Napa Valley


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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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.

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