Oregon


I started this post as a way of commemorating my 30th anniversary in wine-writing, reached, as My Regular Readers know — bless your little pointy heads and may your tribes increase — early in July. Initially, the concept was “Fifty Great Wines,” but I decided that choosing 50 “great” wines from 30 years of tasting would be an impossible and probably just stupid and futile task. In three decades, I tasted thousands and thousands and more thousands of wines — you writers know how it is — so choosing the 50 “greatest” from this immense group would be a Sisyphian exercise.

Then I realized that what would be more significant anyway would be 50 wines that, as the title states, shaped my palate, the wines that shook me to the core, that shifted my perspective about how wine is made and its various effects, that achieved a level of purity and intensity that befit the divine; the wines, in short, that were not only definitive but created me as a writer. Yes, just that. So I spent the past few weeks combing through dozens of old notebooks, through the electronic archives of the newspaper for which I wrote a weekly column for 20 years and of course through the pages of this blog.

Now let’s be frank about some issues. As a wine reviewer, I am dependent on the practice of samples provided by producers, importers, marketers and (to a lesser extent) local distributors; I depend on the occasional trade tasting, lunch with a touring winemaker, on sponsored travel to wine regions in this country and abroad. You will not, therefore, see a list that emphasizes the great wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy, though some are included, more Burgundy than Bordeaux, because I have few opportunities to encounter such wines. Perhaps, however, you will discover here wines that you had forgotten or overlooked; certainly there will be surprises. To those of my wine-writing/blogging/tasting friends who might say, “Cripes, FK, I can’t believe you didn’t put [whatever legendary fabuloso wine] on this list!” I can only reply, “I never had the chance to taste that wine and if you want to send me a bottle, I’ll be grateful but not humbled.” This is about my experience as an individual, as, you might say, a palate.

I benefited early on from the generosity of two people in Memphis, the restaurateur-wine collector John Grisanti and a figure important in wholesale, retail and wine education, Shields Hood. Many of the wines they offered me, exposed me to and sent in my direction truly changed my life and made me what I am today.
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1. Simi Pinot Noir 1974, Alexander Valley. Purchased at a local store, tasted at home March 1984 and still, at least in memory, one of the greatest California pinots I ever encountered.

2. Mercurey Clos des Myglands 1971, Faiveley. Tasted at John Grisanti’s private cellar, September 16, 1984. As in “Ah, so that’s what Burgundy is all about.”

3. Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Perignon 1976, Champagne. At a wholesaler’s tasting, with Shields Hood, September 17, 1984.

4. Chateau St. Jean Late Harvest Johannesburg Riesling 1978, Belle Terre Vineyards, Alexander Valley. Last week of September, 1984.

5. Chateau La Grange 1926, St Julien Third Growth, Bordeaux. At a special wine dinner at the long-departed American Harvest Restaurant in Germantown, east of Memphis, October 1984. As in, “Ah, so this is what an aged Bordeaux wine is all about.” I love the label.

6. Simi Reserve Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Alexander Valley. My then father-in-law bought a case of this wine at $16 a bottle. High-living in those days. At 10 years old, it was perfect, expressive, eloquent. This was at Christmas dinner, 1984.

7. Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 1971, Grivelet. At John Grisanti’s cellar, June 9, 1985, a great afternoon.

8. Sonoma Vineyards Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 1976, Sonoma County. July 27 and 28, 1985. Fine balance, harmony and integration, a sense of confidence and authority expressed with elegance and restraint. This winery was not renamed for its founder Rodney Strong until after he sold it in 1984.

9. Chateau Latour 1982, Pauillac, Bordeaux. Definitive for the vintage and the chateau; tasted at a trade event in Memphis sometime in 1985; tasted again in New York, October 1991.

10. Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon 1980, Napa Valley. Purchased at Sherry-Lehmann in NYC, for $20.50(!); consumed with Easter dinner in Memphis, April 1986.

11. Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 1977, Alexander Valley. At a tasting in Memphis of Silver Oak cabernets, sometime in 1986.

12. Chateau Haut-Brion 1937, Graves, Bordeaux. At a tasting with collectors in Memphis in 1987; this 50-year-old wine was, incredibly and from a dismal decade in Bordeaux, even better than the fabulous ’59 and ’66.

13. Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1949, Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France. One of a mixed case of wonderful wines I received for annotating a cellar, drunk at a dinner in the Fall of 1988. At 39 years old, one of the best wines I have ever tasted.

14. Beaune Clos des Ursules 1952, Louis Jadot. At lunch with Gagey pere et fils at the maison in Beaune, March 1990. When I mentioned this to a friend back in the U.S., he said, “Oh, yeah, they pull out that wine for all the Americans.” No matter.

15. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru 1983. Tasted in New York, October 1991.

16. Gaja Barbaresco 1955, Piedmont, Italy. Made by Angelo Gaja’s father, tasted in New York, October 1991.

17. Chateau Beychevelle 1928, St. Julien Fourth Growth, Bordeaux. At a large tasting of multiple vintages of Chateau Branaire-Ducru and Chateau Beychevelle going back to 1893, with collector Marvin Overton and British writer Clive Coates, in Nashville. This ’28 was even better than the examples from the god-like years of ’47, ’45 and ’29; just writing that sentence made me feel like Michael Broadbent.

18. Freemark Abbey 1978, Napa Valley. At a vertical tasting in Chicago, January 1993.

19. Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Napa Valley. I bought six half-bottles of this splendid perfectly aged cabernet from a FedEx pilot who was divesting his cellar and served them at a dinner party in 1996.

20. Chalone Chardonnay 1981, Monterey. A revelation at almost 15 years old; I bought this and some other California chardonnays from the late ’70s and early ’80s out of a cellar that had been kept at 40 to 45 degrees; tasted with LL and a friend at Cafe Society in Memphis, May 1996.

21. Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 1998, Clare Valley, Australia. Tasted at the property, October 1998, very young, filled with power and otherworldly grace.

22. Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir 1997, Gippsland, Australia. Tasted in Melbourne, October 1998; they’re not shy with oak at Bass Phillip, but this was a thrilling monument to pinot noir purity and intensity.

23. Clos Apalta 1996, Rapel Valley, Chile, 95 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet sauvignon. The initial release, tasted at the hacienda of Don Pepe Rabat, who owned the oldest merlot vineyard in Chile, with Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle and Michel Rolland, April 1998.

24. Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses Premier Cru 1998, Domaine G. Roumier. From the barrel at the property, December 7, 1999, my birthday. The earth seemed to open under my feet.

25. Chateau Petrus 1998, Pomerol, Bordeaux. Barrel sample at the property, December 1999. One of the most profound wines I have ever experienced.

26. Robert Mondavi To Kalon 1 Block Fume Blanc 2000, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

27. Robert Mondavi Marjorie’s Sunrise Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

28. Sineann Reed and Reynolds Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Tasted at the International Pinot Noir Conference, McMinnville, August 2002.

29. Nicolas Joly Clos de la Bergerie 1999, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. New York, at La Caravelle, January 2003, with the line-up of Joly’s wines.

30. Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1966, South Australia. At a comprehensive tasting of this iconic wine, 1996 back to 1955, at Spago in L.A., April 2003.

31. Chateau d’Epiré 1964, Savennières Moelleux, Loire Valley, France. At a dinner associated with the Loire Valley Wine Fair, February 2004.

32. Domaine de la Pepière Clos des Briords 1986, Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Loire Valley, France. At the estate with proprietor Marc Ollivier, one of the great tasting experiences of my life, February 2004.

33. Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2001. Tasted in New York, June 2004.

34. Tres Sabores Zinfandel 2003, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Tasted in New York, March 2006.

35. Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut 1996, Champagne, France. Tasted in New York, September 2006; fabulous but not nearly ready to drink.

36. Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets Premier Cru 2004, Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

37. Corton Grand Cru 2002, Domaine Comte Senard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

38. Chateau Montelena The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa Valley. New York, September 2007.

39. Porter-Bass Chardonnay 2004, Russian River Valley. New York, September 2007.

40. Pommard Les Epenots Premier Cru 2004, Dominique Laurent. New York, September 2007.

41. Phifer Pavit Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley. Sample for review, tasted at home October 2008. The best first-release cabernet I ever encountered.

42. Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Napa valley. Sample for review, tasted at home December 2008.

43. Heyl zu Herrnsheim Niersteiner Pettenheim Riesling Spätlese halbtrocken 1991, Rheingau, Germany. At the estate, July, 2009.

44. Quinta da Roameira Vintage Porto 2007. In Douro Valley, August 2009, at a comprehensive tasting of the 2007 ports at Niepoort.

45. Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Tasted in Piedmont, January, 2010, with winemaker Giorgio Lavagna and a ragtag gaggle of American bloggers.

46 & 47. Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec 2007, Mendoza, & Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Chardonnay 2006, Mendoza. Tasted at the property — the chardonnay with lunch — October 2010.

48. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 1998. Purchased locally and consumed on New Year’s Eve 2010, with Imperial Osetra caviar from Petrossian.

49. Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenerg Riesling Beerenauslese 2004, Pfalz, Germany. A sample for review, tasted December 2011.

50. Müllen Kinheimen Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2002, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. Tasted with Lyle Fass in New York, December 2013.

Well, I already see a couple of wines that I should have included in this roster — Chateau d’Yquem 1975, Sauternes, for example — but 50 is a good wholesome round number with an air of closure about it, so let’s leave it alone. And for the future? The process of learning, having our minds changed, our ideas and consciousness expanded never ends. Perhaps there will be candidates for this list from 2014, among them the Clos Saron Stone Soup Vineyard Syrah 2011, Sierra Foothills, made by Gideon Beinstock, and, oddly enough, the Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas, made by Dan Gatlin. We’ll see how I feel in another 30 years.

I smoked a filet of some kind of wild salmon from Whole Foods on the top of the stove, over alder wood chips, and made a classic Sauce Gribiche, with chopped eggs, capers and cornichon. LL served it simply with boiled new potatoes and a salad of butter lettuce, tomatoes and radishes. The whole ensemble was harmonious and delicious, the way food ought to be.

Additional enhancement came in the form of The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Dundee Hills, Oregon. By “Original Vines,” the winery means that the grapes for this wine derive from the vineyard that the pioneering David Lett planted in the Willamette Valley in 1965; yes, those vines are 49 years old. Lett and his wife Diana — who must have had a great deal of faith in her husband’s vision — founded the winery in 1966 and produced the first wines from the 1970 vintage. Lett’s approach was always deft and minimal, with the goal of the wines, especially pinot noir, being elegant and expressive. Lett died in 2008; his son Jason is now the winemaker for Eyrie Vineyards.

The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012 offers a medium gold color and intriguing aromas of straw, mango, tangerine and melon, with notes of jasmine and camellia, smoke and loam; after a few minutes in the glass, it unfolds hints of crystallized ginger and candied quince. The wine is supple, almost lush with slightly roasted and quite spicy stone-fruit flavors, tempered by star-bright acidity and a faceted limestone element. The finish brings in some chastening grapefruit astringency. I employ no hyperbole in saying that this incredibly vibrant and resonant wine is one of the best pinot gris I have tasted, as in ever. A wonderfully sane 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 261 cases, so mark this wine Worth a Search. Exceptional. About $33.

A sample for review.

Three pinot noirs, two cabernet sauvignons, one syrah; a nice sense of symmetry, n’est-ce pas? Five from California, one from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. All rated Excellent. One more costly than most of us can afford, the others more reasonable. All offering many virtues and confidences of the vineyard, the grape, the winemaker’s gentle and genial art. Quick notices here, eschewing technical matters and such geographical and historical information as much stimulate our fancies; the idea is that these notes — not as full-bodied as actual reviews — will inspire your interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Olema Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. (The second label of Amici Cellars.) Radiant ruby-magenta color; plums, mulberries and cranberries, brier rose; hints of cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate; dense, supple and satiny; ripe and lightly spiced red and blue fruit flavors; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of roses and violets, leather and tobacco; undertones of graphite, earth and mild tannins. Really lovely. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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Elizabeth Chambers Cellar Winemaker’s Cuvée Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.9% alc. Transparent medium ruby color; quite spicy and lively, with macerated red currants and cherries, seductively ripe but balanced by a spare structure and long elegant lines; hints of cloves, cola and rhubarb, leather and loam, subdued oak; lovely satiny texture, but again that sense of reserve and delicacy, with acidity that lays an arrow across the palate. I could drink this one all day long and almost did. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Syrah 2011, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. With 5% viognier. 780 cases. Dark ruby color; deliriously spicy; notes of
macerated and slightly fleshy black currants, blackberries and raspberries, roughened by brambles and underbrush elements; robust, dynamic, powered by bright acidity, graphite minerality and sleek tannins; quite dry but flavorful, deft balance of spareness and rigor with generosity and expressiveness; finish packed with woody spices, granite and lavender. Perfect with pork chops coated with cumin, urfa pepper and chili powder. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Entrancing ruby-magenta hue; nicely layered aromas of cloves and allspice, hint of sandalwood; macerated red currants, plums and cranberries; notes of rhubarb and pomegranate; gently sifted tannins over loam and slightly granitic minerality; a touch of lightly candied red cherry; lithe, supple, sinewy; exhibits terrific confidence and authority without being ostentatious. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $45.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. With 8% each merlot and cabernet franc. 1,302 cases. Dark ruby color; rigorous structure with mountain roots but such a pretty surface, violets and lavender, cassis, plums and black cherries, note of licorice; stout, robust tannins and dusty oak bastions; walnut shell and underbrush; gets dustier and more austere but still scrumptious; lithic chambers of blueberries, sweet smoke, soy sauce and barbecue; iodine, iron, resonant acidity. Drink 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Always one of Napa Valley’s best and most characterful cabernets. Excellent. About $45, representing Great Value for the Quality.
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Hestan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. 400 cases. An exemplary Napa Valley cabernet, and at the price it ought to be. Dark ruby-purple hue; iron and iodine, lavender and violets; black currants, black cherries and raspberries with a graphite/ancho chili edge, a hint of black olive, a dusting of dried rosemary; glossy tannins and a polished oak superstructure, all enlivened with brisk and elevating acidity; a long, dense yet lithe finish. If you have on hand a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the charcoal grill, introduce it to this wine. Now through 2020 to 2025. Excellent. About $110.
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The days are long gone when West Coast producers planted pinot noir all over the place, hoping they would hit upon the proper soil and climate either by chance or force of will. Time and effort and dedication have winnowed the acknowledged handful of great pinot noir areas to — naming some personal favorites — Santa Lucia Highlands, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley in California and the tiny appellations of Oregon’s Willamette Valley as not just suitable but frequently superb ground for the notoriously shy and difficult grape. Today, I offer six recently tasted pinot noirs from Willamette Valley, encountered at a wholesaler’s trade event, recommending them without reservation. Two of these producers were new to me, Maysara and J. Christopher; the latter made a particularly strong impression, and I will look for their wines in the future or shamelessly beg for samples. These are quick reviews, not intended to delve into the details of history, geography, personality or technical matters but meant to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy!
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Adelsheim Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.4% alc. Entrancing pale rose-ruby color; cloves and sassafras, red cherries and currants with a hint of plum and rose petal and a slightly peppery briary-brambly undertow; lithe and supple, just a touch of graphite-inflected tannin under red fruit (both fresh and dried), but mainly a paragon of delicacy and elegance, beautifully knit by bright acidity. Nobly done. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $55.
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Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley. 13% alc. Medium ruby color, fairly opaque at the center; a multi-dimensioned, fully detailed pinot noir, broad with ripe and macerated black and red fruit scents and flavors, deep with cloves and allspice; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of rhubarb and pomegranate, briers and loam; dense, super-satiny texture, close to muscular and built upon svelte tannins and brisk acidity. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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Argyle Nuthouse Reserve Series Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills. 13% alc. Beguiling medium ruby-garnet color; very clean, pure and intense; red cherries and currants, notes of cranberries and plums, cloves, cola and sassafras; winsome high-note of violets; a pinot noir both substantial and lyrical, energetic and expressive; hints of Willamette’s damp leaves and brambles, finely-grained tannins with graphite minerality in the background; finish leans toward cool blue fruit and black tea. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $50.
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J. Christopher Wines Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13% alc. Medium ruby color; lovely tone, weight and structure; clean, spare, elegant yet lively, blooming with red-tinged fruit fringed with smoke and blueberries; the spicy element burgeons from satiny mid-palate through the slightly sinewy finish, adding subtle notes of graphite and loam, all energized by bright acidity. Drink now through 2016. Excellent. About $28.
The label image says 2011; it is the 2010 under review.
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J. Christopher Wines Lumière Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills. 13% alc. 756 cases. Medium ruby color; this is tighter and leaner than the previously mentioned wine from J. Christopher; red currants and red cherries touched with smoke, graphite and more spice that edges into sassafras-allspice territory, with a note of allspice’s characteristic spare and exotic woody quality; briers and brambles make an appearance, over finely sifted tannins and acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. My favorite kind of pinot noir, honed, burnished, animated. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $35.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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Maysara Jamsheed Pinot Noir 2009, McMinnville. 13.7% alc. Certified biodynamic. Light ruby color with a garnet tinge; spiced and macerated red currants, cherries and plums, a touch meaty and fleshy; quite spicy with cloves and sassafras, hint of pomegranate, but very clean and intense; fairly plush with velvety tannins but lithe and supple texture, acidity lends leanness and energy; a bit earthy and autumnal through the finish, notes of moss and burning leaves. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.
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Grapes for the Elk Cove Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, derive from five estate vineyards, with the addition of a small amount of grapes purchased from trusted growers on long-term contract. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The wine is, in other words, a summation of a house-style or region rather than an individual expression of a single vineyard; as such, it succeeds admirably. The color is a glowing medium ruby hue; aromas of rose petals and violets, red currants and plums are buoyed by notes of cranberry and rhubarb, with hints of briers and cloves. Underlying loam and graphite elements support delicious red fruit flavors in a structure enlivened by taut acidity and just enough tannin to provide a modicum of grip; the texture is supple and satiny, while the finish adds more spice. 13.5 percent alcohol. A real crowd-pleaser for drinking through 2016 or ’17. Try with medium rare roasted duck. Excellent. About $29.

Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.

Wine attracts us by its color and seduces us with its aromas. It’s true that some wines, whites in particular, can be too aromatic, almost cloyingly so. This can happen with torrontes wines from Argentina, with viognier-based wines and occasionally with riesling. What I offer today are six white wines that excel in the aromatic bouquet area, as well as gratifying in flavor and body, easy in the alcohol department and being ever-so-helpful price-wise. Chardonnay figures only as a minority component in one of the wines, and sauvignon blanc occurs not at all. Primarily these are easy-drinking and charming wines, even delightful, and they may give you a foretaste of the Spring that most of the country so desperately longs for, even California, where it’s already an exceedingly, even dangerously dry Summer. As usual, these brief reviews do not touch upon the educational aspects of geography, history, climate and personnel matters for the sake of immediacy. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia 2012, Veneto, Italy. 12.5% alc. Gargenega 60%, chardonnay 40%. Pale gold color; super-floral, with notes of jasmine and camellia; lemon, yellow plums, hint of candlewax; very dry, with a seductive, almost talc-like texture but cut by shimmering acidity and a touch of limestone minerality. Lovely quaff. Drink up. Very Good+. About $11, a Fantastic Bargain.
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Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2012, Clarksburg, California. 12.5% alc. Very pale gold color; hay and straw, heady notes of jasmine and gardenia, roasted lemon and yellow plum; slightly leafy, with a hint of fig; very dry, almost chastening acidity and chalk-flint elements; but quite lively and engaging; tasty and charming. Buy by the case for drinking through 2014. Very Good+. About $12, a Terrific Bargain.
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Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2011, Western Cape, South Africa. 13.5% alc. An inexpensive chenin blanc that’s almost three years old? Never fear; this one is drinking beautifully. Shimmering pale gold color with faint green tinge; tell-tale note of fresh straw under quince, honeysuckle, lemon drop and lemon balm and a hint of cloves; brisk and saline, earthy, almost rooty, deeply spicy with a touch of briers; and quite dry. Impressive presence and tone. Drink through the rest of 2014, into 2015. Excellent. About $14, and Worth a Search.
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Eccoci White 2011, Girona, Spain. 13.3% alc. Roussanne 50%, viognier 30%, petit manseng 20%. Utterly unique. Medium gold color; a striking bouquet of roasted fennel, damp straw and lilac, with undertones of limestone, orange blossom, peach and pear; very stylish, sleek and elegant, with macerated and spiced citrus flavors, though clean and fresh and appealing; bracing acidity and a burgeoning limestone quality provide backbone, but this is mainly designed for ease and drinkability. Drink through the end of 2014. Excellent. About $20.
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Luca Bosio Roero Arneis 2012, Piedmont, Italy. 13% alc. 100% arneis grapes. Pale yellow-gold; peach and pear, hint of some astringent little white flower, some kind of mountainside thing going on; baking spice and mountain herbs; salt marsh and seashell; roasted lemon with a note of pear; starts innocently and opens to unexpected heft, detail and dimension. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $20.
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Trisaetum Estate Dry Riesling 2012, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley. 11% alc. Medium gold-color; roasted peach and spiced pear, mango and lychee, hint of rubber eraser or petrol (a good thing in riesling), a subdued floral element; lithe, supple, energetic, you feel its presence like liquid electricity on the palate; lithic and scintillating, brings in grapefruit rind and limestone through the dynamic finish. Faceted and chiseled, exciting. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $24.
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Well, the first one is a cheat; it’s $22, but the rest are $20 and under, I promise, with prices starting at $13. Every wine on this list is rated Excellent, and it’s an eclectic roster, first geographically, with five wines each for California and Argentina, three each for Italy and Spain, two each for Oregon and France, one each for Germany, Portugal, Chile, Austria and Australia, and by genre; there are no dominant cabernet sauvignons, merlots or pinot noirs on this list and only one chardonnay, but you will find pinot blanc and riesling and gruner veltliner, albariño and carménère, loureiro and treixadura, as well as sangiovese and syrah and the ever-popular bobal. These are wines that performed above their price range in terms of intensity and satisfaction, a quality that is, I suppose, what we wish from every wine we encounter.
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Balthasar Ress Schloss Reichartshausen Riesling Spätlese 2009, Rheingau, Germany. Excellent. About $22.
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Balverne Rosé of Sangiovese 2012, Chalk Hill, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $20.
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Brooks Runaway White Pinot Blanc 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 244 cases. Excellent. About $15.
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Catena High Mountain Vines Chardonnay 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $20.
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Cleto Chiarli Vigneto Enrico Cialdini 2011, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Excellent. About $15.
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Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007, Tuscany, Italy. Excellent. About $19.
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Cono Sur Reserva Especial Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $15.
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Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $18.
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Finca La Linda Malbec Rosé 2012, Lujan de Cujo, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $13.
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Fred Loimer “Lois” Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria. Excellent. About $16.
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Greg Norman Shiraz 2010, Limestone Coast, Australia. Excellent. About $15.
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Harney Lane Albariño 2012, Lodi. 716 cases. Excellent. About $19.
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Inama Carménère Piú 2010, Colli Berici, Veneto, Italy. With 25 percent merlot. Excellent. About $20.
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Kopke Vinho Branco 2011, Douro, Portugal. 50 percent arinto grapes, 45 percent gouveio, 5 percent rabigato. Excellent. About $16.
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Lee Family Farm Albariño 2010, Monterey County. 213 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, nv, Crémant d’Alsace, France. Excellent. About $20.
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Manuel Manzaneque Nuestra Selección 2005, Finca Elez, La Mancha, Spain. Cabernet sauvignon 40 percent, tempranillo 40 percent, merlot 20 percent. Excellent. About $16.50.
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Domaine de Reuilly Les Pierres Plates 2012, Reuilly, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent sauvignon blanc. Excellent. About $20.
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Santiago Ruiz 2011, Riax Baixas, Spain. 70 percent allero grapes, 15 percent loureiro, 10 percent caino, 5 percent treixadura and godello. Excellent. About $17.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.
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Sierra Norte Pasión de Bobal 2010, Utiel-Reguene, Spain. Excellent. About $15.
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Tinto Negro Co-Ferment Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. With 7 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent petit verdot. Excellent. About $20.
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Tolentino Pinot Grigio 2011, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $15.
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Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $14.
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Youngberg Hill Pinot Blanc 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 160 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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“50 Great Wines of [The Year]” is a post I look forward to, even though its production is fraught with anxiety. “Fraught with anxiety!” you exclaim. “FK, you get to taste and write about terrific wines all year long! This task should be easy!” Look, my apostrophe-addicted friend, I started with a list of 76 potentially great wines and had to eliminate 26 of them. It was painful; it hurt my brain and my spirit. Even now, going back over this post just before I click the PUBLISH button, I am wracked by indecision and regret. On the other hand, life is about choices, n’est-ce pas, and we all have to knuckle down and make those choices, difficult as the job may be.

I reviewed 624 wines in 2013, compared to, for some reason, 642 in 2012, though I suppose 18 wines is not statistically significant in that range. Or perhaps it is; I’m not a statistician. Out of 642 wines in 2012, I rated 18 wines Exceptional. In 2013, out of 624 wines, I rated 28 as Exceptional. Did I taste that many better wines in 2013, or am I getting soft as I near my 30th anniversary as a wine writer? How did I choose, for “50 Great Wines of 2013,” the 22 examples to add to the 28 rated Exceptional? By reading again every review I wrote over the past year, by weighing the description and the language, by revisiting my memory of the wine, by looking for wines that possessed that indescribable quality of charisma, that combination of personality and character that distinguish a great wine. I could expand this post to 60 or 70 or 75 wines, but I’ll leave it as is. Suffice to say that these “50 Great Wines of 2013″ could include others, but for now, I’m sticking with these.
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Artesa Vineyards & Winery Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
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Adelsheim Ribbon Springs Vineyard Auxerrois 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
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Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 400 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $24.
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Belle-Pente Winery Belle-Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 785 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Black Kite Cellars Rivers Turn Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $52.

Image from princeofpinot.com.
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Boekenoogen Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $35.
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Brooks “Ara” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
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Calera Wine Company Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Mount Harlan, San Benito County. 398 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
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Capitain-Gagnerot Bourgogne “Les Gueulottes” 2009, Hautes Côtes de Beaune. 100 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $27.
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Catena Zapata Adrianna Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2009, Napa Valley. Cabernet sauvignon 69 percent, merlot 15 percent, cabernet franc 10 percent, petit verdot 6 percent. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $450.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $80.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Alchimiste Estate Premier Cru Extra Brut Rosé (non-vintage), Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $175.
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Domaine de Bernardins 2009, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Excellent. About $25 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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Domaine Carneros Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003. Exceptional. About $100.
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Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $65.
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Domus Aurea 2009, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. Cabernet sauvignon 85 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 5 percent, petit verdot 2 percent. Exceptional. About $60.
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Drouhin Vaudon Montmains Premier Cru 2910, Chablis, France. 200 cases imported. Exceptional. About $39.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 391 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 291 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast. 100 percent pinot noir. 95 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Elyse Naggiar Vineyard L’Ingénue 2011, Sierra Foothills. Roussanne 52 percent, marsanne 32 percent, viognier 11 percent, grenache blanc 5 percent. 416 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Rosé Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot meunier 58 percent, pinot noir 39 percent, chardonnay 3 percent. Excellent. About $55 to $65.
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Frankland Estate Netley Road Vineyard Riesling 2012, Frankland River, Western Australia. Exceptional. About $28.50.
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Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $60.
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Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $42.
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Halter Ranch Block 22 Syrah 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. With 13 percent grenache and 11 percent tannat. 175 cases. Excellent. About $36.
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Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 308 cases. Exceptional. About $68.
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J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Pinot noir 49 percent, chardonnay 49 percent, pinot meunier 2 percent. 500 cases. exceptional. About $90.
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Kay Brothers Amery Vineyard Block 6 Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. Exceptional. About $66.
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La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 259 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $75.
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La Rochelle McIntyre Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 112 cases. Rose of the Year. Excellent. About $24.
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L’Aventure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 425 cases. Exceptional. About $85 (winery only).
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Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $60.
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Morgan Winery Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 375 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $53.
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Penner-Ash Riesling 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $23.
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Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $85.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $60.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, Carneros. Exceptional. About $60.
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Rombauer Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $34.
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Renaissance Vineyards and Winery Granite Crown 2005, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. Syrah 60 percent, cabernet sauvignon 30 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 2 percent, petit verdot 1 percent. 74 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2010, Napa Valley. 50 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
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Shirvington Shiraz 2009, McLaren Vale, Australia. Excellent. About $70.
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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 463 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Smith-Madrone Riesling 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $27.
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Steven Kent Winery Ghielmetti Vineyard “Small-Lot” Cabernet Franc 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. 48 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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Tablas Creek Vin de Paille “Quinressence” 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 100 percent roussanne dessert wine. 100 cases. Exceptional. About $85 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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If you’re hosting hordes of revelers tonight and wish for a tasty and inexpensive sparkling wine to lubricate the path toward “Auld Lang Syne,” you can’t go wrong with the Gran Sarao Cava Brut, a descending blend of 40 percent xarel-lo grapes, 30 percent macabeo, 20 percent parellada and 10 percent chardonnay. The color is medium gold, and the bubbles are finely threaded and active. Notes of green apple, lemon, lime peel and grapefruit are buoyed by delightful effervescence and crisp acidity, with an undertone of spiced and roasted lemon. It spends 12 to 15 months in the bottle on the lees, so it delivers a pleasing full-body for the price. Thoroughly charming. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. Look for prices from $10 to $16, and buy a case.

A Steve Miles Selection, Denver, Colo.
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From an estate founded in 1824 comes the Klipfel Brut Cremant d’Alsace, a blend of chardonnay and pinot blanc grapes that offers a pale gold color and a steady, swirling array of tiny gleaming bubbles. I love this Cremant d’Alsace for its foxy muscat-like aromas of orange blossom, spiced pear, damp leaves and slightly over-ripe lychee; its — by contrast — steely backbone of scintillating limestone minerality and crisp, brisk acidity; its delectable spicy citrus flavors; and the lovely balance and integration of these elements. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Wein-Bauer, Inc., Franklin Park, Ill. A sample for review.
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All right, let’s say that your New Year’s Eve gathering is more exclusive and intimate, perhaps a small dinner party. Try, in that case, one of my favorite sparkling wines — we’ve had it twice this year — the Argyle Knudsen Vineyard Julia Lee’s Block Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Dundee Hills, Oregon. From its shimmering pale gold color and constant confident upward flow of tiny bubbles, to its delicacy and elegance and, on the other hand, its authoritative expression of a grape — it’s 100 percent chardonnay — and a place, this sparkling wine exudes character and breeding. Meadowy aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle are entwined with notes of toasted hazelnuts, slightly roasted grapefruit, limestone and chalk; this is fresh, clean and ardently lively, but it gains body and power in the glass, adding a hint of caramel and toast, and it finishes with steely hauteur and touches of almond and grapefruit rind. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 883 cases. Drink through 2016 or ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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On the other hand, what if tonight’s celebration is just for two? Some caviar, a perfect little supper, a toast at midnight. Splurge on the Domaine Chandon Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003, a world-class sparkling wine that’s a blend of 70 percent chardonnay grapes and 30 percent pinot noir, originating in Napa County (52 percent) and Sonoma County (48 percent). The color is pale platinum blond, and the bubbles surge in a headstrong froth. This sparkling wine is fresh, clean, racy and nervy; you feel its dynamic energy in every sniff and sip. Notes of roasted lemon, quince and crystallized ginger overlay elements of biscuits, almond skin, lime peel and limestone; a lovely creamy texture is balanced by vibrant acidity and lambent minerality, while a few moments in the glass bring in touches of smoke, lilac and chalk. A splendid marriage of elegance and power and one of California’s great sparkling wines. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 1,000 cases. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $100.

A sample for review.
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It’s an article of faith that Oregon — specifically the Willamette Valley and its constituent AVAs — is a salubrious region for the pinot noir grape, but other “pinots” thrive there, too, as in pinot gris and pinot blanc. Willamette also turns out to be a spot rich in possibility for the versatile riesling grape. Consumers simply need to be exposed to these wines, and to that end I offer brief reviews of some rieslings and a smaller number of pinot gris. Unfortunately, many of these wines are produced in limited quantities, but you will see in my notices below which ones are worth searching out. Reviews in the Weekend Wine Notes are purposely brief, shorn of technical, historical and geographical matters and ripped, as one might say, from the stained and blotched pages of my notebook. I hope My Readers will be inspired to look for some of these highly rewarding wines. All were samples for review.
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Amity Vineyards “Wedding Dance” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley. 8.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; redolent of petrol, lychee, cloves and lemongrass, peach and pear; initial hint of sweetness but zinging acidity and a keen limestone-flint element keep it quite dry from mid-palate back; quince and ginger and stone-fruit; exhibits all the tension and balance, the vibrancy and elegance, you want in a classic riesling. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $17 to $19, Good Value.
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Anne Amie Estate Dry Riesling 2012, Yamhill-Carlton. 11.9% alc. Pale gold color; very clean and fresh, dry, chiseled and faceted; a very high limestone threshold yet a pretty riesling, delicately outfitted with elements of peach, pear and grapefruit, with a hint of spice, yellow flowers; more than a hint of lively, bracing acidity and mineral austerity on the finish. Very Good+. About $23.
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Argyle Riesling 2011, Eola-Amity Hills. 11.5% alc. Absolutely lovely medium-dry riesling; elegant, delicately woven, flirts with sweetness of ripe peach, pear and lychee; slightly macerated with a hint of clove-like spice; exquisite balance and acidity, seductive texture poised between lushness and pert limestone minerality; long spicy finish. Excellent. About $21.
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Brooks “Ara” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley. 11.5% alc. 300 cases. My third experience with this superb wine. Very pale straw-gold color; a blissful state of pure minerality lightly imprinted with notes of rubber eraser, pears, ginger and quince, highlighted with smoke, lilac, chalk and limestone; shimmering acidity, whiplash tension and energy, spare and elegant, yet so ripe and appealing. A great riesling. Excellent. About $25.
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Chehalem Three Vineyards Riesling 2011, Willamette Valley. 10.5% alc. Radiant pale gold color; very clean and fresh, slightly honeyed but with a resonant tang of acidity; notes of peach and spiced pear, touch of lychee and mango, yellow plum and quince; slightly earthy as the limestone element asserts itself from mid-palate through the bracing stony finish. A superior riesling. Excellent. About $22.
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Christopher Bridge Sartori Springs Estate Vineyard Pinot Gris 2011, Willamette Valley. 11.4% alc. Pale gold color; crystalline purity and intensity; fresh and spicy; apple, pear, lime peel, hint of greengage; sweetly ripe but very dry limestone-and-flint packed minerality, with tight, bright acidity; hints of jasmine and honeysuckle emerge. Great shape and tone. Excellent. About $26.
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David Hill Estate Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley. 12.9% alc. Pale gold color; truly lovely pinot gris, very floral, very spicy; very appealing delicacy, heft and texture; cloves, quince, ginger; lemongrass, orange blossom, peach; notes of lemon balm and spiced pear; keen acidity and limestone minerality provide structure and a touch of seriousness. Wonderfully attractive. Excellent. About $18. representing Great Value.
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Foris Riesling 2011, Rogue Valley. 11% alc. Pale gold color; ripe pear with a smack of grapefruit; cloves, ginger and quince, a hint of lychee; just off-dry; tinge of grapefruit rind and pithiness in the finish; lively, tasty. Very Good. About $15.
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Penner-Ash Riesling 2012, Willamette Valley. 10.5% alc. A golden and crystalline riesling; very dry, shattering acidity and scintillating limestone character; the typical spiced peach-pear-lychee but conducted with luminous purity and intensity; very ripe, all yellow and gold; multi-layered and complex. A model and exemplar. Exceptional. About $23.
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Terrapin Cellars Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley. 13% alc. Light gold color; rich and spicy, roasted lemon, lemon balm, cloves, quince and ginger; very dry, scintillating acidity and limestone minerality; hint of grapefruit bitterness on the finish; thirst-quenching and drinkable. 1,400 cases produced. Very Good+. About $13, an Amazing Bargain.
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Willamette Valley Vineyard Riesling 2012, Willamette Valley. 8.7% alc. Very pale gold color; delicate, graceful; notes of ripe peach and pear with hints of lychee and petrol; cloves, orange zest and roses; a bit sweet on entry but with a dry finish that features a touch of grapefruit bitterness and limestone austerity. Very Good+. About $14, another Bargain.
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