Napa Valley


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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This second edition of Weekend Wine Sips for 2013 offers seven red wines from California. There’s cabernet sauvignon, of course and a couple of pinot noirs from the Sonoma Coast appellation and also a great merlot and a seductive grenache. Prices range from $22 to $65, and I have few quibbles about any of the wines. I offer little in the way of technical, historical or geographical information in this series of brief reviews, other than alcohol content and the make-up or blend of grapes in each wine; if a wine is limited in production, I mention the number of cases that were made. These wines were samples for review.
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Tower 15 “The Swell” 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. The Tower 15 label is a venture of The Pali Wine Co., noted for pinot noir. 14.8% alc. 31% cabernet sauvignon, 28% malbec, 27% merlot, 14% petit verdot. Dark ruby color; clean, fresh, spicy, wildly berryish and very appealing; black currants and plums with hints of blueberry and mulberry; dusty graphite, a bit earthy and loamy; pliant and lithe, close to sexy; the finish rather more serious with influx of walnut-shell and forest-like austerity. 707 cases. Very Good+. About $22.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 13.9% alc. 100% pinot noir. Jeeze, what a sweetheart of a pinot noir! Medium ruby-mulberry color; black cherry, sour cherry candy, rhubarb and cola with notes of rose petal and watermelon; flows across the palate with beguiling heft and drape and deft delicacy; still, though, plenty of earth and loam, hints of underlying briers and brambles; then overtones of pomegranate and sandalwood. Just lovely. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $25.
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Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Primarily cabernet sauvignon with dollops of syrah and petit verdot. A lovely cabernet; dark ruby-purple color; ripe, fleshy black and blue fruit scents and flavors; classic notes of cedar, black olive, truffles and oolong tea with hints of loam and violets; supple, dense and chewy, slightly dusty tannins and graphite-like mineral elements; spicy oak lends support; long, complex, fully-formed finish. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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Gundlach-Bunschu Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 100% pinot noir. Dark ruby-magenta color; deep, rich, succulent; black cherries and plums, notes of rhubarb, cola and cloves and a hint of sassafras; lovely satiny texture; quite spicy, lipsmacking acidity and a slight drying effect through the finish from oak and gentle tannins. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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Chamisal Vineyards Grenache 2009, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. 14.8% alc. With 10% syrah. Medium ruby-magenta color; attractive, soft fruity spicy bouquet; plums, red currants and cranberries, cloves and Red Hots, spiced apple; earthy and minerally, moderate tannins and oak beautifully balanced and integrated; opens to briery and slightly mossy elements on the finish. An evocative rendition of the grape. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $38.
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Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2008, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Certified biodynamic. 100% merlot. Dark ruby color, hint of magenta at the rim; black currants and blueberries with a touch of mulberry, notes of cedar and tobacco; earthy and flinty, tremendous presence and resonance, clean, intense and pure; a faceted and chiseled merlot, with tannins that feel as if they’ve been turned on a lathe; dense, sleek, polished and elegant but with an untamed edge. An impressive and expressive merlot. Excellent. About $42.
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Hawk & Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Red Hills, Lake County. 14.8% alc. Certified biodynamic. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Deep, pure, vivid and vibrant, totally attractive; ripe, smoky and fleshy red and black currants and mulberries, hint of black cherries; very spicy and lively, practically glitters with granite and graphite and resonates with bright acidity; dense and chewy and thoroughly grounded but exhilarating in its balletic wildness and elevation. Quite a performance. 1,350 cases. Now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $65.
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Not really with Mark Bittman, ha-ha, but from his new publication, The Food Matters Cookbook (Simon & Schuster, $35), which we have pledged to cook from through the month of January, starting last week. Here’s a report on what we have prepared so far and the wines we tried with the dishes. The wines were samples for review.
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The first recipe we tried from this inventive and thoughtful cookbook was the Pasta with Smoky Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Bacon, to which LL added broccolini to get something green in there. This is a breeze to make, occupying about an hour, “largely unattended,” as cookbook writers say, and absolutely savory and delicious. Bittman recommends wholewheat pasta; we used penne rigate made from farro, a grain the name of which always makes me feel as if I’m standing in a field in Denmark under a sky laden with rushing gray clouds while a brisk sea-wind tosses the heads of numberless wildflowers.

Anyway, we have been drinking quite a bit of wine made from the albariño grape recently. Though not quite as versatile as riesling, which we tend to chose over other white grapes, albariño offers plenty of charm and distinctive qualities; it’s a signature grape of Spain’s Rias Baixas region, in the extreme northwest, right above Portugal by the Atlantic Ocean. The Zios Albariño 2011, Riax Baixas, from the 6,000-case Pazos de Lusco winery, is a perfect example of what the grape delivers. Made all in stainless steel, the wine shimmers with a pale straw-gold color; it’s clean, fresh and bracing, showing blade-like acidity for intense crispness and liveliness and a combination of spicy, savory and salty that’s very appealing. Notes of roasted lemon, grapefruit and spiced pears are highlighted by hints of dried thyme and rosemary; the wine is dry, spare, lean and lithe, yet supple in texture, and it gains subtle depth and layering as the moments pass. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2013. Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.

Imported by Opici Wines, Glen Rock, N.J.
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Next, the Miso Soup with Bok Choy, Soba Noodles and Broiled Fish, a dish so easy to prepare that you’re surprised how delicious it turns out. We used salmon for the fish, though it could just about anything that stands up to broiling.

So you’re thinking, “Ah ha, we know FK. He’ll choose a riesling to drink with this Asian-themed soup!” Yes, you know me well, but to confound expectation, even my own, I slipped a bottle of the Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, from the white wine fridge, and it fit with the dish like fine silver spoons in a felt-lined drawer. As is traditional at this venerable winery, which has been run completely on biodynamic principles since 1996, winemaker Ivo Jeramaz gave the Chardonnay ’10 moderate exposure to new oak (40 percent new, 60 percent neutral; 10 months aging) and did not put it through malolactic fermentation. The result is a wine that allows its grapes to speak for themselves in terms of expressive tone, texture and presence. The color is mild straw-gold with faint green highlights; heady aromas of lemon and lemon balm, yellow plums and camellias and back-notes of lime peel and limestone waft from the glass. This chardonnay resonates with crystalline clarity, purity and intensity, yet its overall raison d’etre is balance and harmony; one marvels at how a wine of such brightness and elevation can be grounded in elements of clean earth and limestone minerality and possess a texture that’s both fleet in acidity and talc-like in density. More than just a successful chardonnay, it’s an epitome. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Exceptional. About $42.
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Finally in this trio of dishes is the most unusual we tried so far: Ma-Ma’s Pasta “Milanese.” Good thing for the quotation marks, because this “Milanese” has about as much to do with the classic preparation — veal escalopes pounded thin, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and sauteed in butter — as Madonna has to do with, you know, the Madonna. But never mind, this seemingly strange sauce — onion, garlic, bell pepper, sardines, tomatoes, cauliflower, raisins and pecans — is actually quite tasty, with a cannily blended panoply of flavors and sensations. Despite the sardines, which cook away to richness and depth, this is definitely a red wine item.

Something based on grenache would have been appropriate, like the vivid, spicy Chamisal Grenache 2009, Edna Valley, that I had with a cheese toast lunch recently, but instead I pulled out the Steven Kent Folkendt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Livermore Valley. (I wrote about the complicated history of the Mirassou family and its winery and vineyards and the La Rochelle and Steven Kent labels here.) This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon, aged in 100 percent new French oak barrels for 24 months, with an alcohol content of 14.6 percent. Expecting something like an aggressive blockbuster, right? No, friends, the Steven Kent Folkendt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ’09 is a model of how the right grapes can soak up that oak and turn it into a eature of spicy, supple resonance and understated yet persistent support. The color is dark ruby shading to magenta at the rim; the bouquet of ripe, slightly smoky black currants, black cherries and plums is permeated by notes of lavender and violets, bitter chocolate and a powerful graphite element that emerges from the background. This cabernet is characterized by superb balance, tone and bearing, though that graphite-like mineral quality intensifies as the moments pass and silky, dusty tannins burgeon into dimension from mid-palate through the finish, which delivers (after 45 minutes or an hour) a healthy dose of brambly, walnut-shell austerity. Improbably, this seemed perfect with Ma-Ma’s Pasta “Milanese.” Production was 82 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $65.
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Did you think we were finished with sparkling wine? Mais non, mes amis! Few are the wine regions around the world that don’t produce some type of sparkling wine, and we touch upon some of those areas today in a “Weekend Wine Sips” post that refers to France (a little mysteriously); Argentina; Spain; South Africa; and diverse appellations in California. With one exception, these 10 sparkling wines were samples for review. Unless a year is indicated, these are nonvintage sparklers. And with one exception, they were all produced in the traditional Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle.

I was at a doctor’s office last week, and the younger nurses and assistants were all saying “Have a Super Sparkly Day” to each other, with the appropriate amount of cynicism. This term, from the credit card commercial that drove the United States of America half bonkers during the Yuletide season, has gone viral, and there are, of course, t-shirts now available. I certainly hope that as far as sparkling wine or Champagne is concerned that you indeed “Have a Super Sparkly Day.”

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Cachette Blanc de Blancs Brut, nv, “France.” 11.5% alc. Just a tad of enological and geographical info here. This pleasant little sparkling wine is made from the airen grape, the white-grape workhorse of Spain but one not allowed an official label designation in France; nobody’s saying you can’t grow the grape, you just can’t put any information on the label or use a legal appellation. “Bottled by V.A. at 21200″ is what we’re told, and thanks to my research assistant, Miss Google, I can tell you that 21200 is the postal code of the hamlet of Meursanges (population 485 in 2010), in the Cote-d’Or department, Beaune district, Beaune-Sud township; in other words — Burgundy. Pale straw color; moderate stream of fairly fine bubbles; clean, fresh dry; brisk and refreshing; lots of limestone and flint; no great character but serves a purpose with decency and grace. Very Good. About $15.
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Mont-Ferrant Brut Rosé Cava, Spain. 12.46% alc. Monastrell 55%, garnacha 40%, pinot noir 5%. Cherry-maroon color; pleasing effervescence; pure raspberry and strawberry; ripe and spicy, a touch sweet initially but goes dry with taut acidity and limestone minerality; vibrant and robust, almost tannic; a wild quality, brambles, roses. Intriguing style. Very Good+. About $19.
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Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi Ultra Cuvée, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 89% pinot noir, 8% chardonnay, 3% muscat. Icy blond color, a froth of tiny platinum bubbles. Almond and almond blossom; lemon and quince, ginger and cloves; touch of slightly honeyed star-fruit; round and creamy but shivery with crisp acid and limestone minerality; altogether warm and seductive with a touch of sweetness at the beginning. Really charming. Very Good+. About $22.
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Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa. 12% alc. 53% pinotage, 35% pinot noir, 12% pinot meunier. Pale copper-salmon color; exuberant bubbles, pretty in pink; strawberry and raspberry, very steely with a limestone background, bright acidity; cery clean, slick as a whistle, a little earthy though, raspberry with all the rasp. Charming and interesting. Very Good+. About $25.
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JCB No. 21 Brut, Crémant de Bourgogne. 12% alc. Pinot noir and chardonnay. Pale gold color; lively effervescence; lemon and lime peel, touch of candied grapefruit; very crisp and dry, steely and stony, heaps of limestone and flint; spiced pear and a hint of orange blossom; taut and vibrant. Very Good+. The Boisset website lists this at $25, but on the Internet I have not seen it over $20, and in fact that’s what I paid.
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Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Robertson, South Africa. 12.21% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale straw-gold color; clean-cut, sleek and elegant, lots of cut; also a ton of limestone and steel-like minerality, cool and bracing; yet it’s round, spicy, with hints of roasted lemon and smoked and slightly honeyed almonds. Very Good+. About $25.
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V. Sattui Prestige Cuvée Brut 2009, Napa Valley. 12.5% alc. 81% chardonnay, 19% pinot noir. Pale mild gold color; nice constant stream of bubbles; crisp, clean and fresh; apples and lime peel, hints of limestone and chalk; plenty of verve from acid and scintillating minerality but lacks a little substance; still quite enjoyable. Very Good+. About $29. Available at the winery or through the V. Sattui website.
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Bianchi Extra Brut, Mendoza, Argentina. 12.3% alc. 60% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir. Pale gold with faint green highlights; ethereal stream of tiny bubbles; a distinctly ripe, earthy and fleshy style of sparkling wine; roasted pear, apricots and yellow plums, subsumed to pert acidity and a bracing mineral element of limestone and shale; taut yet luscious. Very Good+. About $30.
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Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs 2007, Napa Valley. 12.5% alc. 90% chardonnay, 10% pinot gris. Light straw-gold color; an exuberant host of tiny bubbles; delicate, elegant, steely; definitely citrusy with notes of lime, ginger and quince, definitely minerality with dominating limestone and flint; very high-toned, crisp, sleek; you can imagine it glittering as it walked. Excellent. About $36.
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Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut, North Coast. 13% alc. 55% chardonnay, 25% pinot noir, 20% pinot meunier. A substantial sparkling wine that announces its character in a resonant balance of austerity and robustness; slightly brassy gold color; upward spiraling stream of tiny bubbles; lightly buttered cinnamon toast, crystallized ginger, quince jam, roasted lemon; delicate up-notes of lime peel, wheatmeal and toffee; vibrant structure animated by vivid acidity yet slightly creamy, touch of roasted hazelnuts. A fine example of California sparkling wine. Excellent. About $40.
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It may surprise My Readers to know that it’s even more difficult to decide on the “25 Great Wine Bargains” than it is the “50 Great Wines.” I could probably, from 2012, have compiled a completely different roster of 25 bargain wines, but after much cogitation, meditation and drinking, I thought, No, just leave it alone, because these are all terrific wines. The break-down is 18 white wines, 6 reds and 1 rose; by country or region: California 9, Argentina 4, Spain 4, Chile 3, Washington state, Italy, France and Hungary each 1. Go for it. The order is alphabetical; no hierarchies here.
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Airfield Estates Riesling 2010, Yakima Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $16.

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Apaltagua Envero Gran Reserva Carménère 2010, Calchagua Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $14.

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Aventino Tempranillo 2007, Ribera del Duero, Spain. Excellent. About $13.

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Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2010, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy. Excellent. About $16.

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Bonny Doon Vineyard Albarino 2011, Central Coast, California. Excellent. About $18.

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Burgo Viejo Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain. Excellent. About $19.

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Bodegas Carchelo “C” 2010, Jumilla, Spain. 40 percent each monastrell and syrah, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $16.

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Callia Alta Torrontés 2011, Valle de Tulum, San Juan, Argentina. Very Good+. About $9.
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Cima Collina Cedar Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. Excellent. About $16.

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Count Karolyi Grüner Veltliner Veltliner 2011, Tolna, Hungary. Very Good+. About $11.
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Hess Allomi Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $16.

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J Pinot Gris 2011, California. Excellent. About $15.

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Lee Family Farm Silvaspoons Vineyard Verdelho 2010, Alta Mesa, Lodi. Excellent. About $15.

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Meli Dry Riesling 2011, Maule Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $13.

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Michele Chiarlo Le Orme 2010, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. Excellent. About $15.

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Domaine Mittnacht Fréres Terre d’Etoiles Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $19.
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Morgan Winery R&D Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $18.

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Navarro Pinot Grigio 2011, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $16.

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Numero III Rosado de Monastrell 2011, Bulles, Spain. Excellent. About $12.

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Quirvira Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $15.

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St. Clement Chardonnay 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $19.

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San Huberto Malbec 2010, Castro Barnas, La Rioja, Argentina. Excellent. About $11.

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Terrazas Reserva Torrontés 2011, Cafayate Terrace, Salta, Argentina. Excellent. About $15.

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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.

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Ventisquero Queulat Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $18.

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So, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” in the edition for 2012. Why 50? It’s a nice comfortable round number, but it also makes me work hard to determine those 50 great selections.

I reviewed 642 wines on this blog in 2012, so 50 choices represent only 7.78 percent of the wines I reviewed. Wines that I rated as “Exceptional” automatically make the cut. In 2012, I ranked 16 wines “Exceptional,” or only 2.5 percent of all the wines I reviewed. How did I ascertain the other 34 wines? That’s where the task got difficult. I read all the reviews of wines that I rated “Excellent” and wrote down the names of 68 that seemed promising, but of course that was already way too many wines; I had to eliminate half of that list. I went back through the reviews and looked for significant words or phrases like “an exciting wine” or “a beautiful expression of its grapes” or “epitomizes my favorite style” or “I flat-out loved this wine,” terms that would set a wine apart from others in similar genres or price ranges, even though they too were rated “Excellent.” By exercising such intricate weighing and measuring, by parsing and adjusting, by, frankly, making some sacrifices, I came to the list of wines included here, but I’ll admit that as I went over this post again and again, checking spelling and diacritical markings and illustrations, there were omissions that I regretted. You get to a point, however, where you can’t keep second-guessing yourself.

Notice that I don’t title this post “50 Greatest Wines” or “50 Best Wines.” That would be folly, just as I think it’s folly when the slick wine publications select one wine — out of 15,000 — as the best of the year. The wines honored in this post are, simply, 50 great wines, determined by my taste and palate, that I encountered and reviewed in 2012. Some of them are expensive; some are hard to find. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, though, at how many of them are under $40 or even in the $20 range; the price of a wine can be immaterial to its quality, and I mean that in both the positive and the negative aspects. Where I know the case limitation, I make note. With wines that are, for example, chardonnay or pinot noir, you can count on them being 100 percent varietal; in other cases, I mention the blend or make-up of the wine if I think it’s necessary.

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”
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Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
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Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
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Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
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Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
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M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
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M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
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Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
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Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
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Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
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Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
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Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
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Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
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Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
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Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
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La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
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Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
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Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
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Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
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Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.
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Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
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Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
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Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
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Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
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Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
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Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
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St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
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Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
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Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
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Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.
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Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
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The well-known Champagne house of Moët & Chandon started looking for vineyard land in the Napa Valley in 1968. In 1973, in a partnership with Hennessy, the cognac producer (both owned by LVMH), the company bought acreage in Mount Veeder and Yountville, producing the first Domaine Chandon sparkling wine in 1976. Winemaker Tom Tiburzi has been at Chandon since 1989, working his way up through the winemaking staff; he is assisted by Pauline Lhote, whose family are farmers in Champagne. Chandon, long an iconic presence to the west of Hwy 29 across from the town of Yountville, makes a complete range of nonvintage sparkling wines, but today I want to feature two of its vintage series. These were samples for review.
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Neither the print material I received nor the winery’s website reveal the percentages of the blend of grapes in the Domaine Chandon Yountville Vintage Brut 2007, Yountville, Napa Valley, so all I can tell you is that it’s made from pinot noir and chardonnay from the Yountville district, north of the city of Napa. The southern area of Yountville particularly, where it’s coolest, is a prime location for chardonnay and pinot noir. The color is radiant medium gold; there’s a constant lively stream of tiny bubbles. Notes of roasted lemons and spiced pears are bolstered by toast and biscuits with hints of toffee and candied ginger and an undercurrent of smoke. The emphasis segues to crystalline acidity and scintillating limestone and flint elements that balance deftly a texture that’s substantial enough to be almost lush, though the fineness and elegance of the finish make it spare and lithe and slightly austere. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $45.
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The Domaine Chandon Mount Veeder Vintage Brut 2006, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, focuses on chardonnay; it could, I suppose, be called blanc de blancs, but the powers at Chandon opted for a straightforward “brut” indication. The point would be: what are the differences between a sparkling wine made from Yountville grapes and one made from Mount Veeder grapes, especially if the latter is one year older? The color of the Mount Veeder sparkler is much paler, much blonder and Harlow-like than the hue of the Yountville version mentioned above. While there’s a similar component of fresh bread and biscuits, the Mount Veeder adds hints of roasted hazelnuts, cinnamon toast and caramel popcorn with a touch of baked apple and slightly honeyed peach. These qualities, let me emphasize, are expressed in a tone of utmost nuance and pure suggestion, because, above all, this is a sparkling wine that combines notable presence and persistence with finesse and refinement. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $45.
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