Old vines


I have used Wordsworth’s lines so often — “The world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” — that I won’t allude to them on this occasion but merely issue an apology and assert that sometimes I just can’t keep up with tasting and writing. In fact, this post is probably the first in a series of “mea culpa” catch-up entries that I will issue over the next few weeks — if I have time. Ha-ha! These wines, a miscellaneous dozen from California, 11 red, one white, were all samples for review.
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Amapola Creek Monte Rosso Vineyard “Vinas Antiguas” Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley. Winemaker Dick Arrowood mixed 5 percent petite sirah to this zinfandel derived from one of Sonoma County’s legendary vineyards, where the zinfandel vines are 118 years old. The wine aged 15 months in a combination of new and used French and American oak barrels. Generally, I have been a fan of Arrowood’s efforts at Amapola Creek, rating everything I have tasted either Excellent or Exceptional. The exception, however, will be this example, because the heat and sweetness from 15.5 percent alcohol tip the wine off balance and render it into a clunky blockbuster. That’s a shame, because such details as its melange of ripe and spicy black currants and blueberries, cloves, sandalwood and smoked fennel and a chiseled granitic quality would have been gratifying in a different package. Production was 310 cases. Not recommended. About $42.
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Amici Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. There’s an aspect of darkness about this (nonetheless) winsome pinot noir: a dark ruby color; a certain dark shading in its spicy elements of cloves and sandalwood; the smokiness of its black cherry scents and flavors hinting at currants and raspberries; the earthiness of its brier-brambly structure. The lovely texture, though, is all warm satin, while bright acidity keeps it lively and quaffable. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Production was 1,300 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Vineyards Le Cigare Blanc reserve 2011, Arroyo Seco. The blend for this highly aromatic wine is 62 percent grenache blanc and 38 percent roussanne, from the Beeswax Vineyard; the grapes were fermented together in stainless steel and aged in five-gallon glass carboys, also called demijohns or bonbonnes, of the sort typically employed in home brewing and winemaking. The color is very pale gold, and it seems to shimmer in the glass. All of the lemon kingdom has assembled here in its guises of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd, highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, lanolin, lilac and camellia. It’s a savory and saline wine, spare, lean and supple and quite dry yet generous with its citrus flavors that delve a bit into stone-fruit. The entire package is animated by crystalline acidity and crackling limestone minerality. Alcohol content is a pleasing 12.5 percent. Production was 480 cases. Excellent. About $54.
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Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles. The wine is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent merlot and 9 percent petit verdot that spent 19 months in French oak barrels, 80 percent new. The color is very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; seductive aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black cherries and raspberries are permeated by notes of graphite, cedar and tobacco and a hint of rosemary’s brash resiny quality; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of black olive and loam. This is a solid, tannic, granitic-based wine, spare and dusty and quite dry but with plenty of ripe black and blue fruit flavors; fairly rock-ribbed presently, it needs a lot of air to unfurl its attractions. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $56.
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Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. This pinot noir, which aged 15 months in 41 percent new French oak barrels, originated from an area of the Sonoma Coast region recently designated as the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. Don’t be surprised if in the coming years we see more segments of the vast Sonoma Coast fragmented into smaller AVAs; Petaluma Gap, anyone? The color is a beguiling medium ruby hue, though that limpidity is belied by the wine’s sense of power and muscularity; this is intensely spicy, bursting with ripe and macerated black cherry and plum fruit, while a few minutes in the glass bring up pungent notes of old leather and pomegranate. It’s a fairly dense and chewy wine, displaying incisive graphite minerality and acidity that I can only call flaring and buoyant. Quite a performance on pinot noir’s dark side. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Davies Vineyards Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Here’s a pinot that’s a bit more to my taste than the Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 mentioned above, at least in terms of style. This spend 15 months in French oak, 22 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby, and the first impression is of the earth, with rooty and loamy aspects under briers and brambles; then come black and red cherries and currents segueing to dusty plums, smoky sassafras and exotic spices like sandalwood and cloves. Within this sensual panoply expands a core of nuance — lavender, violets, a bare hint of beet-root — and clean bright acidity. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011. Sonoma Coast. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry tinge. I would say that this pinot noir displays glorious purity, intensity and clarity, but “glorious” implies an emphatic nature that I want to avoid; let’s say, instead, that it’s perfect and adorable in the expression of those qualities. Aromas of red and black cherries and currants are imbued with notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras, rose petals and violets, with undertones of briers, brambles and loam, all amounting to a seamless marriage of elegance and power. The texture is supremely satiny, rolling across the palate like liquid money, but the wine’s ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors are buoyed by slightly leathery tannins and back-notes of polished oak, the whole effect enlivened by fleet acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
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Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Gina Gallo employed grapes from the family’s Olson Ranch Vineyard to craft this well-made but not compelling pinot noir that aged eight months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color shades from dark to medium ruby at the rim; aromas of black cherries and cranberries, smoke and loam, cloves and pomegranate characterize the attractive bouquet, while on the palate the wine is satiny smooth and supple; a few minutes in the glass bring out pretty floral elements. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $35.
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Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. The “mother clone” of this wine is a vineyard planted to zinfandel vines since 1904; some of those grapes are included here. Other parts of the vineyard represent the second generation of vines cloned from the original plants, all blended here with six percent petite sirah grapes. The wine aged 11 months in American oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; pungent aromas of black currants, blackberries and blueberries feel warm and spicy but with edges of graphite, briers and brambles. Bright acidity brings liveliness to dense dusty tannins and a slightly chiseled granitic minerality that testifies to the wine’s origin in an old hillside vineyard; however, black fruit flavors are equally bright and faceted, gradually opening to touches of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Sanctuary Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. This is a beautiful pinot noir in every sense, from its lovely transparent medium ruby-cherry hue, to its bouquet permeated by notes of spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries, with hints of rhubarb and cranberry, tobacco leaf and cigarette paper, to its subtle undertones of loam and moss and brambles, to its seductive satiny texture. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 841 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Silverado Vineyards Mt George Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. This classically balanced and structured wine is a blend of 77% merlot, 19% cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec, 1% petit verdot. (Yeah, that’s 101 percent.) The color is very dark ruby-purple, verily, verging even unto motor-oil black; it’s quite pungent, unleashing penetrating aromas of ripe, meaty and fleshy black cherries and raspberries bursting with notes of cassis and black olives, bell pepper and tobacco. Chiseled and polished graphite rules the day, with hints of iodine and saline qualities, earth and loam; the texture is supple, lithe, dense and chewy, yet somehow refined and elegant, never forgetting its obligation to beautiful but not showy black and red fruit flavors. 14.9 percent alcohol. A terrific, finely-honed and tuned merlot that displays great character. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.
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Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley. The blend here is 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5
percent each petit verdot and merlot and 2 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 24 months in 60 percent new oak barrels, mostly French with a small portion of American oak from the Appalachians. A dark ruby hue transcends inky purple; the bouquet is clean and fresh, very cherry-berry with some raspberries and their sense of faint raspiness, briers and brambles in the background, with an intensifying element of violets, lavender and potpourri. This panoply of sensual pleasures doesn’t quite prepare your palate for the rush of dusty tannins, the wheatmeal and walnut-shell austerity, the espresso and graphite elements that characterize the wine’s passage through the mouth. Still, coming back to it in an hour or so reveals its expression of a more approachable side, so give it a chance. A nicely manageable 13.5% alcohol. Production was 983 cases. Excellent potential, 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. About $48.
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California’s Lodi AVA was approved in 1986, but grapegrowing and winemaking in the area, straight east from San Francisco (and southeast of Sacramento) at the north extreme of the San Joaquin Valley, go back to the middle of the 19th Century. Zinfandel is the grape especially associated with Lodi, home to a remarkable collection of “old vine” vineyards planted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The AVA was expanded in 2002 to the south and west. Lodi is divided into seven sub-appellations, and if you have not heard of most of these rest easy, because I had not heard of them either: Alta Mesa (which I have seen on labels from Lee Family Farms); Borden Ranch; Clements Hills; Cosumnes River; Jahant; Mokelumne River; and Sloughhouse. Interestingly, these sub-appellations, the subject of a five-year investigation and evaluation process, were approved by the federal government at once, in August 2006.

As most wine regions are wont to do, Lodi is busily promoting itself and its “subs” as viable entities. One of the steps is the establishment of the Lodi Native Project, this year focusing on the Mokelumne River AVA. This area is characterized by an alluvial fan of sandy, well-drained soils and is a bit cooler than the other six sub-appellations. The idea is that six winemakers would take grapes from old vineyards, ranging from 1958 back to 1901, and make their wines using similar traditional and non-interventionist techniques, including naturally occurring yeasts; no new oak barrels or oak chips, dust or innerstaves; no acid manipulation; no addition of tannin, water or concentrate products; no must concentration or extraction measures; no filtering or fining. Obviously, the idea is to allow the vineyards themselves, their terroir, to be expressed through the wine. Indeed, we have six quite different zinfandels here, some lighter and more elegant and balanced, others treading the path of more density, floridness and higher alcohol. Though I prefer the former to the latter, the project is a fascinating glimpse into the history of a region and the styles of wine that individual vineyards can produce.

The package of six wines is available for $180 online at LodiNative.com or, if you’re in the area, at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center.

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Lodi Native The Century Block Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne River. Fields Family Wines, Ryan Sherman, winemaker. Three acres, planted in 1905. 14 percent alcohol. (Sherman said in a private communication that the alcohol content on this wine is closer to 13.8 percent.) Medium ruby color; red and black currants, red and black cherries; briers and brambles, lightly dusted graphite; flavors in the mouth lean more toward blackberry and raspberry, hints of fruitcake, black tea and orange zest; dense and chewy yet sleek; borne by dusty, slightly leathery tannins and bright acidity; well-knit, polished, lithic finish. Beautifully-fashioned and poised zinfandel. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent.
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Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne River. St. Amant Winery, Stuart Spencer, winemaker. 8.3 acres, planted in 1901. 14.5 percent alcohol. Radiant medium ruby hue; slightly fleshy and meaty, very spicy, smoke and ash, graphite; notes of roasted plums and cherries, potpourri, loam; after a few minutes, raspberries and blueberry tart; very dry, slightly grainy, raspy tannins; you feel the wood, not as new wood but as a supple shaping influence with hints of rosemary and tobacco; dry, fairly austere finish. A high-toned zinfandel, rather grave and dignified. Try from 2015 through 2018 or ’19. Excellent.
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Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne. M2 Wines, Layne Montgomery, winemaker. 14.5 percent alcohol. Grapes from the oldest part of the vineyard, planted in 1916. Intense dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; bright, fruity, very spicy; rhubarb and blueberry. notes of macerated black currants and plums, and more cherry comes up gradually; a rich, warm, spicy mouthful of zinfandel; very dry, and you feel the robust tannins from mid-palate back, though the balance is resolved in perfect equilibrium; the 14.5 percent alcohol feels just right for this wine, a pivot, in a way, the gyroscope that keeps the even keel. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent.
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Lodi Native Trulux Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne. McCay Cellars, Michael J. McCay, winemaker. 14.6 percent alcohol. Vineyard planted in the 1940s. Dark ruby-purple color; deep, intense and concentrated, very spicy, earthy and loamy; a big mouthful of blackberries, blueberries and pomegranate, cloves and allspice, an element of fruitcake and oolong tea, and paradoxically, a sort of smoky cigarette paper fragility; still, beyond that nuance, this is a large-framed, dry, robustly tannic zinfandel, vibrant and resonant, that wears its oaken heart on its sleeve. Now through 2017 or ’19. Excellent, with slight reservations.
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Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne. Maley Brothers Vineyard, Chad Joseph, winemaker. 14.9 percent alcohol. 21 acres, planted in 1958, which seems like a youngster compared to some of these other vineyards. Dark ruby-purple color; ripe, rich and spicy; blueberry and boysenberry, slightly caramelized plums and rhubrab; fruitcake, soft and macerated raspberries; very dense and chewy, packed with baking spice, dusty graphite and black and blue fruit flavors; lots of tannic power, even rather austere in the area of structure but also a little jammy; fortunately a clean line of bright acidity keeps it honest. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+.
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Lodi Native Noma Ranch Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumna. Macchia Wines, Tim Holdener, winemaker. 15.8 percent alcohol. 15 acres, planted in early 1900s. Opaque dark ruby-purple color; the ripest and fleshiest of these zinfandels, boysenberry, loganberry and tart raspberry, heaps of earthy briers and brambles; fruitcake and plum jam; very dry, on the finish reveals alcoholic heat and sweetness which on my palate throws the wine off-balance. Now — if this is yer cuppa tea — through 2016 or ’17. Very Good.
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When Constellation purchased Ravenswood for $148 million in 2001, the consensus was: “Uh-oh.” No way, we thought, will the giant alcoholic beverage company allow Joel Peterson to make those single-vineyard old vine zinfandels with the same individuality, if at all. These fears proved groundless, as a decade shows. Peterson founded the winery in 1976, and it’s a measure of his dedication — and the slim profits that the winery generated — that he kept his day-job as head of a medical laboratory at Sonoma Valley Hospital until 1992, when the success of the Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend wines enabled him to devote what must be his every waking moment to making wine and running the facility. Under review today are three samples of Peterson’s genuinely old vine products, as in each vineyard — Old Hill Ranch, Barricia, Belloni — contains at least part of the original vines planted more than a century ago. What I like about these zinfandels is that they deliberately eschew the blockbuster qualities of high alcohol, deep extraction and super-ripe fruit; don’t look for anything plummy and jammy in these wines, no cloying boysenberry flavors or alcoholic heat. Peterson’s hallmarks are purity and balance in terms of structure and fruit. He succeeds admirably.
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When one steps into Old Hill Ranch, in what is now the Sonoma Valley AVA, there’s a feeling of being on sacred ground. The vineyard was planted around 1880 by William McPherson Hill, who established his farm in 1851. The property passed through his descendents until Otto and Anne Teller acquired it in 1981 and decided not to uproot the historic but abandoned overgrown vines but to restore the vineyard to productivity, working with Joel Peterson, who released Ravenswood’s first Old Hill zinfandel in 1983. The vineyard contains more than 30 varieties of red grapes, the majority zinfandel but also a remarkable array of the well-known and the obscure. It is now farmed by Otto Teller’s stepson, Will Bucklin, who has his own label.

The Ravenswood Old Hill Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley — 75 percent zinfandel, 25 percent mixed black grapes — offers a medium ruby-magenta color and pungent aromas of fresh raspberries and blueberries infused with lavender and graphite, with hints of dried thyme and cedar, all highlighted by some clear wild berry notes. The wine is quite dry but balanced and integrated, its moderately dense but supple tannins and lithe acidity providing support for black and blue fruit flavors inflected by pepper, cloves and a touch of mint. The wine aged 19 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels, but the influence stays firmly in the background. The finish is clean and well-knit, packed with spice and graphite minerality. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 1,200 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’21. Excellent. About $60.
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Barricia looks Italian or Spanish, but it’s a combination of the first names of Barbara Oleson and Patricia Herron, who bought the historic property in 1978. How historic is it? In the 1840s, the land belonged to Sonoma pioneer General Mariano Vallejo, who traded it to his children’s music teacher for piano lessons. Of the 10 acres of zinfandel vines on the estate, six were planted before 1892, the rest in 1995; two acres of petite sirah were planted in 1998. The vineyard now belongs to Mel and Angela Dagovitz.

The Ravenswood Barricia Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley, is a blend of 75 percent zinfandel and 25 percent petite sirah grapes. Fermentation is by indigenous yeasts; the wine aged 19 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. The color is intense medium ruby; the wine is bright, clean, fresh and spicy, roiling with notes of macerated raspberries, plums and mulberries wreathed with hints of white pepper, leather and loam. In the mouth, this is, characteristically, muscular and sinewy but light on its feet and enlivened by brisk acidity; still, the tannins build incrementally, chiseled and faceted, along with granitic minerality, leading to a very dry, almost austere finish. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 1,250 cases. Try from 2015 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $35.
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The property that became Belloni Vineyard was planted around 1900 and acquired by Italian immigrant Ricardo Belloni in 1971. Joel Peterson started making zinfandel from the vineyard after meeting Belloni in 1991. The owner died in 1997, but his widow, his children and grandchildren keep the legacy going. This is a flat, sea-level site in a cool foggy Russian River Valley climate.

The Ravenswood Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel 2011, Russian River Valley, is a blend of 75 percent zinfandel and 25 percent mixed black grapes — Peterson’s magic numbers; the wine is fermented on native yeasts and aged 19 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. The color is glowing medium ruby; the vivid bouquet offers spiced and macerated black and red cherries and raspberries with notes of sandalwood and fruitcake, licorice and lavender, staying just on this side of the exotic. As with its sister wine from Barricia, the Belloni ’11 gradually layers its sleek tannins, its granitic core and its seething acidity in seamless balance, while the oak component provides supple framework and foundation. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 800 cases. From 2015 through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
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Bring in the roller of big cigars, the pigs in blankets, the barbecue brisket nachos with black beans and jalapenos; bring in the slow-cooked ribs slathered with tangy sauce, the cheeseburger sliders and short-rib quesadillas, the fried chicken and the firehouse chili. For, lo, tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday, and who gives a flip who’s playing and where, because the party and the food are the name of the game. And while I know that many of you out there will be downing your favorite beer with the rich, bountiful, caloric Super Bowl-type party food, allow me to recommend some Kick-Ass Bad Boy red wines that will serve you equally well. We draw on Argentina and Chile, Australia and France’s Loire Valley and several points through California. Not much in the way of technical, historical and geographical data here; just incisive reviews meant to whet your palates and perhaps your football-addled imaginations. Snap that ball, Froggie, and plow for the uprights! Or whatever.

These wines were samples for review.
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MontGras Quatro 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. 40% cabernet sauvignon, 35% carmenere, 15% malbec, 10% syrah. Dark ruby, almost opaque; piercing shale and graphite minerality; ashes and currants say the bells of St. Lawrence, with dried thyme, cedar and tobacco; jubilant acidity and rollicking tannins with deep roots; not forgetting intense and concentrated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; multitude of layers and unfoldings though keeps something hidden that feels slightly perverse, definitely a Dark Knight of a wine. Excellent. About $14, an Incredible Value; Buy a Case.
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Gascon Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. Dark ruby color; deeply saturated black currants and plums, very spicy and earthy, yet clean and fresh; a tense core of lavender and potpourri, bitter chocolate and cocoa powder; dusty, chewy tannins; a surprising touch of blueberry tart and fruitcake. Very Good+ and Very Good Value. About $15.
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Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby color; clean, sleek but robust; deeply spicy and flavorful; black fruit galore borne by a tide of blueberry with hints of rosemary, cedar and tobacco; stalwart tannins fit the mix with burly yet beneficent insistence. Always a solid performer. Very Good+. About $16, representing Great Value.
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Nuna Bonarda Reserva 2010, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby color; tar, lavender and licorice, intensely ripe and spicy black currants, plums and mulberries; touches of fruitcake and plum pudding; polished and seductive yet very dry, densely tannic, resonant, a little brooding even, full-bodied, rustic. Very Good+. About $17.
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Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley, Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color shading to medium ruby at the rim; pure and intense, a furnace of shiraz, huge presence of smoke and ash and the symmetry of a chiseled monument; very concentrated but deeply spicy blackberry and black currant scents and flavors; chewy, dusty, muscular yet with an element of fleetness and light. Through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $18, a Fantastic Bargain.
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Tower 15 Petite Sirah 2010, Paso Robles. 14.9% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; robust, rough-hewn, vibrant acidity and chock-a-block tannins, wild berries, black plums, blackberries and blueberries; backnotes of cloves and licorice, coiled potpourri; a little exotic but with characteristic earth-bound, graphite elements. Sadly only 167 cases, so Worth a Search. Very Good+. About $18.50.
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Morgan Winery Syrah 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.6% alc. Deep purple-mulberry color; smacky tannins, whiplash acidity; smoke, ash, leather, edgy graphite; oh, yes, juicy and spicy red and black cherries and plums with hints of blueberries and mulberries; earth, briers, wet dog, the whole syrah kit ‘n’ kaboodle. Lots of personality. Excellent. About $20.
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Catherine et Pierre Breton La Dilettante 2010, Bourgueil, Loire Valley, France. 12% alc. 100% cabernet franc. Light ruby-cranberry color; lithe and wiry, scintillating acidity and flint-like minerality; briers and brambles, thyme and black olives, hints of coffee and tobacco; black currants and blueberries; slightly shaggy tannins. A scrappy little wine despite its deceptive lightness. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $25.
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The Federalist Dueling Pistols 2009, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 15% alc. 50% syrah, 50% zinfandel. No, this wine is not dedicated to the NRA; the name is based on the fatal duel fought by Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Dark ruby-purple color; inky, ashy, slinky; deep. rich with very ripe spicy black fruit scents and flavors yet taking the cool course of dominant flint and shale-like minerality; cigar box, tobacco, thyme; the zinfandel and syrah don’t so much duel here as kiss and make up. A real mouthful of wine. Excellent. About $36.
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Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. How old are those “Century Vines”? The vineyard was planted before 1877, so we’re talking at least 136 years old. Dark ruby shading to magenta; deep, spicy, ripe and roasted, a little earthy/funky; blackberry and blueberry with a touch of mulberry but none of that sissy, jammy boysenberry stuff; leather, briers and brambles, burgeoning tannins yet a serene air that’s appropriate for the venerable age of the vineyard. Now through 2149; just kidding! Make that 2019. Excellent. About $40.
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Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-purple; stalwart and vigorous; smoke, ash and graphite with a charcoal edge; defines dense and chewy and full-bodied, but not ponderous or weighty; very intense and concentrated black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors (touch of mocha); dry but ripe and juicy; heaps of depth and dimension; a big but well-modulated wine. Excellent. About $45.
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Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, McLaren Vale. 14.5% alc. Sorta sexy, sorta beastly, but you won’t hate yourself in the morning for hooking up. Dark ruby-mulberry color, close to black; smooth and mellow yet somehow voluminous, with a tang of acidity and a distinct faceted charcoal/granitic character; very spicy, slightly macerated and roasted black currants and plums; clenched tannins give you a soft wallop in the finish. Excellent. About $45.
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We are so damned eclectic here where our heads are bigger. Today, on this Saturday of the “Friday Wine Sips,” we gotcher rosé (er, not a great one, sorry), we gotcher sparkling wines, we gotcher white wines and we gotcher red wines. Your life will be complete. The countries represented are Germany, Spain, Portugal, France and Italy. (Remember, by the way, that all reports in the “Friday Wine Sips” are not favorable; we applaud for, and we warn against.) As for grapes, well, we offer verdejo, vermentino, pinot blanc, pinot auxerrois, chardonnay and riesling; we offer tempranillo, syrah, mourvèdre, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and a host of grapes that typically grow in the Douro Valley. What we don’t offer is much in the way of technical, historical, personal and geographical material; instead, these are quick reviews, some transcribed directly from my notes, others expanded a bit, and designed to be a rapid infusion of knowledge and direction. So, seek out, try, taste and enjoy, where I have recommended that you do so; for a few others, um, just avoid. These wines were samples for review. The order is rosé, white, sparkling and red.
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Valdelosfrailes Rosé 2011, Cubillas de Santa Marta, Cigales, Spain. 13.5% alc. Tempranillo 80%, verdejo 20%. Bright cherry-crimson color; pungent, pert, perky, strawberry and dried currants, hint of pomegranate, dried herbs and limestone; very dry, lip-smacking acidity and viscosity, austere finish. Doesn’t quite hold together. Good+. About $10.
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Emina Verdejo 2010, Medina del Campo, Rueda, Spain. 13% alc. 100% verdejo grapes. A confirmation of the theory that delicate, fruity white wines should be consumed before they lose their freshness. Not recommended. About $10.
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Prelius Vermentino 2010, Maremma, Toscana, Italy. 12.5% alc. Probably delightful last year but overstayed its welcome. Only in a pinch. About $15.
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Domaine Roland Schmitt Pinot Blanc 2010, Alsace, France 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely, soft but lithe, very clean and fresh, quite spicy; apples, lemons, pears, touch of yellow plum; vibrant acidity keeps it lively and appealing, while a few minutes in the glass pull up notes of jasmine and limestone. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $16.
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Domaine Mittnacht Freres Terre d’Etoiles Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. 12% alc. Pinot auxerrois 60%, pinot blanc 40% (can that be right and still be labeled pinot blanc?) Pale straw-yellow, like Rapunzel’s hair; entrancing aromas of camellia and jasmine, spiced pear and roasted lemon, quince and ginger; very dry, resolutely crisp, yet with such an attractive texture and balance, a sense of soft ripeness and sinewy limestone elements. Very stylish. Now through 2014 or ’15, well-stored. Excellent. About $19, Fine Quality for the Price.
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Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. 8.5% alc. Pale, pale gold; lychee and petrol, pear and pear nectar, lime peel and quince preserves, hint of jasmine, just deliriously attractive; but very dry, formidably crisp and steely; then a dramatic shift to apples, apples and more apples; the entry is quite ripely, kssingly sweet but resonant acidity and scintillating limestone-like minerality turn the wine dry yet still delicate from mid-palate through the finish. Now through 2015 to ’18. Excellent. About $23, Get It! .
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Antech Émotion 2009, Crémant de Limoux, France. 12% alc. Chardonnay 70%, chenin blanc 18%, mauzac 10%, pinot noir 2%. Pale copper-onion skin color; a fetching froth of tiny bubbles; apples, strawberries, lime peel, steel and limestone; touches of smoke and red and black currants, almost subliminal; orange zest; so damned pretty and charming; very dry finish. Very Good+. About $18, a True Bargain.
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Sekthaus Raumland Cuvée Marie-Luise Blanc de Noirs Brut 2008, Germany. 12% alc. 100% pinot noir. Pale gold; a constant stream of glinting silver bubbles; stimulating bouquet of roasted lemons and lemon curd, toasted hazelnuts, tropical back-notes, sea-breeze and salt-marsh, both generous and chastening; very dry, high-toned and elegant, lots of steel and limestone; yet that intriguing tropical element and a muted hint of leafy currant at the core. Really lovely. Excellent. About $45.
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Dow Vale do Bomfim 2009, Douro, Portugal. 14% alc. Tinta barroca 30%, touriga franca 25%, touriga nacional 25%, tinto roriz 15%, tinto cao 5%. Color is dark ruby; ripe and fleshy, warm and spicy; intense and concentrated black and red currants, plums and blueberries; heaps of briers and brambles and underbrush, coats the mouth with fine-grained tannins; lots of personality brought up short by a dusty, leathery finish. Drink through the end of 2012 with burgers. Very Good+. About $12.
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Prelius Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; spicy, tightly wound, chewy, mouth-coating tannins; black currants and plums, very spicy; decent basic cabernet with an earthy, astringent finish. Very Good. About $15.
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Chateau La Roque “Cuvée les Vielles Vignes de Mourvèdre” 2006, Pic Saint Loup, Coteaux du Languedoc, France. 13.5% alc. With 10% grenache. Deep purple with a tinge of magenta; lovely, lively, lots of tone and personality; dense and chewy, intensely spicy, exotic, ripe and fleshy but a slightly hard edge of graphite and walnut shell; plums, plums and more plums, hint of fruitcake (the spices, the nuts, the brandied fruit); a dry finish with earth, leather and wood. Now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $20, and definitely Worth a Search.
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Pierre Gaillard Domaine Cottebrune Transhumance 2007, Faugeres, Languedoc-Roussillon, France. 14.5% alc. Syrah 50%, grenache 40%, mourvèdre 10%. Dark ruby color; ripe, fleshy and meaty black and blue fruit scents and flavors, spiced and macerated; nothing shy here, huge presence, plenty of oak and lipsmacking tannins that pack the mouth, but succulent too, deep and flavorful; sea salt, iron and iodine, a whiff of the decadent but a decent heart. Put yourself in its hands. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $22.
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Pizza and barbecue ribs don’t have much in common; the first is a form of savory flatbread, while the second is pure meat and bones; the first cooks quickly, the second luxuriates in long, slow heat. Of course pizza often has some form of meat as a topping (certainly the case at my house; I asked LL once if she would like a vegetarian pizza and she replied, “What’s the point?”) and frequently incorporates tomatoes, while ribs are, you know, meat and the basting sauce sometimes has a tomato base, so while we may not be talking about blood-brothers, there may be more going on here than I thought initially.

Anyway, here’s a roster of full-flavored, full-bodied wines that we have tried recently on Pizza-and-Movie Night, as well as a syrah and grenache blend that we drank with barbecue ribs. Not that these labels and recommendations are fused in iron; most of these wines, with their rich ripe fruit and stalwart tannins, could match with a variety of hearty grilled or roasted fare.

These wines were samples for review.
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Las Rocas Garnacha 2009, Calatayud, Spain. Gallo bought Las Rocas, which was launched in 2003, from its American importer and his Spanish partner in 2009; a smart move, since Las Rocas Garnacha is an incredibly popular, inexpensive red wine. Made completely from garnacha or grenache grapes, the version for 2009 is as we would expect: very ripe, floral and spicy, with teeming amounts of black currant, plum and mulberry scents and flavors bolstered by earthy and dusty graphite elements, moderately grainy tannins and bright acidity. The fruit qualities taste a little fleshy and roasted, and there’s a bit of heat on the finish, testimony to the exceptionally dry, hot weather in 2009 along that plateau in northeastern Spain. Quite enjoyable, though, for its frank flavors and rustic directness; try with pizza (of course), burgers and grilled sausages. 15.2 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $14.

With this wine came Las Rocas Red Blend 2009 ($14) and Las Rocas Viñas Viejas 2009 ($20) which I did not find appreciably better or much different.

Imported by Las Rocas USA, Hayward, Ca.
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Feudi di San Gregorio Rubrato 2008, Irpinia Aglianico, Campania, Italy. Campania is the province that surrounds the city of Naples and extends east from it. This area is almost the exclusive arena of the unique, rangy and rustic aglianico grape, though it also makes the DOC Aglianico del Vulture in Basilicata, to the southeast. The grape originated in Greece and was brought to central Italy by the Phoenicians, so it is of ancient provenance, as so much in Italy is. Feudi di San Gregorio’s Rubrato ’08 displays all the character of the grape in full. The color is deep, dark ruby; the heady bouquet is spicy and meaty, an amalgam of black and blue fruit, cloves, fruitcake, black olives, oolong tea, tar and blackberry jam. In the mouth, the wine, which aged eight months in French oak barriques, is rich and savory but firm, dense and chewy, fathomlessly imbued with grainy tannins, brooding mineral elements and teeming acidity. On the other hand, the alcohol content is a relatively winsome 13.5 percent. We drank this blood-and-guts (yet pleasing and user-friendly) red with pizza, but it’s really suited to barbecue ribs or brisket or a grilled rib-eye steak. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $18, representing Good Value.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla.
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Sausal Family Zinfandel 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Sporting a dark ruby slightly unto purple color, this zinfandel, made from vines averaging 50 years old, is robust and full-bodied, offering spiced and macerated red currants and blueberry with a bare hint of boysenberry; the wine is dense and chewy, permeated by elements of graphite and lavender, fruitcake and potpourri, with a bit of bittersweet chocolate. The wine aged 20 months in a combination of French and American oak, a process that lends firmness to the structure, suppleness to the texture and touches of cloves and mocha. Tannins are fine-grained and generously proportioned, while taut acidity provides vim and zip (sounding like characters in a play by Samuel Beckett). The long finish is packed with black and red fruit and earthy graphite-like minerality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2014 to ’15. Excellent. About $19, another Good Value.
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Benessere Black Glass Vineyard Zinfandel 2008, Napa Valley. Not a zinfandel that attempts the extracted uber-darkness/super-ripe effect, here the color is medium ruby with a dark cherry center and the bouquet focuses on red and black cherries with hints of sour cherry, plum skin, cloves, fruitcake and hints of earthy leather and brambles. Not that the wine isn’t ripe and rich or packed with juicy wild berry flavors; in fact, this is a remarkably sleek and stylish zinfandel that only shows its more rigorous side when the closely-knit tannins and dense oak — 18 months in new and used French and American barrels — make themselves known through the finish. The spice elements, a backnote of cocoa powder and more brambles and briers also build from mid-palate back, adding verve and depth, aided by lively acidity. 14.7 percent alcohol. A great match for pizzas with hearty topping like sausage, guanciale or spicy salami. Production was 390 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley. Here’s a blend of syrah (55 percent) and grenache (45 percent) fully worthy of its Rhone Valley heritage, but I have to apologize for its lack of wide distribution. In any case, this wine went head to head and toe to toe with a rack of barbecue ribs and did them both proud. The grapes were grown organically at about 900 feet above Sonoma Valley, in a vineyard that lies next to the legendary Monte Rosso vineyard, once the mainstay of the Louis M Martini cabernet sauvignon wines and now owned by Gallo. Cuvée Alis 09, named for Richard Arrowood’s wife and co-proprietor of Amapola Creek, aged 18 months in new and used French oak. The color is an almost opaque ruby-purple with a magenta rim; the bouquet is first earth, leather, smoke, ash, black pepper; then intoxicating aromas of pure blackberry, black raspberry and plum, permeated, after a few moments in the glass, with beguiling notes of sandalwood, cumin and cardamom, ancho chili and bittersweet chocolate. The wine is characterized by huge presence and tone; it’s dense and chewy and powerfully imbued with smooth packed-in tannins and an iron and iodine-like mineral nature, yet it remains vital and vibrant, even a bit poised, while black fruit flavors are spicy, fleshy and meaty. The finish, though, is daunting and rather austere, a quality that deepens as the minutes pass. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 95 cases, so mark this Worth a Search. Try from 2014 to 2018 to ’22. I wrote about Richard Arrowood’s Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and his history as a winemaker in Sonoma County here, and I rated that wine Exceptional; this Cuvée Alis 09 is no exception, it’s also Exceptional. About $48.
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The Shaw Vineyard was planted in 1882, so the Kunde Reserve Century Vines Shaw Vineyard Zinfandel 2005, Sonoma Valley, is made from vines that are actually 29 years more than a century old. The wine, at a bit more than five years old, is wonderfully smooth and mellow, as well as being surprisingly clean and fresh and more than a little exotic with notes of cloves and sandalwood, violets and potpourri seeping through the scents and flavors of spiced and macerated red and black currants and plums. It aged 17 months in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak, with 20 percent of the barrels being new; the result is a structure of appealing suppleness and firmness layered with moderately dense and chewy tannins in the sleek, fine-grained mode. Lovely balance and integration all around and an irresistible drink for those who weary of over-blown, over-ripe, high-alcohol zinfandels. Production was 1,900 cases. Winemaker was Tim Bell. Excellent. About $30 to $35 and definitely Worth a Search.

Tasted at a trade event.

As faithful readers of this blog know — bless yer little pointy heads! — every feasible Saturday night it’s Pizza-and-Movie Night in the FK/LL household. This has been a steady occurrence for 15 years or so, and for most of that time I adhered to pretty much the same routine in making the pizza. Recently, though, I radically changed the way I make pizza, in terms of basic ingredients and technique.

The first inspiration was an article that ran in the food section of The New York Times on May 18 (and available online), called “The Slow Route to Homemade Pizza,” by Oliver Strand. Following the advice of a number of professional pizza-makers, the story advocates making the pizza dough and letting it rise at room temperature for 24 hours or at least overnight. Now I’ve always indulged in what I thought of as a slow rising of the dough at about eight hours, but overnight was new to me. I tried the technique soon after I read the article, making the dough on Friday night and leaving the bowl on the counter until the next morning. About 11 o’clock, I punched the dough down, kneaded it a few times, put it back in the bowl and set it out on the back porch. By the time I was ready to make the pizza at 6 p.m., the dough has been working for about 20 hours.

What happened next was remarkable. Usually, when you roll out the dough, you have to have do it a couple of times because the gluten is still elastic, so it has to rest for a couple of minutes and then be rolled again. With the new technique, I rolled the dough out and it immediately spread across the edges of the wooden paddle and onto the counter. Whoa! I actually had to trim the circumference because the pizza would have been too big for the stone. (Sorry I don’t have images of the process.) When we ate the finished pizza, the crust was thinner than I have ever achieved before, yet still chewy, not cracker-like, with a texture that had a little give and a rim that was slightly puffy. Fabulous, yes, but for me anyway, this technique is a little tricky, and over the past two months or so, I have had — it seems to me; LL is more generous –about a 25 percent failure rate, by which I mean that the crust was not up to a fine standard. I think I just have to keep trying to tune the method until I get it right.

The other change is that I began buying, at the Memphis Farmers Market, the hard white whole grain wheat flour from Funderfarm, a milling operation run by a young couple in Coldwater, Miss. The flour is not cheap — $8.50 for four pounds — but it’s ground the day before I purchase it, and it contributes wonderful texture and flavor to pizza. Now I can’t make a pizza with only the Funderfarm flour (the result is rather heavy), so I worked out a formula of about 40 percent Funderfarm hard white whole grain flour, about 50 percent King Arthur Bread Flour and about 10 percent rye flour from Whole Foods. All of these flours are organic.

We have also benefited from a bumper crop of local aubergines, including little globular eggplant; slim, tender baby eggplant; and pale lavender eggplant with faint white stripes. I slice these thin, marinate the slices in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, thyme and oregano, salt and pepper and then grill them briefly over hardwood charcoal. This is great on pizzas, especially in conjunction with pepper-cured bacon (as in the image above), and what’s interesting is that usually I can’t stand eggplant, it sort of
hurts my stomach. Ratatouille, yuck! I also like combining fresh tomatoes and marinated dried tomatoes on the same pizza, dribbling on a bit of the marinade as the final touch. (This image is of a small vegetarian pizza I made one Saturday when LL was traveling.) And recently I’ve been using four cheeses: mozzarella, feta, parmesan and pecorino.

Anyway, that’s what’s happening in My Pizzaworld. As far as wine is concerned, here are notes on the variety of wines we’ve had with pizza over the past few months. These were all samples for review.

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When Easton says “old vine,” they’re not kidding. The grapes for the Easton Old Vine Zinfandel 2006, Fiddletown, derive from the Rinaldi-Eschen Vineyard, some of whose vines date to the original planting of 1865, up there in Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley. Can there be an older vineyard still producing grapes in California? This is a beautifully balanced and integrated zinfandel, with loads of poise and character. The color is rich dark ruby with an opaque center and just a nod to cherry-garnet at the rim. Scents of macerated and meaty plums and red and black currants are permeated with smoke and cloves with a touch of leather and briers. In the mouth, the wine is rich and warm, displaying an intriguing combination of the savoriness of ripe, fleshy black fruit flavors with a sweet core of spicy oak and a touch of the grape’s brambly, black pepper nature. It’s quite dry, though, gaining a bit of dignified austerity and mineral presence on the finish. Nothing jammy, nothing overdone, and surprisingly elegant for an “old vine” zinfandel. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Winemaker was Bill Easton, who also makes Rhone-style wines under the Terre Rouge label. Alcohol is 14.5. percent. Excellent. About $28 and definitely Worth a Search.
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The Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2006, Napa Valley, asserts an individual character, unlike so many merlot-based wines that just taste “red” or like an imitation cabernet. From the winery’s Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyards, this intense and concentrated merlot delivers a bouquet of ripe black currants and black cherries etched with smoke and bitter chocolate and hints of lavender and Damson plum. A few minutes in the glass bring on a slightly roasted element, with flavors of black currants and blackberries permeated by cedar and dried thyme, all of these sensations cushioned by gritty, velvety tannins and fairly militant dusty, gravel-like minerality. The wine aged 18 months in a combination of French barriques and casks (that is, small and large barrels), some 30 percent of which were new. Such a regimen lends the wine shape, tone and seriousness without the frippery of toast or overt spiciness. Try from 2011 or ’12 through 2016 to ’18. Winemaker is Ivo Jeramaz, nephew of the winery’s co-founder and winemaker emeritus, Miljenko “Mike” Grgich. Alcohol is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $42.
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The winery was founded in Australia’s Barossa Valley as Karlsburg Wines in 1973 by Czech winemaker Karl Cimicky; his son Charles changed the winery’s name to Charles Cimicky Wines when he took the reins. The blend in the Cimicky Trumps Grenache Shiraz 2007 is 55 percent of the first, 45 percent of the second. The wine spends 15 months in two-year-old French oak barrels that lend subtle spice and suppleness. This is a big, dark, rich and, yes, jammy red wine that bursts with aromas of ripe black currants, blackberries and plums swathed with licorice and lavender and crushed gravel. Despite the intense black fruit nectar-like ripeness, the wine is completely dry, even austere toward the finish, but it also just rolls across the taste-buds like liquid velvet couched in furry, chewy tannins. A little swirling unfurls notes of clean earth, new leather and smoke. This was terrific with the night’s pizza, but Lord have mercy, would it ever be great with a medium-rare, pepper-crusted rib-eye steak. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $15 to $18.
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La Mozza is jointed owned by Lidia Bastianich, her son Joe Bastianich and his partner is the restaurant business, Mario Batali. None of these celebrities — especially Batali — needs an introduction. (Mother and son also own a winery, launched in 1997, in Friuli Venezia Giulia, in the Colli Orientali Giulia D.O.C. region.) La Mozza was founded in 2000 and is located in Tuscany’s southwestern Maremma area. La Mozza Aragone 2006, Maremma Toscana I.G.T., could be called a combination of Italy and France; on the Italian side we have 40 percent sangiovese and 25 percent alicante grapes, and on the French side, specifically the southern Rhone Valley, we have 25 percent syrah and 10 percent carignane. The wine aged 22 months in 500-liter French casks; the standard French barrel is 225 liters, so theoretically, because of the greater mass of wine in proportion to wood, the oak influence with a cask is less, or at least more subtle. Not that the point matters tremendously for this dark, robust and vigorous red wine. Scents of red and black currants (and a touch of mulberry) are permeated by elements of graphite and potpourri, moss, briers and brambles and a bass note of mushroomy earthiness. Yes, there are intriguing, seductive layers in the bouquet, and if the wine is a bit more brooding in the mouth, that’s nothing that a little bottle aging won’t ease. The wine is well-balanced, but the emphasis is on dense but smooth, almost sleek tannins and rich, smoky black fruit flavors that need a year or two to develop. Try from 2011 or ’12 through 2016 to ’18. Alcohol content is a comfortable 13 percent. Excellent. A few months ago, the price range for this wine was about $38 to $42; today it’s about $28 to $35.

Dark Star Imports, New York.
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Yangarra Estate Vineyard, located in Australia’s McLaren Vale appellation, is part of the Jackson Family Wines empire. While the Yangarra wines are promoted as “100% estate grown,” the federally required designation on the back label mysteriously does not say “Produced and Bottled by …” but “Vinted and Bottled by …”; the implication is that the Yangarra wines (at least the ones shipped to the U.S.) are not made at the estate. Whatever the case, the Yangarra Mourvèdre 2008, McLaren Vale, is a wonderful, I’ll say it again, a wonderful expression of the mourvèdre grape. While a traditional component of the blended red wines of the Rhone Valley, Provence and Languedoc in southern France, mourvèdre is seldom bottled on its own except for a few instances in California and Australia. At first, this is all black: Blackberry, black currant, black plum, black pepper, black olive. Then a touch of dried red current enters the picture, along with sweet cherry and sour cherry, red plum, new leather. Give the wine a few more minutes and it turns into a glassful of smoldering violets and lavender, with overtones of bitter chocolate, espresso and dried thyme. The mineral element expands into layers of dusty granite and graphite that permeate the bastions of polished, chewy tannins. The wine aged 18 months in French oak barrels, only 15 percent of which were new, so the wood influence is sustained yet mild and supple and slightly spicy. This could mature for a year or two, so drink from 2011 or ’12 through 2016 to ’18. Production was 500 six-bottle cases; winemaker was Peter Fraser. Alcohol content is the now standard 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $29.

Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Cal.
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Just as the Yangarra Estate Mourvedre 2008 mentioned above represents a Platonic embodiment of the mourvedre grape, the Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2007, Russian River Valley, performs a similar service for syrah. Syrah was planted in Darien in 2000 and 2001, so the vines have reached a point of development that should lend rich character to the wine and continue on a plateau of quality for 50 or 60 years. There’s a whole truckload of crushed thyme, marjoram and Oolong tea in this wine, as well as baskets of blackberries and blueberries imbued with hints of prunes, plums, lanolin and leather and an all-over sense of ripe fleshiness. The color is inky with a faint violet/purple rim; the granite and shale-like mineral element feels/seems inky too. So add the caprice of lavender, licorice, bitter chocolate and potpourri crushed by mortar and pestle and scattered on a smoldering field of wild flowers and herbs. Yes, I’m saying that this is a syrah that reaches a level of delirious detail, depth and dimension, and the deeper it goes, the darker and denser it gets, until you reach the Circle of Austerity and the Chamber of Tannins and the Rotunda of Oak. (The wine aged 14 months in French barrels, 42 percent new.) Despite those fathoms, the wine is surprisingly smooth and drinkable, huge in scope yet polished and inviting. Production was 974 cases. Alcohol content is 14.9 percent. Drink from 2011 or ’12 through 2018 to ’20 (well-stored). Winemaker was Darice Spinelli. Exceptional. About $48.
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Desiring something probably less complicated and certainly cheaper on a subsequent Pizza-and-Movie Night, I opened the Estancia Zinfandel 2007, Keyes Canyon Ranches, Paso Robles. Estancia was founded in 1986 on the old Paul Masson vineyards in Soledad, in Monterey County. The winery is now owned by Constellation. Keyes Canyon is in Paso Robles, down south in San Luis Obispo. The wine is touted on its label as “Handcrafted” and “Artisan-Grown,” whatever those nebulous terms mean. As is the case with many of the products from wineries purchased by Constellation, this wine says on the label “Vinted and Bottled … “; check your bottles of Mt. Veeder and Franciscan, also owned by Constellation. Actually what the complete line on this label says is “Vinted and Bottled by Estancia Estates, Sonoma Co.” So the question is: Where the hell was the wine made?

Anyway, I didn’t like it. I tried manfully for 15 or 20 minutes to coax something out of the glass that might resemble anything to do with the zinfandel grape, but all I got was a generic sense of smoky, toasty red wine that could have been cabernet or merlot. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Winemaker was Scott Kelley. Avoid. About $15.

Finally, LL said, “Oh, just open something else. Something better.” So I went looking and found the next wine.
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Yes, as you know, I’m the kind of guy who will open a Jordan Cabernet to go with pizza, but, damnit, the movie was going and we were chowing down and I had to grab something. And of course I’m not implying that a wine that costs $52 is necessarily better than a wine that costs $15; the case is simply that every wine should perform up to or better than its price range, and the Estancia certainly didn’t do that.

Anyway, the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Alexander Valley, offers lovely balance, integration and harmony. The blend is 75 percent cabernet sauvigon, 19.5 percent merlot, 4.5 percent petit verdot and 1 percent malbec. Aging was 12 months in French (67%) and American (33%) oak barrels, of which 33 percent were new. The bouquet is first a tangle of briers and brambles, cedar, thyme and black olive with a background of iron and dusty walnut shell; a few minutes bring in the notes of black currants, black cherries and cassis. The wine is intense and concentrated, dense and chewy, with finely-milled tannins and polished oak enfolding flavors of spicy black currants and plums and a streak of vibrant acidity contributing a sense of purpose. A model of the marriage of power and elegance and a delight to drink. Try now through 2015 or ’16. The alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Winemaker was Rob Davis. Excellent. About $52.

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It’s ironic that the logo for August Briggs Winery features a delicate dandelion puff-ball with a few of its gossamer filaments a-drift on a gentle zephyr, because these six red wines are anything but gossamer-like. They are, instead, in a few words, solid, substantial, robust. The winery is on the Silverado Trail in Calistoga, in the north part of Napa Valley, but August Briggs draws on vineyards not only in Napa but in Sonoma and Lake counties, making small quantities of 16 wines. Under review here are two cabernet sauvignons, two pinot noirs, a petite sirah and an old vine zinfandel.

Samples for review.
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The August Briggs Pinot Noir 2008 derives from three vineyards in Russian River Valley. The color is medium ruby with a radiant darker shade within. Aromas of black cherry, plums, cloves and cola unfold to hints of moss, autumn leaves and smoke. The oak regimen was eight months in 30 percent new French barrels, 70 percent two- and three-year-old barrels. There’s nice balance here initially between delicacy and something more dynamic, but the wine is also quite dry, and it reveals more spice and wood, in the form of brown sugar and allspice, that turns a little astringent on the finish. More time in the glass intensifies the cherry fruit. Production was 503 cases. Alcohol content is 14.2 percent. Very Good+. About $38.
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More detail and dimension surface in the August Briggs “Dijon Clones” Pinot Noir 2008, Napa Valley. This is slightly darker than the Russian River Valley pinot noir, and its bouquet is more pure, intense and entrancing. Subtly expansive black cherry, cranberry and mulberry aromas are gently infused with sweet baking spices and a touch of the exotic, a hint of smoke and sandalwood. The oak treatment is the same for this wine as for its Russian River Valley stablemate, but you feel its slightly woody presence a bit more on the finish, but before that moment, your palate is engulfed in a lush swathing of satiny succulence and earthy, rooty black and red fruit flavors. Still, 20 or 30 minutes bring in the same austerity that defines the August Briggs’ Russian River Valley pinot noir, so what we see here is a stylistic choice. Perhaps a year or two of aging will soften the wine. Production was 805 cases. Alcohol is 14.5 percent. Very Good+. About $40.
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The August Briggs Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley, is all about structure. You smell it in the aromas of dust, briers and brambles, granite and lead pencil, cedar and walnut shell; you taste it in a mouthful of dusty minerals, dusty tannins and dusty oak from 20 months in half-and-half French and American barrels. Yet you also feel a richness, a smoothness and sense of dimension that speak of this wine’s potential for development over the next six to eight years; try from 2012 or ’13 through 2016 or ’18. Two vineyards were involved, the Stagecoach Vineyard in Atlas Peak and the Corbett Vineyard on Spring Mountain. 498 cases. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+ now with the possibility of Excellent. About $52.

Let’s remember that the Napa Valley designation on the previous wine implies a large growing region with smaller appellations, like Atlas Peak and Spring Mountain, within it. Sonoma Valley, on the other hand, is a vineyard appellation (or American Viticultural Area) within the larger Sonoma County region. In the case of the August Briggs Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Sonoma Valley, it’s also vineyard-specific, and a venerable vineyard it is, first planted in 1880, purchased in 1938 by Louis M. Martini and replanted, and owned since 2002 by Gallo.

The color of the August Briggs Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 is dark ruby/purple; the bouquet is rich and warm, fleshy, floral and spicy, and dense, if aromas can be dense, with macerated black and red currants, plums and cherries; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of iodine, sea-salt, cedar and graphite. As you can tell, the wine, in its bouquet, is a testimony to defining (indeed, provocative) detail. In the mouth, the wine takes a harder edge, with sumptuous, chewy tannins and lavish oak — 20 months French and American, 50/50 — leavened by a feast of granite-like minerality and foresty qualities. Fine now with a piping hot rib-eye steak, but otherwise try from 2012 or ’13 through 2017 to ’20. Production was 598 cases. 14.9 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________ I’ll admit that the one of these six wines that I liked unabashedly was the exuberant August Briggs Old Vines Zinfandel 2008, Napa Valley, a clean, bright, pure and authoritative zinfandel whose grapes derived from two vineyards, one planted in 1908, the other in the 1940s and ’50s. Black cherry, black currant and blackberry scents and flavors are infused with smoky lavender and licorice and interesting hints of caraway and wheatmeal, the flavors ensconced in rip-roaring, lip-smacking tannins that are gritty and chewy yet plush, too, almost velvety. Tons of fruit here and tons of structure in great balance. You can’t get away from the fact that the alcohol level is 15.2 percent, but, hell, we get top-flight iconic cabernets now with that factor, so, you can live with it. Wrap this around game meats like venison and boar. 420 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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And, the one of these wines that I disliked absolutely was the August Briggs Petite Sirah 2007, Napa Valley, which in its very evident 15.5 percent alcohol, its massive oaken influence and its overwhelming tannins makes a detrimental fetish of muscle-bound bigness. 296 cases. Not for this boy. About $38.
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Overlooking for the moment the issue, which seems important to me, that there are no rules about using the term “old vines” on wine labels in America, I’ll propose as a model of what an old vines zinfandel should be the Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2007, Alexander Valley. The dry-farmed vineyard from which Sausal draws the grapes for this wine was planted before 1877, according to available records. That makes these zinfandel vines at least 132 years old; by any definition, these are old vines indeed, and they make a wine of profound depth and dimension as well as balance and integration.

First, what the Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2007 is not. It’s not over-ripe or jammy; it’s not “hot” with alcohol; it delivers no cloying boysenberry scents or flavors; it’s not massively tannic. The alcohol level is 14.7 percent; yes, legally that’s give or take a point on either the up or down side. Still, the wine does not fall into the category of almost port-like zinfandels that soar over 16 percent alcohol. I mean last week I drank a lovely, delicate pinot noir from the Willamette Valley that carried its 14.5 percent alcohol like a zephyr, so 14.7 for a zinfandel is child’s-play.

The Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2007, Alexander Valley, offers a beguiling bouquet of clove-and-black pepper-infused black currants and blueberries that unfolds to reveal ground violets and lavender, crushed gravel and a hint of mocha. The wine is notably clean and fresh and pure, a graceful amalgam of power and elegance that never loses its sense of being rooted in the earth. Black fruit flavors are rich and spicy but subdued by vibrant acidity and supple tannins; a year in French oak lends a touch of suavity to the wine’s texture and firmness to the structure. Altogether, a pleasure to drink, indeed an exemplar of presence and resonance, now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $40.

We drank the Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2007 with chuck roast braised in wine and onions, with root vegetables, the second time I made this dish in a month.

Sausal Winery is owned by the Demostene family, whose ancestors came to Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley in 1901. The winery makes all red wines, chiefly several zinfandels, cabernet sauvignon and a Chianti-like sangiovese.

This wine was a sample for review.

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