting. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2029 to ’32. Very Good+, with Excellent potential. About $80.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent merlot, 4.5 percent petit verdot and 2.5 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 21 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels. This feels like totally classic Napa Valley cabernet, from its intense, glowing dark ruby shade; to its notes of cassis and spiced and macerated plums permeated by briers, brambles and forest floor over a deep layer of loam, graphite and granitic minerality; to its tight core of lilac and lavender, bittersweet chocolate and ancho chili. It’s a very dry wine, yet delivering luscious black and blue fruit and berry flavors girt by a framework of dusty, earthy tannins and bright acidity; the finish is long, a little untamed, both rigorous and luxuriant. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 or ’32. Excellent. About $72.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Robert Mondavi Maestro 2014, Napa Valley, is an operatic wine that extends its range from bass to baritone through tenor and even allows some alto notes with scarcely a pause for breath; a great deal of crescendo, not much diminuendo. This is the second vintage; I did not try the 2013. The wine is a blend of 73 percent cabernet sauvignon, 23 percent cabernet franc and 2 percent each merlot and petit verdot, aged 21 months in French oak, 28 percent new barrels. The grapes derived from Mondavi’s estate vineyards, Wappo Hill in Stags Leap District and To Kalon in Oakville. The fathomless hue is purple black with a bright magenta rim; the bouquet offers an abundance of rich, spicy black and blue fruit and berries permeated by iodine and graphite, violets, lavender and bittersweet chocolate; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of smoke, roasted fennel and ancho chili, briers, brambles and walnut shell. This is a juicy, sizable, dense, sleek and suave red wine, framed by dry but velvety tannins, subtly spicy oak and a rising tide of loam and gravel minerality that tends toward austerity in the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Best from 2018 or ’19 through 2025 to ’29. Excellent. About $50.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The 100 percent varietal Stewart Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, aged 22 months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels. The color is intense ruby-purple with a delicate, transparent magenta rim; boy, this delivers a real snootful and mouthful of iodine, graphite and iron, barely tempered by resonant and pretty damned luscious flavors of black currants, cherries and mulberries. For all that, though, plush and dusty tannins coat the mouth, and while the wine is succulent without being gooshy, it offers real rigor in its broad effects and true character in its depths, both powerful and chaste. 14.5 percent alcohol. Do not touch until 2019 or ’20, and allow it to develop through 2028 to ’30. On the other hand, decant it tonight and give it plenty of air and a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Production was 1,436 cases. Excellent potential. About $75.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The 100 percent varietal Stewart Cellars Beckstoffer Las Piedes Vineyard “Nomad” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, aged 22 months in French oak, 85 percent new barrels. The abyss in your glass is inky purple-black that allows a glowing, nuclear violet rim; the extraordinary, provocative, intensely perfumed bouquet wreathes strands of walnut shell, iodine, crushed blueberries, currants and violets with smoke from the smoldering spice box and hints of macerated and slightly roasted black and blue fruit, fruitcake and loam. As if that panoply were not enough, the wine is as dense as a velvet blanket, framed by mineral-drenched tannins and creamy oak (that wisely stays in the background), and enlivened by resonant acidity that seems to pluck all the bass and baritone strings of dark, spicy fruit and healthy vigor; the finish is very dry, sleek, chiseled and rigorous. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Blair Guthrie. Production was 180 cases. Your children may be enjoying this wine, fully developed or in gentle decline, between 2035 and 2040. A stunning achievement. Exceptional. About $175 (a bottle).
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The grapes for the Stony Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Spring Mountain District, grew in vineyards that average 1,550 feet elevation, and indeed there’s something of mountain rootiness and stoniness about the wine, which aged 18 months in French oak, only 20 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby fading to a garnet rim; aromas of black currants and cherries are permeated by graphite and wood-smoke, with unfurling hints of cedar and tobacco, dried thyme and rosemary (with the latter’s slightly astringent resiny quality), briers and brambles; a few moments in the glass bring out touches of blueberry. It’s a wine that feels warm in its spicy nature of fruitcake and slightly roasted berries, yet also cool in its bright acidity and scintillating granitic mineral character. Tannins like an antique velvet gown are dense, dusty and chewy and extend their reach through a long graphite- and flint-laden finish. Lovely balance and integration in a young but perfectly drinkable cabernet, though you could defer the pleasure from 2025 to 2028. 14 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Mike Chelini. Excellent. About $70.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Yount Ridge Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, contains 97 percent cabernet sauvignon, with mere nods toward 2.5 percent malbec and .5 percent merlot, grown in a certified organic vineyard in the Oakville District AVA. Winemaker is Cecilia Welch. The color is very dark, almost impenetrable ruby; it’s a dense, supple and sinewy cabernet, packed with dusty graphite, iodine and iron; a new minutes in the glass expose notes of lavender, ancho chile, cassis, cedar and rosemary; a very dry cabernet that delivers a huge presence and weight on the palate, this has deep roots in the earth, as well as swingeing acidity and a finish that feels chiseled from granite and flint. This needs some time to become more well-knit, say 2018 through 2025 to ’28. Production was 500 cases. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $96.

Don’t confuse Yount Ridge Cellars with Young Ridge Winery, also in Napa Valley.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The percentages for the Yount Ridge Cellars Proprietary Red Blend 2014, Napa Valley, are 66 percent cabernet sauvignon, 24 percent merlot and 10 percent malbec. An opaque ruby-purple hue shades to a vivid purple-magenta rim; the wine is quite intense and concentrated, unfurling multiple layers with some airing: cassis and black cherry, lavender and licorice, violets and plums; notes of cedar, rosemary and black olive. It’s a dense and chewy wine that offers significant weight and heft, feeling sifted with dust and graphite and slightly exotic elements of sandalwood and incense. This is a lovely and expressive red wine but with an earthy background, none of which prevents it from being warm, spicy and appealing; the finish brings in touches of leather, briers and brambles and granitic tannins. A surprisingly drinkable yet seemingly ageless Napa Valley red that offers both pleasure and abundant character. Production was 500 cases. Now through 2025 to ’30; it’s not really ageless, of course. Excellent. About $98.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What more is there to say after “delightful and charming”? These are wines designed to provide your weekend — or the whole week, for that matter — with pleasure, deliciousness and elegance. We range widely in this post: Greece, Germany, Oregon, California, Long Island, Mendoza and Chablis. All single-variety wines, their grapes include assyrtiko, indigenous to the island of Santinori; pinot gris, not that common in the Rhineland; riesling and sauvignon blanc; gruner veltliner and pinot blanc; semillon and chardonnay. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I largely eschew technical, historical and geographical data for the sake of quick, incisive reviews meant to pique your interest and whet your palate. With one exception, the wines were samples for review. Enjoy! (In moderation, of course.)
_______________________________________________________________________________________________
argyros
Estate Argyros Assyrtiko 2015, Santinori, Greece. 14% alc. This one will make you wish you were sitting in a little cafe looking out at the wine-dark Aegean Sea. It sees 20 percent French oak and was made from 150-year-old ungrafted vines. Very pale straw hue; dusty, dry marsh and seashore grasses and herbs; roasted lemon and faint spiced peach; quite ethereal and summery but displaying bracing acidity, notes of limestone-seashell minerality and an aura of yellow meadow flowers. Very Good+. About $25.
Athenee Importers and Distributors, Hempstead, N.Y.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________
binz
Weingut Binz Nackenheimer Pinot Gris Kabinett 2015, Rheinhessen, Germany. 12% alc. Bright straw-gold color; jasmine and camellia, preserved lemon and lemon balm, lime peel and pear skin; a hint of mango-like tropical character; crisp and tart, taut with vibrant acidity, very dry yet ripe and juicy on the palate; long, lean, lithe finish. Truly delightful and lots of personality. Excellent. About $14, marking Great Value.
Winesellers Ltd, Niles, Illinois.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
brooks riesling
Brooks Riesling 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold; a direct hit of petrol and rubber eraser, followed by notes of heather and meadow, peach and lychee, with burgeoning hints of jasmine and quince and, after a few moments, ginger beer; limestone minerality offers a tremendous presence for a sense of dimension, without diminishing such fine details as bay leaf and nuances of mango and guava; the whole enterprise feels etched with bright, dry acidity. Just great. Excellent. About $20, representing Wonderful Value.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2016SauvBlanc
Freemark Abbey Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa Valley. 13.4% alc. Very pale straw-gold color; notes of lime peel, grapefruit, lemongrass and spiced pear, highlighted by hints of pea-shoots, hay and heather and undertones of sunny, leafy figs; really lively, vibrant, super drinkable, yet spare, dry, lithe, nothing flamboyant or over-done; a finish chiseled from limestone and flint but wreathed in lilac. Excellent. About $24.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Illahe Estate Gruner Veltliner 2016, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. 650 cases. Very pale straw-gold; classic ILLAHEHEADER_famowned notes of hay, lilac and pine, with roasted lemons and yellow plums, a hint of lime peel and peach; very crisp, lively and engaging, with clean acidity and crystalline minerality cutting through a juicy, talc-like texture; terrific personality and appeal. Excellent. About $17.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2013ReservePinotBlanc300x300 (1)
Lieb Cellars Reserve Pinot Blanc 2015, North Fork of Long Island. 11.9% alc. And this one will make you wish you were sitting on a terrace in the Hamptons, gazing out at the cerulean Atlantic. Very very pale, almost invisible in the glass; notably clean, fresh and spare, quite crisp and vibrant, with delicate strains of peach and spiced pear, rose petals and candied lime peel and a tremendous volume of limestone minerality; slightly herbal and resinous finish. Lovely character. Excellent. About $22.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________
Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Medium green-gold hue; sunny, leafy figs Santos_SM_NV_labeland guava, apple skin and lightly baked pear; a haze of smoke and jasmine; quite clean, spare and elegant, with a beguiling texture that balances moderate lushness of fruit with zinging acidity and flint-graphite minerality, though that aspect emerges on the finish. Wholly delightful and pleasingly complex for the price. Excellent. About $16, marking Good Value.
Global Vineyards, Berkeley, Calif.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________
chablis
Christian Simon Petit Chablis 2014, Chablis, France. 12% alc. Drinking beautifully at about two and a half years old. Pale straw-gold; shimmers with steel and limestone and a snap of gunflint, lustrous with lightly spiced lemon and apple; a texture both dense and powdery, lithe and supple; warms to subtle floral notes; lovely shape and resonance. Excellent. About $22, a local purchase.
Matinicus Wines, Beverley Hills, Fla.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

This survey of 12 rosé wines began as a Weekend Wine Notes post, but here it is, Wednesday, hardy the weekend at all, so I’m keeping the usual Weekend Wine Notes format but dropping that designation. We touch many styles of rosé wine amid this roster as well as many far-flung geographical regions. The grapes involved are also of broad variety, including merlot, pinot noir, tempranillo, grenache, syrah and even cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. While a few of these rosés could tolerate aging beyond this calendar year, all are really intended for immediate appeal and consumption, whether your choice of venue is the porch, the patio, by poolside or on a picnic or just standing around the kitchen while someone prepares a light Spring or Summer meal. Prices range from about $10 to $28, so nothing outlandlish. The point is to enjoy, while consuming in moderation, of course. These wines were samples for review.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ang_rose_2016_web
Angeline Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, California. 12.5% alc. A lovely pink-melon-coral hue; notes of slightly candied strawberry and raspberry with a hint of pomegranate; a kind of chalk-warm, dusty roof-tiles minerality; just a touch of dried herbs. Simple, direct and tasty; a crowd-pleaser for sure. Very Good. About $13.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Les+vignes+de+Bila-Haut+Rosé+2015+HB+WINE
Domaine Bila-Haut Les Vignes Rosé 2016, Pays d’Oc. 13% alc. 78% grenache, 14% cinsault, 8% syrah. Lovely pale pink hue with a slight coral cast; very delicate notes of strawberry and blood orange, cloves and seashell; undertones of red currants, meadow flowers and heather, buoyed on a lithe crisp texture that’s silky smooth and a chiseled foundation of chalk and flint; the finish brings in a touch of peach. One could happily drink this throughout the Summer. Excellent. About $15, marking Great Value.
Sera Wine Imports, New York.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
bridge-lane-rose-670x1876
Bridge Lane Rosé 2016, New York State. A label from Long Island’s Lieb Cellars. 11.9% alc. 49% cabernet franc, 29% merlot, 16% malbec, 4% pinot noir, 2% petit verdot. Very pale onion skin hue; quite dry and spare, with nuances of strawberry and melon, peach and pink grapefruit; crisp acidity keeps it lively and appealing, over an undercurrent of clean limestone minerality. Very Good. About $18. Also available in 3-liter boxes and 20-liter kegs, so party on, rascals.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
campuget
Chateau de Campuget Tradition Rosé 2016, Costières de Nîmes. 13% alc. 70% syrah, 30% grenache. Very pale copper-onion skin hue; delicately touched with red currants and raspberries, a hint of orange zest and rose petals; quite dry but pleasingly ripe, slightly stony, like warm roof tiles, brisk acidity for crispness and animation, grapefruit and limestone finish. Very Good+. A Steal at about $10.
Imported by Dreyfus & Ashby, New York.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
grgich rose
Grgich Hills Estate Rosé 2016, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. The first rosé from this venerable winery. 45% merlot, 31% cabernet sauvignon, 9% cabernet franc, 6% petit verdot, to which Bordeaux grape varieties are blended 8% zinfandel and 1% gewurztraminer. A riveting deep salmon-magenta hue; strawberry, tomato skin, rose petals and raspberry leaf; spicy and savory, with lip-smacking crystalline acidity and an intriguing warm brick-damp dust sense of minerality; blood orange, Earl Gray tea and heather dominate from mid-palate through the finish. A terrific and highly individual initial effort. Excellent. About $25.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
illahe rose
Illahe Vineyards Tempranillo Rosé 2016, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12% alc. 500 cases. Very very pale onion skin hue; very clean and dry, crisp and spare; delicate, indeed, ephemeral notes of strawberry and raspberry, something citrus, like orange rind and lime peel; notes of pomegranate and rhubarb; quite sleek and subtle, propelled by crisp acidity and a chiseled limestone-flint edge. Very Good+. About $17.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
P0004970_Maculan_Costadolio_Rosato
Maculan Costadolio 2016, Breganza Rosato. 12.5% alc. 100% merlot. Production was 1,000 cases. Pale coral-onion skin hue; very spare and delicate, animated by spanking-clean acidity; hints of dried red raspberries and currants, with a note of melon and dried herbs; a little brushy and heather-ish; crisp limestone and flint minerality, slightly saline finish. Super attractive without being pushy. Very Good+. About $15.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection for Winebow Inc., New York
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
mr_16_rrv_rose_frontlabel
Martin Ray Winery Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley. 13.2% alc. Very pale copper-salmon color; strawberry, raspberry and orange rind; a brushing of dried thyme, a light touch of dust and graphite; ripe and tasty but spare and reticent; attractive lithe supple texture. Very Good+. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Stewart Cellars Rosé 2016, Sonoma Mountain. 13.5% alc. 100% pinot noir. Very pale watermelon pink; really delicate and ethereal notes of Stewart_Logo (1)raspberry, rose petal, pink grapefruit and blood orange; undertones of watermelon, cloves and Earl Gray tea; quite dry, spare yet, paradoxically and delightfully, lush on the palate, animated by crisp acidity and dusty seashell minerality; elegant, charming, beautifully structured. A superior rosé. Excellent. About $28.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Summer-in-Bottle-Rose-2016_9094
Wölffer Estate Summer in a Bottle Rosé Table Wine 2016, Long Island, N.Y. 12.2% alc. A unique blend of 54% merlot, 24% chardonnay, 11% cabernet franc, 6% gewürztraminer, 4% riesling and 1% vignoles. Onion skin hue with a light copper tinge; sprightly, spicy and slightly peppery, with ineffable layers of smoke, melon, raspberry and grapefruit; super fresh and refreshing, with heft and body that flow blithely on the palate. Delicious. Excellent. About $24.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
tongue dancer rose'
Tongue Dancer Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Putnam Vineyard, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Production was 90 cases. Bright copper-coral color; an unusually savory and fleshy rose, lithe and supple on the palate, with scents and flavors of strawberries and raspberries, melon and cloves, pomegranate and wild thyme; a filigreed background of limestone and flint minerality and bracing salinity. A superior rosé. Excellent. About $25.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
angel
Caves d’Esclans Whispering Angel 2016,
Côtes de Provence. 13% alc. Grenache, rolle (vermentino) and cinsault. Whispering, indeed, from its very pale onion skin color, to its delicate hints of orange rind, strawberries and cloves, to its dry, spare, elegant texture: a rose of nods and nuances, except that all aspects are bound and energized by taut, vivid acidity and a limestone structure of lacy transparency; flows across the palate like ethereal peach nectar. Excellent. About $22.
Imported by Shaw-Ross International, Miramar, Fla.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

No, film buffs, I am not referring to the great and controversial film by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, released in 1990, but to this pair of wines that feature tied-up and chained captives on their labels, reproductions of etchings by Goya, and are named The Prisoner and Blindfold. Not surprisingly, the wines, a red and a white, are bold, passionate and vivacious, qualities that work for the red but not, as you will see, for the white. As often happens in California, the tale of The Prisoner is complicated. Dave Phinney created this popular zinfandel blend shortly after founding Orin Swift Cellars in 1998, increasing sales to about 80,000 cases annually. He sold the brand to Huneeus Vintners early in 2010, who in turn sold The Prisoner Wine Company to Constellation Brands in April 2016 for about $285 million. Meanwhile, Phinney sold Orin Swift to E&J Gallo in June last year. There’s a lot of money flowing around the West Coast, I’d say. Winemaker for The Prisoner Wine Company is Chrissy Wittmann; consulting winemaker is Jen Beloz. These wines were samples for review.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
wine-hero-the-prisoner
First, the good, and My Readers will be surprised, because I don’t typically endorse a wine bearing alcohol degrees of 15 percent or higher. The Prisoner Red Wine 2015, Napa Valley, is a bold and exuberant blend that emphasizes zinfandel with the fairly unusual addition of cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah, syrah and charbono; the wine aged an unspecified amount of time in French and American oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is opaque black-purple with a magenta rim, dark as a dungeon, you might say; a big snootful of graphite, lavender and wood-smoke assails the nose, woven with very ripe and spicy black currants, blueberries and plums; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of cherries, iodine and fruitcake, with the latter’s component of figs, dried fruit, brandy-soaked raisins and baking spices. The wine displays undeniable grip and power, a tide of bright acidity, rollicking velvety dust-and-leather-girt tannins and a granitic edge, all the while allowing its elements of ripe black and blue fruit flavors plenty of play. 15.2 percent alcohol. Grilled ribs, perhaps, or pork chops rubbed with cumin and smoked paprika? Here’s your wine. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $47.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
wine-hero-blindfold
The Blindfold White Wine 2014, carrying a general “California” designation, is predominantly chardonnay, with some chenin blanc and a coalition of Rhone varieties — roussanne, viognier, grenache blanc and marsanne. The wine aged for 10 months, 85 percent in a combination of French and Hungarian oak, 25 percent new barrels, and the rest in stainless steel. Sounds like a recipe for an interesting, even intriguing white wine, n’est-ce pas? Unfortunately, this one embodies everything that I abhor about overblown, exaggerated white wine from the Golden State, exhibiting all the unbalanced qualities of strident spice, cloying floral nature, over-ripe tropical character, butterscotch, toffee and burnt toast that make such wines undrinkable. Someone must like them, but I am not a member of that cohort. Not recommended. About $32.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t hate the chardonnay grape, I just despise and am frequently saddened by what is done to the grape in wineries in California. And it’s true, as I have remarked many times on this blog, that I hate the over-oaked, brassy, blatantly ripe, stridently spicy, dessert-and-tropical-flavors-dominated chardonnays that I often receive as samples for review. I find such wines drastically unbalanced, harsh yet sweet, and undrinkable. Today, however, I post for your delectation and edification reviews of 12 chardonnay wines that I found to be splendid examples of the intensity and purity of form and flavor that come from thoughtful fidelity to the grape and, possibly, to a particular patch of land. I have always felt that richness, whether in food or wine, is not a virtue in itself, and you will notice that while most of these examples display sufficient or even marked richness of fruit, that aspect is balanced and supported by clean, bright acidity and minerality. I don’t mind wines that provoke and take risks, but ultimately the governing principle is equilibrium of all the qualities that compose the whole package. With one exception — an online purchase — these chardonnays were samples for review, mainly 2014s and ’15s and one 2013. Geographically they range along the vertical axis of winemaking in the Golden State, from Santa Barbara County in the south to Mendocino in the north. Technically, they illustrate an interesting gamut of possibilities, from the lightest touch of neutral oak and no malolactic to (surprisingly) full barrel-fermentation, 100 percent new French oak and malolactic. Too often, we encounter wines — not only chardonnay — fashioned along the lines of the winemaker or producer’s ego and prescribed expectations, but in the models I describe today, it feels as if purity, sensitivity and integrity won the race.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
BK chard
The Black Kite Cellars Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast, aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, the rest one-year-old. The color is pale gold; aromas of baked apples and spiced pears are woven with layers of grapefruit and pineapple that are ripe and spicy but controlled on the palate by scintillating acidity and limestone-flint minerality; some moments in the glass bring in hints of gardenia, smoke and jasmine. The wine is quite dry, energized by its crystalline clarity and intensity and a lithe supple texture. The finish is packed with elements of damp stones and bright yellow stone-fruit flavors. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Jeff Gaffner. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Production was 201 cases. Excellent. About $48.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Byron_Nielson_CH-1
The Nielson Vineyard, the first commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County, was planted in 1964. Ken Brown, who acquired the 432-acre vineyard in 1989 after founding Byron Wines, started replanting in 1991. Jackson Family Wines purchased the winery and vineyard in 2006. Winemaker is Jonathan Nagy, who puts the Byron Winery Nielson Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, through 100 percent barrel fermentation, aging in 54 percent new French oak and full malolactic. To my palate, that regimen could be a recipe for disaster, but Nagy manages to fashion a high-impact chardonnay that offers lovely purity and intensity, texture and structure, a rich, ripe wine that isn’t stridently spicy or cloying with oak. The color is very pale gold with a faint green tinge; notes of green tea and lemongrass infuse aromas and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit that open to suggestions of clover, peach and quince. The wine is deftly balanced and integrated, and what might feel florid and forward in its approach is leavened by bright acidity and a lingering coastal shelf of limestone, flint and sea-salt. Tremendous vitality, verve and presence. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 848 cases. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
415x1431-EVW_FDE_Char_V15_750
The Edna Valley Vineyard Winemakers Series “Fleur de Edna” Chardonnay 2014, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County, sees only neutral oak barrels. The wine is very clean and fresh, offering a pale gold hue and pert aromas and flavors of green apple and pear, pineapple and grapefruit, all lightly spiced and macerated; lip-smacking acidity sends a bright arrow through a lean and lithe structure honed by limestone and flint minerality. The wine gradually opens to notes of smoke, lilac and honeysuckle, peach and quince, gently expressed. While this chardonnay makes no great display of itself, it asserts real confidence and character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. (The 2015 is also available now.) Excellent. About $27.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
fel chard
Winemaker Ryan Hodgins gave the FEL Chardonnay 2015, Anderson Valley, nine months in neutral French oak barrels and limited malolactic fermentation. The result is a chardonnay of lovely delicacy and elegance that features a pale straw-gold hue and elusive aromas of honeysuckle and jasmine; a few moments in the glass add classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit and subtle hints of cloves and roasted lemon. The wine is sleek and supple on the palate, juicy with ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors buoyed by a burgeoning limestone quality and fresh, bracing salinity on the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $32.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
FF_Chard_2014_EDIT3
Winemaker Todd Graff put the Frank Family Wines Chardonnay 2014, Napa-Carneros, through nine months in French oak, 1/3 each new, one-year-old and two-year-old barrels. The grapes derived from the winery’s Lewis Vineyard, where 68 acres of chardonnay vines and 10 acres of pinot noir are subject to the maritime influence of San Francisco Bay’s cool temperatures, fog and wind. The color is pale gold; the wine feels as if you’re sipping crushed gravel minerality with a cool flint chaser, these elements at the service of spiced pear and roasted lemon with notes of jasmine, cloves, honeysuckle and heather. This vibrant chardonnay offers texture and juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors galore, edging a bit toward flamboyance but still nicely restrained by crisp acidity and its prominent mineral component; real personality and energy here, animating a finish packed with grapefruit and graphite. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Rob Davis has made every vintage of Jordan chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon since the winery was launched in 1976. That’s a record for 2015-Jordan-Russian-River-Valley-Chardonnay-Label-WebThumblongevity, dedication and knowledge almost unsurpassed in California. For the Jordan Vineyards Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley, the grapes fermented for 17 days in 47 percent stainless steel tanks and 53 percent new French oak barrels, and then aged six months — not a long passage — in 100 percent new French oak. Did I read that right? 100 percent? Mais oui, mon lecteurs. How did the wine turn out? Delicate, elegant, steely, filled with tantalizing nuance. The color is pale straw-gold; white floral aromas are ethereal, while notes of pineapple and grapefruit and a hint of peach are spare and subtle, opening gradually to touches of heather and seashell. The limestone and chalk minerality settles in for the long haul, lending this chardonnay an extraordinary sense of presence and gravity, buttressed by an arrow-bright line of chiseled acidity. You could say that this is a very Chablis-like chardonnay for Russian River Valley; I just say that it’s great. 13.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $32.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Sonoma Coast, is a bright, bold chardonnay whose tendency toward richness took my 2014-CHARD-FreestoneLABELtolerance right to the edge — but held back from the plunge by incisive acidity and a profound depth of limestone and chalk minerality. The oak regimen is interesting, the wine aging 13 months in French oak barrels and puncheons, 35 percent new, 65 percent two and three years old. A puncheon is typically about twice the size of a traditional barrique, or approximately 123 U.S. gallons to 59 U.S. gallons, though, truly, different interpretations as to the size of a puncheon exist from country to country and region to region. Anyway, this wine offers a mild gold hue and an initial impression of daunting mineral elements that make it quite spare and austere; as the moments pass, it opens and softens to the extent that notes of lime peel and roasted lemon emerge, with attendant touches of baked pineapple and grapefruit, mango and bananas Foster, all tempered by acid and a mineral nature that practically glitter in the glass. What’s most compelling here is the exquisite sense of tension and risky balance among all these qualities, making for a drink that’s both satisfying and exciting. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Mayacamas Vineyards The Terraces Special Bottling Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley, is simply one of the best chardonnay wines I have 2013 Mayacamas Terraces CH Front Labelever tasted. It was made from a high-altitude 60-year-old vineyard that will not be used again, so this one is a rare treat. The color is pale straw-gold; notes of ginger and quince, guava and yellow plum and peach are woven with a slightly piney-resinous element and a tincture of lilac; it feels like liquid quartz on the palate, animated by chiming acidity and an aura both propulsive and dignified; ripe and spicy stone-fruit flavors nestle in a texture that’s soft as talc yet lithe and a little muscular, all devolving to a finish loaded with tangerine, lemongrass and grapefruit pith. 14.25 percent alcohol. A chardonnay of stunning and crystalline balance, tone and presence. for drinking through 2021 to ’25. Exceptional. About $95, an online purchase and Worth a Search for devotees of varietal purity and intensity.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Though the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, saw 100 percent barrel-fermentation and aging in 100 smlabel_lr_chard_14percent new French oak barrels — that a lot of wood in my book — the wine feels as if it had been chiseled from the bedrock of the 42-year-old, dry-farmed vineyard whence it originated, while the oak influence feels almost subliminal in lending the wine shape, size and subtle spice. It’s a beautifully proportional chardonnay in every aspect — made from a 42-year-old dry-farmed vineyard — displaying a pale straw-gold hue and enticing aromas of cloves, ripe pineapple and grapefruit with a touch of mango and guava and back-notes of quince and crystallized ginger; these elements segue seamlessly to the palate, where the wine feels etched by bright acidity that cuts a swath and a deeply-hewn, scintillating limestone quality. 14.2 percent alcohol. One of my favorite chardonnays to taste in any and every year. Production was 850 cases. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $32.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
c_1409.tif
New oak was kept to a minimum in the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Karia” Chardonnay 2015, Napa Valley, which aged seven months in 30 percent new French barrels. The color is pale straw-gold; hints of peaches and spiced pear, quince and ginger waft from the glass in an effect that’s delicately floral and both faintly smoky and slightly candied, as in just a note of caramelized grapefruit lightly touched with mango, the whole impression being beguiling and intriguing. This chardonnay is quite dry but offers a vibrant, vital presence in a lithe supple texture that flows over a keen edge of limestone-flint minerality; citrus and stone-fruit flavors are ripe and moderately spicy, bold without being overdone. A really lovely chardonnay. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’21. Excellent. About $35.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The grapes for the Stony Hill Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, were grown on dry-farmed vines from 23 to 32 years old, at elevations ranging stony chardfrom 800 to 1,500 feet. Winemaker Mike Chelini uses only neutral oak for the winery’s chardonnays and inhibits malolactic. The result is a chardonnay whose innate richness and generous nature are buttressed by a powerful limestone and flint element and enlivened by riveting acidity. The color is medium straw-gold; aromas of slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit are shot through with notes of quince and cloves, acacia and heather, a hint of yellow plum and a faint whiff of lilac. This chardonnay offers true grace, elegance and spareness, with a lithe, lightly powdered texture brightened by vibrant crispness and scintillating minerality that feels filigreed and transparent through the finish. 13 percent alcohol. Drink this exquisite yet powerful wine through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $48.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2014-CHard
If you’re looking for a taut, vibrant chardonnay that admirably balances fruit and floral elements, acidity and mineral power, Trione Vineyards and Winery River Road Ranch Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, is your baby. Deriving from the winery’s 115-acre estate vineyard, the wine features a shimmering pale gold hue and lovely aromas of apple and pear, quince and ginger and slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, all heightened by notes of cloves and a hint of quinine; there’s a gradual blooming of honeysuckle and jasmine. This chardonnay is fleet and fluent in all aspects, quite dry but delivering a beguiling talc-like texture riven by clean acid and a burgeoning limestone quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $34.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

You won’t find a sauvignon blanc much fresher than the just-released Stewart Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa Valley. The small winery, Stewart_Logofounded in 2000, is a close-knit family-run company whose winemaker is son-in-law Blair Guthrie, working with ubiquitous consultant Paul Hobbs. For its first foray into the variety, the winery whole-cluster pressed the grapes and fermented half in barrel and half in stainless steel. The color is palest straw-gold; arresting aromas of lime peel and guava, heather and hay are pert and lively and infused with notes of greengage and fig, fennel and lilac. On the palate, this wine runs fleetly and lightly, with a texture that’s partly lush and talc-like and partly lean and lithe, buoyed by bright acidity for pinpoint balance. The effect is quite dry and sprightly but juicy with citrus and stone-fruit delicately spiced with cloves and lent complexity by a burgeoning grassy-lemongrass element. 13.5 percent alcohol, and a delicious reflection of thoughtful winemaking. Production was 771 cases. Now through the end of 2018. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

Little preamble is necessary for this post. As the title implies, I’m catching up with reviewing a clutch — make that a case of 12 — pinot noir wines that I tasted from six weeks to six months ago. These are primarily from 2014, with a few ’13s, and one ’15. This group does not make it down to Santa Barbara County. The reviews range from Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, up north to Mendocino’s Anderson Valley. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy — in moderation, please.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The winery website offers no information about this wine, which was a sample from the local distributor, so I’ll just say that the bernardus pnBernardus Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, is out to seduce you with no qualms whatsoever. Might as well give in. A deep vibrant ruby color shades to transparent garnet; beguiling aromas of red cherry and currant compote are wreathed with notes of rhubarb and sassafras, cloves and sandalwood that open to a flamboyantly floral element of lilac, violets and rose petals, all bolstered by undertones of loam, briers and brambles. As if that weren’t enough, the substantial texture flows super-satiny and supple over the tongue in a welter of bracing acidity and delicious, fully spiced and fleshy black and red berry flavors partaking of autumn leaves and forest floor; it’s definitely woodsy and elemental and frankly almost overwhelming. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not my favorite style of pinot noir but unabashedly attractive and saved from exaggeration by the elements of resonant acidity and nascent tannins. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $35.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
BLAIR-Delfina_Pinot_2013
Winemaker Jeffrey Blair put the Blair Estate Delfina’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Arroyo Seco, through 10 months aging in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby-garnet hue; arresting aromas of red and black cherries are infused with rhubarb and pomegranate, cloves and allspice, moss and loam. Clad in the bosky garb of roots, dry leaves and branches and bearing a rather meadowy floral character, this pinot noir features riveting acidity and flavors of macerated and slightly stewed red and black berries, nestled in a lithe, silky texture; it grows increasingly spicy through the finish, picking up a hint of tannin. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $45.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Blair-Reserve-Pinot-web (1)
The difference between this wine and the previous example lies in the fact that the grapes for the Blair Estate Delfina’s Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir 2013, Arroyo Seco, were harvested from vines specially selected for their superior quality and treated separately. The wine also spend 10 months in French oak but 100 percent new barrels. The color is what I deem the perfect pinot noir hue, a muted transparent ruby-garnet; aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly stewed red cherries and currants feel fleshy, a bit smoky and meaty, though displaying an innate delicacy and sense of poise; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and cranberry and deeper elements of loam, leaf-smoke and graphite. Despite the wood regimen, the wine, while offering silky, dusty heft, feels light on its feet, finishing with a hint of racy elegance. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 125 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $75.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
boenNobody ever lost money betting on the sweet-tooth of the American consumer, as Joe Wagner proves again with a new label from Copper Cane, the Böen Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley. A dark vibrant ruby hue fading to a transparent violet rim, the wine gushes with very ripe black currants, cherries and plums, sweet and succulent and drenched in licorice, lavender, mocha and enough blueberry and boysenberry for a Lodi zinfandel. The texture of dusty velvet wraps the palate in fleshy allure. A superficially gorgeous wine, though that’s the definition of gorgeous, n’est-ce pas? Not my style at all. Very Good. About $32.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, aged 10 months in French oak, 31 percent new barrels. The color is a NewProofSheetV3transfixing transparent medium ruby-magenta; spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants feel infused with rhubarb and cranberry, oolong tea and woodsmoke, talc and loam for an impression that’s irresistible. A beguiling lithe, supple texture flows engagingly across the palate, while both in nose and mouth the wine grows more lavish and multi-layered, taking on shades of pungent and flavorful darkness animated by bright acidity. A real beauty. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Greg Morthole. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
gary
The transparent medium ruby-magenta hue of the Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, draws you in, while the acute balance in the nose and on the palate remind you that the best wines offer an exquisite sense of tension and release. The wine aged eight months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels, which seems a perfect regimen to me. The bouquet presents a poised artifact that weave elements of loam and forest floor with allspice and cumin, macerated red and black cherries and currants, and notes of lavender, talc and graphite. In its lithe slithery texture, the wine is dense and almost chewy, though cut by a swath of fluent acidity; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of briery raspy raspberry, oolong tea and more underbrush. 14 percent alcohol. A lovely marriage of power and elegance for drinking through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $45.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Winemaker Ryan Hodgins fashioned a pinot noir of beautiful balance, tone and presence in the FEL Wines Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Pinot-Savoy-Anderson-ValleyAnderson Valley. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 53 percent new barrels, a process whose near miraculous result is an almost subliminal effect of spicy subtlety and litheness of texture. The color is dark ruby shading through gradations to a transparent magenta rim; scents and flavors of red and black cherries and plums are permeated by notes of rhubarb and pomegranate, sandalwood and cloves. Some minutes in the glass bring more elements of dried baking spices and flowers and macerated fruit; on the palate, the wine is lively yet dignified, confident and, in the finish, slightly austere. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 395 cases. Try from 2018 through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $70.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
head high pn
Winemaker Sam Spencer gave the Head High Wines Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, a thoughtful 10 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels, giving the wine shape, suppleness and sensitivity on the palate. The color shades from dark ruby to a delicate magenta rim; this is an intense, dense, earthy version of the pinot noir grape that features black cherries and currants with notes of cherry pits and stems, cloves, sassafras and cranberry, roots and branches, briers and brambles. You feel — or imagine — the vines themselves digging down to the water-table. The texture is super plush and satiny, a bit too plush for my taste, but the opulence is leavened by bright acidity and surprising depth of lightly dusted tannins. 14.2 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Morgan Winery 12 Clones Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, is named for the diversity of pinot noir clones planted in Morgan’s Morgan_Pinot_Noir_Twelve_Clones_2014_frontestate vineyards. While the grapes for this wine derive from a variety of vineyards in the appellation, 57 percent are from the winery’s signature Double L Vineyard. The wine aged eight months in French oak, 37 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby with a slight lightening at the rim; notes of ripe black and red cherries offer traces of black tea and damp roots over dark, flinty, briery elements that feel robust and feral. The wine slowly opens to hints of lavender and cloves, sassafras and pomegranate, while it builds heft and presence on the palate. One senses deep foundations in the soils and bedrock of Santa Lucia Highlands. 13.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 through 2024 to ’26. Yes, I believe this could be a 12-year pinot noir. Excellent. About $34.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 36 percent new barrels. The color Morgan_Double_L_Pinot_Noir_2014_frontis dark ruby with a transparent violet rim; the first impression is of rose petals and violets, then intense and concentrated notes of black and red cherries and currants, infused with briers and loam. This is a deep, ebony-tinged exotic pinot noir that seethes with Asian spices and dried mountain herbs and finds expression in vibrant acidity and foresty, brambly tannins that feature a graphite edge. You feel the oak at the circumference of the palate, a slightly drying and dominating factor. 14.2 percent alcohol. Needs a year or two to find poise, then drink through 2022 to ’24. Production was 720 cases. Very Good+. About $60.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Tondre Grapefield — sounds like a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel — is my favorite vineyard from which Morgan makes pinot noir, and for 2014, I am Morgan_label_Tondre_2014_frontnot disappointed. The Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is medium to transparent ruby with a tinge of garnet; striking notes of sassafras, cloves and cumin with hints of leather and loam lead to aromas of slightly baked black and red cherries and plums, touched with fruitcake and tobacco leaf. The wine is extraordinarily satiny and supple on the palate, filling out and fleshing out from some initial spareness into something more esoteric and glamorous, though neither opulent nor flamboyant; some moments in the glass bring out elements of lavender, sandalwood and pomegranate, as well as a quality of oak-inflected austerity on the finish. Wonderful potential from 2018 or ’19 through 2024 to ’28, with truly impressive balance and tone, though production was a mere 45 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
kali hart
The Kali Hart designation indicates Talbott Vineyards’ entry-level line. The winery, which produces only chardonnay and pinot noir, primarily single-vineyard, was acquired by E&J Gallo in September 2015. Talbott Kali Hart Pinot Noir 2014, Monterey, displays a transparent ruby hue with a garnet tone; classic notes of cloves, sassafras and beetroot permeate elements of cherries, pomegranate and cranberry with a bit of cherry pit and forest floor. The wine is very sleek and satiny, spicy and savory, animated by vivid acidity and moderate tannins supported by briers, brambles and loam. 14.3 percent alcohol. Thoroughly tasty and enjoyable. Now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $26.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Next Page »