Napa Valley



I keep reading that all the instruments agree that Millennials really love blended wines, but they must be drinking examples other than most of those mentioned in this post, because I found them to be bland and generic. The exception is Sokol Blosser’s Evolution American Red Wine, now in its Second Edition; it’s a cross-state wine — hence the “American” designation — “based on syrah” and heir to the reputation of the popular Evolution White Wine that debuted 13 years ago. There are other red wines in this roster of brief reviews, but frankly, other than the Evolution Red, not much roused my interest enough to subject my heavily insured palate to more than a few sips. Lotta wine went down the drain this morning! Glug, glug, glug! Quick reviews, mainly taken directly from my notes; no truck with technical, historical or geographical data; just the real deal. Enjoy — or not. Truly, sometimes I wonder why producers even bother. These were samples for review.

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Alamos Red Blend 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Malbec, bonarda, tempranillo. Dark ruby color; solid, firm; juicy and spicy black and blue fruit flavors; dusty tannins and walnut-shell-tinged oak; a touch of graphite minerality. Fine for barbecue ribs or burgers. Very Good. About $13.
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Alamos Seleccion Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. Dark ruby color; aromas of black currants and black cherries, touch of blueberry; briers and brambles; robust and rustic, bright acidity plows a furrow, rollicking dusty tannins; black fruit flavors open to a core of violets, bittersweet chocolate and graphite; don’t look for elegance here, this is forthright, spicy, flavorful and solidly made. Very Good+. About $20.
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Albamar Pinot Noir 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.9% alc. Very pretty light ruby color; earthy, briers and brambles, a little stalky and weedy; a schizo conflict between sweet ripe berry fruit and bruisingly dry austere tannins; way off base and unbalanced. Not recommended. About $13.
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Edna Valley Vineyard “Paragon” Pinot Noir 2011, Central Coast. 13.9% alc. (A Gallo label.) Neither smells nor tastes like pinot noir; generic, bland, innocuous, forgettable. Not recommended. About $20.
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Evolution American Red Wine, 2nd edition. 13% alc. Bottled by Sokol Blosser. “Syrah-based.” Dark ruby color; roots and branches, earthy yet ripe, fleshy, a little funky; very berryish, very spicy; lots of personality and engagement; black currants, cherries and plums with a touch of mulberry; dusty, pretty serious tannins, lively acidity; tasty but with plenty of stuffing. Says, “Bring me a lamb chop.” Very Good+. About $15, marking Good Value.
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Four Vines Truant Old Vine Zinfandel 2010, California. 14.4% alc. 77% zinfandel, 13% syrah, 5% petite sirah, 3% barbera, 2% sangiovese. Medium ruby color; generic but pleasant, which is better than being generic but unpleasant. Good only. About $12. And how old were those vines?
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Gascon Colosal Red Blend 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.1% alc. Malbec, bonarda, syrah, cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby color; fresh, clean and bright, fruity but not distinctive, fairly generic but no real flaws. Good only. About $15.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2011, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Intense ruby-mulberry color; lovely bouquet of beetroot, cloves and sassafras and a spectrum of red and black fruit, hint of earthy briers and brambles; very spicy and earthy in the mouth, plum and cherry fruit is slightly roasted and fleshy; quite dry, the tannins and oak assert themselves in a welter of woody spice and dusty graphite; finish is a bit short but a very enjoyable, moderately complex pinot noir. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $23.
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The Spur 2011, Livermore Valley. 13.5% alc. (From Murrieta’s Well) Petite sirah 31%, petit verdot 29%, cabermet sauvignon 27%, malbec 8%, cabernet franc 5%. Dark ruby color; mint and iodine, lavender, bittersweet chocolate; blackberries, black currants and blueberries, quite spicy; dry plush tannins, dusty graphite, zinging acidity, almost too lively; tannins coat the mouth, from mid-palate back the flavors feel curiously bland. Very Good. About $25.
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Waterstone Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc (tech sheet says 15.1). Dark ruby color; solid, firm structure; deep dusty tannins and graphite minerality; black and red currants and cherries, touch of plum; nice complexity of cedar and dried rosemary, tobacco and black olive; stalwart tannins, dusty and earthy; finish packed with spice, tannin and graphite. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.
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I keep reading that there has been a general toning down of oak in chardonnay wines produced in California, but you wouldn’t know it from the wines I taste, of which I offer today a selection of 16. I’ve uttered these sentences before, and I’ll probably utter them many more times before I close the computer a final time and drag my weary fingers to the catacombs, and I don’t care if you’re tired of reading them; to wit: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, it has too much oak. AND: Oak should be like the Holy Spirit, everywhere present but nowhere visible. Oak barrels are instruments, and they should not define a wine or establish its character; definition and character derive from the vineyard and the grape. It traduces every aspect of common sense that winemakers would want to send out into the world and into the grasp of innocent consumers chardonnays that taste as if they were made from liquid sawdust, yet many chardonnay wines feel exactly like that … and they’re not cheap. To those who say, “But, FK, plenty of people like their chardonnays to smell and taste like oak,” my reply is “Fine, start your own blog. Call it ILoveToastyOak.com.” This, however, is my blog, and on this blog we abhor wines that obliterate the purity and intensity of the grape and the authority of the vineyard through the heavy-handed agency of oak barrels.

Anyway, the scorecard today reads Excellent, 4; Very Good+, 5; Very Good, 1; Good, 1; Not Recommended 5. Among the Not Recommended chardonnay’s but also earning an Excellent rating are three from La Rochelle, a winery I admire for its individuality and willingness to take risks, though that’s a stance that to my palate doesn’t always work, as you can see. Still, I would rather a winery extend itself and skate sometimes over the edge than produce more bland innocuous “me-too” wines.

As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes (previously Weekend Wine Sips and before that Friday Wine Sips), I eschew reams of technical, geographical, geological, climatic and historical data for quick incisive reviews designed to pique your interest, if not, in some cases, whet your palate. Enjoy! (Or not.)

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Artesa Chardonnay 2011, Carneros. 13.8% alc. Pale gold color; clean and fresh, touches of apple and pear, hint of pineapple; quite spicy, smooth and supple, not creamy or viscous, “just right” as Goldilocks said; almost savory in its slightly roasted fruit qualities and modulated spicy aspects; bright acidity, and the limestone and flint elements and sense of oak expand through the finish. Nicely-made. Very Good+. About $20.
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Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay Reserve 2010, Carneros Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. A bold and powerful expression of the grape but balanced and integrated; bright medium gold color; pineapple and grapefruit, ginger and quince, hint of cloves; wet stones and flint mineral element that grows as the moments pass; no doubt about the oak but it contributes creaminess to the mid-palate, a supple texture and spice; long spice-and-mineral-packed finish; tremendous tone and presence. 14.9% alc. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $55.
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Cuvaison Estate Grown Chardonnay 2011, Carneros Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. The last Carneros Chardonnay I reviewed from Cuvaison was the 2007; I rated it “Excellent.” Not this example. Pale to medium gold color; bright, bold, ripe, spicy; you feel the oak from the moment you take a sip; grapefruit and pineapple, notes of lemon and lemon curd; plays a subtle floral card; plenty of acid and limestone minerality; supple texture at first but it feels as if the wine stiffens and becomes slightly unyielding with oak, which coats the palate and leave an astringent sensation in the mouth. Perhaps a year or two will help. Good only. About $25.
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Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. First note: “Man, that’s a lot of wood.” & it goes on from there. Medium gold color; insistently spicy and cloying; austere and astringent oak dries the palate unpleasantly; like drinking liquid sawdust. Not recommended and consistent with my reviews of Davis Bynum chardonnay (and pinot noir) from previous vintages. About $30.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Foggy Oaks Chardonnay 2010, Russian River valley. 13.5% alc. Medium gold color; apples, pears and grapefruit, undercurrent of pineapple, moderately spicy, firm foundation of gunflint and limestone; lovely balance and poise, shaped by vibrant acidity and a burgeoning oak element that provides a modulating quality to the wine’s richness. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $20, signifying Great Value.
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Ferrari-Carano Tre Terre Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. “Vineyard Select Limited Production.” Bright medium gold color; banana and mango, baked grapefruit and pineapple, cloves and smoke; big, deep, rich and savory; bacon fat, ginger, lemon balm, have mercy; feels like multiple layers of limestone and flint-like minerality; a bit daunting and needs a little nuance and elegance, but not over-oaked, not cloying. Perhaps it needs a year of age. Very Good+. About $32.
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Gallo Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. 87% Laguna Vineyard, 13% Del Rio Vineyard. I always thought the winemaker’s thumbprint — in this case Gina Gallo, whose name is on the front label twice — was too heavy on this wine; bright medium gold color; rich, warm, spicy, almost dense and chewy for a chardonnay; very ripe citrus and tropical scents and flavors; butterscotch, vanilla, cloves — what is this, a dessert cart? the oak and spice elements are overwhelming; so unbalanced. Not Recommended. About $30.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; fresh, clean, bright; pungent with cloves, slightly roasted peaches and yellow plums melded with pineapple and grapefruit with a whiff of white pepper; smoky oak, smoky caramel around the edges, quite dry yet feels innately balanced. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $35.
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The sparkling wines of Mirabelle, second label of Schramsberg, have shown steady improvement and seriousness of intent over the years. The Mirabelle sparklers are always non-vintage, whereas the products under the Schramsberg label always have a vintage date. Today’s particular wine is the Mirabelle Brut Rosé, North Coast, a blend of 55 percent chardonnay grapes and 45 percent pinot noir. Eighty-six percent of the wine is from the 2010 vintage, the rest made up of aged reserve lots. The designation is North Coast because the grapes derive from multiple counties north of San Francisco, mainly Napa and Sonoma but also Mendocino and Marin. Made in the traditional champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, Mirabelle Brut Rosé offers a beautiful light copper-salmon color and a teeming upward stream of tiny bubbles; aromas of fresh and dried strawberries and raspberries, lime peel and guava open to notes of limestone and chalk and hints of quince and ginger. This sparkling wine is quite dry, very crisp and lively, not only with effervescent but crystalline acidity, though the texture is almost creamy; spicy yet subdued red berry and stone-fruit flavors are heightened by the burgeoning limestone and flint minerality, while the finish is long, elegant and steely. 12.8 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $27.

A sample for review.

I could have titled this post just “Colgin Cellars IX Estate Red Wine, 2009 to 2005,” but Ann Colgin’s vision of a particular place and a particular wine is so thoroughly inextricable from that place high on Pritchard Hill and the wine that derives from those vineyards that the woman and the estate must be talked of inseparably. On a tour of the vineyard, of the art-and-antiques-filled house that looks with spectacular views out to Lake Hennessey and Napa Valley, during a tasting of five vintages of the wine produced here, the word that Ann Colgin reiterates is “precise.” Indeed, the 20 acres of eastward-facing vines, out of a property of 125 acres, are among the most beautifully tailored and maintained vineyards that I have ever seen, and that description applies as well to the grounds, the house and the winery facility, all conceived, fashioned and utilized with dazzling precision and attention to detail. The result of this obsessive attention, a trait that amounts to fanaticism on the part of Ann Colgin and her husband, investment banker Joe Wender, winemaker Allison Tauziet, vineyard manager David Abreu and consultant Dr. Alain Raynaud, is a wine that — and I’ll say this frankly — absolutely floored me.

Ann Colgin was born and raised in Waco, Texas, and has degrees from Vanderbilt and New York University. A career in art, antiques and auctions — she worked for Christie’s and Sotheby’s — brought travel and exposure to fine wine and a desire to produce her own wines that would be competitive with the best in the world, though “competitive” may be too strong a term; my intuition tells me that Colgin wanted, simply and with purity and intensity, to make one of the world’s best cabernet sauvignon-based wines and that no notion of the fray of competition entered the picture. So, from 1992 to 2997, Colgin Cellars produced one of Napa Valley’s legendary wines, the Herb Lamb Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, and if in those years you were a wine collector who possessed sufficient fiduciary prowess, then you are very happy to have cases of Herb Lamb in your cellar.

The Colgin winery on Pritchard Hill was completed in 2002 after tremendous engineering feats of clearing land at 1,150 to 1,350-feet elevation — there were boulders the size of barns — planting the vineyard and constructing the facility. I don’t know who coined the adage about to make a small fortune in the wine business in Napa Valley you have to start with a large fortune, but everything about the effort involved in creating Colgin Cellars and the impeccable results speaks volumes about the immense outlay of money. Does that matter? My Readers, we are speaking here of rarefied heights of accomplishment that few people can hope to achieve, and the simple truth is that to create one of the best wines on earth — I am not using that phrase frivolously — tremendous resources are required. (On the other hand, for the alternative story of the impact that the building of Colgin Cellars had on the neighbors on and below Pritchard Hill, read James Conaway’s The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley.)

Ann Colgin gives to the world not only her wines — the IX Estate Red Wine, the Tychson Hill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cariad Bordeaux blend and the IX Estate Syrah — but a regular and obliging presence in philanthropic and charitable efforts in terms of donations of special lots of wines and her activities as spokesperson and auctioneer. Over the past several decades, these efforts have raised millions of dollars for causes all over the world.

All right, let’s get to the wines, which, to be honest, neither My Readers nor my Humble Self could afford. Thanks, then, to Katherine Jarvis and Elizabeth Glenn of Jarvis Communications in Los Angeles for arranging this visit.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2009, Napa Valley. This wine is a blend of 69 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15 percent merlot, 10 cabernet franc and 6 petit verdot. (You’ll notice that among these examples of IX Estate, the percentage of cabernet sauvignon varies consistently only between 65 and 70 percent, with merlot poised between 15 and 21 percent.) The color is deep ruby-purple with a purple-magenta rim; the wine is packed with floral and spicy aromas; incredibly intense and concentrated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; and every possible dimension of deep dusty fine-grained tannins and graphite-granitic minerality. The whole package displays awe-inspiring power and dynamism yet with sweetly-honed inklings of its eventual elegance and allure. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2029 to ’34. Production was 1,200 cases. Exceptional potential. About $450 on release.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2008, Napa Valley. The blend is 69 percent cabernet sauvignon, 16 percent merlot, 9 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot. A very dark ruby hue is practically opaque in the center and displays a motor-oil-like sheen; the bold aromas come straight at you with penetrating elements of graphite, iron and iodine that are startling in their purity and intensity and with equally startling notes of ripe, spiced and macerated black currants, blueberries and raspberries. I’ll unlimber the word “iron” again to describe the wine’s formidable but not ferocious tannins and the chiming throb of its fathomless acidity; it feels as if there’s an engine at work in these depths, one still fueled by the appropriate blocks of IX Vineyard’s rocky soil and gently sloping typography. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2025 to ’30. Production was 1,500 cases. Excellent potential. About $300 to $500.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2007, Napa Valley. This ’07 seems a bit closed at present, as would be natural with an almost six-year-old cabernet of monumental proportions; it’s marvelously intense and concentrated, seemingly vast in its dimension and sense of detail, and even exhibits a texture that’s close to creamy. However, IX Estate 07 — from a great cabernet year in California — now settles into a brooding, Olympian, slumbrous state of being from which it will awake, say, from 2015 or ’16 through 2027 to ’35. The IX Estate ’07 is a blend of 70 percent cabernet sauvignon, 21 percent merlot, 5 cabernet franc, 4 petit verdot. Excellent potential. Released at $290, prices now range from $400 to $650.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2006, Napa Valley. For ’06, the IX Estate is a blend of 66 percent cabernet sauvignon, 21 percent merlot, 8 cabernet franc, 5 petit verdot. The color is deep ruby with a dark violet-magenta rim; the wine in every sense is majestic, hypnotic and seductive, exhibiting amazing tone, presence and confidence. Aromas of cassis and black raspberry, blackberry and blueberry are wreathed with notes of licorice and lavender, violets, mocha, smoke and graphite; this feels absolutely classic in the sense of being fashioned on a Bordeaux model — particularly, to my palate, on St-Estephe — but with the ripeness, the lithic “cut,” the bold presence that a high elevation vineyard lying open to the California morning sun provides. Among these five vintages of IX Estate Red Wine, this 06 was my favorite. 1,500 cases. Try tonight — haha — with a medium rare ribeye steak hot and crusty from the grill or from 2015 or ’16 through 2026 to ’30. Exceptional. About $425 to $750.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2005, Napa Valley. The blend this vintage is 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 19 percent merlot, 10 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot. The color is deep ruby with a faint violet rim, as if the wine were glowing radioactively, and it seems to embody, metaphorically, a similar intensity of elemental being. Penetrating iron and iodine and lithic minerality characterize an effort that despite its density and concentration, its bastion of finely-milled tannins, its huge, resonant structure offers beguiling touches of spiced and macerated (and slightly roasted and fleshy) black and blue fruit scents and flavors permeated by classic notes of cedar and tobacco, black olives, briers and underbrush, oolong tea and loam, sage and bay leaf. A few moments in the glass bring out the wine’s innate generosity and elegance, though this has long life ahead: say until 2020 to 2025. Production was 1,500 cases. Exceptional. Nationally, the average price is about $375.
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There really are towering sequoias — I guess that’s redundant — at Sequoia Grove Winery; one feels rather dwarfish in their company. (I was there a week ago today.) The winery, founded in 1979, occupies salubrious geography in the Rutherford appellation, in the heart of Napa Valley. President and director of winemaking Mike Trujillo has been at Sequoia Grove since the early 1980s, was appointed assistant winemaker in 1998 and in 2001 took the position he has now. Winemaker is Molly Hill. Sequoia Grove, while making a variety of wines, focuses on chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, and it’s to the former that we turn today.

The Sequoia Grove Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley, derived 84 percent of its grapes from Carneros and 16 percent from Napa Valley. The wine aged about 10 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels; it did not go through the malolactic process in barrel to retain freshness and delicacy. The wine is a frankly beautiful expression of the grape. The color is mild straw-gold; enticing aromas of roasted lemon and slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit are infused with notes of quince and ginger, jasmine and cloves and hints of limestone and flint. The character here is revealed in the wine’s impeccable balance among the richness of its juicy, spicy citrus flavors (with a nod toward lime peel), its bell-tone acidity and the limestone and shale minerality that from mid-palate back through the finish places emphasis on the wine’s stones-and-bones structure, its seamless amalgamation of crisp litheness with a seductive texture of almost talc-like suppleness and intensity; the finish concludes with a touch of grapefruit astringency. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $28.

Tasted at home as a sample for review and at the winery with consistent results. Label image from garyswine.com.

Here are a dozen wines that will put a keen edge of enticing Summery flavors and welcome minerality in your week. Today’s Weekend Wine Sips consist of five rosés and seven sauvignon blanc wines, the latter mainly from California (one from Chile) and the former from all over the place. Prices are pretty low for most of these wines, and availability is wide. Little in the way of technical talk here or discussions about entertaining and educational matters history, geography and climate, much as I dote upon them; the Weekend Wine Sips reviews are intended to be concise, incisive and inspiring. These wines were samples for review or tasted at trade events.
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Marc Roman Rosé 2012, Vin de France. 13% alc. 100% syrah. Very pale pink with a tinge of peach; strawberries, raspberries, red currants, hint of orange rind; all subdued, unemphatic; quite dry, attractive texture and stony finish, just a little lacking in snappy acidity. A decent picnic quaffer. Good. About $10.
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El Coto Rosado 2012, Rioja, Spain. 13% alc. Garnacha & tempranillo, 50/50. Light peach salmon color; fairly spicy, slightly macerated strawberries and raspberries, notes of rose petals and lavender; very dry, crisp acid structure, a bit thin through the finish. Very Good. About $11.
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Castello Monaci Kreos 2012, Salenta I.G.T. 13% alc. 90% negroamaro, 10% malvasia nera. Pale salmon-peach color; tasty, juicy but very dry; spiced and macerated peaches, watermelon and strawberries, lots of limestone and chalk; mid-palate moderately lush, yielding to a stony, austere finish. Very Good+. About $16.
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Finca La Linda Rosé Malbec 2012, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. (From Luigi Bosca) 13.5% alc. More in the fashion of a Bordeaux clairette, that is, lighter and less substantial than regular red table wine, a bit darker and weightier than a true rose; medium pink-bright cherry color with a tinge of pale copper, LL, who knows gemstones, said, “Fire opal”; very spicy, lively, lots of personality, macerated red currants and raspberries with a hint of plum; plush texture modulated by crisp acidity and a burgeoning limestone element; backnote of dried herbs. Excellent. About $13, Great Value.
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Gustave Lorentz Le Rosé 2012, Alsace. 12% alc. 100% pinot noir. Pale copper-onion skin color; strawberries, raspberries and rose petals, touch of orange rind; very stony with elements of limestone and flint but completely delightful; crisp and vibrant acidity, perfectly balanced, dry, elegant. Excellent. About $24.
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Pepi Sauvignon Blanc 2012, California. 13% alc.Very pale gold color; no real flaws, just innocuous and generic; hints of grass and straw, lime peel and grapefruit; pert acidity; nothing stands out as distinctive, but you wouldn’t mind too much knocking this back sitting out on the porch with a bowl of chips. Good. About $10.
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William Cole Columbine Special Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13% alc. Very pale gold color; thyme, tarragon, pea shoot; lilac, roasted lemon and pear; very dry, crisp, austere, heaps of limestone and flint influence, pretty demanding finish, though the whole package is not without charm. Very Good. About $16.
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Tower 15 Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.2% alc. 300 cases. Pale straw-gold color; very lively, crisp, sassy; grapefruit, lime peel, lemongrass and limestone, hint of grass and fig, tarragon and tangerine; quite dry, stony, vibrant; deft balance, exuberant yet refined. Very Good+. About $18.50.
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Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Northern Sonoma. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; lime peel, grapefruit, gunflint and celery seed, scintillating acidity and limestone minerality, touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm; bit of leafy fig; very fresh, clean, lively and engaging. Always a hit in our house. Very Good+. About $15 .
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Waterstone Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. With 18% semillon. 834 cases. Very pale gold color; keen limestone edge, smoke and flint; dry, fresh, crisp, taut; lemon, lime peel and tangerine with hint of pear; mildly grassy, bit of thyme and tarragon; a tad of oak in the background, making for a subtle, supple texture enlivened by a touch of cloves and brisk acidity. Super attractive. Excellent. About $18.
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Atalon Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. With 3% semillon. (Jackson Family Wines) Very pale straw-gold; suave, sophisticated; lime peel, grapefruit, lemongrass, cloves, gooseberry and peach; exquisite balance among crisp snappy acidity, a soft almost powdery texture and fleet scintillating limestone and flint minerality; lots of appeal and personality. Excellent. About $20.
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Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2011, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Sauvignon blanc with 9% semillon. An elegant sheen of oak keeps this sleek sauvignon blanc nicely rounded and moderately spicy; pale straw-gold color; lemongrass and lime peel, thyme and cloves, spiced pear, ginger and quince; limestone, gunflint and talc; lively, vibrant and resonant, very appealing presence and tone; lovely texture balances crispness with well-moderated lushness; burnished oak and glittering limestone dominate the finish. Great character. Excellent. About $32.
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…. meaning that I should have written about this pair of wines from Amici Cellars six months ago, though there is still product, as they say, in the pipeline. Winemaker and partner in Amici — “friends” — is Joel Aiken, who would need no other claim to renown than that he was vice president of winemaking for Beaulieu Vineyards for 25 tears and shepherded the well-known BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. (I’ll discuss the changes that the iconic brand has been through in a subsequent post.) Suffice to say that it’s no surprise that these examples of Aiken’s wines for Amici are suave and elegant and delicious while conceding no inch to lack of structure; you feel the foundations of each wine as sip succeeds sip. These were samples for review.
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The Amici Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley, is all sauvignon blanc, but 80 percent of the wine is the aromatic sauvignon musque clone. Seventy-five percent of the wines was fermented in stainless steel, and 25 percent was fermented in French oak barrels. This is a lovely sauvignon blanc in every respect, gently framed by oak, slightly flinty and gravelly, delicately spicy. Aromas of lemon and fig, quince, ginger and lemongrass are wreathed with muted notes of jasmine and honeysuckle; a seamless segue into the mouth takes those elements and intensifies them, adding spice, bolstering the whole package with clean, bright acidity, a marvelously supple texture and a finish burnished by limestone and a hint of grapefruit bitterness. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 700 cases. Excellent. About $20, representing True Value.
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Here’s a classic Napa Valley cabernet from a guy who cut his teeth on the concept. The Amici Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, offers a dark ruby color and tantalizing notes of graphite and lavender, cedar and lead pencil, ripe and savory black currant and cherry scents with hints of black olive and rosemary. The blend includes 6 percent each merlot and petit verdot grapes; the wine aged 18 to 20 months in 50 percent new French oak barrels. Beautiful harmony and balance here, but with a very spicy and distinctly charcoal edge and undertones of mocha and leather that support ripe and macerated black currant, black raspberry and plum scents and flavors. The wine is dense and chewy, supple, lithe and lithic, both sleek and chiseled, and a few minutes in the glass bring up elements of bitter chocolate, lilac and bay leaf. A sense of fine-grained tannins and finely-milled oak contribute firm and forgiving structure, while the finish stretches long and lean, muscular and elegant, like the guy on the treadmill next to you at the gym who runs for hours and never seems out of breath. 14.7 percent alcohol. 2,000 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $40.
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Here I am on chardonnay from California again. I like some of these wines very much, enough to pass out a few Excellent and Exceptional ratings. Some, however, the ones over-oaked and malolactic-ed to a fare-thee-well get Not Recommended ratings. And I ask the question I have posed so often in the past: Why would anyone make such undrinkable chardonnay? Anyway, the point of the Weekend Wine Sips, even for the wines I loathe, I mean, the wines I don’t recommend, is concision and quick insight, therefore I do not include much in the way of technical, historical or geographical info. What you read is what you get. These chardonnays, as the title of this post states, are from vintages 2011, ’10 and ’09 and hail from Sonoma and Monterey counties, Napa Valley and Carneros. These examples were samples for review.
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La Crema Chardonnay 2010, Monterey. 13.9% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) Pale gold color; candied pineapple and grapefruit, cloves, allspice, lemon balm and lime peel, roasted almonds, penetrating gunflint and limestone minerality; ripe and rich, very spicy; dense texture, almost viscous; quite dry, growing austerity through the finish; feels unbalanced, the parts don’t mesh. Good only. About $18.
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La Crema Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) Pale gold color; huge oak influence, very spicy, very creamy — you feel that “malo” — ; way too ripe and tropical; candied and roasted citrus and mango; exotic spice; lots of smoke; cloying and unpalatable to this palate; how can people choose to make chardonnay in such an impure fashion? And yet the pinot noirs from this winery are pure, intense and beautiful. Not recommended. About $30.
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La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Robert’s Road Block Chardonnay 2010. Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Medium gold color with a faint green flush; pineapple and backed apple; ripe and fleshy, a little toasty; roasted lemons and yellow plums, cloves and ginger; very spicy and very dry; brings up a touch of butter and caramel; supple, dense and viscous; heaps of limestone minerality. Pushes the limits but still beautifully balanced. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
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La Follette Lorenzo Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.3% alc. Highly individual, almost exotic in spiciness; you feel the oak as an intrusive agent that dries the palate; almost tannic in character; pineapple and grapefruit, touch of banana; very dry and the spice gets pretty strident; curious and off-putting combination of fruit candy, creamy desserts and spicy, woody oak. Not recommended. About $38.
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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 502 cases. How beautiful. Medium straw-gold color; fresh, clean, crystalline, restrained and elegant yet displaying inner richness and depth; lively and spicy, quince and ginger, pineapple and grapefruit, roasted lemon; you scarcely perceive the oak except for a tinge of burnished slightly dusty wood on the finish; unfurls a hint of camellia and lilac; a powerful limestone mineral element that expands through the wine’s generous spirit. Exquisite balance and harmony and resonance. Now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $35.
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Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.1% alc. 400 cases. Certified organic. Wonderful clarity, purity and intensity; jasmine and lilac, roasted lemon, spiced pear, lemon balm and verbena; backnotes of cloves and flint; bountiful presence and tone yet firm in structure and texture, almost robust and savory; blazing acidity, very dry, finish packed with spice, flint and limestone. Incredible authority yet fleet, light on its feet, elegant. Best from 2014 through 2020. Exceptional. About $45.
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Gary Farrell “RR Selection” Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; boldly ripe and spicy, classic grapefruit and pineapple scents and flavors tinged with mango and slightly over-ripe peach; a bright and golden chardonnay, a little earthy; very lively and spicy, cloves, touch of brown sugar; dense, almost chewy texture; you feel the tug and sway of oak in the background. Very Good+. About $32.
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Boekenoogan Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.3% alc. A gorgeous character-filled chardonnay, deep and broad and generous; boldly rich and spicy pineapple-grapefruit flavors permeated by limestone minerality of the most demanding nature; seductive, almost talc-like texture emboldened by clean, bright acidity; the fruit currently subdued by the structural elements, though the oak influence feels supple, close to subliminal. Drink now, sure, but this is a 10 to 15-year chardonnay. Exceptional. About $35.
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Signorello Estate Hope’s Cuvee Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. Medium gold color; not my preference at all in chardonnay: very spicy, very ripe, lots of oak; caramel, brown sugar, burnt match; caramelized pineapple and candied grapefruit; exaggerated, strident. I hear rumors that people exist who enjoy this sort of chardonnay; not me, brother. Not recommended. About $70.
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Donum Estate Chardonnay 2010, Carneros. 13.5% alc. Bright medium gold color; cloves and sandalwood, pineapple and grapefruit, ripe peach and pear; quite ripe, a little funky and earthy but with a real edge of limestone minerality and spicy oak; a chardonnay that feels vast and close to tannic, though oak stays in the background and burgeons only from mid-palate back through the finish. Definitely an individual styling for the grape yet it has attractions for the brave. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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Stemmler Estate Chardonnay 2011, Carneros. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; boy, this is woody and harshly spicy; yes, the necessary lip-smacking acidity and a scintillating limestone element, but so burdened by oak and a sharp smoky candied burnt sugar-cloves-roasted grapefruit edge and a texture that’s dauntlessly dry yet viscous at the same time; unresolved, unbalanced. Not recommended. About $24.
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Jordan Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely, taut, vigorous; roasted lemon and lemon curd, lime peel, orange blossom and a hint of toasted almonds; quite dry, limned with chalk and limestone, clean, fresh pineapple-grapefruit flavors touched with buttered toast, a hint of cloves, a squeeze of green apple; very Chablis-like for Sonoma. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.
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Yes, it’s your lucky day, because today I offer reviews of 12 wines that all rate Excellent. No duds! No clunkers! And boy are we eclectic! Two whites, three rosés and seven reds, all representing myriad grape varieties, styles, regions and countries, including, on the broader scope, California, Oregon, Australia, Italy, Chile and France. Dare I assert that there’s something for everyone here? As usual in these Weekend Wine Sips, the notion is to present concise and incisive reviews, cropped from the fertile fields of my tasting notes, in such a manner as to pique your interest and whet your palate, while omitting the sort of info pertaining to history, geography and technical matters that I include with other more detailed posts. Straight to the point, that’s the Weekend Wine Sips philosophy!

With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
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J Pinot Gris 2012, California. 13.8% alc. Pale straw-gold color; delicate hints of roasted lemon and lemon balm, hints of cloves and spiced peach; lovely soft texture endowed with crisp acidity; back wash of yellow plums, lilac and lavender; finely etched limestone minerality. Irresistible. Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Brooks “ARA” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 11.5% alc. 300 cases. Very pale straw-gold color; a blissful state of pure minerality lightly imprinted with notes of rubber eraser, pears, ginger and quince, highlighted with smoke, lilac, chalk and limestone; shimmering acidity, whiplash tension and energy, spare and elegant, yet so ripe and appealing. A great riesling. Excellent. About $25.
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SKW Ghielmetti Vineyard “Lola” 2012, Livermore Valley. (Steven Kent Winery) 13.7% alc. 65% sauvignon blanc, 35% semillon. 260 cases. Pale pale straw color; lemon balm and lemongrass, touches of peach, lime peel and grapefruit, quince and cloves; a few minutes bring out notes of fig and dusty leaves (bless semillon’s heart!); very dry, almost taut with tingling acidity; pure limestone from mid-palate back through the finish. Excellent. About $24.
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St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Pale straw color; pure grapefruit, lime peel, pea shoot, thyme and tarragon, notes of gooseberry and kiwi; totally refreshing and exhilarating, juicy with lime and grapefruit flavors, hints of orange zest (and almond blossom in the bouquet), very dry with resonant acidity; slightly leafy and grassy; picks up limestone minerality from mid-palate through the finish. Delightful. Excellent. About $20.
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Stepping Stone Corallina Syrah Rosé 2012, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. A shade more intense than onion-skin, like pale topaz-coral; dried strawberries and raspberries, just a touch of melon; traces of cloves and thyme, sour cherry and pure raspberry with a slightly raspy, bristly edge; very dry but lovely, winsome; a bit chiseled by limestone and flint through the spare finish. A thing of beauty. Excellent. About $20 .
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La Rochelle McIntyre Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.4% alc. 112 cases. The true pale onion-skin color; elegant and delicate in every sense yet with a tensile backbone of acidity and minerality that scintillates in every molecule; hints of strawberries and raspberries, touches of dried red currants, fresh thyme, a clean, slightly resiny quality that cannot help reminding you of Provence, many thousands of miles away. Fervently wish there were more of it. Excellent. About $24.
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Rosé de Haut-Bailly 2011, Bordeaux Rosé. 13% alc. 50% cabernet sauvignon, 50% merlot. Ruddy light copper color; strawberries both spiced/macerated and dried; raspberries and red currants woven with cloves, hints of cinnamon and limestone; lithe, supple texture, just a shade more dense than most classic French rosés, otherwise deft, quite dry, elegant; light red fruit flavors filtered through violets and gravel. Exquisite but with a nod toward heft and structure. Excellent. About $25, an online purchase.
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Inama Carmenere Piú 2010, Colli Berici, Veneto. 14% alc. 75% carmenere, 25% merlot. Camenere in the Veneto! Who knew? Dark ruby color; pungent, assertive, robust, quite spicy, lively, lots of grainy tannins; deep, ripe black currant and plum scents and flavors permeated by notes of sauteed mushrooms, black olive, dried rosemary and lavender; a little tarry and foresty, with real grip, yet polished and sleek. Begs for grilled or braised red meat. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $20.
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Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 14.3% alc. Deep ruby-mulberry color; that enticing blend of red and black currants and red and black cherries permeated by notes of smoke, cloves, rhubarb and sour cherry; seductive super satiny texture; furrow-plowing acidity bolstering lissome tannins for an all-over sense of balance and harmony. Just freakin’ lovely. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
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Halter Ranch Block 22 Syrah 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 15.2% alc. With 13% grenache, 11% tannat. 175 cases. Deep, dark ruby-purple; scintillating in every respect; while it delivers the earth-leather-graphite qualities and the fruit-spice-foresty intensity we expect of the best syrah (or shiraz) wines, the manner of presentation is gorgeously attractive, though (paradoxically) with a sculpted, lean schist and flint-like effect. Beautiful is not a word I often apply to syrahs, but it’s merited for this example. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $36.
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Ventisquero Grey [Glacier] Single Block Trinidad Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maipo Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color; earth, leather, dust, graphite; very intense and concentrated black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors; dense, chewy, solid, grainy tannins but with appealing suppleness and animation; deep core of bitter chocolate, lavender and granitic minerality. Today with a steak or 2014/15 to 2020. Excellent. About $21, a Fine Value.
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Penley Estate Special Select Shiraz “The Traveler” 2009, Coonawarra, South Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby with a tinge of mulberry at the rim; a real mouthful of graphite, dusty tannins and intense and concentrated black fruit with tremendous acidity and iron-iodine minerality in a package that manages, whatever its size, to express a really attractive personality; touch of blueberry tart, something wild, flagrantly spicy, long dense finish. Smoking ribs this weekend? Look no further for your wine. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $50.
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Generally, I try to keep the prices of the Wines of the Week fairly reasonable. It would be a rare product that would inspire me to go above $25, but today is one of those occasions, because the Rombauer Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley, is — I’ll be frank — the best zinfandel I have tasted this year. The color is dark ruby-purple; in the nose and on the palate, the wine displays remarkable depth, purity and intensity of black currant, plum and blueberry scents and flavors permeated by cloves and white pepper, briers and brambles and penetrating graphite-granitic minerality. Give this wine a few moments, and it unfurls hints of bay leaf, leather, lavender and licorice, with bottom-notes of bitter chocolate and sandalwood, all of these elements bound by vivid acidity and dense but supple, slightly dusty tannins. The 2010 has 6 percent petite sirah, and it aged 15 months in French and American oak barrels. The alcohol content is a soaring 15.9 percent, yet the wine feels completely balanced and harmonious, showing no trace of over-ripeness, sweetness or alcohol heat. Rather, it offers a distinct feeling of appealing personality and dignified character together and serves as a model of the marriage of power and elegance. The 2011 version of this wine has been released, but if you look online, you’ll find plenty of the 2010 available; even the winery has half-bottles on its website. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. The price at the winery is $34, it’s $30 in my neck o’ the woods, and around the country you see it as low as $25. Don’t miss it.

Tasted at a trade event in Memphis.

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