Oakville District


Just six weeks ago I made the Flora Springs Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley the Wine of the Week, and, darn it, I can’t help but put the Flora Springs Soliloquy Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Oakville, in the same spot today. The grapes derive from a two-block proprietary vineyard in Napa Valley’s Oakville District AVA, and, in fact, the vineyard receives more prominent display on the label than the grape variety does. Is that device helpful to consumers? Probably not, but it makes for a very elegant and typographically balanced label, one that matches the balance and elegance of the wine. Thoughtful work by winemaker Paul Steinauer puts the wine through seven months in a combination of concrete and stainless steel tanks, oak barrels and steel drums, the result being a sauvignon blanc of unusually appealing texture, subtlety and suppleness, as well as being fresh and crisp. The color is very pale gold, almost invisible; aromas of apple peel and lime peel are woven with lemon balm and lemongrass and back-notes of celery seed, hay, fennel and thyme. Brisk acidity energizes what is otherwise a sleek and suave sauvignon blanc that encompasses stone-fruit and citrus flavors enmeshed with hints of cloves, freshly-mown grass and pink grapefruit. The finish engages the palate with a touch of grapefruit bitterness and an unexpected feral tang. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 as a delightful aperitif or with grilled or roasted salmon or swordfish. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

The point of wines from Nickel & Nickel is that they are all one-variety — the cabernet sauvignons are all cabernet, the merlots all merlot and so on — and that each bottling is from a single, designated vineyard. Most of the wines are produced in quantities of 1,200 to 1,800 cases, with a few dipping as low as a few hundred. The philosophy, of course, is that the individual vineyards, even when compared to vineyards in the same region or sub-region, will bring distinctive features to the wine, taking varietal character into account. I would say that generally the theory, the process work well and deliver wines that distinguish themselves on an individual scale while retaining the similarities inherent in single-variety wines. What’s interesting is that these selections from 2010 and 2009 — and typically for all cabernets from N&N whatever the year — were treated almost identically in the winery, particularly in the point of new oak, almost always kept to under 50 percent. (By the way, N&N produced 12 single-vineyard cabernets from the 2010 vintage.) Director of winemaking for Nickel & Nickel and sister wineries Far Niente, Dolce and Enroute is Dirk Hampson. Because this post is an entry in the “Weekend Wine Notes” series, technical, geographical, geological and historical data are kept to a minimum for the sake of quick, evocative notices. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Nickel & Nickel Hayne Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; mint, anise, violets, lavender, bitter chocolate; spiced and roasted black currants, blackberries and blueberries; very dry, tannic, austere, a real iron and granitic character; intense and concentrated through and through, tremendous weight and gravity. Try 2016 or ’17 through 2024 to ’28. Excellent potential. About $100.
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Nickel & Nickel C.C. Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Rutherford, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. Dark ruby-purple color; graham flour, wheatmeal; cedar, tobacco and cloves; intense and concentrated black cherry and raspberry with a touch of plum and a note of pomegranate, all evolving to dark chocolate-covered black cherries; deep core of graphite and granite-like minerality, glinting and scintillating; dry, grainy tannins, long powerful and profound finish. Try 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’28. Excellent. About $100.
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Nickel & Nickel Branding Iron Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. Impenetrable ruby-purple color; cedar, thyme, tobacco, caraway; spiced and macerated black fruit with a note of roasted fennel; the classic iron fist in a velvet glove syndrome; very dry, dusty, earth and loam; tannins both rigorous and plush; buttresses of oak, a foundation of graphite-like minerals and surging acidity; just a freaking huge wine in every respect. Maybe from 2016 or ’17 through 2025 to ’30. Very Good+ to Excellent potential. About $100.
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Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullenger Vinetard Caberney Sauvignon 2010, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Very dark ruby-purple color; cedar, mint, tobacco, dried thyme, black olive, with intense and vibrant notes of black currants, black raspberries and plums and a graphite-lavender-licorice,bitter chocolate overlay: feels like classic Oakville District cabernet; a wide range of dried spices almost exotic; but ultimately a large-framed, deep austere wine freighted with dry leathery foresty tannins and stout oak. Needs from 2016 or ’17 through 2025 to ’30. Excellent potential. About $100.
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Nickel & Nickel Martin Stelling Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. (298 cases) Very inky purple-violet color; a monumental and broadly dimensional wine but actually a tad more approachable — as one approaches an Eastern potentate, on bended knee — than its counterpart of 2009; again that classic Oakville dusty, cedary, tobacco aspect, wafting amid really intense and concentrated (yet sweetly ripe) black currant, blackberry and raspberry fruit with a hint of plum compote; wood smoke, licorice and lavender play off against this black fruit array, as well as fronting for a vast reserve of dense, chewy tannins, resonant acidity and a stalwart granitic mineral component; the oak emerges through the earth and mineral-packed finish. Another keeper, say 2016 or ’18 through 2028 to ’32. Excellent. About $155 (a bottle).
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Nickel & Nickel State Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Yountville, Napa Valley. 13.8% alc. Deep ruby-mulberry color, opaque at the center; briers, brambles, beetroot, bitter chocolate; intense and concentrated black currants, raspberries and cherries permeated by graphite, fruitcake, rhubarb and cloves; dense, grainy, almost gritty tannins; tremendous vibrant acidity; notes of cedar, roasted fennel, packed with spice and earthy minerality; finishes with walnut shell and wheatmeal. Try from 2015 through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $100.
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Nickel & Nickel Hayne Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Inky ruby-purple color; smoky, fleshy, meaty, huge graphite element and leather-brier component; every element in the wine feels crushed, pulverized and indelibly sifted; bristles with ripe black fruit flavors but tannins are huge, impenetrable, and you feel the oak permeating every aspect; very earthy and loamy, with underbrush, mushrooms, moss and truffles; potpourri, bitter chocolate; finish is deep, complex and fairly austere. Try from 2015 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $100.
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Nickel & Nickel C.C. Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Rutherford, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Very dark ruby-purple; whoa, a huge, pungent, penetrating graphite element; spiced and macerated, black fruit compote, cinnamon and cloves, lavender, black licorice, violets; dense, intense and concentrated, squinching acidity and tannins (which are slightly woody and dusty); a wine with a sense of momentum and power, but some astringency on the finish. 14.4 percent alcohol. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2024 to ’20. Excellent. About $100.
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Nickel & Nickel Branding Iron Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. Opaque inky-purple; a bit less dimensional, a little more straightforwardly typical and slightly monolithic compared to these other cabernet efforts from 2009; dry and austere, this is primarily about oak, tannin and granitic minerality; even eight hours later, having stuck the cork back in the bottle, the wine was beset by monumental tannins. 14.8 percent alcohol. Try, if you dare, from 2016 or ’17 through whatever. Very Good+. About $100.
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Nickel & Nickel Martin Stelling Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. Very dark inky-purple with a deep mulberry rim; tremendous acid, tannin and mineral structure, rigorous, granitic; smoke, ash, leather, fruitcake; very dense and chewy; bare hints of macerated and roasted black fruit and lavender and a wave of bitter chocolate. Needs lots of quiet time, say 2016 or ’17 through the next eon. Very Good+ to Excellent potential. About $155.
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Today’s edition of Weekend Wine Notes offers brief reviews, ripped from the pages of my notebooks, of 12 cabernet sauvignon wines from Napa Valley, most from the year 2010, a few from 2009. Thanks to Beaulieu Vineyards, Inglenook, Louis M. Martini and other pioneering producers and the many wineries that followed beginning in the 1960s, Napa Valley and the cabernet sauvignon grape are fairly synonymous; in fact, Napa Valley, both the valley floor and the surrounding hillside appellations, is rightly noted as one of the world’s prime areas for cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends. Today’s examples are not cheap and the quality varies, though perhaps the right word is “philosophy” rather than quality. A lot of alcohol is spread across these models too. If 14.5 percent alcohol in the new 13.5 percent, then 15 must be the new 14. What’s interesting is that some wineries manage to keep 15 percent or more under control while others allow their cabernets to veer into the territory of hot and overripe zinfandel. Little technical data here, other than the grape percentages in blends; the impulse is concise reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palate, if such is the case. These wines were all samples for review, as I am required to inform My Readers by fiat of the Federal Trade Commission.
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Buccella Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 3% petit verdot, 2% malbec, 1% cabernet franc. The package is pretentious and over-determined, but it holds a damn fine bottle of cabernet. Dark ruby-purple, hint of violet-magenta at the rim; lovely balance and authenticity; cassis, cloves and sandalwood, intense and ripe black currants, raspberries and plums; tremendous presence concentrated fruit and iron and iodine, rather numbed by flaring tannins and oak materiality; still, plush and velvety, very Californian, with exotic spice, bitter chocolate and vanilla; finishes with walnut shell and granitic rigor. 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Production was 1,238 cases. Excellent. About $145.
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Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. 86% cabernet sauvignon, 5% cabernet franc, 4% merlot, 4% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Deep ruby-purple; dark, intense, rich, warm and spicy but an iron-like, sea-salt aspect plus savory elements and bracing acidity that make the wine seem as if it’s standing at attention; still, though, ripe and roasted and fleshy, quite dynamic and resolute; spiced and macerated black and red fruit scents and flavors with a hint of blueberry tart; dense chewy tannin, a dry and fairly austere finish. A grand example of the Napa Valley style. 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
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Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch 2009, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 15.1% alc. With 6% cabernet franc. Dark ruby color, not quite opaque; here’s how it adds up: dusty minerals, dusty fruit, dusty dried flowers, dusty tannins, dusty oak, dusty spices, but pretty damned tasty and delectable for all that; heaps of plums, black raspberries and black currants, undertones of licorice, lavender, smoke and graphite, mocha, underbrush and brambles; authoritative heft and substance, rather muscular and sinewy, but never too dense or monolithic, and it carries the alcohol surprisingly lightly. Now through 2019 to 2024, and give it a thick, juicy, medium rare ribeye steak. Or wild boar. Or venison. Or oxtail stew. Excellent. About $90 to $125.
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Frank Family Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 9% merlot, 3% petit verdot, 1% cabernet franc. Vivid dark ruby color, opaque at the center; intense and concentrated, fleshy and meaty black currants, raspberries and plums, hints of cedar, black olive and thyme, with austere structural elements of wheatmeal, walnut shell and dusty graphite; substantial and large-framed, with dense grainy tannins and fine-grained oak, vibrant acidity; pretty darned foundational presently, but with enough fruit to rise above being solely about architecture. Try from 2015 or ’16 to 2020 to ’24. Very Good+ now, Excellent potential. About $49.75.
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Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 5% petit verdot, 3% cabernet franc, 1% merlot. Deep ruby color with a mulberry-magenta rim; you feel as if you’re smelling and tasting the earth, the rocks, the geology, the geography, the roots; tremendously proportioned and dimensioned in every way — granite, iodine and iron, graphite, dense yet svelte tannins and sleek and deeply spicy oak — yet the wine is almost winsome in its attention to fineness and finesse; scents and flavors of ripe and intense black currants, cherries and raspberries notably clean and fresh, and with backnotes of smoke, lavender, espresso and leather; long supple, earth-and-mineral packed finish. Best from 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Exceptional. About $60.
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Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 921 cases. Vivid dark ruby color; big, sumptuous, resonantly tannic; the whole drawer of exotic spices; black currants and plums, hint of blueberry tart, quite ripe, a little macerated, fleshy and meaty; a real cut of graphite-like minerality, iron filings, lip-smacking acidity; velvety texture but rigorous structure; a finish packed with dust, minerals and the austere essence of tarry black fruit. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $65.

You will notice that the illustration here, taken from the winery’s website is three vintages behind; let’s keep up, please.
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Liparita Cellars Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 916 cases. Deep ruby-purple color; huge graphite-granite-iron-like structure, dusty furrry tannins, a real mouthful of austere, dusty, spicy oak; traces of black olives, cedar, dried rosemary; smoke, lavender, fruitcake, leather and dried moss; exotic without being outré; makes rather a spectacle of its own confidence and stalwart character; fruit’s there but requires another year or two to begin to unfurl. 2015 or ’16 to 2020 to ’24. Very Good+ for now, Excellent potential. About $55.
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Liparita Cellars V Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Yountville, Napa Valley. 15.4% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 831 cases. Very dark ruby-purple, opaque almost to the rim; devastating minerality and raw tannins; no masquerading here: this is about the power of earth, tannin, oak, acidity and alcohol, that latter adding a sheen of super-ripeness and boysenberry zinfandel character that take the wine out of the range of cabernet sauvignon; some tasters may be attracted to this stalwart and flamboyant display, but I am not. Try, perhaps, from 2015 or ’16 through 2019 or ’20. Very Good. About $55.

Both of these Liparita labels are one vintage behind the wines being reviewed: is it too much to ask that producers keep their websites up-to-date?
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Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 15% alc. With 7% cabernet franc, 4% merlot, 1% malbec. Deep ruby-purple with a magenta-violet rim; a blazing snootful of graphite and iodine, lavender and violets, intense and concentrated black currants, cherries and blueberries, slightly spiced and macerated; rousing acidity, scintillating minerality; tremendous vitality, tone and presence, yet with exquisite poise and integration, as well as dense, gritty, velvety tannins and a sleek facade of burnished oak; perfect marriage of power and elegance, grace and dynamism, with Napa Valley written all over it. Drink now to 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 89% cabernet sauvignon, 6% merlot, 3% petit verdot, 2% cabernet franc. Dark ruby-purple color; like eating currants and raspberries right off the bush but with doses of graphite, briers and brambles, lavender and lilac, smoke and bitter chocolate; very clean, pure and intense, with a scintillating edge of iodine and iron; dense dusty tannins; deeply savory and spicy; plush without being voluptuous; sleek, chiseled finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $48.
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Silverado Solo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Deep ruby-purple with a magenta-violet rim; again, the iodine and iron, the dusty graphite and earthy, granitic minerality; black currants and plums touched with black raspberry and lavender, briers and brambles; sleek, suave, lithe; supple slightly muscular tannins over a vibrant acid framework; dense, substantial without being heavy or obvious, carries its weight easily; long tannin, oak and mineral-imbued finish. Try 2015 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $100.

The label date here is one vintage behind; let’s keep those websites current.
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Silverado Limited Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Intense, opaque ruby color with a tinge of magenta at the rim; classic, rigorous, chiseled and architectural, which does not mean brutally tannic and oaky; red and black currants and plums, hint of blueberry jam; dried fruit, dried spice, dried flowers; immense granitic/graphite mineral element; tannins are dusty, robust; acidity cuts a clean swath on the palate; not often I say that a wine has a wonderful structure but this is one of those times; long spice-and-mineral-drenched finish. Now through 2020 to 2022. Excellent. About $140.
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Here are a dozen wines that will put a keen edge of enticing Summery flavors and welcome minerality in your week. Today’s Weekend Wine Sips consist of five rosés and seven sauvignon blanc wines, the latter mainly from California (one from Chile) and the former from all over the place. Prices are pretty low for most of these wines, and availability is wide. Little in the way of technical talk here or discussions about entertaining and educational matters history, geography and climate, much as I dote upon them; the Weekend Wine Sips reviews are intended to be concise, incisive and inspiring. These wines were samples for review or tasted at trade events.
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Marc Roman Rosé 2012, Vin de France. 13% alc. 100% syrah. Very pale pink with a tinge of peach; strawberries, raspberries, red currants, hint of orange rind; all subdued, unemphatic; quite dry, attractive texture and stony finish, just a little lacking in snappy acidity. A decent picnic quaffer. Good. About $10.
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El Coto Rosado 2012, Rioja, Spain. 13% alc. Garnacha & tempranillo, 50/50. Light peach salmon color; fairly spicy, slightly macerated strawberries and raspberries, notes of rose petals and lavender; very dry, crisp acid structure, a bit thin through the finish. Very Good. About $11.
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Castello Monaci Kreos 2012, Salenta I.G.T. 13% alc. 90% negroamaro, 10% malvasia nera. Pale salmon-peach color; tasty, juicy but very dry; spiced and macerated peaches, watermelon and strawberries, lots of limestone and chalk; mid-palate moderately lush, yielding to a stony, austere finish. Very Good+. About $16.
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Finca La Linda Rosé Malbec 2012, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. (From Luigi Bosca) 13.5% alc. More in the fashion of a Bordeaux clairette, that is, lighter and less substantial than regular red table wine, a bit darker and weightier than a true rose; medium pink-bright cherry color with a tinge of pale copper, LL, who knows gemstones, said, “Fire opal”; very spicy, lively, lots of personality, macerated red currants and raspberries with a hint of plum; plush texture modulated by crisp acidity and a burgeoning limestone element; backnote of dried herbs. Excellent. About $13, Great Value.
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Gustave Lorentz Le Rosé 2012, Alsace. 12% alc. 100% pinot noir. Pale copper-onion skin color; strawberries, raspberries and rose petals, touch of orange rind; very stony with elements of limestone and flint but completely delightful; crisp and vibrant acidity, perfectly balanced, dry, elegant. Excellent. About $24.
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Pepi Sauvignon Blanc 2012, California. 13% alc.Very pale gold color; no real flaws, just innocuous and generic; hints of grass and straw, lime peel and grapefruit; pert acidity; nothing stands out as distinctive, but you wouldn’t mind too much knocking this back sitting out on the porch with a bowl of chips. Good. About $10.
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William Cole Columbine Special Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13% alc. Very pale gold color; thyme, tarragon, pea shoot; lilac, roasted lemon and pear; very dry, crisp, austere, heaps of limestone and flint influence, pretty demanding finish, though the whole package is not without charm. Very Good. About $16.
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Tower 15 Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.2% alc. 300 cases. Pale straw-gold color; very lively, crisp, sassy; grapefruit, lime peel, lemongrass and limestone, hint of grass and fig, tarragon and tangerine; quite dry, stony, vibrant; deft balance, exuberant yet refined. Very Good+. About $18.50.
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Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Northern Sonoma. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; lime peel, grapefruit, gunflint and celery seed, scintillating acidity and limestone minerality, touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm; bit of leafy fig; very fresh, clean, lively and engaging. Always a hit in our house. Very Good+. About $15 .
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Waterstone Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. With 18% semillon. 834 cases. Very pale gold color; keen limestone edge, smoke and flint; dry, fresh, crisp, taut; lemon, lime peel and tangerine with hint of pear; mildly grassy, bit of thyme and tarragon; a tad of oak in the background, making for a subtle, supple texture enlivened by a touch of cloves and brisk acidity. Super attractive. Excellent. About $18.
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Atalon Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. With 3% semillon. (Jackson Family Wines) Very pale straw-gold; suave, sophisticated; lime peel, grapefruit, lemongrass, cloves, gooseberry and peach; exquisite balance among crisp snappy acidity, a soft almost powdery texture and fleet scintillating limestone and flint minerality; lots of appeal and personality. Excellent. About $20.
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Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2011, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Sauvignon blanc with 9% semillon. An elegant sheen of oak keeps this sleek sauvignon blanc nicely rounded and moderately spicy; pale straw-gold color; lemongrass and lime peel, thyme and cloves, spiced pear, ginger and quince; limestone, gunflint and talc; lively, vibrant and resonant, very appealing presence and tone; lovely texture balances crispness with well-moderated lushness; burnished oak and glittering limestone dominate the finish. Great character. Excellent. About $32.
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The point of bottling wines made from similar grapes from separate vineyards or regions is that those entities, because of differences, sometimes minute, sometimes pronounced, among geography, geology, soil and microclimate — terroir, friends, terroir’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout — will produce wines that reflect those differences in their individual characteristics. Such a premise is the whole basis, as much moral and philosophical as practical, of the wine industry in Burgundy, for example, with its myriad tiny vineyards each classified and codified in a (basically) three-tier scheme of theoretical quality. Such, too, is the premise of the five wines from Pine Ridge Vineyards that we look at today. Four of these wines are from the Napa Valley sub-appellations of Rutherford, Oakville, Howell Mountain and Stags Leap, bearing, inherently, the promise of distinguishing regional qualities.

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

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

These wines were samples for review.
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The Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 is a blend of 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent malbec, 7 percent petit verdot, 4 percent merlot and 1 lonely percent cabernet franc; it aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 60 percent new. The grapes derived from Pine Ridge’s three estate vineyards in the Rutherford appellation, totaling 61 acres. The color is deep ruby-purple; the bouquet is a heady amalgam of graphite and lavender, bittersweet chocolate, ripe nut intense and concentrated black currants and black cherries, all wound with smoky allure. Tannins feel like an inescapable mesh of infinitesimal fineness and finesse, though composed of dusty velvet and iron. The wine coats the mouth with elements of granite and shale-like minerality, earth and loam and succulent black and blue fruit flavors, succulent but nothing like opulent or sumptuous; all the qualities conspire here to keep the wine substantial but elegant. Dust, earth and loam? Perhaps this is evidence of the famous yet elusive “Rutherford dust” for which the district is noted. The finish is long and packed with spice, minerals and, ultimately, layers of brambly-foresty qualities, becoming a little demanding but not austere. 14.3 percent alcohol. Best from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $80.
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Oakville is only two miles south of Rutherford on Hwy. 29 –the drive is under five minutes; geographically, the shape of Oakville is slightly flatter and a bit broader, as it reaches from the slope of the Vacas range in the east to Mayacamas range in the west. The Pine Ridge Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, 96 percent cabernet and 4 percent petit verdot, offers more fruit and slate and slightly woody spices — sandalwood, cloves, allspice — than its stablemate from Rutherford, though it displays similar dusty, granite-flecked and mouth-coating tannins; the black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors for “Oakville” are also a little more macerated, fleshy and meaty. This is definitely the most herbal of this quintet of cabernets, a characteristic I miss in most examples produced in California; here we have hints of cedar and thyme and and a high-note of bay leaf. The wine is undoubtedly dense and chewy, and the mineral elements of graphite and granite surge forward from mid-palate back through the surprisingly smooth (and smoky) finish. This cabernet aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 55 percent new. 14.1 percent alcohol. Best from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $80.
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Pioneered by Randy Dunn, who released his first cabernet from the 1979 vintage, and established by the federal government in 1983, Howell Mountain was the first sub-appellation in the Napa Valley. Most vineyards in this AVA north of St. Helena and east of Calistoga are planted at altitudes of 1,400- to 2,200-feet above sea-level. The Pine Ridge Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 reflects its mountain origin in its power structure and its brambly-briery, loamy and flinty character; the wine is 100 percent cabernet and aged 18 months in 50 percent new French oak barrels. Squinching tannins are drenched in dusty graphite-and-shale-like minerality that dominates the wine from front to back and top to bottom, and that dimension of minerality and the leathery-foresty nature of the tannins build austerity into the finish. The whole effect is of ink and obsidian, opaque and impenetrable. Fruit? Yes, but tightly furled now; enormous potential but try 2015 or ’16 through 2024 to ’29. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $90.
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Stags Leap District — no apostrophe — was approved as an AVA in 1989. Grapegrowing commenced in this hilly area east of Yountville athwart the Silverado Trail in the 1870s. Pine Ridge owns four vineyards in the district: the 47-acre Pine Ridge Estate Vineyard, the steepest; Locked Horns Vineyard (6 acres) and Cornerstone Vineyard (7 acres); and the particularly rocky 9-acre Circle Hill Vineyard; all contribute grapes to the Pine Ridge Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, a 100 percent varietal wine that defines what we think of as largeness in a wine; it’s broad and deep, with roots that seem to extend down into the soil and strata of the vineyards and with an emphasis on an impeccable and pretty damned unassailable (yet beautifully balance) structure of acidity, tannin, oak and a prominent mineral element; the wine aged 18 months in 65 percent new French barrels. The color is deep purple, nigh unto black; the bouquet delivers whiffs of classic cedar and lead pencil and cigar box wrapped around very intense and concentrated black fruit scents and a stab of flint that’s like a sharp exhalation. In the mouth, the Pine Ridge Stags Leap 09 is dense and chewy, gritty and grainy and yet — there’s always an “and yet” when one talks about complicated wines — the wine’s poise and integration, however “big” is it, are lovely. 14.1 percent alcohol. best from 2014 or ’16 through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $85.
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The idea behind Fortis, whose composition changes every year, seems to be a sort of ideal of Napa Valleyness rather than the expression of a more narrow AVA or vineyards within an AVA, as is the case with the other Pine Ridge wines mentioned in this post. And there’s not a thing wrong with that scheme; many wines that come from this valley that’s legendary for cabernet sauvgnon operate on the same principle. The question is: What is the platonic ideal for a Napa Valley wine? For the Pine Ridge Fortis 2009, it’s this: A 100 percent cabernet wine — a varietal tradition that goes back to the origins of the Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de La Tour Private Reserve in the 1930s — that balances power, dynamism and multi-faceted dimension with integration, elegance and finesse. For 09, Fortis is a blend of 52 percent Rutherford grapes with 48 percent Stags Leap, in other words, the western valley floor but backing up to the Mayacamas slopes combined with the rocky hillsides on the eastern side of the valley. The wine is sturdy, robust, cleanly focused, smooth and velvety yet dusty, deeply imbued with flint-and-graphite minerality; and it’s rich with black currant and black cherry flavors steeped in spicy oak — 60 percent new French barrels, 18 months — and grainy tannins, yet, paradoxically, while the finish retains a rather Olympian distance, there’s nothing austere to violate the wine’s essential poise. 14.1 percent alcohol. best from 2014 or ’16 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $150.
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