Napa Valley


Sometimes that’s just the way it works out. Some foods and dishes reject wine as a companion — or certain wines — no matter how good the wine is in favor of beer. I’m thinking particularly of Indian and Southeastern Asian cuisines, which with their combination of spicy heat and intensity and often exotic flavors defy a pairing with wine, unless it’s a moderately sweet riesling, pinot gris or gewurztraminer whose keen acidity cuts through the richness of the dish and whose delicate sweetness balances the spice. Such a match is a cliche of the wine-and-food-pairing cohort, but as is the case with many cliches there’s a great deal of truth to the assumption. Unfortunately, the night that I prepared the assertive Chicken Khao Soi, a recipe derived from north Thailand sources — it’s the cover recipe for the March 2013 issue of Bon Appetit — I didn’t have an appropriate riesling on hand, so I tried beer and a sauvignon blanc from California. It’s not the wine’s fault that it couldn’t stand up to the intensity of the Chicken Khao Soi — I did ask a lot of it — but beer just did a better job here.

The beer was Pistil, a unique seasonal product brewed with dandelion petals (as well as hops, malts and oats) by Magic Hat Brewing Company in South Burlington, Vermont; Pistil is available from January 15 to March 31. Magic Hat was founded in 1994; in 2010, it was acquired by North American Breweries of Rochester, N.Y. — my home town! — which in turn was acquired in 2012 by Florida Ice & Farm Co., of Costa Rica. Globalization moves on apace, and while it’s not entirely relevant to this post, I’ll mention that the Brewers Association, a nonprofit advocate for craft brewing in this country, offers as one of its definitions of a craft brewery a restriction of 25 percent ownership or control by “an alcoholic beverage industry member not itself a craft brewer.” In other words, a craft brewer that is wholly owned by a large company or conglomerate has lost its hallowed independence and is, by definition, no longer a craft brewer, even if production remains at or below six million barrels. Anyway

Delightful isn’t a word one finds often in reviews and commentary on beer, but I thought that Pistil was delightful in its light, slightly brassy gold color; its mildly creamy but not prominent head with a good formation of what beer tasters call “lace”; and its aromas of orange peel, lemongrass, slightly sour wheat and an earthy element that really develops in the mouth, along with some bitterness and a fairly leafy, spiced tea-like flavor. 4.5 percent alcohol (by volume). Neither too heavy nor too light, this was excellent with the complex flavors of the Chicken Khao Soi. Magic Hat Pistil is about $1.79 for a 12-ounce bottle.

So, what about the wine that bravely held its head up like a good soldier? The Silverado Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, is always one of my favorite sauvignon blanc wines, and for 2012 — that’s right, the wine isn’t even six months old — it shows itself in fine fashion. The color is a very pale straw hue; snappy yet stylish aromas of grapefruit, lime peel and limestone, fig and tarragon, thyme, sage and bay tantalize the nose; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of fresh-mown grass and gooseberry. The whole enterprise is lively and vibrant, energized by crisp, finely-etched acidity and scintillating, crystalline elements of flint and steel. The 98 percent sauvignon blanc portion, fermented in stainless steel, is supplemented by two-percent barrel-fermented semillon that contributes just a touch of spice and a bit of suppleness to the lovely, slightly powdery texture. As you can see, a great deal of the success of this wine lies in its precise balance between the energy of the acidity and mineral elements and the ripeness and moderate lushness of its texture and fruit. After a few more moments, the Silverado Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2012 unfolds hints of tangerine and jasmine, pear and caramelized fennel, all of these qualities expressed with delicacy and finesse. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through Summer 2014. Excellent. About $22, representing Great Value.

The wine was a sample for review; the beer was a purchase.

Yes, I’m getting this post just in under the wire to qualify still for the Weekend Wine Sips. We look at a dozen pinot noir wines from California today (um, tonight), and they run a range of styles, from deep and almost burly to (my preference) airy, delicate and elegant. A few of these have issues with oak, and I wish you all would just stop it, warnings and pleas I have made with some of these wineries previously, n’est-ce pas? No real technical information; these are all 100 percent pinot noir (unless someone is cheating and not telling), and of course I mention the alcohol content and, if I know it, the number of cases if the production is small. These were all samples for review. The Inman Family trio, from 2007, may seem like an anomaly, since the current releases are 2009, but that delivery was the result of some confusion with the winery and the local distributor. Or something like that. I didn’t care; they’re wonderful.
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Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 14.5% alc. 589 cases. Medium ruby color with an intense mulberry core and slightly lighter at the rim; a dense and concentrated pinot noir, with cloves, cola and sandalwood and spiced and macerated black and red cherries; vibrant acidity for alluring liveliness, but a pinot of serious weight and heft, every element feels super-sized yet somehow balanced; dryish slightly powdery tannins, with burnished oak coming out on the finish. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $72.
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Donum Estate West Slope Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 14.3% alc. 294 cases. Dark to medium ruby color, almost opaque at the center; a big, spicy, resonant pinot noir; you really feel the earthy-foresty-briery character around the circuit of your palate; not shy about oak but fills in the spaces with toasted sweet spices, rose petals and violets, a touch of lilac; black and red fruit a little fleshy and meaty, exotic hint of caramelized rhubarb and fennel; very dry but complex, layered, a Chinese box of a wine. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $90.
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Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 483 cases. Here’s where it gets tricky. Rich, warm medium ruby color shading through magenta to cherry; fruity, floral, spicy, feels elemental, but quite dry with oak and tannin rearing themselves obtrusively after a few minutes; will this wine survive its own austere structure? Very Good, and hope for the best in three to five years. About $72.
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Donum Estate Russian River Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. 176 cases. The darkest, most intensely colored of these four pinot noirs; deep, warm, rich, ripe and spicy; black currants, black cherries and plums; the whole box of dried sweet and baking spices; lip-smacking acidity, thwacking dusty and fairly challenging tannins and polished oak, but it still practically caresses the palate with its dense satiny drape. Try from 2014 or ’15 to 2018 to ’20. Very Good+ with perhaps Excellent potential. About $90.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Radiant ruby-magenta color; smoke with an edge of ash, forest floor; black and red currants and cherries, leather, mushrooms, forest floor, briers and brambles; all elements subdued to the principle of balance yet quite dry and you feel the wood just a bit and the slightly austere tannins; this model more reticent than the 2009 version that I reviewed back in November and which I selected as one of my “50 Great Wines of 2012.” Very Good+ with possible Excellent potential in one or two years. About $42.
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Inman Family Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley. 13.8% alc. (From the Thorn Ridge Ranch and Olivet Grange Vineyard) Medium ruby color, almost transparent; delicate, elegant, finely knit; black cherries, plums and cranberries, hints of sassafras and rhubarb; very satiny texture, utterly seamless, with inner richness and succulence discreetly subdued to bright acidity and a slightly underbrushy-foresty structure. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $30.
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Inman Family Thorn Ridge Ranch Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Slightly darker ruby-mulberry color; black and red currants and cherries, briers and brambles with a subtle graphite edge, deep deep spice with a touch of fruitcake; wonderful purity, intensity and resonance yet perfectly tranquil and confident; cloves, cinnamon and sandalwood; you feel the polished slightly sanded oak and a modicum of slightly dusty tannins from mid-palate through the finish. Beautiful. Drink through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $56.
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Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley. (Olivet Grange Vineyard) 13.5% alc. Limpid ruby-magenta color with a touch of brick-red at the rim; ripe, fleshy and spicy; broad and expansive; macerated red and black currants and plums permeated by cranberry and mulberry; drier than the preceding examples, more tannic power and grip with elements of leather, earthy graphite, briers and brambles; long, spicy satiny finish, elevating and, ultimately, ethereal. Drink through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $56.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Enchanting, vibrant ruby-mulberry color; rhubarb, cloves and cola, spiced and macerated red and black cherries; deep, rich, spicy yet nothing strenuous or obvious; super-satiny texture, almost luscious black fruit flavors but not opulent, in fact fairly dense tannins; hints of sandalwood, violets and rose petals with undertones of mushrooms, moss and brambles; a lovely pinot noir with enough heft and edge to lend an air of seriousness. Drink through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros, Sonoma County. 14.6% alc. 115 cases. Arresting mulberry-ruby color, trace of violet at the rim; a seductive combination of ethereal, alluring and earthy; marvelous purity and concentration cloaked in a deeply spicy character and with an almost poignant flinty mineral element; black and red currants and cherries with an elusive hint of dried sage and bay leaf and undertones of rose petals, cloves and sassafras; intensely briery and brambly, as the finish unpacks elements of minerals and forest floor. Drink through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $75.
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Pali Wine Co. “Summit” Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Rita Hills. 14.6% alc. 1,020 cases. Riveting dark ruby-mulberry color; a deep, dense, spicy and muscular fashion of pinot noir; black cherries and currants, with a flush of blue plum, cloves and fruitcake; a little exotic, fleshy, peppery, yet beguiling with notes of roses and lilac; supple and satiny, yes, but also lithe, almost taut and definitely the chewiest of these 12 pinot noirs; still, it concludes in a more elevating, balletic manner than one would think possible. Now through 2016 or ’18. Excellent. About $29.
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Waterstone Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. 14.5% alc. 1,241 cases. Lovely in every element and aspect; beguiling almost luminescent ruby-magenta color; red and black cherries, hint of cranberry; cloves, sandalwood, cola; beautiful balance and integration; vibrant acidity yet very smooth, serene; tannins and minerals qualities feel poised, almost alert; finish packed with spice, with hints of graphite, briers and brambles. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $22, representing Great Value.
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I made a Salade Lyonnaise one night, and to drink with it pulled out a bottle of Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. That worked intensely well.

The essence of Salade Lyonnaise, or salad in the style of the city of Lyon, is the combination of strong bitter greens, typically frisée, a type of chicory; pieces of bacon — what the French call lardons; and a poached egg, dressed with a warm vinaigrette. I have seen versions that include potatoes, which is how I made the dish, with new potatoes segmented into small pieces and roasted. And I fried my egg instead of poaching it. I know; purists weep. My greens were spinach, red and green chard and baby kale.

The Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc 2011 was made from 100 percent sauvignon blanc grapes grown in certified organic and biodynamic vineyards in Napa Valley’s American Canyon and Carneros regions. Eighty percent of the grapes were fermented, using indigenous yeasts, in 900-gallon French oak casks, the rest in already used 59-gallon French oak barriques; after fermentation, the wine aged six months in neutral barrels. No fetish for new oak here! This Fumé Blanc — a name invented by Robert Mondavi almost 50 years ago to indicate a sauvignon blanc wine supposedly modeled on those of the Loire Valley — is beautifully and subtly balanced and integrated, yet feels poised with energy and purpose. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of roasted pears and lemons are woven with tangerine and lime peel, a touch of tarragon and caramelized fennel, and, with a few minutes in the glass, a whiff of quince and ginger. Those elements segue seamlessly into the mouth, where the wine is quite dry yet engagingly juicy and flavorful and bolstered by an almost powdery texture enlivened by scintillating acidity that cuts a swath. The spice-packed finish brings in a burgeoning limestone and flint quality that provides a poignant snap of mineral potency. Alcohol content is a blessed 13.2 percent, thanks to a cool growing season. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $30.

A sample for review.

… and if anything really bad happens today, don’t blame it on me or this post. Nine from California, two each from Chile and Argentina.
These brief notices encompass a couple of pleasant, interesting and inexpensive cabernets that you can enjoy tonight as well as a diverse range of more serious and complex efforts intended for consuming anywhere from now or 2014 through the early 2020s. As usual with these Weekend Wine Sips, the only technical information I include is information about the varietal composition of the wines; anything else in the nature of history, geography and personnel is omitted for the sake of brevity and immediacy. These wines were samples for review.
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Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Ruby-purple color with a magenta cast; seductive bouquet of ripe black currants and raspberries, lavender and lilac, leather and loam, shale and graphite; gritty, slightly bitter tannins, vibrant acidity, firm yet supple body and structure, very tasty, dusty, almost succulent black fruit flavors but with a serious edge of tannin and foresty elements in the finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $13, a Great Bargain.
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Domus Aurea 2009, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. 14% alc. 85% cabernet sauvignon, 7% merlot, 5% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot. A polished cabernet that radiates individuality, authenticity and character. Deep ruby-purple color; beguiling aromas of blueberry and mulberry, pomegranate and mint, with touches of toasted cumin and ancho chili and a host of underlying mineral elements like graphite and flint; give it a few moments and traces of lavender, violets and licorice emerge; then a powerful expression of dusty tannins, granitic minerality, hefty tone and presence on the palate, yet sleek, lithe, panther-like, permeated by slightly spiced and macerated black and blue fruit flavors; a long spice- and mineral-packed finish. Perhaps Chile’s best cabernet. Exceptional. About $60.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Meritage 2008, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 33%, merlot 30%, cabernet franc 17%, malbec 14%, petit verdot 6%. Dark ruby color; ripe, warm and spicy; mint and mocha, intense and concentrated black currants and plums with a hint of blueberry tart; bright acidity, very dry, swingeing tannins and a finish piled with forest floor, briers and brambles for a trace of austerity. Try 2014 through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $30.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Endeavor 2008, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 91% cabernet sauvigon, 7% petit verdot, 2% merlot. 490 cases. Dark ruby color; dense, intense and concentrated yet ravishing, like graphite-lined velvet and ripe port-infused black currant jam; lip-smacking acidity and smacky tannins, toasty oak and vanilla, quite spicy, and the oak feels a little crunchy around the circumference; dry and austere; needs a few years to come together. Try 2015 or ’16 to 2020 or ’22. Excellent (potential). About $65.
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Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. From Huneeus Vintners, the makers of Quintessa. 83% cabernet sauvignon, 13% merlot, 3% malbec, 1% cabernet franc. Dark but radiant ruby-purple; pure bitter chocolate, mocha, lavender and graphite sifted with fervent, close to vehement notes of black currants, raspberries and plums; dense, chewy, almost powdery texture, grainy tannins plow furrows and acid cuts a swath, adding to a powerful structure, yet nothing here is overdone, and the ultimate impression is of innate poise, a sense of deliberation and dignity. Try from 2014 or ’15 to 2020 or ’24 — or tonight with a steak. Excellent. About $55.
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Hestan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 550 cases. Dark ruby color; very dry yet vibrant, resonant; you feel the new oak unfurling to a spine of warm spice; graphite, iodine and mint; scintillating purity and intensity of black fruit and vivid minerality; tremendous heft and bearing and imperturbability; cloves, white pepper, leather; incredibly dense and chewy with plush and dusty tannins; nothing of Bordeaux-like elegance here but asserts its own Californian character of immediate ripe fledgling appeal balanced with monumental dimension. Try from now or 2014 through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $100.
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Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. 77% cabernet sauvignon, 18% merlot, 5% petit verdot. Dark ruby color with a tinge of magenta at the rim; one of the most structured and concentrated Jordan Cabs I have tasted; nose of leather, walnut shell and wheatmeal notched with hints of cedar, tobacco and black olive, black currants and cherries; a few minutes in the glass bring up touches of violets and potpourri; dense and chewy but sleek, lithe, supple, a little chiseled in its clean, faceted fashion; plenty of dusty, charcoal-laced tannins but while the finish is spare and reticent, it’s not austere. Begs for a medium rare ribeye steak or, no, even better, rack of lamb. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $52.
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The Steven Kent Winery Home Ranch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Livermore Valley. 14.2% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Fewer than 125 cases. Dark ruby color, opaque center; a high wild note of black cherry and blueberry draws you in, and you stay for the mint and iodine, the penetrating granitic, slate-like minerality, the intimate hints of black licorice and violets, black currants and raspberries and intriguing touch of blueberry preserves; all presented in a remarkably spare, dusty, elegant yet statuesque structure that does not overemphasize any element; a highly individual and thoughtful interpretation of the grape. Now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $65.
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Lawer Family Wines Three Coins Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 15.2% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 89 cases. Dark ruby color; leather and violets, black licorice, lavender, smoke and graphite, black currants and blueberries, very ripe and spicy, touch of fruitcake, really tending toward an over-ripe zinfandel character; sweet alcohol dominates; very dry, dense and chewy, increasingly austere and awkward from mid-palate back through the finish; increasingly unbalanced by the alcohol, strident spice and over-sweet ripeness; ultimately incoherent. Not recommended. About $42.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Sonoma County. 13.8% alc. Cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petite sirah. Deep ruby color with a magenta rim; a darkly fruity spicy cabernet, dense, chewy, dusty; typical ripe and slightly fleshy black currant and raspberry fruit; good acidity and fairly stalwart but functional tannins; solid, well-made, unexciting. Through 2015 or ’16. Very Good. About $18.
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Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 83% cabernet sauvignon, 12% merlot, 4% cabernet franc, 1% syrah. Dark ruby color, almost opaque; graphite-and-shale-like mineral qualities dominate but lovely, pinpoint balance from start to finish; furled yet vigorous black currant, cherry and plum scents and flavors slathered with lavender and licorice, potpourri and bitter chocolate; dusty, iron-flecked tannins increase in scale as the moments pass, leading to a dense, vibrant finish; a polished, sleek and personality-packed cabernet. Try from 2014 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $28.
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Peñalolén Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maipo Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Cabernet sauvignon with cabernet franc and merlot. Deep, rich ruby color; very dark and evocative cabernet, tobacco, cedar, black olive; dark chocolate-covered black currants and raspberries, touch of plum; dense and dusty graphite-tinged tannins; rustic, exuberant, spicy, an engaging personality. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $19.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.4% alc. Blend N/A. Dark ruby color; fleshy, beefy, beetroot and graphite, mint and iodine, cedar, smoky black currants and plums; firm velvety tannins that coat the mouth, dense, dusty and chewy; bright ripe black fruit flavors; loads of personality. Fire up the grill and throw on some beef, lamb, pork and goat, as they do in Argentina. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $16, representing Great Value.
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No, Readers, the splendid Italianate castle you see in the picture here is not located in Tuscany or Lombardy but in Napa Valley, near the town of Calistoga. Castello di Amorosa, completed in 2007, is the pet project, nay, the total obsession, of Dario Sattui, who owns the well-known V. Sattui winery, retail store and picnic-ground farther south in St. Helena. The story of the planning and building of Castello di Amorosa is related in lavish detail on the winery’s website; yes, the setting may be elaborate and medieval, but Castello di Amorosa is a working winery; Brooks Painter is director of winemaking, a position he also holds a V. Sattui. And as is the case at V. Sattui, the wines are available only at the winery or by what’s still quaintly called “mail-order.” Not surprisingly, Amorosa focuses on Italian grape varieties but also on — our focus in this post — gewürztraminer, and if you’re thinking that gewürztraminer has about the same standing in Napa Valley that Lady Gaga holds at the National Academy of Kabuki-Acting Thoracic Surgeons, you would be correct. There are about 11 acres of gewürztraminer vines in Napa (total vineyard acreage about 43,000), which is why Amorosa has Gewürztraminer planted in cool-climate Mendocino County. These wines were samples for review. We move from dry to sweet.
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The aromas of the Castello di Amorosa Gewürztraminer 2011, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, are frankly gorgeous; jasmine and honeysuckle, lychee and pear, quince and ginger, guava and passion fruit, with undertones of lime peel, limestone and grapefruit; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of “Evening in Paris” and lilac-scented face powder. Could the rest of the experience live up to this heady allure? Yes, actually, the wine — made in stainless steel as the others here are — displays admirable crispness and exuberant acidity, a suave, sleek texture, but lively and spicy, a burgeoning element of shale-and-flint-like minerality and, amid its apple and nectarine flavors, an overall crystalline existential glow. And it’s totally dry. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 or ’18, well-stored. 1,100 cases. Excellent. About $23.
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The Castello di Amorosa “Dolcino” Gewürztraminer 2011, Mendocino County, is, as its name indicates, a little sweet. The color is very pale straw-gold; notes of jasmine and honeysuckle are woven with ripe lychees and pears and hints of apples and apricots. No doubt about the sweetness on the entry, where flavors of softly roasted peaches mingle with touches of sage and baked apple, though the wine firms up nicely, under the influence of keen acidity that contributes freshness and moderate crispness to the texture. The wine, then, is lively and spicy, and the finish brings in a bit of grapefruit austerity. 12 percent alcohol. Good as an aperitif for those who like a touch of sweetness or with mildly spicy Indian or Southeast Asian cuisine. 1,849 cases. Very Good+. About $24.
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The Castello di Amorosa Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2011, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, is a full-fledged dessert wine that displays all the super-ripeness and golden honeyed slightly roasted stone fruit scents and flavors you could ask for. The color is pale gold; hints of baked apples and peaches, lychees, cloves and ginger snaps entice the nose before segueing into the mouth, where they’re enveloped by a texture that’s dense and almost viscous; the wine is even spicier on the palate, more honeyed, slightly buttery — think of lightly buttered cinnamon toast. Castello di Amorosa Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2011 is rich, tasty and appealing, but it lacks just by a degree the essential tension and tautness that keep dessert wines on the straight and narrow path of clean, thirst-quenching acidity and scintillating intensity. 11.2 percent alcohol. 2,964 cases. Now through 2018 to 2022. Very Good+. About $35 for a 375 ml half-bottle.
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Sometimes you feel like a theme, sometimes you don’t! (And who remembers the television commercial to which I allude?) The point being no theme today, just eight miscellaneous wines, some better than others, some quite exemplary, and touching many bases. Not a great deal of technical, geographical, climatic, historical or philosophical info here; these Weekend Wine Sips are intended as quick reviews, often transcribed directly from my notes, designed to pique your interest, whet your palate and claim your attention one way or the other. These were all samples for review. Enjoy!
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Apaltagua Carménère Rosé 2012, Central Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 100% carmenere grapes. Very pale pink-watermelon color; a pretty rose, quite delicate and fine-boned; notes of rose petal, watermelon, raspberry with a light strawberry backnote; pert acidity for liveliness, lies winsomely on the palate with spareness and trifling allure. I happily drank this with lunch over two days. Now through the end of Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $12, Great Value.
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Apaltagua Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale straw color; clean, fresh, spicy, typical pineapple-grapefruit with lots of steel and limestone and a hint of pear; good balance; sea-salt-bracing, tantalizing hints of jasmine, roasted fennel and thyme; lovely supple texture but crisp with acidity. One doesn’t often refer to chardonnay as delightful, but here it is. Very Good+. About $12, Great Value.
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Artesa Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; black cherry and cola, briers and brambles, traces of rhubarb and violets; lovely balance among clean acidity, a lithe structure, black and red fruit flavors that come close to opulence and an essential earthy, loamy quality, all adding up to elegance that admits a slightly subversive wild berry nature. Exquisite. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $40.
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Artesa Artisan Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 4% merlot and 3% petit verdot. Dark ruby color; black currants, black cherries and a hint of plums; touches of black olives, cedar and thyme; velvety tannins with a graphite-lavender-licorice core; quite dry yet juicy and succulent and lively with vibrant acidity; solid, well-made, very drinkable. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $46.
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Berlucchi “Cuvée 61″ Brut Rosé, Lombardy, Italy. 11.4% alc. 50% pinot noir, 50% chardonnay. Pale onion skin color; dense array of tiny bubbles; fruit compote with pure strawberry, red currants, softly macerated peach; noticeably sweet but bright acidity dries it out from mid-palate back, clearing the way for some crisp limestone minerality. Very Good. About $24.
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Carpenè Malvolti Brut Rosé (nv), Veneto. 12% alc. 85% pinot nero (pinot noir) 15% rabaso. Pale onion skin with a light copper cast; constant stream of fine bubbles; strawberry and raspberry, hints of orange zest and pomegranate; moderate level of slate-like minerality; pleasant, tasty, not a lot there. Good. About $20.
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Piccini Memor? (nv) Vino Rosso d’Italia. 14% alc. 40% primitivo, 30% montepulciano, 20% nero d’avola, 10% merlot del Veneto. Just as in this country a wine that drew grapes from several states would carry an “American wine” designation, this dark and sassy little number is denominated “Vino d’Italia” because the grapes hale from four region: Sicily, Puglia, Veneto and Abruzzo. Deep ruby-purple color; blackberries, blueberries and plums, with high notes of cherries, fruitcake and bitter chocolate and a laving of spicy, vanilla-laced oak; very pleasing heft, supple texture papered with slightly shaggy tannins; another hint of warm oak on the finish; you could call it rustic, and why not? A terrific pizza or braised short ribs wine. Very Good. About $10, a Raving Bargain.
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Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. Current release is the 2010, but this was in my white wine fridge, and it’s absolutely Worth a Search. Moderate straw-gold color; clean, fresh, sleek, deeply spicy and savory, rich without being cloying; pineapple and grapefruit, yellow plums, quince and ginger, touch of candied lime peel; bristling crystalline acidity and a tremendously resonant limestone presence, with supple oak in the background. Drink through 2014 or ’15, well-stored. An exciting chardonnay. Excellent. About $35.
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The point of bottling wines made from similar grapes from separate vineyards or regions is that those entities, because of differences, sometimes minute, sometimes pronounced, among geography, geology, soil and microclimate — terroir, friends, terroir’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout — will produce wines that reflect those differences in their individual characteristics. Such a premise is the whole basis, as much moral and philosophical as practical, of the wine industry in Burgundy, for example, with its myriad tiny vineyards each classified and codified in a (basically) three-tier scheme of theoretical quality. Such, too, is the premise of the five wines from Pine Ridge Vineyards that we look at today. Four of these wines are from the Napa Valley sub-appellations of Rutherford, Oakville, Howell Mountain and Stags Leap, bearing, inherently, the promise of distinguishing regional qualities.

Pine Ridge was founded in 1978 by Gary Andrus and a group of investors on the Silverado Trail in what would become the Stags Leap District. The winery made its name with various bottlings of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, though its biggest seller is an inexpensive and perennially popular chenin blanc-viognier blanc blend; every winery should have a product that pays the rent, so to speak. Pine Ridge and its sister winery in Oregon, Archery Summit, are owned by the Crimson Wine Group, also owners of Chamisal Vineyards, Seghesio Vineyards and Double Canyon, in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills.

Pine Ridge’s general manager and winemaker Michael Beaulac came on board in 2009, moving from St. Supery, where he made a string of superb sauvignon blancs and cabernets; assistant winemaker is Jason Ledbetter.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 is a blend of 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent malbec, 7 percent petit verdot, 4 percent merlot and 1 lonely percent cabernet franc; it aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 60 percent new. The grapes derived from Pine Ridge’s three estate vineyards in the Rutherford appellation, totaling 61 acres. The color is deep ruby-purple; the bouquet is a heady amalgam of graphite and lavender, bittersweet chocolate, ripe nut intense and concentrated black currants and black cherries, all wound with smoky allure. Tannins feel like an inescapable mesh of infinitesimal fineness and finesse, though composed of dusty velvet and iron. The wine coats the mouth with elements of granite and shale-like minerality, earth and loam and succulent black and blue fruit flavors, succulent but nothing like opulent or sumptuous; all the qualities conspire here to keep the wine substantial but elegant. Dust, earth and loam? Perhaps this is evidence of the famous yet elusive “Rutherford dust” for which the district is noted. The finish is long and packed with spice, minerals and, ultimately, layers of brambly-foresty qualities, becoming a little demanding but not austere. 14.3 percent alcohol. Best from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $80.
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Oakville is only two miles south of Rutherford on Hwy. 29 –the drive is under five minutes; geographically, the shape of Oakville is slightly flatter and a bit broader, as it reaches from the slope of the Vacas range in the east to Mayacamas range in the west. The Pine Ridge Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, 96 percent cabernet and 4 percent petit verdot, offers more fruit and slate and slightly woody spices — sandalwood, cloves, allspice — than its stablemate from Rutherford, though it displays similar dusty, granite-flecked and mouth-coating tannins; the black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors for “Oakville” are also a little more macerated, fleshy and meaty. This is definitely the most herbal of this quintet of cabernets, a characteristic I miss in most examples produced in California; here we have hints of cedar and thyme and and a high-note of bay leaf. The wine is undoubtedly dense and chewy, and the mineral elements of graphite and granite surge forward from mid-palate back through the surprisingly smooth (and smoky) finish. This cabernet aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 55 percent new. 14.1 percent alcohol. Best from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $80.
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Pioneered by Randy Dunn, who released his first cabernet from the 1979 vintage, and established by the federal government in 1983, Howell Mountain was the first sub-appellation in the Napa Valley. Most vineyards in this AVA north of St. Helena and east of Calistoga are planted at altitudes of 1,400- to 2,200-feet above sea-level. The Pine Ridge Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 reflects its mountain origin in its power structure and its brambly-briery, loamy and flinty character; the wine is 100 percent cabernet and aged 18 months in 50 percent new French oak barrels. Squinching tannins are drenched in dusty graphite-and-shale-like minerality that dominates the wine from front to back and top to bottom, and that dimension of minerality and the leathery-foresty nature of the tannins build austerity into the finish. The whole effect is of ink and obsidian, opaque and impenetrable. Fruit? Yes, but tightly furled now; enormous potential but try 2015 or ’16 through 2024 to ’29. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $90.
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Stags Leap District — no apostrophe — was approved as an AVA in 1989. Grapegrowing commenced in this hilly area east of Yountville athwart the Silverado Trail in the 1870s. Pine Ridge owns four vineyards in the district: the 47-acre Pine Ridge Estate Vineyard, the steepest; Locked Horns Vineyard (6 acres) and Cornerstone Vineyard (7 acres); and the particularly rocky 9-acre Circle Hill Vineyard; all contribute grapes to the Pine Ridge Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, a 100 percent varietal wine that defines what we think of as largeness in a wine; it’s broad and deep, with roots that seem to extend down into the soil and strata of the vineyards and with an emphasis on an impeccable and pretty damned unassailable (yet beautifully balance) structure of acidity, tannin, oak and a prominent mineral element; the wine aged 18 months in 65 percent new French barrels. The color is deep purple, nigh unto black; the bouquet delivers whiffs of classic cedar and lead pencil and cigar box wrapped around very intense and concentrated black fruit scents and a stab of flint that’s like a sharp exhalation. In the mouth, the Pine Ridge Stags Leap 09 is dense and chewy, gritty and grainy and yet — there’s always an “and yet” when one talks about complicated wines — the wine’s poise and integration, however “big” is it, are lovely. 14.1 percent alcohol. best from 2014 or ’16 through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $85.
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The idea behind Fortis, whose composition changes every year, seems to be a sort of ideal of Napa Valleyness rather than the expression of a more narrow AVA or vineyards within an AVA, as is the case with the other Pine Ridge wines mentioned in this post. And there’s not a thing wrong with that scheme; many wines that come from this valley that’s legendary for cabernet sauvgnon operate on the same principle. The question is: What is the platonic ideal for a Napa Valley wine? For the Pine Ridge Fortis 2009, it’s this: A 100 percent cabernet wine — a varietal tradition that goes back to the origins of the Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de La Tour Private Reserve in the 1930s — that balances power, dynamism and multi-faceted dimension with integration, elegance and finesse. For 09, Fortis is a blend of 52 percent Rutherford grapes with 48 percent Stags Leap, in other words, the western valley floor but backing up to the Mayacamas slopes combined with the rocky hillsides on the eastern side of the valley. The wine is sturdy, robust, cleanly focused, smooth and velvety yet dusty, deeply imbued with flint-and-graphite minerality; and it’s rich with black currant and black cherry flavors steeped in spicy oak — 60 percent new French barrels, 18 months — and grainy tannins, yet, paradoxically, while the finish retains a rather Olympian distance, there’s nothing austere to violate the wine’s essential poise. 14.1 percent alcohol. best from 2014 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $150.
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Weekend Wine Sips and it’s only Friday afternoon. If you live in the Northeast, you probably won’t be able to get to a liquor and wine store tonight — two feet of snow? 50- to 75-mph winds? — but for the rest of the country, time’s a-wasting! There’s one wine in this post that I strongly do not recommend, otherwise these range from pleasant to impressive to memorable. Six eclectic white wines and four reds today, ranging in price from about $13 to $25, with a couple that merit ranking as Bargains and Values. As usual, little in the way of historical, geographical or technical detail; instead I offer quick reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. These were all samples for review, and the order is alphabetical.
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Angelini Sangiovese 2008, Colli Pesaresi, Marche, Italy. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; lovely warm sangiovese nose of dried red currants, cloves, black tea and orange zest; pert acidity, an element of graphite-like minerality and a rather lean structure contribute to a sense of spareness and angularity, though the wine never loses its charm and appeal. Drink through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $16.
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Brancaia “Tre” 2010, Toscana, Italy. …% alc. 80% sangiovese, 20% merlot and cabernet sauvignon, from three estates, hence “Tre.” Deep ruby color; intense and concentrated; dried red and blue fruit, dried flowers (lavender and potpourri), dried spices like cloves and allspice; hints of thyme, rosemary with its slightly resiny quality, earthy and slate-like minerality; black tea and black olives; the oak comes out on the finish a bit obviously, but lots of personality. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.
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Edna Valley Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Central Coast, California. (Owned by Gallo since 2011) 13.9% alc. Very pale straw color; scintillating bouquet of lime peel, lemongrass, kiwi, tarragon and grapefruit; segues smoothly to the palate, enhanced by rousing acidity and a keen limestone edge. Now through the end of 2013. Totally attractive. Very Good+. About $15.
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Franz Keller “Schwarzer Adler” Pinot Blanc 2010, Baden, Germany. 13% alc. Pale straw-gold color; pear and peach with a trace of lychee and spicy backnotes; very crisp, lively and flinty; vibrant acidity, taut, clean, fresh; touch of limestone-laced earthiness to buoy the ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors; svelte, elegant, lots of authority yet charming. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
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Hooker Betsy’s Vineyard “Home Pitch” Syrah 2010, Knights Valley, Sonoma County, California. 14% alc. Deep ruby color with a magenta rim; robust, intense and concentrated, roasted and fleshy, smoke and ash, damp mossy earth and leather; ripe blackberry and black currant scents and flavors with notes of wild raspberry and plums; a little nutty and toasty; builds power as it goes, accumulating layers of graphite, licorice, bitter chocolate, briers and brambles. Pretty darned classic. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $24.
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Poliziano Lohsa 2010, Morellino di Scansano, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. Unusual blend of 80% cabernet sauvignon and 20% alicante, petit verdot and carignano (carignane). Dark ruby color; black currants and plums, touch of red cherry, deeply imbued with spice and brambly elements, notes of oolong tea, mushrooms and sour cherry; neatly balanced rusticity with pleasing poise and integration; slightly shaggy tannins abound. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Santiago Ruiz 2011, Rias Baixas, Spain. 13% alc. 70% albariño, 15% loureiro, 10% caiño, 5% treixadura and godello. Pale straw color; spanking fresh and clean as new ironed sheets, with a savory, bracing sea-salt, sea-breeze exhilaration as well as a stony and steely backbone; thyme and mint, peach, kumquat and quince, touch of bay leaf; deftly handled texture halfway between prettily lush and bony spare; very polished sense of heft and presence. Now through the end of 2013. Excellent. About $17, a True Bargain.
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Treana 2010, Central Coast, California. 14.5% alc. (Hope Family Wines) 50% each marsanne and viognier. Again and again, I try to like this wine but cannot. Two grapes that are capable of lovely finesse and ardent dimension are treated in such manner that the wine comes out brassy, over-ripe and florid, stridently spicy, candied and over-blown. Oh, and way too oaky. I know that people love this wine, but I don’t recommend it. About $23.
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Wente Riverbank Riesling 2011, Arroyo Seco, Monterey, California. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; a very appealing riesling at the right price; a touch of sweetness in the entry tones down to just off-dry across the palate; jasmine, lychee, pear and a hint of ripe peach; a little fleshy but good acidity; a hint of grapefruit on the finish. Now through Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $13, representing Real Value.
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William Hill Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, California. 14.5% alc. (Gallo acquired William Hill from Beam Wine Estates in 2007.) Pale gold color; a generous and expansive version of the grape, fresh and vibrant with enticing personality and authority; dry, crisp and bright, with moderately ripe pineapple and grapefruit flavors barely touched by mango and jasmine and what people like to describe as “a kiss of oak”; nothing bold or brassy here, just clean balance and integration and, through the finish, a hug of limestone minerality. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $25.
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Bittman being Mark Bittman, and the recipe was the Baked Rigatoni with Brussels Sprouts, Figs and Blue Cheese from his recently published The Food Matters Cookbook (Simon & Schuster, $35). Mondavi being the Robert Mondavi Winery and its Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. The match: Exquisite, though allow me to emphasize, as anyone writing about food and wine pairing should, that there’s no such thing as one wine being the sole Platonic beverage to sip with one particular dish; both food and wine are more versatile than that “perfect marriage” trope would have you believe.

Anyway, I think Bittman wouldn’t mind that we added a handful of diced applewood-smoked bacon and a scattering on top of homemade breadcrumbs to enhance the dish, since he offers variations on many of the book’s recipes himself. And the combination of bacon, figs and blue cheese seemed a triumvirate almost unholy in its synergistic appeal. Cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts (and, notoriously, artichokes) can be difficult to match with wine because of the presence (Education Alert!!) of phenylthiocarbamides, which produce bitterness — the ability to detect PTC, by the way, is genetic — and the sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates. Still, in this dish the Brussels sprouts are chopped and distributed throughout along with other ingredients and the whole shebang baked. For the wine, I chose the Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2010 almost randomly and with a trace of doubt. I need not have worried.

The grapes for the wine derive from the Wappo Hill Vineyard in the Stags Leap District (51 percent), from Mondavi’s well-known estate vineyard To Kalon in Oakville (30 percent) with the remaining 19 percent from other vineyards in Napa Valley, the point being to balance grapes from different microclimates in terms of the effect that varying temperatures and soils have on their development and character. Sixty-nine percent of the grapes were fermented and then the wine aged five months in French oak barrels, the rest in stainless steel tanks. The blend is 94 percent sauvignon blanc and six percent semillon grapes. Winemaker is Genevieve Janssens.

The Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2010, notable for restraint and elegance, offers a pale straw-gold color with faint green highlights. Aromas of lemongrass, roasted lemon and verbena sift from the glass with back-notes of freshly mowed hay, lime peel, fennel seeds and a bare whiff of fig and gooseberry; you detect just a touch of oak in a sort of blond shimmer of wood and spice. This seeming welter of sensations is subdued to an admirable structure of harmony and poise, though there’s nothing delicate or fragile about it. It’s a mouth-filling wine, not quite dense but certainly displaying pleasing heft on the palate; at the same time, there’s an element of fleetness and transparency, abetted by crystalline acidity. To the citrus and herbal qualities are added hints of quince and ginger, a slightly more emphatic dose of fig — there’s that semillon! — and an ineffable quality of sunny leafiness through the finish. Again, you feel the oak as an influence on the wine’s spicy nature and the suppleness of its texture. Somehow the wine made a terrific match with the Baked Rigatoni with Brussels Sprouts, Figs and Blue Cheese (and Bacon), allowing everything rich and savory and slightly sweet about the dish to have complete integrated expression and in turn bringing out the savory, spicy qualities of the wine. Drink now through 2014. Excellent. About $20, an Incredible Bargain.

This wine was a sample for review.

Since the “Weekend Wine Sips” for the past two weeks concerned red wines, today I’ll offer a group that consists of two roses, five
sauvignon blancs and two chardonnays. There should be a bottle here to appeal to most every palate and pocketbook. Nothing extensive in the way of background information, just quick reviews designed to strike to the heart of the matter and tempt your taste-buds. These were all samples for review.
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Jean Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rosé 2012, Mediterranée IGP, France. 12% alc. 67% syrah, 33% mourvèdre. Classic pale onion skin color; dried strawberries and red currants, hints of cloves and Earl Grey tea; back-notes of lavender and limestone, hint of mineral austerity on the finish; juicy but bone-dry. Quite charming. Now through end of 2013. Very Good+. About $12, a Terrific Bargain.
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Calcu Rosé 2012, Colchaqua Valley, Chile. 12% alc. 50% malbec, 40% syrah, 10% petit verdot. Distinctive pale salmon/melon color; wild cherry and dried red currants and cranberries with a touch of plum; soft and inviting, touches of dried herbs and stones. Now through end of 2013. Very Good. About $14.
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Peñalolen Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Limari Valley, Chile. 12.5% alcohol. Pale straw color; pert and sassy; mandarin orange, thyme and tarragon, lime peel and grapefruit; winsome touch of honeysuckle; vibrant acidity and a pleasing moderately lush texture. Very Good+. About $13, representing Good Value.
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Calcu Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Colchaqua Valley, Chile. 12% alc. Pale straw-gold color; fresh, clean, crisp; grapefruit, kiwi, lime peel all the way; hints of thyme and tarragon; very spicy, sprightly, vibrant. Uncomplicated, super appealing. Now through Summer 2013. Very Good. About $14.
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Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Northern Sonoma. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold; bright, clean and fresh; lime peel, celery seed and tarragon, roasted lemon and yellow plum; resonant acidity and a keen limestone edge. Lots of personality. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $15, Excellent Value.
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Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2012. Marlborough, New Zealand. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold with faint green highlights; very bright, scintillating with acidity and limestone-like minerality; grass, thyme and fennel seed; celery, kiwi and lime peel, touches of grapefruit and some astringent floral note; more balanced and restrained than many NZ sauvignon blancs and all the better for it. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $16, a Great Value.
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Ladera Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Just great. Notes of green plums, lemon grass and roasted lemon, grapefruit and lime; crisp, lively, spicy and vibrant, terrific tone and presence, balances leanness and sinew with suppleness; tremendous minerality in the shale and flint range. Now into 2014. Production was 946 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Matanzas Creek Winery Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. (Jackson Family Wines). Did I forget this wine in the white wine fridge? In any case, it’s drinking perfectly right now; balanced and harmonious, everything in place: baking spice, fleet acidity, citrus fruit with a tropical overlay, mineral elements, sweet floral top-note; ultimate freshness and brightness; lovely, svelte and lithe texture. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $26.
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Robert Turner Wines Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. Lovely class and elegance; clean and fresh, hints of peach and spiced pear under pineapple and grapefruit with a burgeoning limestone component; very pleasing texture, assertive but not quite lush; deft oak a presence just around the circumference. Thoughtful and well-made. 150 cases. Now though 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $30, and Worth a Search.
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