Napa Valley


Valentine’s, the most fraught day of the year, when everybody in America is going to be as romantic as hell or die trying, and what’s more loveromantic than that? In case you — meaning any person of whatever gender fluidity, age, religion, political stance, food preference or IQ — forgot to lay in a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine, here is a brief roster of examples, all Brut Rosés, that register at various levels of delectability on the palate and dent-free on the pocketbook; in other words, delicious and not too expensive. (I understand that “expensive” is a relative concept.) Though actual Champagne is not included here, that is, bubbly made exclusively in the Champagne region of France, these models are produced in the famed “Champagne method” of second fermentation in the bottle, the same bottle it will be sold in, after some length of time resting on the lees in said bottle before being finished with the cork and wire. The process is a tad more complicated, of course, but I’m into simplification today so I can get a bottle of sparkling wine into your hands before it’s too late. Two of these selections are from France — Loire Valley and Burgundy — and two from California — Russian River and Napa-Carneros. So, drink up, have fun, dance a step or two and give him or her or him/her a smooch for me.

Credit: Leslie Barron, Big Love, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 24 by 48 inches. Courtesy of L Ross Gallery, Memphis, Tennessee.
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De Chanceny Brut Rosé nv, Crémant de Loire, is a product of Alliance Loire, a cooperative founded in 2002 to take advantage of vineyard 17385--de-chanceny-cremant-de-loire-rose-brut-label-1426983098connections that range from Muscadet in the west to the appellations of Touraine in the center. This is 100 percent cabernet franc, aged on the lees at least 12 months. The color is an attractive pale copper-salmon hue, enlivened by a steady stream of tiny bubbles. Aromas of strawberry and raspberry are touched with the slight astringency of mulberry, fleshed out by orange zest and a hint of cloves. This Crémant de Loire is dry, crisp and lively, animated by pert acidity and a deft limestone edge. 12.5 percent alcohol. Truly charming. Very Good+. I paid $15 locally, but prices around the country vary from about $13 to $19; don’t pay that much, My Readers.

Signature Imports, Mansfield, Mass.
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Founded in 1831, Domaine Albert Bichot produces Burgundy wines that encompass the complete geographical and hierarchical aspects of the region. Today, however, we look not at any of the domaine’s Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines but at its quite satisfying non-vintage Albert Bichot Brut Rosé Crémant de Bourgogne, composed of chardonnay, pinot noir and gamay grapes. The color is pale copper-pink, the essential bubbles active and energetic. Notes of blood orange, cloves, tangerine and red cherry are given a serious touch by an element of limestone minerality. It’s quite dry but displays lovely bones and a deceptive quality of tensile strength. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.

European Wine Imports, Cleveland, Ohio. A sample for review.
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The J Vineyard Brut Rosé nv, Russian River Valley, is a blend of 66 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay and 1 percent pinot meunier; it aged two years en tirage, that is, on the lees in the bottle. This is all flushes, blushes and nuances, from its very pale copper-sunset hue, to its slightly fleshy, subtly ripe notes of orange zest, raspberry and lemon rind touched with almond skin, to its steely, chiseled structure. The bubbles, however, are nothing discrete, being a dynamic upward surge like a fountain. This sparkling wine is elegant and fine-boned, finishing with an intriguing hint of grapefruit bitterness. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.
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The Frank Family Vineyard Brut Rosé 2012, Napa Valley-Carneros, a blend of 76 percent pinot noir and 24 percent chardonnay, offers a pale copper hue flushed with rose-petal pink; the tiny bubbles teem like a glinting tempest in the glass. This is a focused and intense sparkling wine that displays burnished notes of blood orange and tangerine, red raspberries and currants wrapped in a package of lightly toasted brioche and limestone steeliness, managing to be both generous and austere. Lip-smacking acidity and effervescence and scintillating minerality keep it appealing and dynamic, while innate elegance makes it lithe and attractive. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. Drink through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $55.

A sample for review.
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So, here it is, My Readers, the annual “50 Great Wines” roster, presently for the past year, that is, 2016. Not the “Greatest” of all wines or the “Best” of all wines, but a selection of 50 products that struck me as embodying everything we want in a wine: freshness, balance, appeal; depth, personality and character; an adherence to the nature of the grapes and, where possible, the virtues of the vineyard and climate. These are wines that leave aside the ego of the winemaker and producer for an expression of — not to sound too idealistic — an ideal of what a wine should be. I won’t belabor the process by which I arrived at this list of 50 wines, except to say that every wine I rated “Exceptional” during 2016 is automatically included. Did I leave out wines that I truly admired? Indeed, I did, because this list focuses on wines that I truly loved. Enjoy!
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Acorn Heritage Vines Alegria Vineyard Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 78 percent zinfandel, 12 percent alicante bouschet, 8 percent petite sirah and 2 percent a combination of carignane, trousseau, sangiovese, petit bouschet, negrette, syrah, black muscat, cinsault and grenache. A real field blend. Production was 548 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Alfred Gratien Brut Rose nv, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $65.
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Arrow&Branch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $35.
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Black Kite Cellars Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Production was 212 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2012, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. Exceptional. About $50.

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R. Buoncristiani Vineyard Orentano Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 305 cases made. Excellent. About $40.

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Les Cadrans de Lassegue 2012, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux. Merlot and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $35.

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Champ de Rêves Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Exceptional. About $45.

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Chartogne-Taillet “Heurtebise” Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $65 to $80.

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Domaine Chignard “Beauvernay” 2014, Julienas, Beaujolais Cru. Excellent. About $22.

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Cornerstone Cellars Michael’s Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley. Production was under 250 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

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Erath Winery Prince Hill Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $50.

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Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills. Exceptional, About $45.

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Eve’s Cidery Essence Ice Cider, Finger Lakes, New York. 390 cases produced. Exceptional. About $28.

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Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2013, Lodi. 250 cases made. Excellent. About $28.

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Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

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Tenute Cisa Asinari Marchesi di Grésy Martinenga Camp Gros Riserva Barbaresco 2010, Piedmont, Italy. Exceptional. About $106.

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Inman Family OGV Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $73.

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Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $75.

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Luscher-Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 200 cases produced. Excellent. About $80.

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Lutum La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sta. Rita Hills. Production was 225 cases. Excellent. About $50.

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MacPhail Wightman House Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $55.

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Frederic Mallo Vielles Vignes Rosacker Riesling 2010, Alsace Grand Cru. Excellent. About $23.

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Merisi Wines Denner Vineyard Petite Sirah 2013, Lake County. 100 cases produced. About $35.

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Chateau Montelena Riesling 2015, Potter Valley. About $25.

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Chateau La Nerthe 2014, Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc. 40 percent each grenache blanc and roussanne, 10 percent each clairette and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $65.

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Patz & Hall Vineyard Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros-Napa Valley. Excellent. About $70.

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Pine Ridge Le Petit Clos Chardonnay 2013, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $75.

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Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve Brut Rose 2004, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $80-$100.

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Prieure de Montezargues 2014, Tavel Rose. 55 percent red and white grenache, 30 percent cinsault, 13 percent clairette, 2 percent melange of syrah, mourvedre, carignane and bourboulenc. Excellent. About $24.

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Red Newt Cellars Tango Oaks Vineyard Riesling 2013, Finger Lakes, New York. About $24.

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Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Josephshoff Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.

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Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley. 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent cabernet franc, 2 percent each malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Excellent. About $60.

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Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $24.

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Saxon Brown Durell Vineyard Hayfield Block Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. Fewer than 100 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

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Sedition Chenoweth Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 230 cases produced. Exceptional. About $75.

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The Seed Malbec 2014, Altamira District, Uco Valley, Argentina. 59 cases made. Excellent. About $60.

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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Production was 806 cases. Exceptional. About $32.

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Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $35.

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Stony Hill Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley. Production was 1,852 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 585 cases produced. Exceptional. About $65.

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Tongue Dancer Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. Production was 125 cases. Exceptional. About $45.

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Troon Vineyards Vermentino Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon. 80 percent vermentino, 20 percent sauvignon blanc. 176 cases produced. Excellent. About $24.

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Two Shepherds Catie’s Corner Viognier 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Production was 75 cases. Exceptional. About $26.

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Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc 2013, Russian River Valley. 12.9% alc. Roussanne 50%, marsanne 25%, viognier 13%, grenache blanc 6%, grenache gris 6%. Production was 100 cases. Exceptional. About $30.

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Two Shepherds Trimble Vineyard Carignan Rosé 2015, Mendocino County. Production was 50 cases. Exceptional. About $22.

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Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $55.

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Guillaume Sorbe “Les Poëte” 2014, Quincy, Loire Valley, France. Sauvignon blanc. Exceptional. About $30.

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WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 1,007 cases produced. Exceptional. About $50.
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Zena Crown Vineyard Conifer Pinot Noir 2013, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Production was 240 cases. Excellent. About $75.

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Frank Family Vineyards, owned by Rich Frank, former president of Disney Studios, and his wife Leslie, produces a wide range of still wines bub_res_champ— cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, zinfandel, chardonnay and such — which lean toward the side of power and dynamics, and a handful of sparkling wines, always among my favorites from California’s growing roster of wineries that make sparkling wines. FFV now releases its first reserve effort in sparkling wine, the Frank Family Lady Edythe Reserve Brut 2010, carrying a Carneros-Napa Valley designation. It’s a blend of 52 percent chardonnay and 48 percent pinot noir, aged in bottle on the yeast for almost five years before disgorgement. The color is a medium gold that shimmers with the tempestuous upward flow of tiny bubbles; aromas of toasted brioche, lightly buttered cinnamon toast, roasted lemon and spiced pear are enlivened by notes of quince, hazelnuts and almond skin and hints of toffee and limestone, this array all beautifully balanced and harmonious. While quite dry, Lady Edythe 2010 is zesty and energetic on the palate, matching, to a degree, the power evinced in FFV’s still wines, though feeling finely-etched and detailed with its undertow of chiseled flint and chalk, its sense of transparency and filigree. Still, the somewhat theatrical finish brings a bracing tide of marsh-grass and seashell salinity. 12 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Winemaker was Todd Graff. Excellent. About $110.

A sample for review.

I endured technical problems Sunday and Monday, so I was delayed in getting this edition of Weekend Wine Notes posted, which really should happen on Saturday, so I feel like a freaking failure all the way around. But everything is fine now! I bought a router and didn’t actually need it, so Best Buy better take it back, because it cost a lot! Anyway, moving along, following the last Wine of the Day, which was a sauvignon blanc, I thought it might be a good idea to visit more sauvignon blancs, so here are 14, most from California, but one from Italy and several from Chile. The vintage is predominantly 2015, and the majority of these wines ought to be consumed within the next six months or so or certainly by the end of 2017. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, I offer incisive and trenchant reviews based on the scribbles in my notebooks, avoiding mention of technical, historical and geographical elements for the sake of immediacy. Enjoy and consume with moderation. These wines were samples for review.
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Angeline Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Sonoma County. 13.8% alc. Pale gold with green highlights; lime peel, caraway, grapefruit, celery leaf; slightly tropical with guava and jasmine; fresh, clean, lively and delicately-wrought. A good bet for a well-made bargain sauvignon blanc. Very Good+. About $15.
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Armador Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13% alc. From Odfjell Vineyards, certified organic. Very pale gold; fennel and celery seed, lime peel and lemongrass; quite lively, even exuberant, feels filled with sunlight and fresh air; hints of leafy fig and dried thyme; lovely lithe limpid texture. Excellent. About $14, an Amazing Bargain.
Epic Wines and Spirits, Capitola, Calif.
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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Russian River Valley. 14.8% alc. The palest of very pale gold hues; roasted lemon, lime peel and lemongrass; leafy and herbal with a touch of fig; big hit of flint and damp seashell, bracing and saline, with swingeing acidity, a prickly and briery element and a chiseled, faceted finish. Always a favorite in our house. Excellent. About $25.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Dry Creek Valley. 14.5% alc. I’m going to mention the stainless steel and oak proportion here because it’s interesting: 92% stainless steel, 8% chestnut, acacia and French oak barrels; the details matter, n’est-ce pas? Very pale straw-gold; aromas of grass and hay, pea shoot and fennel, lime peel and grapefruit; very dry but a texture nicely balanced between lush and crisp; a few minutes in the glass bring in beguiling notes of fig and roasted lemon, gardenia and gunflint, spiced pear and heather; the finish is all limestone, flint and green tea. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.
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Flora Springs Soliloquy Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Pale straw-gold color; polished, honed and elegant; lime peel and tangerine, hints of celery leaf and lemongrass, a warm spicy bouquet; limestone and chalk, a soothing talc-like texture riven by bright acidity; the distraction if the oak that asserts itself from mid-palate back through the finish, muting the otherwise charming character. Very Good+. About $50.
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Galerie Naissance Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale, almost colorless; heady scents of lilac and gardenia, tangerine and almond skin, lime peel and lemongrass; though very dry the wine is lively and vibrant, offering a dense, talc-like powdery texture riven by keen acidity; heaps of chalk and limestone in the background, beautiful shape and elegance over a stony foundation. Both alluring and serious. Excellent. About $30.
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Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Sonoma County. 13.8% alc. Pale gold color; a verdant and meadowy sauvignon blanc, offering notes of kiwi and lime peel, celery seed and tangerine, opening to peach, lemongrass and spiced pear, all encompassed by a leafy, summery floral element; a lovely light, lithe texture jazzed by a Sancerre-like snap of gunflint and graphite; heaps of limestone in the finish are softened by a furze of dried herbs. Real class and style. Excellent. About $22.
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Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Sauvignon 2015, Collio, Italy. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw-yellow hue; fairly standard array of lime peel and lemongrass, celery seed and fennel, but presented with unusual verve and fervor, and with interesting hints of lychee and yellow plum; suave and silken texture buoyed by an increasingly element of limestone and flint. Very Good+. About $28.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Morgan Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; green bean and gooseberry, lime peel and grapefruit, unfurls green and leafy veils of pea shoot and preserved lemon, ginger and quince and an intriguing earthy component of wet leaves and moss; lively, even pert acidity, crystalline clarity and appeal, all founded on a burgeoning element of limestone and flint minerality. Feels essential and vital in the glass. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.
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Oak Farm Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Lodi. 13% alc. Very pale gold with a faint green cast; lime peel and peach, lemongrass with hints of dried grasses and herbs; quite dry, crisp and snappy; seashell-flint minerality with a hint of bracing salinity; vital, vibrant finish. Charming and eminently drinkable. 579 cases. Very Good+. About $20.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Dry Creek Valley. …% alc. Pale gold hue; warm sunny figs and lemongrass, pears and lime peel with back-notes of grapefruit and yellow fruit and flowers; polished, suave and supple texture, lively and alluring but not tart or pert; a scintillating dry limestone character with overall lovely balance and presence. Excellent. About $24.
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Ritual Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Palest of pale gold hues; another meadowy sauvignon blanc, with notes of lemongrass and broom, heather and hay under lime peel, pea-shoot, spiced pear and celery seed; very dry, multiple layers of limestone and flint etched by bright acidity; a finish that seethes with bracing salinity and grapefruit pith. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Huneeus Vintners, Rutherford, Calif.
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Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Northern Sonoma. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; bright, clean and fresh, taut and sinewy; lime peel, pink grapefruit, gooseberry and tangerine; slightly dense talc-like texture, soft and appealing but permeated by plangent and resonant limestone minerality; very dry; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of lilac, honeydew melon, almond blossom and chalk. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.
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Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; a leafy, meadowy sauvignon blanc manifesting notes of hay, heather and dried thyme underlying hints of gooseberry, lime peel and grapefruit, with yellow fruit and flowers; practically pulses with bright acidity and briary, briny elements; lovely texture, heft and presence, perfect poise and elegance, graceful yet dynamic; a dominant limestone and flint finish is garnished with roasted lemon and green tea. A wonderful achievement. Exceptional. About $35.
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Lordy, I haven’t posted a “Whither Napa Valley Cabernet” entry since June 30. That’s totally remiss for two reasons: First, I receive a ton of samples in that genre, and, second, California’s Napa Valley is one of the best places in the world for producing excellent cabernet sauvignon wines. Not that Napa Valley has a lock on delivering great cabernet-based wines in California; such an assessment would be unfair to Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, Sonoma Valley and Knights Valley, to Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County, and other pockets of congenial micro-climate here and there in the Golden State. Today’s post looks at nine examples of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet-based wines, mostly from 2013, with a few from 2012 and one from 2014. It’s a miscellaneous group falling under the general Napa Valley designation; two of these display more specific appellations, Oakville and Rutherford. Prices range from $45 to $90, an upper range that reflects not only supposed standards of quality but perceived reputation and the cost of doing business, as in the prices of grapes, cultivated acreage and new French oak barrels. The wines also reflect similarities and differences in philosophy and winemaking techniques. Oak regimens and blending percentages vary widely as does the scale of alcohol content. As with any consumer product, you pays yer money and you takes yer choice.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Acumen Wines Mountainside Red Wine 2013, Napa Valley, feels indeed as if it had been hewn from granite outcroppings, and in fact the grapes derive from organically farmed vineyards in Atlas Peak. The wine is a blend of 74 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent malbec and 12 percent merlot that aged 18 months in French oak, 72 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a glowing purple rim; notes of black currants, black cherries and blueberries are imbued with elements of graphite, iodine and iron that after a few minutes in the glass emit hints of rosemary, cedar and celery seed and an intense aroma of wood smoke. Steep gritty tannins and profound granitic minerality make for an experience that feels as if you’re drinking architecture, and these qualities inform the austere finish. Still, you sense the balance here, the shifting tectonic plates of structure gradually transforming itself to something equitable. A refreshing 13.3 percent alcohol. Try 2018 or ’19 through 2029-’33. Production was 1,200 cases. Winemaker was the well-known Steve Matthiasson. Excellent potential. About $45.
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The Amici Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 carries a Napa Valley designation but the grapes derive from specific AVAs amici_cs_napawithin the valley: 67 percent from Rutherford, 20 from Atlas Peak, 9 from Coombsville, 3 percent from Calistoga and a smidgeon of 1 percent from Spring Mountain. In other words, the wine is a canny blend of grapes from cool and warm districts, from flat areas and mountain slopes, all helping to establish a general “Napa Valley’ character to the wine. The blend is 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 11 merlot, 3 cabernet franc and 1 petit verdot; the wine aged 20 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Tony Biagi. The color is very dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; while the emphasis is on dimension and circumference defined by dusty, velvety tannins, burnished oak and vibrant acidity, the wine allows classic notes of black olive, cedar and tobacco, ripe black currants and raspberries to assert themselves. A few moments in the glass bring in hints of plums and cloves, black pepper and mocha, as well as a graphite edge, so the wine feels both warm with spice and cool with minerals, all etched by chiseled minerality that extends through the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now — with a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill — through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $45.
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One of the flagship wines for Franciscan Estate is the Magnificat red wine blend based on cabernet sauvignon with franciscan-estate-2012-magnificat-meritage-label-frontcontributions from the other “noble” Bordeaux grape varieties. For 2012 and 2013, the wines received the same oak treatment, 20 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. The blends differ slightly, with the 2012 being 73 percent cabernet sauvignon with 19 percent merlot, three percent each petit verdot and malbec and two percent cabernet franc; the 2013 is also 73 percent cabernet sauvignon, with 24 percent merlot, two percent malbec and one percent cabernet franc, eliminating the dollop of petit verdot. Winemaker was Janet Myers. Not surprisingly, or perhaps disappointingly, these “meritage” wines are quite similar, the ’12 being slightly softer and more approachable than the ’13 but both focused on structure and foundation to a degree that feels not only solid but stodgy. The Magnificat 2012 displays real depth and breadth in its dark granitic minerality and sturdy tannins but not much in the way of the detail that makes a wine compelling and alluring, even at a relatively young age. The Magnificat 2013 feels like an ancient cathedral of a wine, very dense and intense, with dry austere tannins and profound granitic minerality; something slightly warm and spicy lends a touch of appeal but this is essentially a stout, rock-ribbed edifice established on palate-scouring tannins and acidity. After tasting this pair of cabernets, I wanted to say, “Hey, lighten up, even powerful and structured wines can be made with more deftness than these were.” Each features 14.5 percent alcohol. Each I rate Very Good+ with the admonition not to touch for five years. Each costs about $55.
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In the Galerie “Pleinair” Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa valley, Laura Diaz Muñozcrafted a 100 percent varietal wine whose potential lies two or three years ahead. Aged 20 months in French oak, 53 percent new barrels, bottled unfined and unfiltered, this cabernet displays a deep opaque ebony hue and profound intensity and concentration. Its initial phase of iodine, iron and graphite segues into spiced and macerated currants, raspberries and plums opening to notes — after an hour — of walnut shell, cloves and allspice, roasted fennel and caraway seed. The wine is dense and chewy but lithe and supple, dark with rooty-loamy elements, woodsy and mushroomy, and a little knotty with aspects of briers, brambles and forest floor; the black and red berry flavors course over the palate animated by bright acidity. 14.5 percent alcohol. 2018 through 2028 to ’30. Production was 1,616 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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The Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, reveals a gratifying consistency cs-2013-front_750-alcwith its cousins from previous vintages, while expressing a sense of individuality accorded by a great year. The blend is 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 11 percent merlot, 5 petit verdot, 4 cabernet franc; the wine aged 21 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels. The color is dense ruby-purple, while the whole package reflects that intensity and concentration; the initial impressions are all structural: earth, loam and walnut shell; dusty, graphite-laden tannins; a dense and chewy texture; a deep austere finish. Yet the wine is also vibrant, dynamic, resonant and strangely appealing, with its hints of tightly-packed and spicy black fruit flavors. Try from 2018 through 2028 to ’30. 14.6 percent alcohol. Excellent potential. About $69.
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The Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Rutherford, is 100 percent2013-csrf_front_with-alc cabernet sauvignon that aged 18 months in French oak, 80 percent new barrels. The color is motor oil opaque shading to a medium ruby-hued rim; as with its stablemate mentioned just above, this wine is immense in structure, deep, intense and concentrated, which character does not prevent it from delivering classic notes of cedar, rosemary and tobacco, black olive and a hint of bell pepper, all buoying a finely-chiseled melange of black currants, raspberries and plums. In fact, for all its size and dimension, this cabernet offers a ripe, spicy, meaty and fleshy aspect not quite belied by its formidable dusty, loamy tannins and its tremendous dignity and authority. 14.3 percent alcohol. Try 2018 or ’19 through 2030 or ’33. Excellent potential. About $90.
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The Jayson label is the second line from Pahlmeyer Vineyards and comes in as slightly less jay-cabexpensive than the top tier, though these are not inexpensive by any means. The Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, sees 5 percent cabernet franc with the balance cabernet sauvignon; the wine aged 17 months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels. The color epitomizes the entire experience of this wine, from its intense inky center fading to the transparent ruby-tinged rim, that is, from tremendous depth and dimension to an element of elegance and even delicacy. Most apparent, though, is the wine’s immense honed and chiseled granitic structure, abetted by polished oak and plush, dusty, rigorous tannins; it feels carved from mountainsides. Aromas of iodine and iron open to deliriously attractive notes of black currants, cherries and plums, highlighted by hints of blueberry and pomegranate, tapenade and ancho chili and wild notions of cedar and rosemary, wood smoke, lilac and lavender. Yes, this is damned heady stuff, richly layered and nuanced. The whole project is, not surprisingly, quite serious on the palate, yet its structure of wood and acidity, tannin and graphite-infused minerality does not advance on the punishing scale; the totality is balanced and integrated, though deep and multi-dimensional. 15.1 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 to ’34. Winemaker was Kale Anderson. This wine feels to me like the essence and apex of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. Exceptional. About $75.
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The Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, utilizes the five classic Bordeaux red grapes: 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent cabernet franc and 2 percent each malbec, merlot and petit verdot; the wine aged 22 months in French oak, 72 percent new barrels. The color could not be a more dark, dense and radiant ruby-purple that shades to a glowing magenta rim; in its incisive granitic minerality and dusty graphite-tinged tannins, the wine feels absolutely true to the Oakville model; it offers ripe and slightly fleshy notes of currants, raspberries and plums infused with cedar and rosemary — with a hint of the latter’s feral, woodsy astringency — black olives and lavender melded in a seamless array of superb balance and integration. It’s quite dry, and the chiseled mineral aspects bolster the long finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 to ’25. Director of winemaking for Robert Mondavi is Geneviève Janssens. Excellent. About $60.
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More time in oak but less new oak than the previous wine was the regimen for the Robert Mondavi BDX 2013, Oakville, aging 29 months in French wood, 32 percent new barrels. BDX stands for Bordeaux; this wine is a blend of 68 percent cabernet sauvignon and 32 percent cabernet franc. I was impressed by the wine’s lovely balance and integration, for all its size and substance. A dark ruby hue shades to a bright magenta rim; aromas of ripe black currants, raspberries and plums are permeated by notes of iodine, iron and mint, making for a ferrous, sanguinary and slightly herbaceous red wine highlighted by touches of lavender and violets, cedar and tobacco. Yep, it’s a big one, quite dry and cushioned by supple dusty tannins, while animated by a beaming line of bright acidity; the finish is packed with graphite tinged minerality and an array of spicy black fruit flavors. 14.5 percent alcohol. You could drink this wine tonight with a steak or braised short ribs or wait a couple of years; it should develop beautifully through 2027 to ’30. Excellent. About $65.
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As you make your celebratory imbibing plans for the holiday season that runs from Thanksgiving to Epiphany — and happens to include my birthday — don’t forget Schramberg Vineyards, a Napa Valley-based producer of sparkling wines that has been around for 50 years and might be in danger of flying under the radar of all the other sparkling wine makers in California that emerged after its pioneering efforts. I rated three of these recent releases Excellent and one Very Good+, a better than decent outcome. In fact, I enjoyed these wines immensely and heartily recommend them for your Yuletide revels. Samples for review.
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The Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2013, North Coast, is 100 percent chardonnay, a blend of grapes from Napa County (63 percent), Sonoma (30 percent), Mendocino (4 percent) and Marin (3 percent), hence the North Coast designation. A blanc de blancs is the first sparkling wine that the producer made, in 1965, and the touch remains deft and fluent. The color is very pale gold, and the tiny, glinting bubbles are exuberantly effervescent; beautifully layered aromas of roasted lemon, lemon balm, spiced pear and toasted and lightly buttered brioche are twined with acacia blossom and almond skin. A few moments in the glass bring up a bright edge of flint and chalk bolstered by vivid acidity, both elements lending this sparkling wine tremendous verve and appeal, while notes of slightly candied quince and ginger round out the citrus-stone fruit flavor profile. 12.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $39.
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The opposite of blanc de blancs — “white from white” — is blanc de noirs — “white from black” — through the Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2012, North Coast, blends 12 percent chardonnay with the balance of pinot noir. Counties of origin are Sonoma (44 percent), Mendocino (33 percent), Napa (19 percent) and Marin (4 percent). The color is very pale gold, enlivened by a surging flurry of tiny bubbles; this is pure lemon in all its aspects, married to fresh bread, cloves, ginger and quince, with a dry scent like dusty heather and a deep bell-note of currant. It’s a high-toned and elegant sparkling wine, vibrant with energy, full-bodied, almost lush except for the rigor of prominent limestone-flint minerality and a seam of resonant acidity. 12.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $41.
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The Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2013, North Coast, is composed of 61 percent pinot noir and 39 percent chardonnay. The county make-up is 41 percent Sonoma, 26 percent Mendocino, 25 percent Napa and 8 percent Marin. The ravishing color is pale copper salmon, with abundant bubbles swirling upward; aromas of macerated strawberries and raspberries open to notes of dried red currants, lime peel, melon and sour cherry, with follow-up hints of cloves and orange rind. You might think that this sparkling wine is all about sensual appeal, which it obviously does not lack, but there’s real structure, too, with elements of chiseled limestone and chalk minerality borne by chiming acidity; it flows across the palate with crisp vitality. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 through ’23. Excellent. About $44.
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The Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec 2012, Napa Valley — a departure from the winery’s usual North Coast designation — is a blend of 74 percent flora grapes, 16 percent pinot noir and 10 percent chardonnay. Flora is a crossing of gewürztraminer and semillon, created in 1938 by Harold P. Olmo (1909-2006), a professor of viticulture at University of California, Davis, who pioneered the crossing of vinifera grapes for warm climate regions; among his other creations are ruby cabernet and symphony. To 85 percent Napa Valley grapes, this sparkling wines adds 10 percent from Sonoma and 5 percent from Mendocino; that 85 percent allows the Napa Valley designation. The color is pale straw-yellow; the bubbles are tiny but gentle, a stream but not a froth. Scents of green apple, peach and apricot are delicately floral and lead to a sweet entry — in fact sweeter than I thought it would be. This sparkling wine offers elegance in body and texture, a lively impression from clean acidity and flint-limestone minerality for background and a touch of dryness from mid-palate through the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’22. At 2,387 cases, this product has the smallest production of this quartet. Very Good+. About $40.
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The wine aged ……… The color is pale straw-yellow

Trying to be a good sport about this Merlot Month thing, so here’s a dependable example from PrintNapa Valley. The Flora Springs Merlot 2014, Napa Valley, derives from sustainable cultivated vineyards in Napa valley generally and from the St. Helena and Rutherford sub-AVAs. The wine aged 16 months in new and used French oak barrels. The color is a very dark ruby-purple that hews closely to the concept of ebony; those looking for a sensuous and seductive bouquet need look no farther than these aromas of rich and ripe black currants, cherries and plums infused with notes of cedar and mint, iodine and thyme, lavished with hints of licorice, lavender and violets and exotic woody spices. Lip-smacking acidity plows through the succulent black fruit flavors — abetted by a strain of blueberry — and long, lithe dusty tannins provide ballast and balance, all given freight by a load of penetrating graphite that gives the finish a slightly hard edge. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’22 with steaks and chops, braised short ribs and veal or lamb shanks. Winemaker was Paul Steinauer. Excellent. About $30.

A sample for review.

Here’s another selection for International Merlot Month. The Ca’ Momi Winery is owned by the cm_merlotfacelabel_black_lrsame people who own the Ca’ Momi restaurants in Napa Valley, so perhaps it’s fitting that this wine — the Ca’ Momi Merlot 2014, Napa Valley — is as wildly exuberant as Italian cuisine can be. I would be interested in knowing what the oak regimen for this wine was, but rarely have I visited a winery website so disinclined to reveal actual information about the winemaking process, even in its trade pages. Be that as it may, the wine displays a very dark ruby hue, even unto an opaque, almost black center. It’s a deep, dynamic merlot that offers scents and flavors of spice-infused black currants, cherries and plums — there’s a touch of fruitcake — with top-notes of blueberry and pomegranate. Dusty graphite comes into play and a strain of damp loam that opens to granitic tannins harboring vibrant acidity for liveliness on the palate. After 30 minutes or so, the black fruit unfurls elements of cedar and tobacco, dried rosemary and thyme, and the flavors feel somewhat macerated and roasted; the structure builds through a feral, iodine-and-mint and mineral-packed finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink this through 2019 to ’21 with steaks and chops, hearty pizza and pasta dishes or dry, mature cheeses. Excellent. About $20.

A sample for review.

As far as white wines are concerned, Spring and Summer tend to be the domains of bright, light, delicate wines that go down easy as aperitifs while we’re sitting out on the porch or patio or lounging in a bosky dell on a frolicsome picnic. Nothing wrong with those scenarios at all. Now that the weather is in transition, however, when there’s a touch of chilly, rainy uncertainty in the air and our thoughts are sliding toward more substantial fare than cucumber and watercress sandwiches — no crusts, please! — the logical choice would be white wines with a bit more heft, flavor and savor. The 10 examples under review today provide those qualities in diverse ways, because they are, naturally, diverse wines. Grapes include sauvignon blanc, riesling, roussanne and marsanne, vermentino, verdicchio and trebbiano. Some of the wines saw no oak while others received extended barrel aging. Their points of origin range from various spots in Italy and several regions in California, from Alsace in France to Pfalz in Germany. Above all, and I cannot emphasize this note too strenuously, every one of these wines was a joy to drink, first because they are so different each to each, and second because in their eloquent variations they reflect integrity of intentions in the vineyard and the winery, an integrity dedicated to the expressiveness of a location and grape varieties. Each wine mentioned here made me feel as if I were sipping liquid gold.
Unless otherwise noted, these wines were samples for review.
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The pale gold Arrow&Branch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, performs that gratifying task of balancing the utmost in a delicate, elegant character with a vivacious, appealing personality. Aromas of pea shoot, heather, cucumber and lime peel are infused with damp limestone and flint, roasted lemon and lemon balm and a hint of raspberry leaf. The wine is bright and crisp, dense but paradoxically ethereal, and it opens to touches of almond skin and pear skin, waxy white flowers and a hint of the wildly exotic and tropical. All of these exuberant elements are handily restrained by brisk acidity and the mild spicy/woodsy aura of a touch of French oak. 14.1 percent alcohol. A truly beautiful sauvignon blanc, made by Jennifer Williams, for consuming through 2018 or ’19. Exceptional. About $35.
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barmes
The color of the Domaine Barmès-Buecher “Hengst” Riesling Grand Cru 2012, Alsace, is a slightly brassy medium gold hue of intense purity; the bouquet unfurls multiple layers of nuance as Platonic ripeness invests aromas of peach and quince touched with hints of lychee, musk-melon and apricot nectar, yielding to apples, green tea and lemongrass and an intriguing, lingering note of petrol. The wine is moderately sweet at entry but segues to dryness as it flows across the palate, reaching a finish that feels profoundly minerally with elements of iodine-washed limestone and flint. Between those points, a lithe silky texture is emboldened by vibrant acidity, a strain of savory, woodsy spices and macerated stone-fruit flavors. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $36.
Imported by Petit Pois/Sussex Wine Merchants, Moorestown, N.J.
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Hungarians are justly proud of their indigenous grape, furmint. Tasting through a few furmintexamples recently, I was impressed by the grape’s versatility and its capacity for making wines that are seemingly light-filled and weightless in affect yet layered in complexity of detail and dimension. The Béres Tokaji Furmint 2014, Szaraz, displays a light golden-yellow hue and subtle aromas of ripe lemons, apples and pears; a few moments in the glass unveil notes of straw, heather, thyme and peach. A particular sense of balance between the sweet ripeness of the stone-fruit flavors and the dry, bright acid and mineral structure creates an immensely satisfying effect, the entire package driving leisurely to a limestone and flint-packed finish. 13 percent alcohol. The sort of wine that makes you happy to drink. Now through 2018 or ’19. Winemaker was János Jarecsni. Excellent. About $19, representing Good Value.
Imported by New Wines of Hungary,
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What a beauty this is! The Weingut Eugen Müller Forster Mariengarten Riesling Kabinett, forster2013, Pfalz, is a wild, meadowy, golden, sleek and crystalline riesling whose very pale straw hue almost shimmers in the glass; notes of peaches, lime peel and lychee feel a little slate-y and loamy, though there’s nothing earth-bound about the wine’s delicacy and elegance. A few moments in the glass bring in hints of green apples and cloves, while a sweet entry retains a modest claim of a fairly dry, limestone-etched finish. 9.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $19, a local purchase and Real Value.
A Terry Theise Estate Selection, Skurnik Wines, New York.
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Rosemary Cakebread made only 180 cases of her Gallica Albarino 2015, Calaveras County, so you should call the winery right now and try to reserve a few bottles. The grapes derive from the Rorick Heritage Vineyard, located at about 2,000 feet elevation in the Sierra Foothills; the wine — including a touch of muscat blanc — aged nine months in stainless steel tanks and neutral French oak barrels. A pale yellow-gold hue presages aromas of yellow plums and pears, figs, acacia and heather that evolve to a slightly leafy, grassy quality. What a joyful, lively, expressive personality this wine offers; the texture is supple, suave and elegant, all elements defined by balance and seamlessness yet edging to wild, spicy, savory qualities in the chiseled finish. 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $36.
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The Garofoli “Podium” 2013, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore, podiumincorporates no oak in its making and is all the better for it. Produced in Italy’s Marche region by a family that has been making wine since 1871, this 100 percent verdicchio offers a pure medium gold hue and ravishing aromas of tangerine and peach, jasmine and almond skin and — how else to say it? — rain on Spring flowers, yes, it’s that incredibly fresh and appealing. It’s also, somewhat paradoxically, quite dry and spare though warm, spicy and a bit earthy, enlivened by keen acidity and a scintillating quality of limestone and flint minerality. Again, it’s a wine that feels very satisfying to drink. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa Calif.
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My reaction on seeing that this white wine aged 22 months in new French oak barriques was a big “Uh-oh.” I mean, friends, that’s a whole heap of new wood influence. However, in the trebbianoMasciarelli Marina Cveti? Trebbiano Riserva 2013, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, the eponymous winemaker manages to pull off a remarkable feat. The opening salvo is an attractive bright medium straw gold color; then come notes of candied tangerine and grapefruit peel, ginger and quince, cloves and a sort of light rain on dusty stones effect; after a few moments, the wine unfolds hints of lemon balm and roasted lemon, lilac and lavender. Yes, it’s pretty heady stuff. On the palate, this Trebbiano Riserva ’13 feels vital and vibrant, rich and succulent with spiced and slightly baked peach and apricot flavors, though its opulence is held in check by chiming acidity and a resonant chiseled limestone element. You feel the oak in the wine’s framework and foundation but as a supporting factor that lends shape and suppleness rather than as a dominant element. 14 percent alcohol. Quite an achievement for drinking through 2023 to ’25. Excellent. About $43.
Imported by Masciarelli Wine Co., Weymouth, Mass.
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E&J Gallo acquired distribution rights to the venerable family-operated Soave producer Pieropan in March 2015, adding it to Allegrini and Poggio al Tesoro in the company’s Luxury Wine Group. The Pieropan Soave Classico 2015 is a blend of 85 percent garganega grapes and 15 percent trebbiano di Soave, derived from certified organic vineyards. The wine saw no oak but fermented and matured in glass-line cement tanks. The color is pale yellow-gold; aromas of roasted lemons and spiced pears are bright, clean and fresh and permeated by notes of almond blossom, acacia and grapefruit rind. The wine delivers amazing heft and presence for the price category, yet it remains deft and light on its feet; brilliant acidity keeps it lively on the palate, while a saline limestone quality lends depth and poignancy. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
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Steve Hall made the Troon Vineyard Longue Carabine 2014, Applegate Valley, Southern troon-carabineOregon, by co-fermenting different lots of marsanne, viognier, vermentino and roussanne grapes, with slim dollops apparently (depending on what infomation you read) of sauvignon blanc and early muscat. The final proportions of the blend are 38.5 percent vermentino, 33 percent viognier, 27 marsanne and 1.5 roussanne; information as to oak aging, type of oak and length of time is not available. The wine is seriously complex and intriguing. The color is pale straw-gold; the whole effect is spare, high-toned and elegant, with hints of baked peaches and pears, hints of grapefruit, fennel and celery leaf, bee’s-wax, lanolin and flowering heather, all robed in a tremendous acid-and-mineral structure that creates a sense of vital dynamism. above depths of dusty, flinty loam. These elements take time to blossom, the wine being fairly reticent at first. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 163 cases. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $34.
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The Two Shepherds Catie’s Corner Viognier 2014, Russian River Valley, offers a 2-shepspale straw-gold hue and beguiling, compelling aromas of jasmine and gardenia, peach and pear, bee’s-wax and lanolin over hints of lime peel and grapefruit pith; the wine sees only neutral French oak, a device that lends shape and suppleness to the structure without incurring undue wood influence. Riveting acidity and a remarkable shapeliness and heft in the texture give the wine tremendous personality and eloquence. Time in the glass bring in notes of heather and thyme, roasted lemon and sage, lemon balm and sour melon, all elements engaged in a remarkably poised feat of crystalline tension and resolution. 13.3 percent alcohol. Brilliant wine-making from William Allen. Now through 2018 or ’19. Production was 75 cases, so go online now. Exceptional. About $26.
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For some reason, October is International Merlot Month. No one asks me about these matters, but a whole month devoted to a grape variety seems excessive. Most grapes only get one day named in their honor, like National Alicante Bouschet Day or International Pinotage Day. Some marketing 2013-merlot-edit1people got together, however, and launched the concept, so I’ll play along to the extent of using some merlots as Wines of the Day this month. First is the Ehlers Estate Merlot 2013, St. Helena, Napa Valley, a blend of 95 percent merlot and 5 percent cabernet franc, derived from 100 percent certified organic vineyards. The color is opaque black-ruby breaking to a vivid violet rim. This wine exudes confidence and elan; it just smells wealthy. Aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black currants, cherries and plums are permeated by a strain of intense graphite and lavender borne on penetrating granitic minerality. The wine is mouth-filling yet spare and sculpted; though its black fruit flavors are full-blown, ripe and spicy, the wine does not feel succulent or velvety, and in fact it rests on a foundation of dusty, almost shaggy (but not rustic) tannins and bright, vital acidity. It’s a fleet and darksome merlot whose elements of polished and finely sifted oak and deep, chiseled mineral qualities distinguish it for grip, elegance and style. 14.2 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Kevin Morrisey. Drink now through 2020 to ’23 with a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill; roasted venison with huckleberry (or some such) sauce; braised short ribs; you get the idea. Excellent. About $55.

A sample for review.

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