Oak aging


Little preamble is necessary for this post. As the title implies, I’m catching up with reviewing a clutch — make that a case of 12 — pinot noir wines that I tasted from six weeks to six months ago. These are primarily from 2014, with a few ’13s, and one ’15. This group does not make it down to Santa Barbara County. The reviews range from Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, up north to Mendocino’s Anderson Valley. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy — in moderation, please.
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The winery website offers no information about this wine, which was a sample from the local distributor, so I’ll just say that the bernardus pnBernardus Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, is out to seduce you with no qualms whatsoever. Might as well give in. A deep vibrant ruby color shades to transparent garnet; beguiling aromas of red cherry and currant compote are wreathed with notes of rhubarb and sassafras, cloves and sandalwood that open to a flamboyantly floral element of lilac, violets and rose petals, all bolstered by undertones of loam, briers and brambles. As if that weren’t enough, the substantial texture flows super-satiny and supple over the tongue in a welter of bracing acidity and delicious, fully spiced and fleshy black and red berry flavors partaking of autumn leaves and forest floor; it’s definitely woodsy and elemental and frankly almost overwhelming. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not my favorite style of pinot noir but unabashedly attractive and saved from exaggeration by the elements of resonant acidity and nascent tannins. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $35.
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BLAIR-Delfina_Pinot_2013
Winemaker Jeffrey Blair put the Blair Estate Delfina’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Arroyo Seco, through 10 months aging in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby-garnet hue; arresting aromas of red and black cherries are infused with rhubarb and pomegranate, cloves and allspice, moss and loam. Clad in the bosky garb of roots, dry leaves and branches and bearing a rather meadowy floral character, this pinot noir features riveting acidity and flavors of macerated and slightly stewed red and black berries, nestled in a lithe, silky texture; it grows increasingly spicy through the finish, picking up a hint of tannin. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $45.
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Blair-Reserve-Pinot-web (1)
The difference between this wine and the previous example lies in the fact that the grapes for the Blair Estate Delfina’s Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir 2013, Arroyo Seco, were harvested from vines specially selected for their superior quality and treated separately. The wine also spend 10 months in French oak but 100 percent new barrels. The color is what I deem the perfect pinot noir hue, a muted transparent ruby-garnet; aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly stewed red cherries and currants feel fleshy, a bit smoky and meaty, though displaying an innate delicacy and sense of poise; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and cranberry and deeper elements of loam, leaf-smoke and graphite. Despite the wood regimen, the wine, while offering silky, dusty heft, feels light on its feet, finishing with a hint of racy elegance. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 125 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $75.
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boenNobody ever lost money betting on the sweet-tooth of the American consumer, as Joe Wagner proves again with a new label from Copper Cane, the Böen Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley. A dark vibrant ruby hue fading to a transparent violet rim, the wine gushes with very ripe black currants, cherries and plums, sweet and succulent and drenched in licorice, lavender, mocha and enough blueberry and boysenberry for a Lodi zinfandel. The texture of dusty velvet wraps the palate in fleshy allure. A superficially gorgeous wine, though that’s the definition of gorgeous, n’est-ce pas? Not my style at all. Very Good. About $32.
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Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, aged 10 months in French oak, 31 percent new barrels. The color is a NewProofSheetV3transfixing transparent medium ruby-magenta; spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants feel infused with rhubarb and cranberry, oolong tea and woodsmoke, talc and loam for an impression that’s irresistible. A beguiling lithe, supple texture flows engagingly across the palate, while both in nose and mouth the wine grows more lavish and multi-layered, taking on shades of pungent and flavorful darkness animated by bright acidity. A real beauty. 14.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Greg Morthole. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
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gary
The transparent medium ruby-magenta hue of the Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, draws you in, while the acute balance in the nose and on the palate remind you that the best wines offer an exquisite sense of tension and release. The wine aged eight months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels, which seems a perfect regimen to me. The bouquet presents a poised artifact that weave elements of loam and forest floor with allspice and cumin, macerated red and black cherries and currants, and notes of lavender, talc and graphite. In its lithe slithery texture, the wine is dense and almost chewy, though cut by a swath of fluent acidity; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of briery raspy raspberry, oolong tea and more underbrush. 14 percent alcohol. A lovely marriage of power and elegance for drinking through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $45.
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Winemaker Ryan Hodgins fashioned a pinot noir of beautiful balance, tone and presence in the FEL Wines Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Pinot-Savoy-Anderson-ValleyAnderson Valley. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 53 percent new barrels, a process whose near miraculous result is an almost subliminal effect of spicy subtlety and litheness of texture. The color is dark ruby shading through gradations to a transparent magenta rim; scents and flavors of red and black cherries and plums are permeated by notes of rhubarb and pomegranate, sandalwood and cloves. Some minutes in the glass bring more elements of dried baking spices and flowers and macerated fruit; on the palate, the wine is lively yet dignified, confident and, in the finish, slightly austere. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 395 cases. Try from 2018 through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $70.
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head high pn
Winemaker Sam Spencer gave the Head High Wines Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, a thoughtful 10 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels, giving the wine shape, suppleness and sensitivity on the palate. The color shades from dark ruby to a delicate magenta rim; this is an intense, dense, earthy version of the pinot noir grape that features black cherries and currants with notes of cherry pits and stems, cloves, sassafras and cranberry, roots and branches, briers and brambles. You feel — or imagine — the vines themselves digging down to the water-table. The texture is super plush and satiny, a bit too plush for my taste, but the opulence is leavened by bright acidity and surprising depth of lightly dusted tannins. 14.2 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
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The Morgan Winery 12 Clones Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, is named for the diversity of pinot noir clones planted in Morgan’s Morgan_Pinot_Noir_Twelve_Clones_2014_frontestate vineyards. While the grapes for this wine derive from a variety of vineyards in the appellation, 57 percent are from the winery’s signature Double L Vineyard. The wine aged eight months in French oak, 37 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby with a slight lightening at the rim; notes of ripe black and red cherries offer traces of black tea and damp roots over dark, flinty, briery elements that feel robust and feral. The wine slowly opens to hints of lavender and cloves, sassafras and pomegranate, while it builds heft and presence on the palate. One senses deep foundations in the soils and bedrock of Santa Lucia Highlands. 13.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 through 2024 to ’26. Yes, I believe this could be a 12-year pinot noir. Excellent. About $34.
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The Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 36 percent new barrels. The color Morgan_Double_L_Pinot_Noir_2014_frontis dark ruby with a transparent violet rim; the first impression is of rose petals and violets, then intense and concentrated notes of black and red cherries and currants, infused with briers and loam. This is a deep, ebony-tinged exotic pinot noir that seethes with Asian spices and dried mountain herbs and finds expression in vibrant acidity and foresty, brambly tannins that feature a graphite edge. You feel the oak at the circumference of the palate, a slightly drying and dominating factor. 14.2 percent alcohol. Needs a year or two to find poise, then drink through 2022 to ’24. Production was 720 cases. Very Good+. About $60.
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Tondre Grapefield — sounds like a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel — is my favorite vineyard from which Morgan makes pinot noir, and for 2014, I am Morgan_label_Tondre_2014_frontnot disappointed. The Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, aged 10 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is medium to transparent ruby with a tinge of garnet; striking notes of sassafras, cloves and cumin with hints of leather and loam lead to aromas of slightly baked black and red cherries and plums, touched with fruitcake and tobacco leaf. The wine is extraordinarily satiny and supple on the palate, filling out and fleshing out from some initial spareness into something more esoteric and glamorous, though neither opulent nor flamboyant; some moments in the glass bring out elements of lavender, sandalwood and pomegranate, as well as a quality of oak-inflected austerity on the finish. Wonderful potential from 2018 or ’19 through 2024 to ’28, with truly impressive balance and tone, though production was a mere 45 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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kali hart
The Kali Hart designation indicates Talbott Vineyards’ entry-level line. The winery, which produces only chardonnay and pinot noir, primarily single-vineyard, was acquired by E&J Gallo in September 2015. Talbott Kali Hart Pinot Noir 2014, Monterey, displays a transparent ruby hue with a garnet tone; classic notes of cloves, sassafras and beetroot permeate elements of cherries, pomegranate and cranberry with a bit of cherry pit and forest floor. The wine is very sleek and satiny, spicy and savory, animated by vivid acidity and moderate tannins supported by briers, brambles and loam. 14.3 percent alcohol. Thoroughly tasty and enjoyable. Now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $26.
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I keep reading that there has been a general toning down of oak in chardonnay wines produced in California, but you wouldn’t know it from the wines I taste, of which I offer today a selection of 16. I’ve uttered these sentences before, and I’ll probably utter them many more times before I close the computer a final time and drag my weary fingers to the catacombs, and I don’t care if you’re tired of reading them; to wit: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, it has too much oak. AND: Oak should be like the Holy Spirit, everywhere present but nowhere visible. Oak barrels are instruments, and they should not define a wine or establish its character; definition and character derive from the vineyard and the grape. It traduces every aspect of common sense that winemakers would want to send out into the world and into the grasp of innocent consumers chardonnays that taste as if they were made from liquid sawdust, yet many chardonnay wines feel exactly like that … and they’re not cheap. To those who say, “But, FK, plenty of people like their chardonnays to smell and taste like oak,” my reply is “Fine, start your own blog. Call it ILoveToastyOak.com.” This, however, is my blog, and on this blog we abhor wines that obliterate the purity and intensity of the grape and the authority of the vineyard through the heavy-handed agency of oak barrels.

Anyway, the scorecard today reads Excellent, 4; Very Good+, 5; Very Good, 1; Good, 1; Not Recommended 5. Among the Not Recommended chardonnay’s but also earning an Excellent rating are three from La Rochelle, a winery I admire for its individuality and willingness to take risks, though that’s a stance that to my palate doesn’t always work, as you can see. Still, I would rather a winery extend itself and skate sometimes over the edge than produce more bland innocuous “me-too” wines.

As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes (previously Weekend Wine Sips and before that Friday Wine Sips), I eschew reams of technical, geographical, geological, climatic and historical data for quick incisive reviews designed to pique your interest, if not, in some cases, whet your palate. Enjoy! (Or not.)

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Artesa Chardonnay 2011, Carneros. 13.8% alc. Pale gold color; clean and fresh, touches of apple and pear, hint of pineapple; quite spicy, smooth and supple, not creamy or viscous, “just right” as Goldilocks said; almost savory in its slightly roasted fruit qualities and modulated spicy aspects; bright acidity, and the limestone and flint elements and sense of oak expand through the finish. Nicely-made. Very Good+. About $20.
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Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay Reserve 2010, Carneros Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. A bold and powerful expression of the grape but balanced and integrated; bright medium gold color; pineapple and grapefruit, ginger and quince, hint of cloves; wet stones and flint mineral element that grows as the moments pass; no doubt about the oak but it contributes creaminess to the mid-palate, a supple texture and spice; long spice-and-mineral-packed finish; tremendous tone and presence. 14.9% alc. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $55.
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Cuvaison Estate Grown Chardonnay 2011, Carneros Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. The last Carneros Chardonnay I reviewed from Cuvaison was the 2007; I rated it “Excellent.” Not this example. Pale to medium gold color; bright, bold, ripe, spicy; you feel the oak from the moment you take a sip; grapefruit and pineapple, notes of lemon and lemon curd; plays a subtle floral card; plenty of acid and limestone minerality; supple texture at first but it feels as if the wine stiffens and becomes slightly unyielding with oak, which coats the palate and leave an astringent sensation in the mouth. Perhaps a year or two will help. Good only. About $25.
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Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. First note: “Man, that’s a lot of wood.” & it goes on from there. Medium gold color; insistently spicy and cloying; austere and astringent oak dries the palate unpleasantly; like drinking liquid sawdust. Not recommended and consistent with my reviews of Davis Bynum chardonnay (and pinot noir) from previous vintages. About $30.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Foggy Oaks Chardonnay 2010, Russian River valley. 13.5% alc. Medium gold color; apples, pears and grapefruit, undercurrent of pineapple, moderately spicy, firm foundation of gunflint and limestone; lovely balance and poise, shaped by vibrant acidity and a burgeoning oak element that provides a modulating quality to the wine’s richness. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $20, signifying Great Value.
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Ferrari-Carano Tre Terre Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. “Vineyard Select Limited Production.” Bright medium gold color; banana and mango, baked grapefruit and pineapple, cloves and smoke; big, deep, rich and savory; bacon fat, ginger, lemon balm, have mercy; feels like multiple layers of limestone and flint-like minerality; a bit daunting and needs a little nuance and elegance, but not over-oaked, not cloying. Perhaps it needs a year of age. Very Good+. About $32.
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Gallo Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. 87% Laguna Vineyard, 13% Del Rio Vineyard. I always thought the winemaker’s thumbprint — in this case Gina Gallo, whose name is on the front label twice — was too heavy on this wine; bright medium gold color; rich, warm, spicy, almost dense and chewy for a chardonnay; very ripe citrus and tropical scents and flavors; butterscotch, vanilla, cloves — what is this, a dessert cart? the oak and spice elements are overwhelming; so unbalanced. Not Recommended. About $30.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; fresh, clean, bright; pungent with cloves, slightly roasted peaches and yellow plums melded with pineapple and grapefruit with a whiff of white pepper; smoky oak, smoky caramel around the edges, quite dry yet feels innately balanced. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $35.
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… that is the question, and my reply, unsurprisingly, would be, when in doubt, don’t, and even if you’re not in doubt, think twice before you do. Oak aging can enhance a wine, and it can kill a wine. Careful! This observation emerges after tasting two very similar wines from the same producer; one was made in stainless steel, while the other matured in new French barriques. Therein lies the difference.

The Zuani winery was founded in 2001 in Italy’s Collio region, in the northeast near Austria and Slovenia, by Patrizia Felluga, a fifth-generation winemaker and producer. She runs the operation with her adult children, Caterina and Antonio Zanon (see photo, right). From its 30-acre vineyard, the winery makes only two wines, both white, from a combination of friulano, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio grapes. In terms of methodology, the grapes for the Zuani “Zuani,” a “reserve” style wine, are generally picked two weeks later than the grapes for the Zuani “Vigne,” so the ripeness factor is more intense. “Zuani,” then, is the wine that receives new oak. In both cases, we have sleek, sophisticated wines, but, though I don’t want to be ungracious, my preference is the unoaked Zuani “Vigne.”

The Zuani wines are imported by Martin Scott Wines, Lake Success, N.Y. These were samples for review. Images from zuanivini.it.
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The Zuani “Vigne” 2011, Collio, offers a pale gold color with faint green highlights. It’s a spare, lean, elegant white wine that doesn’t neglect its earthly origins in dominant layers of shale and schist that buoy elements of roasted lemon, dried thyme, lime leaf, lemongrass and green tea; there’s a tantalizing hint of camellia. If that description makes the wine sound inviting and appealing, then you’re securely in my camp. Acidity is taut and vibrant, lending crisp, coiled energy, while the mineral component gives the wine a sense of chiseled, frangible transparency. It’s dry yet juicy with flavors of lemon, spiced pear and grapefruit, all devolving to a finish that brings in more limestone and a touch of chalky austerity. 13 percent alcohol. Loads of personality. Now through 2014 with the classic Venetian risotto with mushrooms and peas, or with grilled fish or smoked or cured salmon. Excellent. About $24.
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I’ve already told My Readers that the Zuani “Zuani” Riserva, 2010, Collio, was picked from slightly riper grapes and aged in new French oak. The color is radiant light gold; the wine overall is soft, supple and spicy, delivering notes of roasted lemons and yellow plums with a hint of almond blossom. As with its younger, unoaked cousin, this wine is resonant with bright acidity and scintillating limestone and shale minerality, but casting a veil over every characteristic is a sheen of blond oak, and though that woody camouflage gives the wine the sort of suavity upon which elegance seems to be based, in reality it masks and blunts that character that makes the first wine so attractive: the character of freshness and verve, of clean-cut, faceted clarity. I’ve said it before, and I’ll take this opportunity to say it again: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, there’s too much oak. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $37.
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Highway 29 around St. Helena so long ago turned into a carnival of showcase wineries, tasting-rooms and traffic jams that it’s difficult to imagine what the Napa Valley was like in 1934 when Italian immigrant Louis M. Martini moved from the Central Valley and founded his eponymous winery. What else was there? Beringer, Beaulieu, Inglenook, Charles Krug, Greystone, Larkmead, Lombarda (now Freemark Abbey). Wheat fields, walnut and plum orchards, cattle. During Prohibition, wineries either made sacramental wine or sent grapes by railroad to home winemakers in the Eastern United States, but Repeal brought renewed interest and activity and more acreage planted to grapes — mainly zinfandel, alicante bouschet and petite sirah — and while most wine was shipped in bulk, Louis Martini, along with producers such as Beaulieu and Inglenook, became dedicated to better quality and varietal bottling. One of Martini’s wisest moves was acquiring a 240-acre vineyard in the hills above Sonoma Valley in 1936; renamed Monte Rosso, this replanted vineyard, after 1946, became the backbone for many of the producer’s finest cabernet sauvignon wines.

Louis M. Martini was a master blender, and his preference was to blend fruit from several vineyards, using Monte Rosso as the core. He had no use for the small French oak barrels (barriques) that were coming into wider use in California. In fact, Martini didn’t even like American oak; he chose, instead, to ferment and age his red wines in 1,500-gallon redwood vats, a practice the winery continued until 1989, when the tanks were dismantled. This old-fashioned sensibility produced some of the best cabernet sauvignon in California in the 1940s and ’50s; the hallmarks of these surprisingly long-lived wines were elegance, balance, integrity and concentrated flavors. Louis M.’s son Louis P. became winemaker in 1954 and took charge of production in 1968, continuing to make wines in his father’s tradition. Fashion changed however. Temperature-controlled stainless steel fermentation and new French oak barrels were introduced, primarily by Louis P.’s son Michael, who became winemaker in 1977. For whatever complicated reasons, though, after the superb 1970, Martini ceased to be an important player in the increasingly competitive arena of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, actually failing to produce excellent wines in the exceptional years of 1974 and 1978.

The 1980s and ’90s saw the winery slide into the middle ranks of California’s old-line producers at the same time as it was outclassed by many newcomers. The winery and its vineyards, including Monte Rosso, were acquired by E&J Gallo in 2002; Mike Martini stayed on as winemaker. The last time I reviewed a range of cabernet-based wines from Louis M. Martini was in December 2009 (here); those wines were from 2006 and 2007 and mainly rated Excellent. That’s not the case for the four wines under consideration in this post, one from 2009, three from 2008; I found these present cabernets to be burdened, even smothered, with toasty, spicy, vanilla-laced new oak. No disrespect intended, but I wonder what Louis M. and Louis P. Martini would make of these modern, hyper-stylish, technologically-correct cabernets. The Gallo company and the Martinis obviously intend for the winery’s ambitious cabernet sauvignons to be competitive with the best that Napa and Sonoma offer, but as far as this quartet is concerned, it’s not happening. The winery may be venerable, but the wines are not “old-school.”

These were samples for review. The image is from my first label notebook, dated Feb. 8 & 9, 1983. I am indebted to Charles L. Sullivan’s A Companion to California Wine (University of California Press, 1998) and to James Laube’s California’s Great Cabernets (Wine Spectator Press, 1989), the latter the most complete and knowledgeable survey of the history of wine and winemaking at Louis M. Martini.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma County. This is Martini’s basic cabernet sauvignon; the fruit derives from various sites in several of the county’s sub-appellations. No information is offered about the barrel-aging regimen, but you can definitely feel the oak. The color is rich, dark ruby; classic aromas of cassis and black cherry are bolstered by whiffs of dried thyme and cedar, black olive and lead pencil, with plummy, spicy undercurrents that expand to smoke and toast. The wine is even smokier and toastier in the mouth, burgeoning with scintillating graphite-like mineral elements that part the waves for an armada of smoky, toasty wood that submerges whatever fruit might linger in the background; it’s hard for the flavors to seep through. 13.8 percent alcohol. The company produced 266,200 cases of this wine, so in its wide availability and its focus, it represents Martini’s intent and philosophy. Good+. About $18.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. Here’s a blend of 87 percent cabernet sauvignon, 4 percent cabernet franc, 3 percent petite sirah and 4 percent “other,” the most intriguing word in winedom. I’ll quote the winemaker’s notes: “The wine was oak aged in a mix of French, American and Hungarian oak barrels with a medium to heavy toast levels to add flavor and complexity.” I’m sorry to say that instead of supplementing the wine’s flavors and complexity, this aging routine dampened and dumbed down any flavors the wine could have displayed. The color, again, is radiant dark ruby; there’s a great deal of smoke and toast in the bouquet, wrapped around tight and focused cassis, black cherry and plum aromas. Both in nose and mouth the wine features intense, even penetrating graphite and shale-like minerality and a sharp smoky, ash-edged field of tobacco, walnut shell and creamy, spicy oak; the whole package is like oak candy sans fruit. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production here was 16,203 cases, so we’re moving up the scale of consideration. Try from 2012 or ’14 to 2018 or ’20. Good+. About $25.
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Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Despite the powerful oak presence in this wine — a blend of 94 percent cabernet sauvignon with 6 percent petit verdot — I found it the most accessible of this quartet. Let me quote again from the material I was sent: “The wine was aged for 18 months in new and used French, American and Hungarian oak barrels with a mixture of heavy, medium and medium plus toasting levels to add flavor and complexity.” Yeah, well, it’s the heavy toast that kills the wine, and this one did not escape totally unscathed — there’s a lot of oak influence here! — but it also manages to deliver bright and vivid notes of cassis and black cherry, licorice and lavender and, in the mouth, plenty of unrestrained spicy, plummy macerated and almost jammy black fruit flavors, with overtones of iodine and mint. The wine is dense and chewy, creamy with oak, grainy with dusty tannins, and the finish works out its length through mineral-laced austerity. 14.8 percent alcohol. You have to like the style, otherwise, you’ll find this wine fairly exaggerated. Drink now, with steak or braised short ribs, through 2018 or ’20. Production was 1,919 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
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Louis M. Martini Lot No. 1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. The Big Gun of this group — there’s 3 percent petit sirah in the blend — aged 22 months in all new French oak barrels. That factor and the alcohol content push the spicy/ripe/sweetish qualities pretty high, though there are elements here that are not just attractive but compelling, as in the brilliant and vivid bouquet, a heady weaving of jammy black currants, black cherries and plums imbued with mocha and cloves, sandalwood, lavender and graphite. Lot No. 1 is monumental in structure, deeply dimensioned, tightly focused, intense and concentrated; the oak is, indeed, “toasty sweet,” and tannins are mountainside dusty and granite-flecked, enormous in scope; the result is a wine that delivers tremendous muscle power but misses the heart of elegance that would make it complete and balanced rather than ultimately blunt and obvious. This simply lacks the character to compete with other Napa Valley cabernets at its rather hefty price; still, try from 2014 pr ’15 through 2018 to ’20 to see how it develops. 15 percent alcohol. Production was 716 six-pack cases. Very Good+. About $120.
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