Napa Valley


Robert Turner is one of those people who qualify, as so many in California do, for the description “former [fill in the blank] turned winemaker,” in his case the long previous occupation being dentistry, with a practice in Palo Alto. He was in a wine club, got interested first in how wine was made and then in making wine, took courses at Davis, did some apprenticing and voila! he has a “winery,” in a rented space, where he produces tiny quantities of thoughtfully conceived and extremely well-made wines; ultimate goal is about 500 cases annually. A couple of days ago, at a local wholesaler’s trade tasting, I tried two vintages of his cabernet franc, the 2011 and 2010, and was more than intrigued by their quality; I was knocked out. The grapes derive from the Stoney Springs Vineyard in St. Helena. Robert Turner products are available at a handful of retail stores and restaurants in a handful of states. My recommendation is to go to the winery’s website — robertturnerwines.com — and order a few bottles directly. Here’s a link to my review on this blog of the Robert Turner Chardonnay 2011.
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The Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2011, Napa Valley, includes 10 percent merlot and 5 percent petit verdot. The wine aged for three or four months in new French oak barrels and then went into two- and three-year old French oak for a total of 12 months. The color is a strikingly vivid deep ruby-magenta hue; equally striking is the bouquet of pure and intense graphite and black raspberries, with notes of mulberries and red currants, violets and rose petals and a powerful undertone of tar and loam. The wine is very dry but vibrant with acidity, scintillating in its chiseled granitic minerality, spare and elegant in its moderately tannic structure yet offering deliciously ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Production was a minuscule 45 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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The Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2010, Napa Valley, is 100 percent cabernet franc; it aged 16 months in two-year-old French oak barrels. Every element here resembles the aromatic, flavor and textural profiles of its younger sibling of 2011 except that this example includes hints of bell pepper and black olives, cedar and tobacco leaf and profound impressions of briers and brambles and underbrush amid very dry and slightly dusty graphite-freighted tannins. At almost three years old, the wine is stunning in its freshness and sense of immediacy and authority, though it carries that authority lightly, almost elegantly, though the finish. NA% alcohol. Production was 50 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Exceptional. About $35.
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Anyone who keeps up with this blog — bless your bones and may your tribe increase! — will deduce that I receive a great deal of cabernet sauvignon wines from California as review samples. In fact, I would say, anecdotally, that I receive more samples of California’s premier wine that any other type or genre, hence the attention paid to such wines on these pages. The 12 examples under consideration today mainly, that is with one exception, do not fall into the over-ripe, over-oaked, high alcohol category that we frequently encounter, and that exception has to do with the oak influence. Primarily, these are well-balanced fruit-filled cabernets amply supported by essential tannins, acidity and mineral qualities to ensure liveliness and some measure of longevity. Several of them are among the best California cabernets I have tried in 2012. As usual in the Weekend Wine Notes, I deliberately downplay details of history, geography, personality and technical matters in order to provide quick reviews designed to whet your palate and pique your interest. These wines were all samples for review. Enjoy!

The image is of cabernet sauvignon grapes at Jordan Vineyards.
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Cimarone Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Three Creek Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby with a magenta rim; nicely balanced, clean and fresh, tasty black and red fruit flavors; rather rigorous tannins, with classic touches of walnut shell and wheatmeal, but deftly integrated; hints of black olive, thyme, cedar and graphite; pleasing detail and dimension. Now through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $35.
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Cimarone Le Clos Secret 2010, Three Creek Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.5% alc. 62% cabernet sauvignon, 14% petit verdot, 10% cabernet franc, 9% merlot, 5% malbec. 198 cases. Dark ruby shading to a slightly lighter ruby/mulberry hue; layered bouquet of walnut shell, graphite, cedar, thyme and rosemary; spiced and macerated aromas and flavors of red and black currants and cherries, ripe and slightly stewed; dense, intense, concentrated; exquisitely balanced but with a powerful structure and dynamic acidity for length and vitality. Now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.
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Ferrari-Carano Trésor 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. 76% cabernet sauvignon, 8% merlot, 8% petit verdot, 6% malbec, 2% cabernet franc. Deep ruby-purple color; dusty walnut shell, fig and black olive, cedar and thyme; very intense and concentrated, tightly-wound; spiced and macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; iron-sides clasped with graphite; vibrant acidity and resonant tannins; a little inchoate and chthonic presently, try from 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $52.
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Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. 85% cabernet sauvignon, 11% merlot, 3% syrah, 1% malbec. Dark ruby color, slightly lighter at the rim; oak is the defining feature, the only one of these 12 wines to be so thoroughly imbued with wood; very dry, dense and chewy; walnut shell and wheatmeal, underbrush and forest floor; austere finish; for those who like their red wines to hit back. Not recommended. About $28.
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Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 19% merlot, 5% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Dark ruby-mulberry color; the most highly structured Jordan cabernet I have encountered, fortunately stimulated by bright acidity and gorgeous black and red fruit; wheatmeal, walnut shell, graphite, cedar and rosemary; very pure, intense and high-toned, with penetrating granitic minerality; very dry but seductively flavorful; bolstered by dense, tense tannins. Try from 2015 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $53.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. With dollops of merlot and petite sirah. Dark ruby color; black currants, plums, raspberries, undertones of smoky and macerated black cherries; very dry, dusty, minerally and tannic; full-bodied, with taut acidity, chewy and velvety texture; gets drier and dustier, with briers and branches, underbrush and loam qualities; finishes fairly austerely. Try 2015 through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $18.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. With 10% petite sirah. Intense dark ruby-magenta color; cool mint, iodine, iron and graphite; raspberries, black currants and plums, cedar and thyme; touch of spicy black cherry jam, earth and loam; rigorously structured, dense and chewy, with dust-permeated oak and tannins leading to austerity leavened by juicy black fruit flavors. Try 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $30.
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Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Calistoga, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. With 7% merlot and 2% cabernet franc. Radiant medium ruby color; a typical, classic and gratifying blend of sensual appeal and structural precision; very ripe yet intense and concentrated scents and flavors of spiced and macerated black currants and black cherries, touches of cloves and sandalwood, cedar and tobacco, bare hints of black olives and rosemary (with the latter’s redolent and slightly resinous character); iodine and iron, licorice and bitter chocolate; dignified tannins with a display of hauteur and some asperity, yet a cabernet of great appeal and potential. Who needs a $500 cult cabernet when you can have this? Now (with a steak or braised lamb shanks) through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $50.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Annum 2009, Napa Valley. 15% alc. With 12% petit verdot. Intense dark ruby-purple color; whoa, just a huge wine in every respect, epitome of the old iron-fist-in-velvet-glove concept, and with an uncanny sense of alertness; very dense, very chewy but the highly polished oak and tannins are not only not punishing but balanced and integrated; graphite, cedar and tobacco; ripe, spicy, racy and slightly roasted black currants, black cherries and plums, every aspect permeated by granitic minerality. A benchmark Napa cabernet. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $95.
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Rodney Strong Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby color, with a violet tinge at the rim; cool and clean, teeming with black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors; freighted with powerful and dusty tannins, grainy and chewy, yet a supple, lithe cabernet; quite intense and concentrated, robust and dynamic; all wrapped around a penetrating core of licorice, lavender and bitter chocolate; long, dense but smooth finish. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $28.
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St. Supéry Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 5% merlot. Deep ruby-purple color with a mulberry rim, opaque at the center; wonderfully fresh, clean and intense; thyme and cedar; walnut shell, toast and tapenade; black currants and black raspberries, iron and iodine; dense, chewy, dusty, gritty yet pretty suave and supple, background, though, of gravel and tar; gets bigger, denser, deeper, more minerally and spicy; opens the box on black tea and bitter chocolate, fruitcake and sandalwood; leathery tannins, underbrush for the finish. Quite a performance. Now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. about $30.
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Stone Edge Farm Surround 2009, Sonoma Valley. 14.4% alc. 56% cabernet sauvignon, 44% merlot. 692 cases. Dark ruby-magenta color; intense and concentrated, graphite, lavender and licorice; piercing iodine and iron minerality, a smoke and charcoal edge; very dry, with velvety tannins that coat the palate, dusty graphite and granitic mineral elements; deep spice-drenched black fruit flavors, cedar, tobacco and black tea; long oak-and-tannin-permeated finish. Best from 2015 through 2019 or ’21. Excellent. About $40.
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Last week, Jenn Louis, chef and owner of Lincoln Restaurant and Sunshine Tavern in Portland, Oregon — I follow this Food and Wine magazine Best New Chef 2012 religiously for her inventive cuisine — posted this picture to her Facebook page. It’s a sandwich of goat liver and pancetta on sour rye bread with pickled chili aioli. I “liked” the image and said that I wondered what kind of wine would be appropriate; her reply was “crisp white.” So I looked through my notes and came up with the roster of eight crisp and savory white wines that might pair nicely with this unusual item as well as such fare as charcuterie, pork chops braised with sauerkraut and apples, veal roast and hearty seafood pastas and risottos. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, I reduce technical, historical and geographical information to a minimum in order to offer blitz-quick reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palates. These wines were review samples. They are all, coincidentally, wines made from a single grape variety. Enjoy!
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Amayna Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Leyda Valley, Chile. % alc. Pale gold color; very bright, clean, fresh, with scintillating limestone minerality; notes of roasted lemon and peach, lemongrass, ginger and quince with a touch of cloves; the body and power build incrementally, adding chalk and loam and hints of dried herbs; faintly grassy; chiseled acidity. A great performance. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
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Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; fresh, clean and spicy; lemon and lemon balm, lime peel, hint of peach; lively and acutely crisp but with a sensuous texture that’s moderately lush; still, lots of stones and bones, in the Alsace fashion, limestone and flint, with a surge of cloves and allspice and stone-fruit savor. Delicious. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $24.
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Balverne Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.7% alc. Light gold color; fresh, clean, pert, sassy and grassy; lemon, tangerine and pear, hints of mango, roasted lemon and spiced peach, notes of mint, thyme and tarragon; slightly earthy background, limestone and slate; lithe, flinty but supple texture and crisp acidity buoying a sort of bracing sea-salt element. Very attractive. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $25.
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Fred Loimer Lois Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria. 12.5% alc. Pale pale gold color; at first this wine seems a tissue of delicacies, almost fragile but it gains character and depth in the glass; yes, clean, fresh and crisp but spicy, earthy, savory and saline; green apple, spiced pear, roasted lemon; grapefruit and candied rind; limestone and damp gravel, lovely drapery of texture shot with exhilarating acidity; hints of dust, powdered orange peel and cloves in the finish. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $16, representing Great Value.
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Harney Lane Albariño 2012, Lodi. 13% alc. 716 cases. Pale gold color; clean as a whistle, fresh and invigorating, with bright, intense acidity and an appealing combination of spicy, savory and salty qualities; roasted lemon, grapefruit and spiced pear; hints of dried thyme and rosemary and a touch of leafy fig; dry and spare but with a suppleness from partial aging in neutral French oak barrels; lots of depth, subtlety and dimension. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $19.
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Gustave Lorentz Réserve Gewurztraminer 2011, Alsace, France. 13% alc. Pale gold color; rose petals, lychee and white peach; quince, ginger, white pepper and cloves; hints of melon and fig; beautifully wrought, exquisitely balanced among rigorous acidity, assertive limestone minerality and juicy citrus and slightly candied stone-fruit flavors; lovely sense of tension and resolution of all elements. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $24.
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Sequoia Grove Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. % alc. 350-400 cases. Mild gold color; all about persistence: jasmine, lilac, trace of fig and banana, thyme and tarragon, roasted lemon and lime peel, touch of grapefruit; a few minutes bring in lemongrass and mango; truly lovely wine with an engaging character and a sense of lift along with some earthiness, chalk and limestone; lip-smacking acidity. Drink now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
Image from Bills Wine Wandering.
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Tascante Buonora 2012, Terre Siciliane, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% carricante grapes. Very pale gold color; clean and fresh, bracing as a brine-laden sea-breeze; roasted lemon, thyme, almond and almond blossom; lovely silky texture enlivened by brisk acidity; lime peel, yellow plum, hint of almond-skin bitterness on a finish packed with dried spices and limestone minerality. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $20.
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Clos du Val gets it right for its first commercially released sauvignon blanc, made all in stainless steel and 100 percent varietal. Took long enough; the winery was founded in 1972. Senior winemaker is Kristy Melton. The color of the Clos du Val Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley, is a shimmering pale gold. Aromas of pear, jasmine and cloves are highlighted by ginger, quince and lemongrass and a hint of freshly mown grass and damp straw. The wine is so suave, supple and spicy that one might think it had seen the inside of a few French oak barrels, but that’s not the case; a subtle and sunny leafy-fig element overlays notes of pear, yellow plum and lightly roasted peach and lemon, all wrapped around a vibrant core of steely acidity and limestone-flecked minerality. I’m quite happily having a glass right now with the tuna salad I made for our lunches. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 3,500 cases. Drink now through 2015. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review.

This is a follow-up to last week’s Weekend Wine Notes that presented brief reviews of 12 Napa Valley cabs. Today, we’ll make do with seven examples, five from vintage 2010, two from 2009. These were samples for review except for the Sequoia Grove 2010, tasted at the winery in August. No mention here of history, geography, oak regimen and other technical matters or the personalities involved. These Weekend Wine Notes, sometimes transcribed directed from my tasting notes, other times expanded, are intended to pique your interest and whet your palate (or not) quickly. Enjoy …

Next week, I plan a similar post about cabernet sauvignon wines from regions of California other than Napa Valley.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. With 5% merlot. Dense ruby-purple shading to magenta at the rim, fantastic vibrant color; rich, warm, spicy; black currants, black raspberries and plums, roots and branches, moss and wheatmeal; cedar, thyme, black olives; new leather, hints of cranberry and rhubarb; cleansing, not to say chastening, acidity; dense and chewy but not ponderous or obvious; you feel the dusty iron-like mountain underpinnings; long finish packed with minerals, oak and dry fairly austere tannins, but not astringent; gets more profound as the moments pass. 2016 or ’17 through 2024 to ’28. Exceptional. About $80.
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Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. With 7% cabernet franc, 5% merlot, 2% petit verdot. Deep and radiant ruby-mulberry color; rich, ripe, warm and spicy; graham cracker with a hint of fruitcake (the baking spices and dried fruit); violets, thyme and cedar; sleek, lithe and chiseled, like a great athlete; cassis, black cherry, hint of cherry tart; core of graphite, bitter chocolate and licorice, all permeated by finely-milled, slightly granitic tannins; power and elegance not quite in blissful harmony; try 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’25. Or tonight with a hot and crusty medium rare ribeye steak right off the grill. Excellent. About $38.
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Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon grapes. Intense ruby-purple color; broad and generous scents and flavors of black currants, black cherries and plums; deeply spicy and minerally, woven with iodine and iron and graphite; touches of walnut shell and wheatmeal in the oak and tannins that impose real structure on the wine; still, this is sleek and elegant, with beguiling hints of lavender, black olives and cedar; long, fairly tight finish. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $40.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With dollops of merlot, petite sirah, petit verdot and syrah. Dark, intense ruby-purple color; cassis, black cherry, plums; very dusty graphite and iron-like minerality; deep dusty tannins, earth and loam; pretty tight and stalwartly structured; this needs breathing space and elbow room to soften and grow more expansive. 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Perhaps Excellent potential. About $34.
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Parallel Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. Dark ruby color with an opaque center; very intense and concentrated, with dusty, earthy velvety tannins and a profound iodine-iron-graphite component; ultimately, the tannins and oak are numbing, and one hopes for a glimmer of fruit; altogether austere, vigorous, potentially long-lived. Try 2015 or ’17 through 2024 to ’26. Very Good+. About $60.
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Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. Radiant dark ruby color with an intense magenta rim; black raspberry and cassis, plums and fruitcake, ripe, roasted and fleshy; succulent black fruit flavors but dry and with a rigorous structure — iron and iodine, graphite and granitic minerality, dense tannins; still manages to be attractive and drinkable, now through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $38.
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Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. Dark ruby color; cassis, black cherry and blueberry, spicy, ripe and roasted; a big wine, highly structured but balanced; drenched in chewy, dusty, fairly austere tannins; dry, vibrant with acidity; long graphite and spice-infused finish. Needs a steak. Try 2015 through 2020 to ’24. Very Good+. About $38
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This series is dedicated to cabernet sauvignon wines produced by wineries founded 1980 or before.

Few wineries in Napa Valley or in all of California’s wine-making regions could claim to be as old-school, particularly for cabernet sauvignon, as Beaulieu Vineyard. The winery was founded in 1900 by Frenchman Georges de Latour (1858-1940), whose first business interest in California was cream of tartar (potassium tartrate). After buying vineyard acreage in Rutherford, in Napa Valley, de Latour began using the Beaulieu name in 1906. A zealous entrepreneur, de Latour obtained a contract supplying sacramental wine to the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1908; he was well-prepared when Prohibition came into effect in 1919 to expand the altar-wine business nationwide, a fact that kept his winery not only open during prohibition but profitable. When Prohibition was repealed, he was ready with a national distribution system, well-tended vines and name recognition. Perhaps the smartest move de Latour made was hiring the Russian enologist Andre Tchelistcheff in 1938. Tchelistcheff did not create the Beaulieu Vineyards Private Reserve wine; credit for that goes to previous winemaker Leon Bonnet, who produced the first model in 1936. Tchelistcheff, however, refined the technique, introduced American oak barrels — an interesting choice considering his French training and background — and generally overhauled practices in the vineyard and winery. He was with BV until 1973 but returned in 1991 as an advocate of French oak instead of American and of altering what had been a 100 percent varietal wine with a dollop of merlot. Tchelistcheff died in 1994, at the age of 90.

BV was sold to Heublein in 1969, and that company greatly expanded production and the label line-up; perhaps coincidentally, the Private Reserve suffered a checkered reputation in the 1970s and early 80s. After a series of buy-outs and transfers complicated enough to make your head spin, BV is now owned by Diageo. Winemaker is Jeffrey Stambor; consultant is –who else? — Michel Rolland.
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Beaulieu Vineyard Georges De Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, offers a dark ruby-purple color that’s almost opaque at the center. The wine contains four percent petit verdot and aged 22 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels; long gone is the American oak that gave this classic wine its distinct spicy edge. BV PR 09 is dense, intense and concentrated in every sense, delivering hints of black currant and plum scents and flavors that are ripe, barely macerated and roasted and touched with vanilla, toast and a tinge of caraway. The wine smells like iron and oak, and indeed the structure is rock-ribbed, with dusty, iron-like tannins, burnished oak and a tremendous granitic, lithic quality; the austere finish is packed with graphite, shale, toast and underbrush. The alcohol content, making for a slightly over-ripe and hot character, is a staggering 15.7 percent. Where are the subtlety, the elegance and nuance that made this wine, particularly in the 1950s and ’60s and again in the 1980s, so harmonious yet deep, the qualities that made it, for me, the Lafite of Napa Valley cabernets? Every aspect here adds up to just one of a hundred other Napa Valley cabernets. It ain’t so old-school anymore. Very Good+ and perhaps Excellent potential (say 2020 to ’25) but with reservations. About $135 a bottle.

A sample for review.
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Today’s edition of Weekend Wine Notes offers brief reviews, ripped from the pages of my notebooks, of 12 cabernet sauvignon wines from Napa Valley, most from the year 2010, a few from 2009. Thanks to Beaulieu Vineyards, Inglenook, Louis M. Martini and other pioneering producers and the many wineries that followed beginning in the 1960s, Napa Valley and the cabernet sauvignon grape are fairly synonymous; in fact, Napa Valley, both the valley floor and the surrounding hillside appellations, is rightly noted as one of the world’s prime areas for cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends. Today’s examples are not cheap and the quality varies, though perhaps the right word is “philosophy” rather than quality. A lot of alcohol is spread across these models too. If 14.5 percent alcohol in the new 13.5 percent, then 15 must be the new 14. What’s interesting is that some wineries manage to keep 15 percent or more under control while others allow their cabernets to veer into the territory of hot and overripe zinfandel. Little technical data here, other than the grape percentages in blends; the impulse is concise reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palate, if such is the case. These wines were all samples for review, as I am required to inform My Readers by fiat of the Federal Trade Commission.
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Buccella Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 3% petit verdot, 2% malbec, 1% cabernet franc. The package is pretentious and over-determined, but it holds a damn fine bottle of cabernet. Dark ruby-purple, hint of violet-magenta at the rim; lovely balance and authenticity; cassis, cloves and sandalwood, intense and ripe black currants, raspberries and plums; tremendous presence concentrated fruit and iron and iodine, rather numbed by flaring tannins and oak materiality; still, plush and velvety, very Californian, with exotic spice, bitter chocolate and vanilla; finishes with walnut shell and granitic rigor. 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Production was 1,238 cases. Excellent. About $145.
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Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. 86% cabernet sauvignon, 5% cabernet franc, 4% merlot, 4% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Deep ruby-purple; dark, intense, rich, warm and spicy but an iron-like, sea-salt aspect plus savory elements and bracing acidity that make the wine seem as if it’s standing at attention; still, though, ripe and roasted and fleshy, quite dynamic and resolute; spiced and macerated black and red fruit scents and flavors with a hint of blueberry tart; dense chewy tannin, a dry and fairly austere finish. A grand example of the Napa Valley style. 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch 2009, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 15.1% alc. With 6% cabernet franc. Dark ruby color, not quite opaque; here’s how it adds up: dusty minerals, dusty fruit, dusty dried flowers, dusty tannins, dusty oak, dusty spices, but pretty damned tasty and delectable for all that; heaps of plums, black raspberries and black currants, undertones of licorice, lavender, smoke and graphite, mocha, underbrush and brambles; authoritative heft and substance, rather muscular and sinewy, but never too dense or monolithic, and it carries the alcohol surprisingly lightly. Now through 2019 to 2024, and give it a thick, juicy, medium rare ribeye steak. Or wild boar. Or venison. Or oxtail stew. Excellent. About $90 to $125.
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Frank Family Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 9% merlot, 3% petit verdot, 1% cabernet franc. Vivid dark ruby color, opaque at the center; intense and concentrated, fleshy and meaty black currants, raspberries and plums, hints of cedar, black olive and thyme, with austere structural elements of wheatmeal, walnut shell and dusty graphite; substantial and large-framed, with dense grainy tannins and fine-grained oak, vibrant acidity; pretty darned foundational presently, but with enough fruit to rise above being solely about architecture. Try from 2015 or ’16 to 2020 to ’24. Very Good+ now, Excellent potential. About $49.75.
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Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 5% petit verdot, 3% cabernet franc, 1% merlot. Deep ruby color with a mulberry-magenta rim; you feel as if you’re smelling and tasting the earth, the rocks, the geology, the geography, the roots; tremendously proportioned and dimensioned in every way — granite, iodine and iron, graphite, dense yet svelte tannins and sleek and deeply spicy oak — yet the wine is almost winsome in its attention to fineness and finesse; scents and flavors of ripe and intense black currants, cherries and raspberries notably clean and fresh, and with backnotes of smoke, lavender, espresso and leather; long supple, earth-and-mineral packed finish. Best from 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Exceptional. About $60.
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Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 921 cases. Vivid dark ruby color; big, sumptuous, resonantly tannic; the whole drawer of exotic spices; black currants and plums, hint of blueberry tart, quite ripe, a little macerated, fleshy and meaty; a real cut of graphite-like minerality, iron filings, lip-smacking acidity; velvety texture but rigorous structure; a finish packed with dust, minerals and the austere essence of tarry black fruit. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $65.

You will notice that the illustration here, taken from the winery’s website is three vintages behind; let’s keep up, please.
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Liparita Cellars Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 916 cases. Deep ruby-purple color; huge graphite-granite-iron-like structure, dusty furrry tannins, a real mouthful of austere, dusty, spicy oak; traces of black olives, cedar, dried rosemary; smoke, lavender, fruitcake, leather and dried moss; exotic without being outré; makes rather a spectacle of its own confidence and stalwart character; fruit’s there but requires another year or two to begin to unfurl. 2015 or ’16 to 2020 to ’24. Very Good+ for now, Excellent potential. About $55.
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Liparita Cellars V Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Yountville, Napa Valley. 15.4% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 831 cases. Very dark ruby-purple, opaque almost to the rim; devastating minerality and raw tannins; no masquerading here: this is about the power of earth, tannin, oak, acidity and alcohol, that latter adding a sheen of super-ripeness and boysenberry zinfandel character that take the wine out of the range of cabernet sauvignon; some tasters may be attracted to this stalwart and flamboyant display, but I am not. Try, perhaps, from 2015 or ’16 through 2019 or ’20. Very Good. About $55.

Both of these Liparita labels are one vintage behind the wines being reviewed: is it too much to ask that producers keep their websites up-to-date?
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Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 15% alc. With 7% cabernet franc, 4% merlot, 1% malbec. Deep ruby-purple with a magenta-violet rim; a blazing snootful of graphite and iodine, lavender and violets, intense and concentrated black currants, cherries and blueberries, slightly spiced and macerated; rousing acidity, scintillating minerality; tremendous vitality, tone and presence, yet with exquisite poise and integration, as well as dense, gritty, velvety tannins and a sleek facade of burnished oak; perfect marriage of power and elegance, grace and dynamism, with Napa Valley written all over it. Drink now to 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 89% cabernet sauvignon, 6% merlot, 3% petit verdot, 2% cabernet franc. Dark ruby-purple color; like eating currants and raspberries right off the bush but with doses of graphite, briers and brambles, lavender and lilac, smoke and bitter chocolate; very clean, pure and intense, with a scintillating edge of iodine and iron; dense dusty tannins; deeply savory and spicy; plush without being voluptuous; sleek, chiseled finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $48.
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Silverado Solo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Deep ruby-purple with a magenta-violet rim; again, the iodine and iron, the dusty graphite and earthy, granitic minerality; black currants and plums touched with black raspberry and lavender, briers and brambles; sleek, suave, lithe; supple slightly muscular tannins over a vibrant acid framework; dense, substantial without being heavy or obvious, carries its weight easily; long tannin, oak and mineral-imbued finish. Try 2015 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $100.

The label date here is one vintage behind; let’s keep those websites current.
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Silverado Limited Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Intense, opaque ruby color with a tinge of magenta at the rim; classic, rigorous, chiseled and architectural, which does not mean brutally tannic and oaky; red and black currants and plums, hint of blueberry jam; dried fruit, dried spice, dried flowers; immense granitic/graphite mineral element; tannins are dusty, robust; acidity cuts a clean swath on the palate; not often I say that a wine has a wonderful structure but this is one of those times; long spice-and-mineral-drenched finish. Now through 2020 to 2022. Excellent. About $140.
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Two weeks ago in this space I dissed a number of chardonnay wines from Cuvaison, Davis Bynum, La Follette and La Rochelle wineries. Today, in addition to other pinot noir wines from California, I offer some reviews of successful pinot noirs from the aforementioned producers, not in recompense — I would never do that — but to show that they can indeed make wines that are balanced and authentic. So, 12 wines, brief reviews, no emphasis on technical, historical, geographical or personal data but just my notes, some taken directly — ripped, as it were — from my notebook pages, some expanded upon a bit; but all designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Most of these pinots, whose ratings fall into the narrow range of Very Good+ to Excellent, do not conform to my notion of the grape’s hallowed ideal of delicacy, elegance and tensile strength, being more about structure and power, though on the California model they tend to perform well. These were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Cuvaison Estate grown Pinot Noir 2011, Napa Valley Carneros. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color; very spicy, earthy and rooty, with moderate tannins and acidity that cuts a swath; still, super satiny in a fairly lithe manner and quite attractive with notes of red and black cherries, red currants, hints of rhubarb, cranberry and cloves; briers and brambles in the background and a touch of graphite. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River valley. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color, slightly lighter ar the rim; exotic nose of cloves, allspice and sandalwood, like incense in your hippie pad; plums, red currants, cranberries; dense, chewy a bit more drapery than ordinary satin; rich with smoky plum flavors, black and red cherries; one feels indulged, a little decadent, though the earth-mint-mineral elements surge forth through the finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $40.
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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Garfield Block Pinot Noir 2011. Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 500 cases. This more limited version of the previous wine (in origin and production) is a shade darker in color, a little tighter, a bit more focused and delineated; it’s very supple and satiny but displays more of a tannic and mineral presence under its dark, succulent and spicy red and black cherry fruit with overtones of plums and mulberries; long, deep, earthy finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $60.
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DeLoach Vineyards Olivet Bench Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley.13.5% alc. 499 cases. Medium ruby-mulberry color; plums and rhubarb, red and black cherries with a hint of cranberry after a few moments; dusty graphite, very spicy, exotic; dry, minerally, muscular, almost rigorous but super-satiny in texture; you feel the rooty-barky qualities and the undertow of tannin and oak. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $NA.
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Frank Family Pinot Noir 2011, Napa Valley Carneros. 14.5% alc. Radiant ruby-cranberry color; cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate, red cherries and currants, white pepper; smooth, sleek, suave and satiny; fairly tannic and rigorous after 30 or 40 minutes, with a full complement of earthy, briery, underbrushy and graphite elements but doesn’t lose its essential succulence and flavorful sway. Now through 2016 to ’17. Excellent. About $35.
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La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 12.9% alc (lovely!) 536 cases. Medium ruby with a touch of violet-blue magenta; meaty and fleshy, spiced and macerated; succulent and smoky red cherry and plum flavors imbued with briers, brambles and an underbrushy element; intensely spicy, intensely floral; superbly satiny texture but a rather startling structure for a pinot noir that needs a couple of years to find its footing. Try 2015 through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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La Rochelle Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands. 15.2% alc. 381 cases. Medium ruby color with a trace of garnet at the rim; big, dense, pithy, sappy pinot noir, rich, warm and spicy but thrown off balance a bit by the high alcohol, which makes a distinct presence on the finish. Very Good+. About $38.
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La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 14.7% alc. 259 six-packs. Medium ruby color with lovely transparency; better balance here than with the previously noted wine; the drawers of the bureau of exotic spices thrown wide, making for a heady and seductive bouquet and intriguing flavors of red and black currants, pomegranate and rhubarb; bright acidity plows a furrow through layers of briers, brambles and graphite, all the while the wine displays beautiful purity and intensity. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $75.
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MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2011, Central Coast. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color, trace of magenta at the rim; notes of pomegranate, cranberry and rhubarb open to red and black cherries permeated by cloves and cola; quite dry, a little mossy and briery; ripping acidity; attractive, lively and tasty though no great depth. Very Good+. About $23.
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MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; rhubarb, cranberry, cola and cloves, touch of plum, interesting note of mint; leans more to black and red cherries in flavor; gains body and substance as minutes pass, a little rooty and mossy with tannins and earthy elements; very dry finish, oak and granitic minerality. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $28.
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MacMurray Ranch Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 15.2% alc. Dark ruby color with a touch of garnet; big, dry, leather and graphite; comes close to being dramatic; quite rich, warm and spicy but riven by scintillating acidity and dusty, dusky tannins; you feel the oak and alcohol on the finish. Not my favorite style for pinot noir. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $37.
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Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Luicia Highlands. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-magenta color with a pure violet rim; black and red cherries and currants; pomegranate, rhubarb and sassafras, hint of cloves; succulent but spare, elegant, lithe and muscular; scintillating acidity and granitic minerality; riveting purity and intensity of the grape and the vineyard. Always a favorite in our house. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $54.
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I don’t typically use a wine at this price as the Wine of the Week, but the Reata Pinot Noir 2011, Napa and Sonoma counties, is so well-made and authentically pinot noirish that I couldn’t resist. I will not ask forgiveness and indeed would welcome expressions of gratitude from fans of the grape in its mode of utmost purity and intensity. The blend of this two-county wine is 64 percent of the rarely-seen Napa County designation (an AVA slightly larger than and encompassing Napa Valley) and 36 percent Sonoma County. The grapes ferment in stainless steel tanks, and the wine matures for 14 months in French oak barrels, 70 percent neutral, 30 percent new. The color is medium ruby with lovely transparency and limpidness; aromas of plums, red currants and cranberries are permeated with notes of cloves, sassafras and rhubarb and a hint of earthy briers and brambles. The wine is just so fresh and clean and pure, yet it displays beautiful depths of graphite and — a paradox — delicately granitic minerality and an almost lacy network of minutely dusty and elegantly plush, supple tannins with bright and vibrant acidity for structure and quenching liveliness. Red and blue fruit flavors are imbued with fruitcake-type spice and dried fruit, all these elements leading to a tea-like lithe, limber. lithic finish. Yeah, I really liked this pinot noir. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30, though often found around the country for $20 to $25.

A sample for review.


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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