Napa Valley


Here I am on chardonnay from California again. I like some of these wines very much, enough to pass out a few Excellent and Exceptional ratings. Some, however, the ones over-oaked and malolactic-ed to a fare-thee-well get Not Recommended ratings. And I ask the question I have posed so often in the past: Why would anyone make such undrinkable chardonnay? Anyway, the point of the Weekend Wine Sips, even for the wines I loathe, I mean, the wines I don’t recommend, is concision and quick insight, therefore I do not include much in the way of technical, historical or geographical info. What you read is what you get. These chardonnays, as the title of this post states, are from vintages 2011, ’10 and ’09 and hail from Sonoma and Monterey counties, Napa Valley and Carneros. These examples were samples for review.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Crema Chardonnay 2010, Monterey. 13.9% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) Pale gold color; candied pineapple and grapefruit, cloves, allspice, lemon balm and lime peel, roasted almonds, penetrating gunflint and limestone minerality; ripe and rich, very spicy; dense texture, almost viscous; quite dry, growing austerity through the finish; feels unbalanced, the parts don’t mesh. Good only. About $18.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Crema Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) Pale gold color; huge oak influence, very spicy, very creamy — you feel that “malo” — ; way too ripe and tropical; candied and roasted citrus and mango; exotic spice; lots of smoke; cloying and unpalatable to this palate; how can people choose to make chardonnay in such an impure fashion? And yet the pinot noirs from this winery are pure, intense and beautiful. Not recommended. About $30.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Robert’s Road Block Chardonnay 2010. Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Medium gold color with a faint green flush; pineapple and backed apple; ripe and fleshy, a little toasty; roasted lemons and yellow plums, cloves and ginger; very spicy and very dry; brings up a touch of butter and caramel; supple, dense and viscous; heaps of limestone minerality. Pushes the limits but still beautifully balanced. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
La Follette Lorenzo Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.3% alc. Highly individual, almost exotic in spiciness; you feel the oak as an intrusive agent that dries the palate; almost tannic in character; pineapple and grapefruit, touch of banana; very dry and the spice gets pretty strident; curious and off-putting combination of fruit candy, creamy desserts and spicy, woody oak. Not recommended. About $38.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 502 cases. How beautiful. Medium straw-gold color; fresh, clean, crystalline, restrained and elegant yet displaying inner richness and depth; lively and spicy, quince and ginger, pineapple and grapefruit, roasted lemon; you scarcely perceive the oak except for a tinge of burnished slightly dusty wood on the finish; unfurls a hint of camellia and lilac; a powerful limestone mineral element that expands through the wine’s generous spirit. Exquisite balance and harmony and resonance. Now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $35.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.1% alc. 400 cases. Certified organic. Wonderful clarity, purity and intensity; jasmine and lilac, roasted lemon, spiced pear, lemon balm and verbena; backnotes of cloves and flint; bountiful presence and tone yet firm in structure and texture, almost robust and savory; blazing acidity, very dry, finish packed with spice, flint and limestone. Incredible authority yet fleet, light on its feet, elegant. Best from 2014 through 2020. Exceptional. About $45.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Gary Farrell “RR Selection” Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; boldly ripe and spicy, classic grapefruit and pineapple scents and flavors tinged with mango and slightly over-ripe peach; a bright and golden chardonnay, a little earthy; very lively and spicy, cloves, touch of brown sugar; dense, almost chewy texture; you feel the tug and sway of oak in the background. Very Good+. About $32.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Boekenoogan Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.3% alc. A gorgeous character-filled chardonnay, deep and broad and generous; boldly rich and spicy pineapple-grapefruit flavors permeated by limestone minerality of the most demanding nature; seductive, almost talc-like texture emboldened by clean, bright acidity; the fruit currently subdued by the structural elements, though the oak influence feels supple, close to subliminal. Drink now, sure, but this is a 10 to 15-year chardonnay. Exceptional. About $35.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Signorello Estate Hope’s Cuvee Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. Medium gold color; not my preference at all in chardonnay: very spicy, very ripe, lots of oak; caramel, brown sugar, burnt match; caramelized pineapple and candied grapefruit; exaggerated, strident. I hear rumors that people exist who enjoy this sort of chardonnay; not me, brother. Not recommended. About $70.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Donum Estate Chardonnay 2010, Carneros. 13.5% alc. Bright medium gold color; cloves and sandalwood, pineapple and grapefruit, ripe peach and pear; quite ripe, a little funky and earthy but with a real edge of limestone minerality and spicy oak; a chardonnay that feels vast and close to tannic, though oak stays in the background and burgeons only from mid-palate back through the finish. Definitely an individual styling for the grape yet it has attractions for the brave. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Stemmler Estate Chardonnay 2011, Carneros. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; boy, this is woody and harshly spicy; yes, the necessary lip-smacking acidity and a scintillating limestone element, but so burdened by oak and a sharp smoky candied burnt sugar-cloves-roasted grapefruit edge and a texture that’s dauntlessly dry yet viscous at the same time; unresolved, unbalanced. Not recommended. About $24.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Jordan Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely, taut, vigorous; roasted lemon and lemon curd, lime peel, orange blossom and a hint of toasted almonds; quite dry, limned with chalk and limestone, clean, fresh pineapple-grapefruit flavors touched with buttered toast, a hint of cloves, a squeeze of green apple; very Chablis-like for Sonoma. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Yes, it’s your lucky day, because today I offer reviews of 12 wines that all rate Excellent. No duds! No clunkers! And boy are we eclectic! Two whites, three rosés and seven reds, all representing myriad grape varieties, styles, regions and countries, including, on the broader scope, California, Oregon, Australia, Italy, Chile and France. Dare I assert that there’s something for everyone here? As usual in these Weekend Wine Sips, the notion is to present concise and incisive reviews, cropped from the fertile fields of my tasting notes, in such a manner as to pique your interest and whet your palate, while omitting the sort of info pertaining to history, geography and technical matters that I include with other more detailed posts. Straight to the point, that’s the Weekend Wine Sips philosophy!

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

Generally, I try to keep the prices of the Wines of the Week fairly reasonable. It would be a rare product that would inspire me to go above $25, but today is one of those occasions, because the Rombauer Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley, is — I’ll be frank — the best zinfandel I have tasted this year. The color is dark ruby-purple; in the nose and on the palate, the wine displays remarkable depth, purity and intensity of black currant, plum and blueberry scents and flavors permeated by cloves and white pepper, briers and brambles and penetrating graphite-granitic minerality. Give this wine a few moments, and it unfurls hints of bay leaf, leather, lavender and licorice, with bottom-notes of bitter chocolate and sandalwood, all of these elements bound by vivid acidity and dense but supple, slightly dusty tannins. The 2010 has 6 percent petite sirah, and it aged 15 months in French and American oak barrels. The alcohol content is a soaring 15.9 percent, yet the wine feels completely balanced and harmonious, showing no trace of over-ripeness, sweetness or alcohol heat. Rather, it offers a distinct feeling of appealing personality and dignified character together and serves as a model of the marriage of power and elegance. The 2011 version of this wine has been released, but if you look online, you’ll find plenty of the 2010 available; even the winery has half-bottles on its website. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. The price at the winery is $34, it’s $30 in my neck o’ the woods, and around the country you see it as low as $25. Don’t miss it.

Tasted at a trade event in Memphis.

We often drink the Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc in restaurants, occasionally buying a bottle but more often by the glass, so obviously we like it. Cakebread Cellars was the first winery I visited on my first trip to Napa Valley, in 1987, covering the Napa Valley Wine Auction. The winery celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, having been founded in 1973 by Jack Cakebread, photographer and owner of Cakebread’s Garage, an auto repair shop in San Francisco started by Leo Cakebread in 1927. I say that Jack Cakebread founded the winery, but his wife Dolores and sons Steve, Bruce and Dennis cannot be left out of even a brief account of the Cakebread history. The company is still family-owned and has grown from its original 22 acres to hundreds of acres with vineyards throughout Napa Valley and a pinot noir outpost in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Jack Cakebread is CEO, Bruce is president and COO, and Dennis is senior vice president for sales and marketing. Winemaker since 2002 has been Julianne Laks.

The Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley, is a carefully calibrated wine that offers so much pleasure that it does not feel micro-managed. The grapes derive from the estate’s vineyards in Rutherford, Calistoga, Carneros and southeastern Napa Valley. The blend is 92 percent sauvignon blanc (4 percent of that the aromatic sauvignon musque clone) and 8 percent semillon. The wine fermented primarily in stainless steel (82 percent) with the rest in one-to-four-year-old French oak barrels. Ninety percent of the wine aged five months in neutral French oak, that is, in barrels previously used to the extent that any wood influence is minimal. The point is that the wine sees no new oak (with its taint of vanilla and toast) and what oak it comes in contact with provides gentle shaping and suppleness and spice without dominating the package. The other point is that thoughtful winemaking disappears into the wine.

So, a pale gold color that leads into a wine that’s all nuance and freshness and frank appeal. Notes of lemongrass and acacia, roasted lemon and gooseberry are woven with hints of melon, lime peel, grapefruit and tarragon, all conveyed with delicacy and grace. The character is totally lovely tone and presence, with a sense of precision in the (slightly smoky) limestone mineral element and a chiseled quality to the bright, vivid acidity; citrus flavors tend toward grapefruit, lemon and orange zest, with infusions of cloves, bay leaf and green apple bolstered by a texture of moderate lushness perfectly balanced by a trace of spare elegance. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. We had this over several nights, once with tuna and again with salmon. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review.

This post of Weekend Wine Sips isn’t exactly a Mother’s Day edition, but I did receive a press release about wines for Mom from a Major Wine Publication that listed only sauvignon blancs (as if mothers drink only that grape variety), so in this roster of white wines for spring and summer I omit sauvignon blanc entirely. Each of these wines is 100 percent varietal; each is from a different region or country; each is made in stainless steel or receives minimal oak treatment including no new oak. (Actually I think that criterion applies to only one of these.) As usual, I eschew detailed technical, geographical and historical information in these brief Weekend Wine Sips reviews the better to whet your curiosity and thirst with incisiveness and immediacy. Prices here range from about $11 to $25; each wine marks a good value wherever it falls within that range. The motivation is delight, freshness, elegance, balance and appeal. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________
Plantagenet Omrah Unoaked Chardonnay 2011, Great Southern, Western Australia. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; a really pretty chardonnay — lemon, lime, lime peel and grapefruit; smoke and a hint of mango, touch of jasmine — but crisp acidity, oyster-shell and limestone all the way through the finish; dry with a bit of austerity. Very Good+. About $15.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Protea Chenin Blanc 2012, Wine of Coastal Region, South Africa. 13% alc. Pale straw color; beguiling aromas of hay, thyme and tarragon, pears and yellow plums; lovely satiny texture but bristly and prickly, fleet acidity and heaps of limestone and chalk, dry, crisp, refreshing and appealing. Very Good+. About $18.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Principessa Gavia Gavi 2012, Piedmont, Italy. 12% alc. Pale straw color with a hint of green; sweetly expressive bouquet: pears and greengage, cloves and thyme, hints of leafy fig and sea-salt, jasmine and lemon balm; squinching acidity, lustrous elements of chalk and limestone and flint; deftly balanced between bone-dry and almost winsomely attractive floral and citrus qualities. Very Good+. About $14.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Grooner Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria. (Produced by Weingut Meinhard Forstreitter) 12% alc. Very pale straw-gold; melon and pears with hints of lemon, lime peel and grapefruit, touch of green pea and thyme; pert, tart, taut and sassy; hint of grapefruit bitterness on the limestone-laced finish. Delightful. Very Good. About $11.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________
St. Supéry Estate Moscato 2012, Napa Valley, California. 10.5% alc. Very very pale gold color; apple and apple blossom, pear and peach, hint of lime peel and orange zest; soft, almost cloud-like texture but crisp acidity cuts a swath to the limestone-inflected finish; ripe and sweet on entry, but the acid and mineral elements tone down the sweetness to a sort of blanched dryness, so the finish comes out clean and elegant, delicate and balanced; stands out in the sea of vapid moscato presently engulfing the country; begs for dessert of fresh berries. Excellent. About $25.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________
Brooks Runaway White Pinot Blanc 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 11.3% alc. Pale pale straw-gold color; pure lemon with a lime peel twist, hints of jasmine and slightly over-ripe peaches and an elusive scent of lavender; a little earthy and smoky; scintillating acidity and limestone-flint minerality, lots of energy and vitality and a sense of flaking schist and flint; very dry, all stones and bones from mid-palate back; marked spareness and austerity in the vigorous finish. An argument for planting more pinot gris in the appropriate areas and treating it right. 244 cases. Excellent. About $15.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Villa Wolf Pinot Gris 2011, Pfalz, Germany. 12.5% alc. (Produced by Dr. Loosen) Medium gold-straw color; roasted lemon and lemon balm, quince and ginger, hints of cloves and smoke, slightly earthy; highly animated acidity and spicy qualities fuel this wines liveliness, while a silken texture and underlying limestone elements give it pleasing heft. Delicious. Very Good+. About $14.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Greywacke Riesling 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand. 12% alc. Brilliant pale gold color; lychee and a touch of petrol, roasted lemon, spiced pear and honeysuckle, hint of lilac face powder; very dry, lean and clean, irresistible texture combining brisk acidity with lovely soft ripeness that does not preclude the glacial authority of crystalline limestone minerality. Excellent. About $25.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Perhaps we toss around too lightly the adjective “legendary” but surely a winemaker and producer deserving that epithet is David Ramey, a man who brought acclaim to such wineries as Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate and Rudd Estate. Though he continues to consult for various properties in California, he concentrates on his David Ramey Wine Cellars (owned with wife Carla), where he produces a range of chardonnays and cabernet sauvignon-based wines and a couple of syrahs. Today, we look at six chardonnays from 2010. These occur in groups, the Appellation Series that originates in regional areas — Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley — and the Vineyard Designate Series of wines bottled from single vineyard sites or blocks selected from within a single vineyard. All the sites are cool-climate, with low soil vigor so the vines have to work for nutrition. The Appellation chardonnays receive less new oak exposure and less time in barrel than the Vineyard series chardonnays, but in none of these did I detect any taint of over-oaking or woodiness; in fact, all these wines are notable for balance and harmony. In a subsequent post, I’ll look at six of David Ramey’s red wines. These were samples for review.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. The grapes for this Appellation Series chardonnay derive from four vineyards: 61 percent Martinelli Charles Ranch; 19 percent Rodgers creek; 15 percent Platt and 5 percent Ritchie. The gold is pale straw-gold; wow, what lovely purity and intensity; aromas of almond brittle, lemon curd and softly ripe peaches open to layers of cloves and limestone and touches of lychee, pineapple and lightly caramelized grapefruit. Nothing aggressive or untoward mars the sleek surface of this chardonnay, its raison d’etre being balance, integration and harmony. It’s quite dry, though burgeoning with spiced citrus and pineapple flavors, and bolstered by bright acidity and a limestone element that grows more prominent through the scintillating finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. The vineyard provenance of this chardonnay is very complicated, so I won’t go into that, but whatever the issuance this is a radiant, ripe, intense, pure wine of tremendous tone and presence. Notes of slightly candied pineapple and grapefruit are touched with elements of cloves, ginger and quince and a hint of mango; it’s almost savory, slightly saline, dry, spare, tense, resonant, filled with citrus and stone-fruit flavors animated by brisk acidity and a pertinent limestone-flint quality that arrows through to the suave, elegant finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Platt Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. The color is pale gold. The whole impression is of remarkable intensity and concentration, more typical of a pinot noir, say, than chardonnay; the wine is dense and chewy, permeated by notes of toasted hazelnuts, cloves and allspice, even a touch of sandalwood (with a wild note of lilac), and its rich, ripe fruit scents and flavors — baked pineapple, yellow plum, peach skin, apple skin, grapefruit pith — are round and fully developed. This is not a fruit bomb, however; there’s nothing overtly creamy or tropical. Instead, this chardonnay is bolstered by finely tuned acidity and a limestone-flint element that gains power from mid-palate back through the spice-packed finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 (well-stored). Excellent. About $60.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. A boldly proportioned and beautiful balanced chardonnay with an exquisite side. The color is a shimmery pale straw-gold; aromas of roasted lemon and lemon curd, with a hint of pear and lemon balm, are permeated by notes of cloves and crystallized ginger and slightly caramelized pineapple. This is a sleek, suave and supple chardonnay whose lithe acidity and deep bastions of limestone make no concession to prettiness, yet the overall package delivers a sense of elegance and ultimate spareness; it’s slightly creamy and moderately lush, with touches of lemon drop and toasted hazelnuts. As is the case with all great wines, the Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 represents the resolution in harmonious accord of paradoxical elements. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020 (well-stored). Exceptional. About $60.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley Carneros. Here’s a many-splendored chardonnay that, like its Platt Vineyard cousin, offers the heft and substance of a red wine while retaining the fleetness and vitality that a white wine should display. Because of the site, it delivers more tropical fruit — mango, passion fruit — than the other chardonnays under review here (and is also a bit more bosomy), but it doesn’t push over the edge of opulence, staying firmly in balance with keen acidity and a bright, clean limestone quality. The bouquet is broadly floral and spicy and partakes of notes of lemon zest and tangerine, apricot and pear; on the palate it’s savory, a touch saline — think sea-breeze and salt-marsh — and deeply imbued with elements of damp limestone and shale. Brilliant winemaking. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2019 to ’22 (well-stored). Exceptional. About $60.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ramey Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley Carneros. From a vineyard 2.75 miles west of the Hyde Vineyard and set on more rolling terrain, this chardonnay exhibits chiseled chalk and limestone minerality and deftly etched acidity to bolster and furrow its bold rich flavors and cushiony texture. Tangerine and peach, green apple and a hint of honeysuckle characterize a bouquet that draws you in as it unfurls notes of cloves and quince jam and a hint of bees’ wax. Tremendous presence on the palate is not fatiguing, as is the case with some powerfully rich and substantial chardonnays; rather, the wine is clean, lithe, dynamic, filled with personality. Still, this could use a year or two to integrate completely, say from 2015 or ’16 for drinking, as it beautifully matures, through 2020 to ’24. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $60.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Our Weekend Wine Sips are an eclectic selection, with a variety of reds and then only chardonnay for the whites, though two of those are excellent examples from the Dundee Hills appellation of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The California wines spread their wings for a range from Mendocino in the north to Santa Barbara in the south. No duds or even much of a quibble in this group; if you’re looking for a bargain, notice the Toad Hollow Merlot 2009 down toward the end. The only technical information included in these brief reviews is the combination of grapes in a blend, if such is the case; otherwise these wines are 100 percent varietal (properly used as an adjective). For historical or geographical data and notes about personalities and personnel, look elsewhere: the intent here is immediacy. The two chardonnays from Oregon were tasted at a trade event; the rest of the wines were samples for review. Several of the label images are behind vintage for the wines under review. I don’t know why businesses — and a winery is a business — don’t keep their websites up to date.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zindandel. Dark ruby-magenta with a hint of violet at the rim; black currants, cherries and raspberries, touch of black plum; full-bodied, mouth-filling, vibrant; cloves and allspice, hint of lavender and licorice; chewy tannins yet surprising refined for a petite sirah; one misses the fabled gumption and rusticity; still, very enjoyable in the new fashion. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Charles Krug Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 80% merlot, 6% malbec, 5% petit verdot, 3% each cabernet sauvignon and syrah, 2% zinfandel, 1% cabernet franc; and why not a little charbono and alicante bouschet, fer cryin’ out loud! Dark ruby color; a cool customer, sleek with mint and graphite, intense and pent black currants and cherries with a hint of blueberry; smooth, suave, a little tailored, but stacked structure, layered texture, finely-wrought acidity; unfurls dense, dusty tannins and a leathery, foresty quality; finish is rather austere. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $24.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay 2011, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.1% alc. Just lovely, I mean lovely tone and texture, appealing weight and elegance, beautiful balance and integration; what are you waiting for? O.K., scents and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit with hints of apple and cloves; smooth, supple, silky yet with the acidity and flint-like minerality to provide pointed liveliness and energy; ripe and rich yet imbued with innate delicacy. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $33.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Serene Clos du Soleil Chardonnay 2010, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.6% alc. You know how it is; some wines you sniff and sip and think, “All right, this is it.” Wonderful presence and allure, but married to an almost rigorous sense of structure and texture; rich, ripe, almost golden in effect, with notes of pineapple and peach, touches of caramelized grapefruit and candied lime peel, apple and jasmine; powerful limestone-chalk Chablis-like minerality and bright acidity animate the entire package, with supple, subtly spicy oak playing counterpoint; long layered finish. Drink through 2018 to ’2020. Excellent. About $65.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Donum Estate Chardonnay 2009, Carneros. 14.1% alc. 140 cases. Bright straw-gold color; intense and concentrated, almost tannic in its deep savory character and dense chewy texture; very dry but with brave amplitude of structure and a generous wash of roasted lemon, lemon balm and grapefruit bolstered by a prominent limestone element; hints of honeysuckle, quince and ginger; a long gorgeous finish. A powerhouse of a chardonnay without being over-orchestrated. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. 15% alc. 86% zinfandel, 6% petite sirah, 4% each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Moderate ruby color with a mulberry rim; black currants, cherries and plums, hints of blueberries and blackberries; background of smoke, cloves and fruitcake and a touch of bacon; very dense and chewy and lip-smacking acidity, but surprisingly smooth and mellow; juicy black and blue fruit flavors; picks up tannic authority and austerity from mid-palate through the finish; manages to avoid any taint of high alcohol glibness and sweetness. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $36.75.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pali Wine Co. Huntington Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Barbara County. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; ripe and spicy and satiny smooth; black and red currants with hints of cherries and plums; cloves, a touch of sassafras, back-note of fruitcake; lovely purity and intensity of pinot flavors unfolding to spare elements of leather and graphite and a foundation of briers and brambles. Super-attractive with the grit to be serious. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.50, representing Good Value.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pfendler Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Medium straw-gold color; bold and rich but not creamy or tropical; well-integrated flavors of pineapple and grapefruit infused with ginger and quince and a hint of peach; very dry but really lovely, elevating and balletic; oak comes through from mid-palate back, yet the whole package reflects a hands-off approach; final touch of jasmine and roasted hazelnuts. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. At four years old, clean, fresh, powerful, deeply spicy; rich without being cloying; pineapple and grapefruit, yellow plums, quince and cloves; touch of candied lime peel; huge minerally-limestone element, bristling acidity, dense and almost savory, yet nothing over-played, almost light on its feet. One of the best chardonnays I’ve tasted from this winery. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Silverado Mt. George Vineyard Merlot 2008, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. 91% merlot, 7% cabernet sauvignon, 1% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Dark ruby, almost opaque; classic notes of black currants and plums, hints of bay leaf and cedar, thyme and black olives; firm, solid structure built on spicy oak and graphite-like mineral qualities with clean acidity running underneath; intense and concentrated black and blue fruit flavors etched with lavender and bitter chocolate with touches of baking spice and new leather. Good character for the price. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Toad Hollow Richard McDowell Vineyard Merlot 2009, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; black currants, red cherries, touch of cranberry; very spicy, with robust tannins, leather, briers and brambles with oak in the background; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of plums and fruitcake; fairly rustic and shaggy but tasty and attractive. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $13, a Raving Bargain.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Trefethen Harmony Chardonnay 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Bright straw-gold color; another big, bold, rich and ripe chardonnay, slightly buttery and roasted pineapple and grapefruit over cloves and ginger; lots of oak, ’tis true, but fits the size and dimension of the wine; keen acidity keeps this chardonnay on keel and scintillating limestone minerality lends crystalline ballast. A beauty for drinking through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

« Previous PageNext Page »