Oregon


Forgive me for waxing rhapsodic (for the billionth time), but the Carlton Cellars Cannon Beach Pinot Gris 2010, from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, falls certainly within the top handful of wines made from that grape in the United States of America. The winery is owned by Dave Grooters and Robin Russell; Grooters, former owner of a software company on Philadelphia, takes the duties of grower and winemaker. Though the Willamette Valley is indisputably inland, all the wines from Carlton Cellars feature magnificent artwork — this one from a photograph by Chip Phillips — and the names of sites along the Oregon coast, hence Cannon Beach. About halfway through my notes on the Carlton Cellars Cannon Beach Pinot Gris 2010, I wrote the word “ravishing.” Now this term is meant in complimentary fashion, but it could also signify faint dispraise, as if the wine were merely superficially pretty — “Pretty is as pretty does,” my late mother used to say — or spectacularly yet narrowly appealing. We have all had such wines, or met such people, however, no worries in this case. The seductive bouquet teems with notes of lime peel, apple and pear, with high tones of jasmine and acacia (with its slightly astringent complexity) and deeper whiffs of dusty limestone and flint; give the wine a few moments in the glass, and whimsical hints of dried tarragon and thyme emerge. Spicy citrus flavors, abetted by touches of roasted lemon and peach, are enveloped in a deeply satisfying texture that’s almost talc-like in cloud-buffed softness, yet the wine never lapses into mindless luxury because it’s ardently animated by scintillating acidity and glittering limestone-like minerality, the whole package being lively, vibrant and resonant. Now through 2012 or ’13. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Production was 600 cases. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value. (Interestingly, for local readers, in Memphis this wine is offered at $16.)

A sample for review.

I needed to taste the Nickel and Nickel Truchard Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Carneros, and it happened that I was about to serve dinner, the cumin-spiced shrimp and chorizo gumbo, and while it didn’t occur to me beforehand that the wine and the gumbo would make a great (or even appropriate) match, together they actually formed one of those slightly edgy BINGO! moments. The zingy cumin- and chili powder-inflected gumbo, for which I concocted a moderately-dark roux, did not make a dent in the wine’s immense elan. This chardonnay is barrel-fermented and ages nine months in French oak, 48 percent new, but does not go through malolactic “fermentation,” the transformative shift that turns crisp malic (apple-like) acidity into creamy lactic (milk-like) acidity. The wine is a radiant medium gold color; it’s rich, spicy and generous, with notes of lemon drop and quince, mango and guava backed by a sprightly piquancy of ginger and clove. Boy, this is vibrant and resonant, a real mouthful of chardonnay, a Girl of the Golden West; it is, however, quite dry, amidst the delicious pineapple and grapefruit flavors (tinged with fig and pear), and your palate feels the tug of oak and woody spice pulling you into the long, dense yet filigreed finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,484 cases. Excellent. About $45.
Winemaker is Darice Spinelli
A sample for review.
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I squeezed a little lime juice and dribbled a bit of soy sauce on two swordfish steaks and then patted into the surface a handful of an Asian-style rub. For the cooking process, LL heated olive oil in a cast-iron skillet until it was smoking and dropped the fish in and seared the steaks for a couple of minutes on each side. That was it. They were rare and juicy and filled with flavor. I opened a bottle of Highflyer Grenache Blanc 2008, Napa valley, a wine made 95 percent in stainless steel with five percent aged six months in new French oak. The grapes derive from a 2.7-acre block of the Somerston Vineyard, in the hills east of Rutherford at 1,100-feet elevation. The wine offers lovely balance and integration, beautifully combining spare elegance of structure with rich flavors of lemon drop, Bit o’ Honey (remember those?), pear and quince with a hint of ripe peach. While the wine is dry, crisp and lively, that five percent French oak provides a hint of spice in the background and some suppleness to the silken texture. This was delicious with the swordfish, with a great flavor-to-flavor profile and some keen acidity to cut the richness of the fish. Production was 720 cases. Alcohol content is 13.9 percent. Excellent. About $17, a Raving Bargain.
Craig Becker is owner and winemaker. Back in December, I reviewed the Highflyer Centerline 2007, a red wine blend.
A sample for review.
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I was nibbling, for lunch, an excellent dry, nutty “clothbound” Cheddar cheese, with a few fig and hazelnut flatbreads, and I opened a bottle of the Renaissance Mediterranean Red 2006, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba. (The winery is about 70 miles north of Sacramento in Oregon House.) ’06 is the current vintage for this wine, which is a blend of 47 percent mourvedre grapes, 27 percent syrah and 25 percent grenache. It ages 36 months — yep, that’s three years — in a combination of one- to six-year-old oak barrels and large puncheons The color is dense ruby-red with a hint of magenta at the rim. This is a deeply spicy and savory wine, with scents and flavors of red and black currants and slightly macerated and stewed plums thoroughly imbued with briery-brambly forest-like elements, smoke and ash, dried flowers and spices and a burgeoning ripe, fleshy, meaty character. The Southern Rhone or “Mediterranean” nature of the wine is evident in its expressiveness and intensity married to a sense of delicacy and decorum. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Production was 244 cases. 14.1 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.
Winemaker at Renaissance is Gideon Beinstock. A sample for review.
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We went to dine at Bari, the restaurant that features the cuisine of southeastern Italy. As usual, to start we ordered two glasses of the always delightful Vietti Rorero Arneis 2009, from Piedmont — the wine list is all Italian and so is the extensive menu of cheeses — and after a while I asked our waiter to open the bottle I brought to the restaurant. This was the Colognole Riserva del Don 2004, Chianti Rufina, produced at an estate in the historically highly-regarded Rufina region northeast of Florence; in fact, Rufina shares no border with the other Chianti areas and has a very different terrain. The property is owned by Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Coda Nunziante, a fact that almost dares the wine not to be great. At a little more than six years old, Colognole Riserva del Don 2004 is wonderfully smooth and mellow and seamless, with its characteristic sangiovese traits of red currants and red plums, moss and black tea, orange zest and potpourri thoroughly amalgamated with a modicum of woody spice and gently assertive, finely-milled tannins. A real treat and particularly good with our cheese course. Excellent. I paid $35 for this wine, though the national average is more like $30.
Imported by VinDiVino, Chicago.
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We didn’t finish the cheeses, so we brought them home, and the next day I made the Grandfather of All Cheese Toast, which included a truffled gorgonzola, Piave Vecchio, a pecorino, something unknown, grated Parmesan, Urfa pepper, mapuche spice and a dribble of good olive oil. Perhaps paradoxically, I opened a bottle of pinot noir, this being the Angela Pinot Noir 2008, Oregon, though the grapes are from the Clawson Creek Vineyard on Savannah Ridge in the Yamhill-Carlton District of the Willamette Valley. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 57 percent new, and you feel that reticence (materially and philosophically) in the wine’s ineffable blending of suppleness and sinuosity, in its elegant spareness matched with a seductive satiny texture. The color is medium ruby shading somewhat darker at the center; aromas of red currants with a touch of cranberry and cola are fleshed out with a bit of smoke, briery and mossy earthiness, rose petals and just a hint of cedar and sandalwood. In the mouth, this pinot noir offers some sweet ripeness of black and red fruit, but it’s not opulent or pushy or showy; again, all is breeding and grace, poise and harmony. Just a freakin’ lovely pinot noir that emits authenticity and integrity. When LL got home from work, I gave her a glass and said, “Try this Oregon pinot.” She sniffed and sipped, thought for a moment, and said, “This tastes like a pinot made by Ken Wright.” And by golly, she was correct. Production was 821 cases. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.
A sample for review.
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What could be more straightforward than that? Not that all lists aren’t arbitrary in some degree, but after going through all the posts from 2010 on this blog several times and doing some cogitating and sighing and reluctant winnowing, here they are, The 50 Best Wines of 2010, as experienced by me and written about last year. Wines that I tasted in 2010 but haven’t written about yet will not show up on this list, nor will older vintages that I was lucky enough to taste, which I do damned little enough anyway. The order is wines I rated Exceptional, alphabetically, followed by wines I rated Excellent, alphabetically. Where I think such factors might be helpful, I list percentages of grapes and, for limited edition wines, the case production, if I know it. Prices begin at about $25 and go up to $200, with most, however, in the $30s, $40s and $50s.
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<>Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Sonoma Valley. Richard Arrowood’s new label. 996 cases. Exceptional. About $80.

<>Catena Alta Adrianna Chardonnay 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $35. (Winebow, New York)

<>Joseph Drouhin Chablis-Vaudésir Grand Cru 2007, Chablis, France. 130 six-bottle cases imported. Exceptional. About $72. (Dreydus, Ashby & Sons, New York)

<>Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Exceptional. About $150, though prices around the country range up to $225. (Winebow, New York)

<>Vincent Girardin Corton Renardes Grand Cru Vieilles Vignes 2007, Burgundy, France. Exceptional. About $70. (Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.)

<>Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2008, Clare Valley, Australia. Exceptional. About $38. (USA Wine West, Sausalito, Cal., for The Australian Premium Wine Collection)

<>Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Syrah 2007, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 75 cases. Exceptional. About $40.

<>Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 974 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

<>Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2008, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $32.

<>Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. 275 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

<>Rochioli Estate Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $60.

<>Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 490 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
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<>Alma Negra Misterio 2007, Mendoza, Argentina. The red grapes in this blend are never revealed, but count on malbec, cabernet franc and bonarda. Excellent. About $30-$33. (Winbow, New York)

<>Benovia Bella Una Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 195 cases. Excellent. About $58.

<>Francois Billion Grand Cru Cuvée de Reserve Brut Cépage Chardonnay (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Excellent. About $60. (William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.)

<>Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $65. (Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill.)

<>Brovia Sorí del Drago Barbera d’Asti 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. $20-$28. (Neal Rosenthal, New York)

<>Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $35.

<>Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos de Mouches (blanc) 2007, Burgundy, France. 600 cases imported. Excellent. $100-$110. (Dreyfus, Ashby & Sons, New York)

<>Easton Old Vines Zinfandel 2006, Fiddletown, Amador County. “Old Vines” meaning back to 1865. Excellent. About $28.

<>Egly-Ouriet Brut “Les Vignes de Vrigny” (nonvintage). Champagne, France. Made, unusually, from all pinot meunier grapes. Excellent. About $70. (North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal.)

<>En Route “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir 2008, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,993 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Bodegas Fariña Gran Dama de Toro 2004, Toro, Spain. Tempranillo with six percent garnacha. Excellent. About $45. (Specialty Cellars, Santa Fe Springs, Cal.)

<>Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuisse 2008, Burgundy, France. Excellent. About $30. (Kobrand, New York)

<>Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Veuve Fourny Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot noir with a dollop of chardonnay. Excellent. About $55. (Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.)

<>Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 407 cases. Excellent. About $46.

<>Marchesi di Gresy Martinenga Barbaresco 2006, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. $45-$55. (Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Cal.)

<>Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel 2007, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $35.

<>Haton et Fils “Cuvée Rene Haton” Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Excellent. About $62. (William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.)

<>Heller Estate Pinot Noir 2007, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 154 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Domaine Huet Brut Vouvray Petillant 2002, Loire Valley, France. Excellent. About $30-$35. (Robert Chadderdon Selections, New York)

<>Iron Horse Brut Rosé 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. 81 percent pinot noir/19 percent chardonnay. 950 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. With 19.5 percent merlot, 4.5 percent petit verdot, 1 percent malbec. Excellent. About $52.

<>Kruger-Rumf Munsterer Rheinberg Riesling Kabinett 2008, Nahe, Germany. Excellent. About $22-$25. (Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, New York.)

<>Margerum Rosé 2009, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. 100 cases. Excellent. About $21.

<>Mendel Semillon 2009, Mendoza, Argentina, Excellent. About $25. (Vine Connection, Sausalito, Cal.)

<>Misty Oaks Jones Road Cabernet Franc 2008, Umpqua Valley, Oregon. 75 cases. Excellent. About $28.

<>Oakville Ranch Robert’s Blend Cabernet Franc 2005, Napa Valley. With 10 percent cabernet sauvignon. 393 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $90.

<>Joseph Phelps Insignia 2006, Napa Valley. Excellent. about $200.

<>Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1992, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba. Renaissance holds wines longer than any other winery; this dessert wine was released in 2008. Production was 364 cases of half-bottles. Excellent. About $35.

<>Renaissance Vin de Terroir Roussanne 2006, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba. 63 cases. Excellent. About $45.

<>Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys 2008, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $22.

<>St. Urban-Hof Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Piesling Auslese 2007, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Excellent. About $55. (HB Wine Merchants, New York)

<>Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2007, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $42.

<>Talbott Logan Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $25.

<>Tardieu-Laurent Les Becs Fins 2008, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, France. 50 percent syrah/50 percent grenache. 1,008 cases imported. Excellent. About $22. (Wilson-Daniels, St. Helena, Cal.)

<>Chateau Tour de Farges Vin Doux Natural 2006, Muscat de Lunel, France. Excellent. About $24. (Martine’s Wines, Novato, Cal.)

<>V. Sattui Black-Sears Vineyard Zinfandel 2007, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 400 cases. Available at the winery or mail order. Excellent. About $40.

<>Yangarra Estate Mourvèdre 2008, McLaren Vale, Australia. 500 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $29. (Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Cal.)
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Coming Next: 25 Fantastic Wine Bargains.

A white and a red from Ponzi Vineyards, founded in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1970, which for the region makes the winery venerable indeed. Both closed with screw-caps. These wines were samples for review.
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Well, this is a winsome thing. The Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2009, Willamette Valley, is utterly fresh and clean, brisk and crisp — say that 10 times fast — with a beguiling bouquet of green apple, roasted lemon, quince and lime and overtones of jasmine and camellia. The texture is deft and pointed with pert acidity, yet that fleetness is balanced by a portion of moderate lushness that perhaps reflects 25 percent of the wine briefly aged in neutral — that is, several times used — oak barrels. Flavors of honeyed pears, a touched of spiced peach and a bit of melon feel ripe and rich, yet the wine is totally dry and finishes with a rush of limestone and grapefruit peel. Production was 1,038 cases. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012. Very Good+. The press material I received quoted a price of $15, but the winery’s website says $17. In any case, the wine represents Great Value.
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The Ponzi Tavola Pinot Noir 2009, Willamette Valley, is an entry-level pinot from this producer, by which I mean that the wine is a blend of pinot noir grapes not only from seven of Ponzi’s vineyards but from other vineyards in the Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills, Yamhill-Carlton and Eola Hills appellations. The focus, therefore, is not on a specific vineyard or area but on providing a wine characterized by a broad notion of regional and varietal quality. From that standpoint, the Ponzi Tavola 2009 succeeds admirably. This is a lovely, smooth, silky pinot noir, whose 11 months in French oak (25 percent new barrels) deliver a supple texture and subtly spicy elements. The color is a radiant medium ruby; smoky and slightly macerated black cherries are permeated by touches of rhubarb and cola, with hints of cloves and sandalwood. Black cherry and red currant flavors offer nuances of the typical Willamette Valley briery-brambly nature, while the finish cements the wine’s essential balance and integration with a final fillip of oak. Seductively drinkable with a slight edge of tannic austerity around the circumference. Terrific with roasted chicken. Production was 6,423 cases. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012. Excellent. About $25.
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Yesterday was inadvertently a turkey day at our house. I finished the turkey, barley and mushroom soup for lunch, and for dinner, we just microwaved the leftovers and basically had Thanksgiving dinner again, while watching the (melodramatic) spy thriller The Eye of the Needle (1981) with Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan, and whatever happened to her? With both meals, I opened a pinot noir wine, and I’m not really comparing the two, I was being fastidious, I mean facetious about that; the situation was utter coincidence.
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With the hearty, flavorful turkey, barley and mushroom soup, I tried the Wakefield Pinot Noir 2009, from Australia’s Adelaide Hills, a wine that provides an intriguing interpretation of the grape. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and ages about 12 months in one- to two-year-old French oak hogsheads, meaning large barrels; in other words, the oak influence is very subtle, a gentle shaping rather than an overt or intrusive force. The beguiling bouquet weaves bright strands of rhubarb, cranberry and cola with a persistent high note of mint and undertones of briers and brambles. In the mouth, the wine is a supple, silky and smoky amalgam of red and black currants and black cherry with a touch of cloves and a slightly exotic hint of sandalwood. This is all quite charming, tasty and drinkable, now through 2012 or ’13. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Very Good+. About $17, representing Good Value.

Imported by American Wine Distributors, South San Francisco. A sample for review.
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I had picked up a bottle of the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir 2007, Willamette Valley, to sip with the actual Thanksgiving dinner, but stayed with the other wines on that occasion (Trefethen Dry Riesling 2008, Ridge Three Valleys 2008) and left the pinot noir on the sideboard. Last night, perhaps closing the book on the Thanksgiving leftovers, I thought, “Oh what the hey,” and brought it along. The Yamhill Cuvee is, in a sense, Domaine Serene’s entry level wine, and certainly its price, about $42 at the winery, is a bit less daunting than the costs of the limited edition pinots like its Evenstad Reserve ($58), Jerusalem Hill Vineyard ($70) and Mark Bradford Vineyard ($90). The Yamhill Cuvee is made from grapes derived from Domaine Serene’s estate vineyards in the Eola Hills and the Dundee Hills; it ages 10 months in French oak, 43 percent new barrels. The bouquet is unmistakable for the producer and the Willamette Valley: pungent, almost homey aromas of briers and brambles and moss, smoked black cherries and red currants and deep strains of cloves, cinnamon and sassafras. These elements assert themselves throughout one’s experience of the wine, adding notes of leather and violets and forest floor to the medley. The texture is ultimate satin, a suitably suave and elegant cocoon for flavors of spiced and macerated black cherries and plums with a plangent note of wild berry, all of this singing, in alto range, above a bass-line of rich, clean earthiness and damp shale. Yeah, I freakin’ love this wine! 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 to ’14. Excellent. I paid $47.
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And being Thanksgiving, these are the wines I’ll be serving at the festive groaning board on Thursday. These are the same wines I have been offering, but at different vintages and prices, since our first Thanksgiving in this house in 2005. These are American wines, two from California, one from Oregon. I wish I could have some wines from Virginia, Michigan and New York too, but those are hard to come by in what’s called the Mid-South, this corner where West Tennessee, North Mississippi and Eastern Arkansas meet at the banks of Ol’ Man River. (You understand — Geography Alert! — that Tennessee and Mississippi are east of the river, and Arkansas is on the other side.) Anyway. I bought these wines a couple of weeks ago in anticipation of the annual feast.

Trefethen Dry Riesling 2008 & 2007, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. Trefethen’s Dry Riesling is consistently one of the best rieslings produced in the Golden State. It’s quite a versatile wine, matching with a variety of foods, from the Thanksgiving turkey and all the trimmings to a dish we made recently, a Catalan cannellini bean and radicchio soup that was supposed to be vegan, but I cheated and unapologetically used bacon. Boy, it was great! When I said to LL that I was going to look for an appropriate wine, she said, “The Thanksgiving riesling,” and she was absolutely right. About $24. I bought one each of the 2008 and the 07, just to see how the latter is doing since I last tasted it. Here’s a link to the New York Times website with the recipe.

The Ridge Three Vineyards 2008, Sonoma County, is a blend of 74 percent zinfandel, 11 percent petite sirah, 5 percent carignan, 4 percent of mataro (more often called mourvedre or, in Spain, monastrell), and 3 percent each syrah and grenache. I like drinking zinfandel with Thanksgiving dinner, especially in a rendition that brings in a few other grapes like the 15 percent Rhone Valley varieties in this wine. Ridge’s Three Valley, while supple and spicy and flavorful is never over-ripe or over-alcoholic, making it a terrific pairing with the myriad and sometimes contradictory sensations that the Thanksgiving dinner affords. About $25. I bought two bottles of this wine.

Finally, I like to have a bottle of the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir, from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, on hand. The vintage available in my town is the 2007. The pinot noirs from Domaine Serene to me comprise the perfect balance of power and elegance that’s the hallmark of great pinot. You may ask, “Does pinot noir belong on the Thanksgiving table?” To which I reply, “Hey, it’s my table.” About $47 in my neck of the woods, $42 on the winery’s website. I bought a single bottle of this one.

My plan is to drink one glass of each of these wines, in the order in which I mentioned them here. I like to see how each reacts with the turkey and gravy, the potatoes, the sweet potatoes and so forth.

Whatever wines you choose to serve at Thanksgiving don’t really matter because the meal, being what it is, draws almost any wine close to its heart. That’s why people who write about wine seem to provide such contradictory advice at this time of year; mainly we fall back on our favorites. So go for it, do your thing, be happy, and have a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving.

I know that readers hate posts that begin like “So-and-so winery turns out minuscule amounts of …” because it means I’m writing about wines they will never see. Nonetheless, in the interest of comprehensive coverage, I must occasionally bring such producers and their wines to your attention. The hills and dales and byways of California, Washington and Oregon (yes, and many other states in this Great and Shining Union) are filled with small family-owned wineries that hardly ever receive national coverage, and when one contacts me and offers to send me samples of their wares, I usually say, “O.K., let’s see what’s going on.”

One example is Misty Oaks Vineyard in Orgeon’s Umpqua Valley. This appellation in the southern part of the state is formed by the conjunction of three mountain ranges and the Umpqua River, all of which come together to form many distinct little valleys and microclimates. Grapes have been grown in Umpqua Valley since the 1880s, when German immigrants who had worked for Beringe, came north from California. Umpqua is home to 21 wineries.

Steve and Christy Simmons, owners of Misty Oaks, came to Umpqua — which means “thunder water” or “across the waters” — from Alaska. They have 15 acres of vines that range from 300 to 1,000 feet elevation. The red grapes are pinot noir, cabernet franc and malbac, the whites cool climate pinot blanc, pinot gris and gewurztraminer. I recently tried the Pinot Blanc 2008 and Cabernet Franc 2008.

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The Misty Oaks Constitution Ridge Pinot Blanc 2008, Umqua Valley, is about as pretty as pinot blanc gets. The color is radiant medium straw-gold. Aromas of lemon balm and lemon curd, delicate peach and pear and a hint of petrol entice the nose, while in the mouth, the wine, which ferments and aged half-and-half in stainless steel and wood, is suave and svelte and displays gratifying balance between soft, almost pillowy ripe lushness and clean, spare elegance. Flavors of lemon and pear with a hint of melon and lightly buttered toast turn smokier and spicier in the glass, and the finish brings in a tinge of lime peel and shale-like minerality. The wine could use a slight jolt of acidity to lend more liveliness, but mainly this is a terrifically appealing pinot blanc. Production was 220 cases. 13.8 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16.
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The Misty Oaks Jones Road Cabernet Franc 2008, Umqua Valley, captures the dark, spicy, tarry side of the grape. This is very intense, very concentrated, and you have to give a glass of the stuff a little patience to elicit what turn out to be pretty damned heavenly strains of black currants, blackberries and blueberries set against a beguiling background of rhubarb and black olive, bacon fat, dried thyme and a touch of bell pepper. I mean, this is spot-on for an Anjou cabernet franc. In the mouth, you run into some dusty truculent tannins and brooding granite-laced earthiness that a year or two should bring to bay, though the wine’s slowly unfurling black and blue fruit flavors, etched with filigrees of bitter chocolate and potpourri, hold immense promise through 2015 to ’18. Production was 75 cases. 13.9 percent alcohol. May I just say that this is one of the purest examples of a 100 percent cabernet franc wine I have tasted from the West Coast. Excellent. About $28, and I’m sorry, I wish more were available.
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Joan Didion was once asked to lecture on the topic “Why I Write.” Her response was something like, “Look at the vowels in those three words: I, I, I.” In other words, writing is all about me, myself and I, and writing on a blog is the same deal. Wait! No! Those are the other blogs! This blog is all about you, you, you, my readers! Just so, the title of this post, “Nine White Wines,” encloses those “I, I, I” implications, but is really about wine choices for you, though today I limit those choices somewhat by excluding wines made from the chardonnay grape. I’ve tried some pretty good ones recently but also some chardonnays that were sodden with oak, so that grape will get separate posts in a week or so, “a week or so” being such a comfortingly elastic expression of futurity. (I’ve never seen this photograph of Joan Didion before, from 1970; wow, what a dish! And one of my favorite writers and heroes for her courage, her unflinching gaze, her slashing prose! I’m on a project now of reading or re-reading all her books.)

Anyway, Nine White Wines (and a bonus at the end).
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Made all in stainless steel, the Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2008, Wilson Ranch, Clarksburg — in the Sacramento Delta region of Northern California — opens with whiffs of lemon balm and dried thyme, with tangerine and a hint of orange zest. This is an incredibly fresh and refreshing wine whose crisp acidity whets the palate and lays the groundwork for juicy citrus flavors touched with a bit of mango; lightness and delicacy are wedded to a moderately lush texture. The finish rounds out the wine with some lime peel and bracing grapefruit bitterness. The alcohol is a soothing 12.5 percent. Always a favorite for summer quaffing with grilled shrimp, seafood risotto or linguine with clam sauce. Closed (for the first time) with a screw-cap. Very Good. About $12, representing Great Value.
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The torrontés grape makes charming and delightful wines but not great wines, and that’s nothing for it to worry its pretty little head about; how happy we are, for example, to meet a person who is consistently charming, delightful and undemanding. Sort of like me. The Trivento Amado Sur Torrontés 2009, Mendoza, Argentina, however, blends 15 percent viognier grapes and 10 percent chardonnay with 75 percent torrontés. What, I thought, is this an attempt to pump up the virtues of a simple grape and turn it into something “important,” a “Super Torrontés,” as it were? The fact is, this is a terrifically appealing wine that offers scents of ripe peach, pear and quince with meadowy undertones and a whiff of camellia. It’s very dry, very crisp and mounts a limestone element so piercing that it’s almost poignant. Give the wine a few minutes and it becomes slightly honeyed (but not sweet), with notes of candied grapefruit and ginger, but there’s always that crystalline acidity and austere minerality to leaven the sensuousness; the finish brings in the forthright bitterness of grapefruit and lime peel. So, I suppose this is a kind of Super Torrontés and no worse for the bolstering. Very Good+. About $15, Good Value.

Imported by Excelsior Wine & Spirits, a division of Banfi Vintners, Old Brookville, N.Y. Trivento — “three winds” — is the Argentine outpost of Chile’s giant wine producer Concha y Toro.
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Bold in stone fruit, the Adegas D’Altamira Albariño Brandal 2008, from Spain’s northwestern region of Rias Baixas in Galicia, takes yellow plum and peach and blends them with dried thyme, sage and white pepper for a striking bouquet; in a few minutes you’ll notice touches of orange zest and lime peel, grass and hay. The texture is amazing, so plush that it feels talc-like yet cut with riveting acidity and a scintillating limestone quality. Flavors are more melon and pear than stone fruit, with hints of cloves and ginger, the whole package being dry, zesty and savory. The wine is made all in stainless steel and does not go through the malolactic process, so it retains buoyant freshness and concentration. I can hear it now, on its knees, begging, “Please, please, please, serve me with oysters right out of the sea!” Or mussels grilled with rosemary would be good too. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012. Excellent. About $18.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Ca.
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Winter’s Hill farm was established in 1961 by the Gladhart family in what is now Oregon’s Dundee Hills appellation within the Willamette Valley. Dundee Hills is where David Lett, Dick Erath and the Sokol Blosser family started their pioneering wineries in the 1960s and early ’70s, staking a claim for pinot noir. The Gladharts planted their first vines in 1990. The winemaker now is Delphine Gladhart, a Frenchwoman married to Russell Gladhart.

The Winter’s Hill Pinot Blanc 2007, Dundee Hills, delivers wonderful tone and presence while maintaining a fleetness and delicacy of effect that’s exhilarating. Mildly spicy pear and lemon scents segue into spicier flavors of pear, roasted lemon and melon, with a touch of almond skin. The balance and restraint here, the equilibrium and sense of elegance allied to a feeling of slightly repressed depth, are not only admirable but irresistible. So many wines could profit from this sort of decorum that never feels fastidious. Production was 840 cases, so mark this Worth a Search. The alcohol level is 14 percent. Excellent. About $18.
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The Guado al Tasso Vermentino 2008, from Antinori’s winery in Bolgheri, in southwestern Tuscany, is a sort of seaside wine; one feels the briskness and breeziness of the sea-wind, the snap of salt and crusted oyster shells. There’s the slight fragrant astringency of rosemary crushed in the hand, the richness of roasted lemon and lemon balm, a subtle note of honeysuckle and jasmine. Adding to the freshness are tingling acidity, a touch of spritz –this is all stainless steel — and heaping elements of damp limestone. So this is delightful and charming, but not simpleminded; there are serious bones here, the structure of elegance, an evocative whisper of Olympian distance in the austere finish. 13 percent alcohol. We drank this with roasted salmon with a potato and artichoke hash. Excellent. About $25.

Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Washington.

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Yes, you’re reading this correctly: Pinot blanc grapes — a mutation of genetically unstable pinot noir — do grow in Burgundy, though they are found rarely in vineyards and even more rarely bottled as a single wine. (They thrive in cooler Alsace.) The venerable Domaine Henri Gouges, however, employs pinot blanc for its Bourgogne, and for 2007 produced a delightful example. Did I say “delightful”? Actually, the Domaine Henri Gouges Bourgogne Blanc Pinot Blanc 2007 is one of the prettiest wines I have tasted in dog’s years. This is wonderfully fresh, clean and pure, with notes of jasmine and chalk, macerated lemons and lemon curd with a touch of spiced pear and quince. Avid acidity flashes like a bright blade — man, I just freakin’ love alliteration! — enlivening a texture that inextricably weds crispness to slightly cushiony lushness. If this didn’t fall a tad short on the finish, it would be well-nigh perfect, though it’s still well-worth seeking out. Very Good+. About $26 to $32.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.

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Here’s what hard work and perseverance (and maybe being in the right place at the right time) will do for you. Damian Parker, director of winemaking for Joseph Phelps Vineyard, came to the winery in 1981 as bottle-line supervisor. Ashley Hepworth came to Joseph Phelps in 1999 to work the crush, after two years in the kitchen at Charlie Trotter, and in 2008 was promoted to winemaker. America is a great country after all!

Whatever the combination of knowledge and experience Parker and Hepworth represent, they got the Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2008, St. Helena, Napa Valley, exactly right. While there’s nothing wrong (or not much) with the larky, snappy, blastingly citric and tropical sauvignon blancs that flood the market today, it’s nice to sip a sauvignon blanc fit for grown-ups. First, all things lemon are here, from roasted lemon to lemon balm and lemon curd, with an infusion of dried thyme and tarragon and a hint of dusty summer meadows. The wine is quite lively, sporting a keen edge of damp limestone and a tingling line of crisp acidity. The oak is subtle and supple, the result of eight months in new French oak puncheons — generally defined as holding 500 liters — and one- and two-year old French barriques, holding 225 liters or 59 gallons; in other words, the winemakers consciously decided to forgo the influence of new barriques for a more nuanced approach. What can I say? This is a sauvignon blanc of immense presence and authority that doesn’t neglect the elements of elegance and grace. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. The alcohol content is a sensible 13.5 percent. Exceptional. About $32.
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The Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2008, Clare Valley, South Australia, delivers exactly what you want from a Clare Valley riesling: a classic bouquet of lychees and peaches, lime peel and petrol (or rubber eraser) and penetrating aromas of gunflint and damp shale. If you could drink such a bouquet you could stop there, but move along, please, to flavors of orange zest, grapefruit and mango ensconced in a very dry, very crisp and spare structure that makes it feel as if you’re drinking liquid limestone that dates back to the Ice Age it’s so pure and immediate, and yet, paradoxically, here comes a gentle whiff of rose petal and lilac. The finish, not surprisingly, is elegantly-wrought, all high cheek-bones and unblemished foreheads, very cool, pale, princesse lointaine, complete. The whole effect is beguiling and seductive, and I wish I had a glass sitting right here beside me (though I’m having a fine old time with this quaffable Domaine “La Garrigue” Cuvee Romaine Côte du Rhône 2008 that I’m sipping rather too much of at the present moment). Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Screw-cap closed. Exceptional. About $38.

Imported by USA Wine West, Sausalito, Cal., for The Australian Premium Wine Collection.
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What you need to know about the St. Urbans-Hof Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Auslese 2007, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, is, first (working backward), that it’s from Germany’s Mosel region; second, that it derives from the excellent and even better year of 2007; that’s the ripeness level of Auslese is pretty damn ripe and potentially sweet; that the grape is riesling; that the vineyard is the well-known, even legendary Goldtropfchen; that the commune wherein the vineyard resides is the equally well-known Piesport; and that the producer is St. Urbans-Hof. Got that? And they say that German wine labels are too complicated!

The color is shimmering pale gold; aromas of softly spiced and macerated peaches and pears are permeated by lime peel and cloves and by subtle earthiness, clean and damp, and pert slate-like minerality. The acidity is so tremendous that the wine practically vibrates in the glass, yet the faint sweetness, a subtle sense of honeyed and baked stone fruit, like brioche with peach and plum marmalade, cuts the acid down to layers of etched limestone. This is vital, resonant and lively, though the finish comes through with an aura of stately balance and integration. We drank this with roasted salmon accompanied by roasted potato salad in a cilantro/jalapeño vinaigrette. Yay, LL! Now through 2017 or ’20, well-stored. Excellent. About $55.
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Yer Bonus: Two sparkling wines from Vouvray, Loire Valley, meaning chenin blanc grapes. Each made in the traditional champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle.

The Francois Pinon Vouvray Brut (non-vintage) is all steel, limestone and shale, roasted lemons, quince and ginger; the color is pale straw/gold, the myriad tiny bubbles as uncountable as the galaxies in the heavens. Very clean and fresh and crisp, with touches of biscuits, baking spices and toasted almonds, with a faint whiff of almond blossom. We drank this while cooking dinner one night and snacking on flatbread slathered with dried tomato and walnut pesto. Charming and delectable. Very Good+, and a Bargain at about $17.

Imported by Louis/Dressner, New York.
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Maison Huet — “oo-ay” — has been among the best producers of dry, semi-sweet and late-harvest Vouvray wines since it was founded in 1928. You will notice that the Domaine Huet Brut 2002, Vouvray Petillant, is seven and a half years old, and at this point it is drinking to perfection. Pop the cork — I mean open it properly and gently — and you smell the fresh bread, biscuits and granite from a foot away. The color is medium gold; the “bead” is gently effusive — petillant implies lightly sparkling — and mildly effervescent. This sparkling wine, which ages four years in the bottle on the yeast, evinces the straw/hay quality of the chenin blanc grape but offers, also, touches of buttered toast, cinnamon bread and a hint of roasted hazelnuts and macerated lemons and pears preserved with cloves. I hope readers get the idea that the Huet Brut 2002 is not just “a reasonable alternative” to Champagne but a fine expression of a grape and a style of sparkling wine in itself. It should be consumed within a year or 18 months. Excellent. About $30 to $35.

Imported by Robert Chadderdon Selections, New York.
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Samples for review, except for the Domaine Henri Gouges Bourgogne Pinot Blanc 2007, tasted at a trade event in New York. Photo of Joan Didion, Hollywood, 1970, by Julian Wesser, Time Life Pictures/Getty Images. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________

With a roasted chicken, I want a classic pinot noir — lithe, sinewy, elegant, discreet — and I got what I wanted with the Rossi Wallace Pinot Noir 2007, Napa Valley. As I mentioned in my review of the Rossi Wallace Chardonnay at the beginning of this month, the owners and winemakers here are Napa Valley veterans (and married couple) Ric Forman and Cheryl Emmolo.

The color of the Rossi Wallace Pinot Noir 07 is a limpid medium ruby with a touch of magenta; the bouquet abounds with black cherry and dried cranberry woven with cola and sassafras and baking spice (but no yucky brown sugar). The wine is beautifully balanced and finely knit, a seamless melding of pert acidity, mellow fruit, moderate tannins and supple, subtle oak. After half an hour, notes of melon ball and rhubarb creep in, and after a few more minutes, the tannins exude a sort of old papery dryness and briery earthiness, rounding the package out with a bit of graphite-like minerality while never losing a grip on a lovely, macerated red fruit character. The grapes for this beautiful pinor noir come from Antinori’s Atlas Peak Vineyard. The gentle oak treatment consisted of 11 months aging in Burgundy barrels, only 30 percent new. Production was 399 cases. Excellent. About $35.

LL is out of town, and last night I wanted to sit right here at the keyboard and work through what would have been the dinner-hour, so I thought — or perhaps even said aloud to the unavoidable audience of dogs that inhabits our domicile — “Oh, what the hell, cheese toast will be fine.” I have discovered over the last six months that great pinot noir and simple cheese toast share a remarkable and unexpected affinity, and on that premise I opened the Eddy Family Wines Elodian Pinot Noir 2007, from the Yamhill-Carlton District of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Here is a wonderful example of classic, old-fashioned pinot noir, one in which lightness of color and delicacy of structure do not imply blandness or lack of power. Indeed, the wine is powered by electrifying acidity that cuts a swath on the palate and brings into sharp focus flavors of sour cherry, melon ball, cranberry and cloves. These aspects are borne on layers of brambles and some mossy, root-like tea, all wrapped in a texture that combines satin with sinew. The wine grows increasingly austere as the moments pass, and its spicy nature turns from baking spice to woody spice. Balance and integration here, dimension and detail are perfect in poise and nuance. Completely lovely. 580 cases. Excellent. About $45.


The friendly drivers of UPS and FedEx bring wine to my door, not every day of the work week but often three or four days, sometimes two or three. It varies by circumstance and weather; shipping drops off during the hottest and coldest months. Some weeks, I receive a couple of cases of wine altogether; other weeks only a few bottles. Without these samples for review, a blog like this couldn’t exist, just as newspaper and magazine book pages couldn’t exist without the copies of books sent by publishers.

On August 20, I received seven bottles of wine, one from Argentina, two from Australia, one from California and three from Oregon. Prices ranged from 8 to $105. Contemplating these wines and the enormous variety and variation they representeded, I thought, “Eureka! Here’s an interesting post for BTYH, reviews of the wines I received on a single day, whatever their origin or cost.”

The order is from cheapest to most expensive.
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Black Swan Wines, which carry a South Eastern Australia designation, are imported to the U.S. and bottled by Barossa Valley Importers in Modesto, Cal., the mention of the town of Modesto telling us that Black Swans are Gallo wines. I received two from an extensive roster, the Shiraz 2008 and the Riesling 2008. Of this pair, the Riesling ’08 is the Bargain.
Not that I minded the Black Swan Shiraz ’08. Produced in 230,000 cases, it offers the definite character of a mass-produced wine, that is, one feels it as a “red wine” rather than as anything definably shiraz-like. Its mildly spicy black fruit scents and flavors are passably decent and it offers a pleasing texture, and if we were at a party and someone handed me a glass (or plastic cup, more likely) of this wine, I wouldn’t turn to LL and raise an eyebrow too noticeably. In fact, that setting would be this wine’s highest purpose, as a red vinous beverage to be knocked back when dozens of people are thwacked by loud music and have to shout in each others’ ears to be heard and the whole situation borders on the mindless. Fun!

The Black Swan Riesling ’08, on the other hand, makes a real claim to varietal character. The wine is fresh and clean, as we would hope, and displays sufficient hints of peach, pear and lychee highlighted by the grape’s requisite note of petrol (you may call it rubber eraser) that when I swirled, sniffed and sipped, I thought, “Well, shut my mouth, this is riesling,” not, I hasten to say, riesling of great intensity and purport, but certainly more than merely decent. The texture niftily balances crisp acidity with moderate lushness, and the finish brings in spice and limestone.

I rate the Shiraz as Good and the Riesling as Very Good. Each about $8.
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Don Miguel Gascon is an actual winery, founded in 1884, with an actual winemaker, Ernesto Bajda. This, too, is imported by Gallo, though unlike the Black Swan wines, Gascon Malbec 2008 is made, aged and bottled in its home, the Mendoza region of Argentina. This is a great wine for the price; I have used several previous vintages as Wine of the Week.

Made from 100 percent malbec grapes and aged seven months in a combination of French and American oak barrels, Gascon Malbec 2008 is a dark ruby-purple color with a violet rim (that’s when you tilt the glass and look through the edge of the wine to reveal all the hues); the bouquet bursts with scents of ripe blueberry and blackberry, spicy oak and briery, brambly elements. Black fruit flavors are permeated by plum dust, hints of coffee and tobacco, a bit of cedar; the texture is dense and chewy, and though the wine is robust (and a little exotic), tannins and oak influence are kept to sensible supporting roles. We drank this one night with grilled pork chops, and it was a hit. Very Good+. About $14, Good Value.
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The words no producer wants to read in a review are “disappointed” and “I liked the less expensive wine more than the expensive one.” Alas, that is what I must write today regarding three pinot noirs from Willamette Valley Vineyards.

The one I liked best, the one that seemed purest, most intense and unsullied is the Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Fermented Pinot Noir 2008. “Whole Cluster” means that the freshly picked and sorted grapes are placed, uncrushed, in stainless steel containers that contain carbon dioxide gas, sprayed with yeast and then sealed in. As fermentation slowly occurs, the weight of the grapes on top begins gently to crush the grapes below, releasing the juice. The result, as in this example, is urgent freshness and elixir-like fruitiness, first grapey and then redolent of black and red cherries and mulberries. In the mouth, this wine dips a delicate toe into the dark waters of spice and macerated black fruits; a few minutes in the glass manifest something slightly leafy, a little mossy and earthy. The texture is so satiny as to be almost viscous, but vibrant acidity cuts a swath. Utterly charming and delicious. Drink now through 2011. Very Good+. About $19.

I loved the bouquet of the Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir 2007. A welter of cranberry, black cherry and sassafras, lilac and baking spice, it would easily seduce the most jaded nose. When you taste the wine, however, you find that touch of brown sugar and emphatic spice that too often characterizes West Coast pinot noirs. This element coasts on a tide of burly oak, and together they swamp the wine’s fruit, so that the finish devolves to wood and wood’s austerity. Very good. About $25.

My mantra is “If a wine smells like wood and tastes like woody, it’s too damned woody.” That’s my reaction to the Willamette Valley Vineyards Elton Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007. Yes, ’07 should turn out to be a fine year for Oregon, and, yes, the Elton Vineyard is highly respected, but vintages and vineyards matter little if a wine is over-manipulated in the winery. At first glance, one might think that the oak regimen for the wine was perfectly balanced, 14 months in French barrels, 20 percent new, but there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip, and for my palate the wine was insufferably oaky. I spent half an hour or so with this glass, swirling, sniffing, sipping, waiting for some nuance, some detail to emerge, but those pleasurable factors seemed not to have a chance. 410 cases. Perhaps a few years aging will make a difference, but I don’t have much hope. About $45.
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Here’s the story: 14 years ago, young Will Jarvis, son of the owners of Jarvis Winery, had an 8th grade science project. It seemed natural to make red wine, for which he had to receive permission and made a two-gallon barre, illustrating the whole process. Ten years later, he and his parents tried the wine and thought it was so good that it inspired the present wine, a first release of Jarvis “Will Jarvis Science Project” Cabernet Franc 2007, Napa Valley. No, readers, this is not the original wine, but it’s certainly one of the best cabernet franc wines to be made in California.

The color is dark ruby-purple, almost black. The first impression is of immense minerality, like shoals of granite and shale, but the wine is immensely fruit-endowed too, bursting with scents and flavors of spiced and macerated blueberries and black currant jam. The wine exhibits tremendous heft and substance, breadth and depth, but it’s neither heavy nor obvious; it wears its size stylishly, legitimately. As moments elapse, the wine unfolds layers of smoke and charcoal, touches of loam and burning leaves, deeper hints of violets and tar. When you take a sip, it’s not only mouth-filling but encompassing. Yes, quite a wine. It was in all new French oak, but only for nine months; how reasonable is that? 391 cases. Best from 2010 through 2015 or ’17. Excellent. About — ouch! — $105.
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