Paso Robles


Here are a dozen wines that will put a keen edge of enticing Summery flavors and welcome minerality in your week. Today’s Weekend Wine Sips consist of five rosés and seven sauvignon blanc wines, the latter mainly from California (one from Chile) and the former from all over the place. Prices are pretty low for most of these wines, and availability is wide. Little in the way of technical talk here or discussions about entertaining and educational matters history, geography and climate, much as I dote upon them; the Weekend Wine Sips reviews are intended to be concise, incisive and inspiring. These wines were samples for review or tasted at trade events.
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Marc Roman Rosé 2012, Vin de France. 13% alc. 100% syrah. Very pale pink with a tinge of peach; strawberries, raspberries, red currants, hint of orange rind; all subdued, unemphatic; quite dry, attractive texture and stony finish, just a little lacking in snappy acidity. A decent picnic quaffer. Good. About $10.
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El Coto Rosado 2012, Rioja, Spain. 13% alc. Garnacha & tempranillo, 50/50. Light peach salmon color; fairly spicy, slightly macerated strawberries and raspberries, notes of rose petals and lavender; very dry, crisp acid structure, a bit thin through the finish. Very Good. About $11.
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Castello Monaci Kreos 2012, Salenta I.G.T. 13% alc. 90% negroamaro, 10% malvasia nera. Pale salmon-peach color; tasty, juicy but very dry; spiced and macerated peaches, watermelon and strawberries, lots of limestone and chalk; mid-palate moderately lush, yielding to a stony, austere finish. Very Good+. About $16.
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Finca La Linda Rosé Malbec 2012, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. (From Luigi Bosca) 13.5% alc. More in the fashion of a Bordeaux clairette, that is, lighter and less substantial than regular red table wine, a bit darker and weightier than a true rose; medium pink-bright cherry color with a tinge of pale copper, LL, who knows gemstones, said, “Fire opal”; very spicy, lively, lots of personality, macerated red currants and raspberries with a hint of plum; plush texture modulated by crisp acidity and a burgeoning limestone element; backnote of dried herbs. Excellent. About $13, Great Value.
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Gustave Lorentz Le Rosé 2012, Alsace. 12% alc. 100% pinot noir. Pale copper-onion skin color; strawberries, raspberries and rose petals, touch of orange rind; very stony with elements of limestone and flint but completely delightful; crisp and vibrant acidity, perfectly balanced, dry, elegant. Excellent. About $24.
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Pepi Sauvignon Blanc 2012, California. 13% alc.Very pale gold color; no real flaws, just innocuous and generic; hints of grass and straw, lime peel and grapefruit; pert acidity; nothing stands out as distinctive, but you wouldn’t mind too much knocking this back sitting out on the porch with a bowl of chips. Good. About $10.
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William Cole Columbine Special Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13% alc. Very pale gold color; thyme, tarragon, pea shoot; lilac, roasted lemon and pear; very dry, crisp, austere, heaps of limestone and flint influence, pretty demanding finish, though the whole package is not without charm. Very Good. About $16.
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Tower 15 Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.2% alc. 300 cases. Pale straw-gold color; very lively, crisp, sassy; grapefruit, lime peel, lemongrass and limestone, hint of grass and fig, tarragon and tangerine; quite dry, stony, vibrant; deft balance, exuberant yet refined. Very Good+. About $18.50.
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Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Northern Sonoma. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; lime peel, grapefruit, gunflint and celery seed, scintillating acidity and limestone minerality, touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm; bit of leafy fig; very fresh, clean, lively and engaging. Always a hit in our house. Very Good+. About $15 .
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Waterstone Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. With 18% semillon. 834 cases. Very pale gold color; keen limestone edge, smoke and flint; dry, fresh, crisp, taut; lemon, lime peel and tangerine with hint of pear; mildly grassy, bit of thyme and tarragon; a tad of oak in the background, making for a subtle, supple texture enlivened by a touch of cloves and brisk acidity. Super attractive. Excellent. About $18.
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Atalon Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. With 3% semillon. (Jackson Family Wines) Very pale straw-gold; suave, sophisticated; lime peel, grapefruit, lemongrass, cloves, gooseberry and peach; exquisite balance among crisp snappy acidity, a soft almost powdery texture and fleet scintillating limestone and flint minerality; lots of appeal and personality. Excellent. About $20.
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Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2011, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Sauvignon blanc with 9% semillon. An elegant sheen of oak keeps this sleek sauvignon blanc nicely rounded and moderately spicy; pale straw-gold color; lemongrass and lime peel, thyme and cloves, spiced pear, ginger and quince; limestone, gunflint and talc; lively, vibrant and resonant, very appealing presence and tone; lovely texture balances crispness with well-moderated lushness; burnished oak and glittering limestone dominate the finish. Great character. Excellent. About $32.
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When I was in Paso Robles, in San Luis Obispo County, last week, I spend a couple of hours at Tablas Creek Vineyard, tramping through the acreage of vines (certified organic) spreading in rolling hills across the limestone-clay soil, feeling how the mid-afternoon breeze filtered in from the Pacific, seeing how different grape varieties are planted in rows on slopes that face different exposures to sunlight, and, back in the tasting room, going through a roster of the wines with general manager Jason Haas. Tablas Creek is owned and operated by the Perrine family, longtime owners of Chateau de Beaucastel, one of the great properties of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and the Haas family, owner of Vineyard Brands, the importer of Beaucastel. The families began planting vines west of the city of Paso Robles in 1994; the 90 acres of vineyards produce about 20,000 cases of wine annually, some of the wines released in limited quantities. How refreshing to walk through a winery and see no French barriques, that is, the ubiquitous 59-gallon oak barrel, and instead see squads of larger puncheons and 1200-gallon foudres, so the wood influence on Tablas Creek wines is kept to a supporting and not dominant role. The emphasis, not surprisingly, is on Rhone Valley grape varieties and Rhone-style wines. The thread that runs through these wines is an earthy, briery, loamy character, a bristly, prickly liveliness that is more prominent in the reds but is certainly presence in the whites. Winemaker is Neil Collins. These brief reviews are intended to strike to the heart, the essence of the wines, and to whet My Readers palates for more.
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Patelin de Tablas Rosé 2012, Paso Robles. 14% alc. 1,250 cases. 75% grenache, 20% mourvèdre, 5% counoise. Very pale onion skin color; sleek, suave, lively, a bristly-limestone-flecked background; dried red currants and raspberries, with a flush of ripe strawberry; hint of cloves and (intriguingly) tobacco leaf; flint-like minerality builds through the finish. Eminently delightful. Very Good+. About $20.
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Dianthus 2012, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. 1,200 cases. 60% mourvèdre, 25% grenache, 15% counoise. A great rosé. True onion skin color but with a blush of pale copper; again, dried red currants and raspberries but a deeper hint of mulberry and plum; touches of briers and dried herbs, full body, dense, almost lush for a rosé, yet crisp, keen, lively; lovely lustrous, limestone-etched finish. Excellent. About $27.
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Vermentino 2012, Paso Robles. 12.5% alc. 1,300 cases. 100% vermentino grapes. Very pale straw-gold color; extremely fresh, clean and crisp; brisk, saline, almost savory; all hints and nods of roasted lemon and yellow plum, honeysuckle; pert acidity yet a soft delicate feeling overall. Very Good+. About $27
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Côtes de Tablas Blanc 2011, Paso Robles. 13% alc. 1,475 cases. 27% viognier, 25% grenache blanc, 25% marsanne, 22% roussanne. Pale straw-gold color; graham crackers and camellias, subtly earthy and perfumed; spare and elegant; hints of roasted lemons and pears, bare touch of spiced peach; very dry but juicy and flavorful, with scintillating acidity and chalky limestone elements; beautiful balance, tone and presence. Excellent. About $27.
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Marsanne 2011, Paso Robles. 13% alc. 225 cases. 100% marsanne grapes. Light straw-gold color; a wine of great subtlety and nuance, like tissues of delicacy woven into a taut and resilient fabric; quite dry, spare, reticent; bracing salinity, a hint of dried thyme and marsh-grass, gently floral; touches of citrus and stone-fruit; an earthy background with flint and shale minerality; altogether finely-knit and supple. Excellent. About $30.
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Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc 2010, Paso Robles. 13.5% alc. 2,100 cases. 60% roussanne, 35% grenache blanc, 5% picpoul blanc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely balance and poise, light on its feet with a wonderful well-knit texture with finely-honed acidity and plangent steely, limestone qualities; again, a white wine of shades and degrees of nuance, lightly spiced, delicately fitted with lemon and pear flavors and a hint of apricot; all bound with that spruce-tinged minerality. Excellent. About $40
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Patelin de Tablas 2011, Paso Robles. 13.7% alc. 8,460 cases. 52% syrah, 29% grenache, 18% mourvèdre, 1% counoise. Medium ruby-mulberry color; meaty and fleshy; bacon fat, black olive, slightly roasted red and black currants and plums with a hint of blackberry; quite dry, moderately dense, chewy tannins; attractive fairly incisive finish, touches of graphite, briers and brambles. Very Good+. About $20, representing Good Value.
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Côtes de Tablas 2011, Paso Robles. 13% alc. 1,560 cases. 49% grenache, 28% syrah, 15% mourvèdre, 8% counoise. Dark ruby-magenta color; earthy, loamy and foresty but clean and fresh; intense and concentrated but not closed or aloof; focused tannins and acidity that drive the wine’s energy and allure; very dark, spicy and slightly meaty black and red currants and raspberries with hints of blackberry and blueberry; long spice- and graphite-packed finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $30.
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Mourvèdre 2010, Paso Robles. 14.1% alc. 720 cases. 100% mourvèdre grapes. Dark ruby color with an opaque center; pure raspberry with all the raspiness of briers and brambles and foresty qualities, backed by clean earth and loam, iodine and iron; for all the structure and groundedness in place, the stones and bones, strangely winsome and lovely. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $40.
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Grenache 2010, Paso Robles. (Wine club only). 14.8% alc. 733 cases. 100% grenache grapes. Medium ruby color; red raspberries, black cherries and hints of blackberries; quite earthy and briery; fairly intense and hard-edged tannins, in fact, the most tannic and least integrated of these red wines; deeply spicy, long dense finish. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+. About $40.
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Esprit de Beaucastel 2010, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. 4,400 cases. 45% mourvèdre, 30% grenache, 21% syrah, 4% counoise. A deep, dark, earthy and loamy wine in every sense; dense, leathery, foresty tannins; briers, brambles and graphite; a spice-cabinet’s-worth of exoticism; an assemblage of great confidence and authority worthy of a flagship wine. Try 2014 to ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles. (Tasting room and online only) 13.5% alc. Just under 100 cases. 100% cabernet sauvignon grapes. A one-off production produced from a couple of rows of cabernet grapes. Perfect cabernet color of dark but radiant ruby with an opaque center and a rim that verges on violet-magenta; classic notes of black currants and raspberries, cedar and tobacco, black olive and lead pencil; lots of graphite and granitic minerality, iodine and iron; fairly knotty tannins that dictate two or three years more aging, or open it with a medium rare strip steak, hot and crusty from the grill; drink through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. $40.
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Vin de Paille “Quintessence” 2010, Paso Robles. 11.5% alc. 100 cases. 100% roussanne grapes. Glowing light gold-amber color; apricot, baked peaches and candied, caramelized pineapple; a little musky and dusty; cloves and honey, bananas Foster; powerful acidity and a huge limestone mineral presence keep the initial sweetness from being cloying and indeed turn the wine dry from mid-palate back through the deep, rich, earthy finish. Now through 2018 to 2022. Exceptional. About $85 for a 375 milliliter half-bottle.
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A week from today at this time I’ll be on a plane to Houston, whence I fly to San Francisco and then take a short flight to San Luis Obispo, all amounting to a long day of travel so that I can attend, on April 26 and 27, some tasting events and seminars arranged by the Paso Robles CAB Collective, a group of wineries in that appellation that specialize in or at least significantly produce wines made from the cabernet sauvignon grape. DAOU Vineyards and Winery is a member of the group, and as a sort of lead-in to the events at the end of next week, I was able to obtain four sample wines for review produced by DAOU in its Paso Robles Collection of wines; they also make Reserve and Estate Collections. The winery is owned by brothers Georges and Daniel Daou, with the latter serving as winemaker.
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The DAOU Grenache Blanc 2011, Paso Robles, wisely ages only seven months in French oak, and those are one-year-old barrels, so the wood influence is restrained and supple, a sort of subdued haze of blond spice. The color is pale but radiant straw-gold; the wine is frankly gorgeous but without being ostentatious and in fact maintaining a sense of lovely spare elegance. Aromas of pear, apple and peach are bolstered by highlights of ginger and quince and a top-note of jasmine, while the touch of bee’s-wax we expect from grenache blanc is here. Flavors of lightly buttered pear tart are enhanced by hints of roasted lemon and honey, but this is a totally dry wine, lent vivacity by authoritative acidity and limestone-like minerality that only asserts itself, and rather gently, from mid-palate back through the spice-packed finish. 14.1% alc. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. We had it, very successfully, with seared swordfish. Excellent. About $36.
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The color of the DAOU Chardonnay 2011, Paso Robles, is light but bright straw-gold; aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince and cloves feel almost savory, while notes of ginger and white pepper provides liveliness and appeal. This is a chardonnay that takes its substance seriously, offering a texture that’s dense and chewy without being overwhelming; it’s quite dry but juicy with ripe apple and pineapple flavors that take on some austerity from a grapefruit pith-limestone-flint character and a slight drying quality from oak aging — 10 months in French barrels, 50 percent new; a few minutes in the glass bring out Burgundian hints of bacon fat and Parmesan rind. As I said, this is a deep, rich and savory chardonnay that does not cross the line into cloying ripeness and spiciness or a superimposed vanilla/buttery/tropical nature. 14.2 percent alcohol. Well-stored, this should develop nicely through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $42.
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DAOU Celestus 2010, Paso Robles, is a blend of the kind one sees more and more, especially from California and Australia and even Italy; this is 59 percent syrah, 32 percent cabernet sauvignon and 9 percent petit verdot. It’s delicious. The color is an intense dark ruby-purple; pungent scents of crushed red and black currants and cherries (with a hint of plums) are permeated by dust and graphite, cloves and sandalwood and touches of leather and lavender. In the mouth, you intuit the syrah in an undertow of blueberries and briers, while red and black fruit flavors are borne on a tide of vibrant, almost vigilant acidity; velvety tannins; dry, spicy oak; and a fine-grained granitic mineral quality, all of which support the wine with a beautifully-tuned sense of balance and integration. The wine aged 18 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, 50 percent once-used. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’20. Rather improbably, we drank this wine one night with a hearty pizza, and it was great. Excellent. About $46.
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The color of the DAOU Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles, is vibrant opaque ruby-purple from stem to stern; this is a robust, vigorous, dense mouthful of wine, characterized by deep, dry foresty tannins and forceful oak influence from 10 months — not all that long a passage — in French barrels, 60 percent new. On the other hand, exhilarating elements of cedar and tobacco, briery black currants and raspberries, black olive and bacon fat, red licorice and lavender keep the wine attractive, even seductive; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of tar and pomegranate, blueberry tart and a hint of rhubarb, all ensconced in a dense, firm yet pliant structure. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’19. Excellent. About $28.
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The ranch of Halter Ranch Vineyard originated in 1881 when Edwin Smith, a wholesale butcher in San Francisco, bought 3,600 acres in the Adelaida area west of Paso Robles, in San Luis Obispo County. Smith threw himself into country life, becoming a dealer in farm produce and livestock and investing in silver mining and race-horses, keeping a stable for thoroughbred horses on the estate. In the late 1890s, his business empire foundered, and the estate was soon broken up. During World War II, the MacGillivray family acquired 1,200 acres of the old ranch; after farming the land for more than 50 years, they planted grapevines in 1996. In 2000, Swiss entrepreneur Hansjörg Wyss purchased 900 acres of the ranch, renovated Smith’s historic farmhouse (seen in the image here), and began enlarging the vineyard to its present 280 acres. And that estate is Halter Ranch Vineyard. Winemaker is Kevin Sass, who was winemaker at Justin Vineyards and Winery until 2011; owners Deborah and Justin Baldwin sold their property to Roll International, owners of FIJI Water, late in 2010. General manager is Skylar Stuck. These Halter Ranch wines, about half of the winery’s roster, were tasted at a dinner at Acre restaurant in Memphis with representatives from the winery, the local distributor and a group of retailers.
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The Halter Ranch Côtes de Paso Blanc 2011, Paso Robles, covers most of the white grapes of the southern Rhone Valley in its blend of 33 percent grenache (blanc), 26 percent roussanne, 20 percent picpoul blanc, 12 percent marsanne and 9 percent viognier. The grapes ferment and the wine ages four months in neutral French oak barrels, that is, barrels that have been used to age wine several times so their influence will be minimal. The wine did not go through malolactic fermentation. The result is a white wine that displays a beautiful medium gold color and an appealing bouquet of jasmine and honeysuckle, almonds, roasted lemons and lemon drops, with a touch of lime peel in the background. It’s quite crisp with vibrant acidity and an element of chalk-infused limestone, and the texture is lively and supple. A haze of soft spicy oak washes the palate, while the whole package offers lip-smacking viscosity. A few minutes in the glass bring up notes of figs and yellow plums. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,000 cases. Drink through 2014. Excellent. About $25.
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Five grapes also come into play in the Halter Ranch Côtes de Paso 2010, Paso Robles, a blend of 49 percent grenache, 23 percent mourvèdre, 11 percent syrah, 13 tannat and 4 counoise; no cinsault this vintage. The wine aged 14 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to light magenta, pretty damned entrancing. The gorgeous bouquet is a weaving of penetrating graphite minerality, exuberant spicy element and ripe blackberry, black currant and plum fruit permeated by lavender, violets and red licorice. If you can tear yourself away from this panoply of effects, prepare for a red wine that’s robust and vigorous, intense and resonant yet growing more generous and expansive as the moments pass; this is black fruit flavors with a red tinge, velvety tannins with a hint of something rigorous, polished oak that offers support without being obtrusive and a finish that squeezes out more granite-like minerality. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 750 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.
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The Halter Ranch Synthesis 2010, Paso Robles, is, in a sense, the winery’s entry-level red wine, though it’s not really more of a synthesis than any other of these wines, all of them made from a synthesizing (but not homogenizing) blend of grapes, a practice managed at Halter Ranch with a great deal of finesse. Having said that, I’ll now say that Synthesis 2010, while nicely balanced and integrated, is the most rustic, the most solid of this group of wines, meaning that it lacks a little of the elevating power that a great wine exerts. It’s a blend of 78 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent syrah and 5 percent malbec, the syrah perhaps accounting for a note of leather and black pepper in the nose. The color is deep ruby, almost purple with a tinge of mulberry at the rim; leather, as I said, black pepper and thyme and cedar, intense and concentrated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; terrifically vibrant and resonant, the wine bursts with tannins that feel both velvety and a little shaggy and infused with graphite-like minerality. 15 percent alcohol. 750 cases were made. Drink now through 2016 or ’18. Very Good+. About $20.
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The Halter Ranch Syrah 2010, Paso Robles, is the most furled of this group of red wines, needing two or three years to unclench. It too is a blend, classic Southern Rhone with 84 percent syrah, 8 percent mourvèdre and 3 percent (white) viognier, with a decidedly unclassic 5 percent malbec, but that’s why California exists. The color is dark ruby, almost opaque purple at the center, and despite the wine’s reticence, it delivers a distinct but almost anti-sensuous bouquet of iodine and graphite, black pepper and sea-salt, briers and brambles and, after quite a while, an infinity or two, a lovely wafting of lilacs and violets, and your nose goes, “Bingo, I’m in love.” Things grow tighter, more concentrated, mouthwise — there’s a touch of tough love in this romance — yet even here, after a demanding few minutes, this syrah opens to delicious flavors of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plums with bass notes of clean earth, dried spice and flowers and a fairly austere granitic mineral element. The oak regimen was 18 months in French barrels, 30 percent new. 15.2 percent alcohol, which you feel a bit in the finish. 1,200 cases. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $32.
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The Halter Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, feels deep, dense and minerally. mouth-filling, a wine of burgeoning vibrancy and resonance; the color is dark ruby, opaque at the center, while the bouquet of ripe and spicy black currants, raspberries and plums unfolds with hints of cedar and tobacco, black olive and bay leaf. The blend is 77 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent malbec, 11 percent merlot; the wine aged 18 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. Though this Halter Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 revolves around its oak, tannin, acid and mineral structure, it’s surprisingly smooth and drinkable, and I don’t mean to denigrate it one whit by saying that this could sell gangbusters in restaurants, by the bottle or glass. Elements of graphite, plum pudding and bittersweet chocolate form a core for spicy and slightly raspy black and red fruit flavors; the finish is long and packed with spice and dusty mineral qualities. 15 percent alcohol, and while I think that generally cabernet does not perform well at 15 percent alcohol or higher, this one feels balanced and integrated. 2,200 cases. Drink now through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $32.
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A selection of the best barrels of a given year, Ancestor is Halter Ranch’s flagship wine. For 2008, this “Estate Reserve” is a blend of 25 percent petit verdot, 24 percent cabernet sauvignon, 24 percent syrah, 15 merlot and 12 merlot. It’s unusual to see one-quarter of a blend made of petit verdot and, in a sort of Bordeaux blend, to see this much syrah. Still, it feels pretty classic. Classic what? Classic California red wine at a high caliber of performance; we could call this velocity Californication, in terms of this heady rush of plush, velvety tannins, of graphite and granitic minerality, of bittersweet chocolate and lavender, of ripe, spicy black currant and black cherry fruit packed with intimations of cedar and tobacco and rosemary; all this sensuality leavened, even restrained by the most prominent oak and tannin of any of these red wines; the program was 18 months French oak, 50 percent new barrels. The alcohol content is a faintly disturbing 15.6 percent, and there is indeed a slight bit of sweet heat on the finish that mars the surface of this otherwise sleek, polished production. 695 cases. Try from 2014 through 2020 to ’22. Excellentish. About $50.
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Bring in the roller of big cigars, the pigs in blankets, the barbecue brisket nachos with black beans and jalapenos; bring in the slow-cooked ribs slathered with tangy sauce, the cheeseburger sliders and short-rib quesadillas, the fried chicken and the firehouse chili. For, lo, tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday, and who gives a flip who’s playing and where, because the party and the food are the name of the game. And while I know that many of you out there will be downing your favorite beer with the rich, bountiful, caloric Super Bowl-type party food, allow me to recommend some Kick-Ass Bad Boy red wines that will serve you equally well. We draw on Argentina and Chile, Australia and France’s Loire Valley and several points through California. Not much in the way of technical, historical and geographical data here; just incisive reviews meant to whet your palates and perhaps your football-addled imaginations. Snap that ball, Froggie, and plow for the uprights! Or whatever.

These wines were samples for review.
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MontGras Quatro 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. 40% cabernet sauvignon, 35% carmenere, 15% malbec, 10% syrah. Dark ruby, almost opaque; piercing shale and graphite minerality; ashes and currants say the bells of St. Lawrence, with dried thyme, cedar and tobacco; jubilant acidity and rollicking tannins with deep roots; not forgetting intense and concentrated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; multitude of layers and unfoldings though keeps something hidden that feels slightly perverse, definitely a Dark Knight of a wine. Excellent. About $14, an Incredible Value; Buy a Case.
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Gascon Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. Dark ruby color; deeply saturated black currants and plums, very spicy and earthy, yet clean and fresh; a tense core of lavender and potpourri, bitter chocolate and cocoa powder; dusty, chewy tannins; a surprising touch of blueberry tart and fruitcake. Very Good+ and Very Good Value. About $15.
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Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby color; clean, sleek but robust; deeply spicy and flavorful; black fruit galore borne by a tide of blueberry with hints of rosemary, cedar and tobacco; stalwart tannins fit the mix with burly yet beneficent insistence. Always a solid performer. Very Good+. About $16, representing Great Value.
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Nuna Bonarda Reserva 2010, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby color; tar, lavender and licorice, intensely ripe and spicy black currants, plums and mulberries; touches of fruitcake and plum pudding; polished and seductive yet very dry, densely tannic, resonant, a little brooding even, full-bodied, rustic. Very Good+. About $17.
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Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley, Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color shading to medium ruby at the rim; pure and intense, a furnace of shiraz, huge presence of smoke and ash and the symmetry of a chiseled monument; very concentrated but deeply spicy blackberry and black currant scents and flavors; chewy, dusty, muscular yet with an element of fleetness and light. Through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $18, a Fantastic Bargain.
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Tower 15 Petite Sirah 2010, Paso Robles. 14.9% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; robust, rough-hewn, vibrant acidity and chock-a-block tannins, wild berries, black plums, blackberries and blueberries; backnotes of cloves and licorice, coiled potpourri; a little exotic but with characteristic earth-bound, graphite elements. Sadly only 167 cases, so Worth a Search. Very Good+. About $18.50.
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Morgan Winery Syrah 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.6% alc. Deep purple-mulberry color; smacky tannins, whiplash acidity; smoke, ash, leather, edgy graphite; oh, yes, juicy and spicy red and black cherries and plums with hints of blueberries and mulberries; earth, briers, wet dog, the whole syrah kit ‘n’ kaboodle. Lots of personality. Excellent. About $20.
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Catherine et Pierre Breton La Dilettante 2010, Bourgueil, Loire Valley, France. 12% alc. 100% cabernet franc. Light ruby-cranberry color; lithe and wiry, scintillating acidity and flint-like minerality; briers and brambles, thyme and black olives, hints of coffee and tobacco; black currants and blueberries; slightly shaggy tannins. A scrappy little wine despite its deceptive lightness. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $25.
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The Federalist Dueling Pistols 2009, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 15% alc. 50% syrah, 50% zinfandel. No, this wine is not dedicated to the NRA; the name is based on the fatal duel fought by Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Dark ruby-purple color; inky, ashy, slinky; deep. rich with very ripe spicy black fruit scents and flavors yet taking the cool course of dominant flint and shale-like minerality; cigar box, tobacco, thyme; the zinfandel and syrah don’t so much duel here as kiss and make up. A real mouthful of wine. Excellent. About $36.
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Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. How old are those “Century Vines”? The vineyard was planted before 1877, so we’re talking at least 136 years old. Dark ruby shading to magenta; deep, spicy, ripe and roasted, a little earthy/funky; blackberry and blueberry with a touch of mulberry but none of that sissy, jammy boysenberry stuff; leather, briers and brambles, burgeoning tannins yet a serene air that’s appropriate for the venerable age of the vineyard. Now through 2149; just kidding! Make that 2019. Excellent. About $40.
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Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-purple; stalwart and vigorous; smoke, ash and graphite with a charcoal edge; defines dense and chewy and full-bodied, but not ponderous or weighty; very intense and concentrated black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors (touch of mocha); dry but ripe and juicy; heaps of depth and dimension; a big but well-modulated wine. Excellent. About $45.
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Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, McLaren Vale. 14.5% alc. Sorta sexy, sorta beastly, but you won’t hate yourself in the morning for hooking up. Dark ruby-mulberry color, close to black; smooth and mellow yet somehow voluminous, with a tang of acidity and a distinct faceted charcoal/granitic character; very spicy, slightly macerated and roasted black currants and plums; clenched tannins give you a soft wallop in the finish. Excellent. About $45.
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Tower 15 is a project of The Pali Wine Co., known for chardonnay and pinot noir from various vineyards. Tower 15 is centered in Paso Robles and makes wines primarily from Rhone Valley grape varieties. The Tower 15 wines are less expensive than the Pali wines but are also, unfortunately, limited in production. I’ll go ahead, though, and make Tower 15 “The Jetty” 2010, Paso Robles, the Wine of the Week because national distribution is growing. Winemaker for Tower 15 is Aaron Walker.

Tower 15 “The Jetty” 2010 is a blend of 62 percent grenache, 33 percent syrah and 5 percent mourvedre; the wine aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 30 percent new. The alcohol level is startlingly high — 15.1 percent — but the wine is balanced, harmonious and well-modulated in all elements. The color is deep saturated ruby; notes of ripe and macerated black currants, plums and mulberries are highlighted with hints of leather, cloves and allspice and a back-note of fruitcake. Rollicking acidity keeps the wine fresh and vigorous, while darker elements of damp fur, loam and graphite lend depth and dimension; smooth, slightly briery tannins extend into the finish. The sort of wine that makes one happy to be drinking it. A great match with braised red meat, hearty pastas or burgers. 598 cases. Excellent. About $21.

A sample for review.


This second edition of Weekend Wine Sips for 2013 offers seven red wines from California. There’s cabernet sauvignon, of course and a couple of pinot noirs from the Sonoma Coast appellation and also a great merlot and a seductive grenache. Prices range from $22 to $65, and I have few quibbles about any of the wines. I offer little in the way of technical, historical or geographical information in this series of brief reviews, other than alcohol content and the make-up or blend of grapes in each wine; if a wine is limited in production, I mention the number of cases that were made. These wines were samples for review.
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Tower 15 “The Swell” 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. The Tower 15 label is a venture of The Pali Wine Co., noted for pinot noir. 14.8% alc. 31% cabernet sauvignon, 28% malbec, 27% merlot, 14% petit verdot. Dark ruby color; clean, fresh, spicy, wildly berryish and very appealing; black currants and plums with hints of blueberry and mulberry; dusty graphite, a bit earthy and loamy; pliant and lithe, close to sexy; the finish rather more serious with influx of walnut-shell and forest-like austerity. 707 cases. Very Good+. About $22.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 13.9% alc. 100% pinot noir. Jeeze, what a sweetheart of a pinot noir! Medium ruby-mulberry color; black cherry, sour cherry candy, rhubarb and cola with notes of rose petal and watermelon; flows across the palate with beguiling heft and drape and deft delicacy; still, though, plenty of earth and loam, hints of underlying briers and brambles; then overtones of pomegranate and sandalwood. Just lovely. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $25.
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Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Primarily cabernet sauvignon with dollops of syrah and petit verdot. A lovely cabernet; dark ruby-purple color; ripe, fleshy black and blue fruit scents and flavors; classic notes of cedar, black olive, truffles and oolong tea with hints of loam and violets; supple, dense and chewy, slightly dusty tannins and graphite-like mineral elements; spicy oak lends support; long, complex, fully-formed finish. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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Gundlach-Bunschu Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 100% pinot noir. Dark ruby-magenta color; deep, rich, succulent; black cherries and plums, notes of rhubarb, cola and cloves and a hint of sassafras; lovely satiny texture; quite spicy, lipsmacking acidity and a slight drying effect through the finish from oak and gentle tannins. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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Chamisal Vineyards Grenache 2009, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. 14.8% alc. With 10% syrah. Medium ruby-magenta color; attractive, soft fruity spicy bouquet; plums, red currants and cranberries, cloves and Red Hots, spiced apple; earthy and minerally, moderate tannins and oak beautifully balanced and integrated; opens to briery and slightly mossy elements on the finish. An evocative rendition of the grape. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $38.
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Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2008, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Certified biodynamic. 100% merlot. Dark ruby color, hint of magenta at the rim; black currants and blueberries with a touch of mulberry, notes of cedar and tobacco; earthy and flinty, tremendous presence and resonance, clean, intense and pure; a faceted and chiseled merlot, with tannins that feel as if they’ve been turned on a lathe; dense, sleek, polished and elegant but with an untamed edge. An impressive and expressive merlot. Excellent. About $42.
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Hawk & Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Red Hills, Lake County. 14.8% alc. Certified biodynamic. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Deep, pure, vivid and vibrant, totally attractive; ripe, smoky and fleshy red and black currants and mulberries, hint of black cherries; very spicy and lively, practically glitters with granite and graphite and resonates with bright acidity; dense and chewy and thoroughly grounded but exhilarating in its balletic wildness and elevation. Quite a performance. 1,350 cases. Now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $65.
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Nothing thrilling today, you’re not going to get goose-bumps, but a roster of primarily well-made solid red wines that should make for an enjoyable and possibly interesting experience, especially with the robust fare we tend to partake of now that the Northern Hemisphere rolls toward winter. No tech info, no winery or estate or family histories, no geographical particulars, no humorous asides; just quick notes intended to pique your curiosity. If you want to twist my arm — ouch! — I would say that the real go-to wines today are the Zaco Tempranillo 2010 and The Spur Red Wine 2010.
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Ergo Tempranillo 2010, Rioja, Spain. From Bodegas Martin Codax. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby with a magenta cast; ripe and fleshy with dried spices and dried fruit, touch of fruitcake; black cherries and plums with touches of licorice, cloves and leather; slightly resinous like pine and rosemary. Pleasant but one-dimensional. Very Good. About $12.
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Buried Cane “Roughout” Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.1% alc. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 23% merlot, 2% syrah. Deep ruby color with trace of garnet flushing the rim; bright, clean and fresh, immediately appealing with a real lift; quite dense and chewy, with black cherries and currants, hints of cedar and thyme, tobacco and lead pencil and a backnote of black olive; dusty tannins and a medium length spicy finish. Very Good+. About $15.
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Clayhouse Caberbet Sauvignon 2009, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.5% alc. 80% cabernet sauvignon, 20% petit verdot. Medium ruby color; smooth, spicy, fruity; smoke and tobacco, spiced and macerated black cherries and currants; pleasing heft and texture, moderately packed-in tannins and graphite-like minerality; burgeoning spice and lively acidity; solid finish. Very Good+. About $15.
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Vina Zaco Tempranillo 2010, Rioja, Spain. 14% alc. Bright medium ruby color; wood and spice and woody spices; plums, black currants, leather; a wine to chew on in every sense; tannins coat the palate; an intense and concentrated core of graphite, bitter chocolate and lavender; a finish packed with spice and dusty, earthy minerals. Cries out for big steaming bowl of lamb stew. Very Good+. About $15.
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The Spur Red Wine 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. From Murrieta’s Well. 14.5% alc. 48% cabernet sauvignon, 24% petit verdot, 23% malbec, 5% petite sirah. Very attractive, almost-Bordeaux-style red blend. Black cherries and plums, very spicy with seething graphite and bitter chocolate qualities, and a backwash of some red fruit (and hint of lavender); vibrant acidity keeps it lively, while slightly earthy, velvety tannins lend depth and texture. A great steak, meatloaf or burger wine. Excellent. About $25.
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Heller Estate Cachagua Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. All organic. 81% cabernet sauvignon, 11% merlot, 8% malbec. Deep ruby color; plums, currants, mint, thyme and cedar; quite spicy, a little fleshy and macerated; quite intense earthy-dusty-graphite element with plush tannins and a hint of lightly sanded wood; dark black fruit flavors; a long spice-and-tannin-laden finish. Now through 2017 to ’19. Very Good+. About $28.
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Reata Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Radiant medium ruby color; cola, cloves and rhubarb, black cherries and plums; slightly earthy and loamy, a touch of woody spices and slightly buffed tannins; brings up an intriguing note of dried herbs; smooth, supple, nicely integrated but thins out through the finish. Now to 2014. Very Good+. About $30.
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Heller Estate Pinot Noir 2009, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. All organic. If you take the Jura region as the model instead of Burgundy, you’ll get the drift of this interpretation of the grape. Medium ruby-color with a slight garnet rim; mint, rhubarb and pomegranate; hints of fruitcake and tomato skin; dried cherries and melon; cloves, touch of brown sugar (though the wine is dry) with a slight graphite-charcoal edge; more delicate and elegant (and slightly eccentric) than powerful. Now through 2014 or ’15. Made for roasted game birds. Excellent. About $48.
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Perhaps the title of this post should read “Bonny Doon’s Syrahs & Rhone-Style Blends,” but few wineries in California are more informed by and associated with a single powerful personality than Bonny Doon is by owner and winemaker Randall Grahm, a tireless shape-shifter, guru, mage and humble servant of the vineyard and the grape. In the mid 2000s, Grahm divested himself of several brands, such as Ca’ del Solo and the Big House wines — and boy did Big House plummet after that! — to focus on where it seems his heart had been all along, with Rhone Valley grapes and models (he still makes a nebbiolo and albariño). What we review today are 100 percent syrah wines from designated vineyards in Santa Maria Valley and San Luis Obispo and blended wines from the Central Coast under Bonny Doon’s well-known Le Cigare Volant label, all from 2007 and 2008. I’ll point out that while several of these wines are quite tannic, even fiercely so, they primarily do not ravage the mouth astringently and stay light on their feet and elegant; Grahm seems to be after structure that’s indubitably there but a function of agility and nerve.

Most of these wines were tasted at home, as samples for review, in September 2011 and November 2012, with a few recapitulated or anticipated in August 2012 with Grahm (and a small but restless and eager crowd) in a hotel room at the Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Portland, Oregon.
(I don’t know who took the splendid image of Randall Grahm, and I wish I could acknowledge the photographer, but I borrowed it from eventbrite.com.)

First, the 2007s.
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Bonny Doon Alamo Creek Vineyard Syrah 2007, San Luis Obispo. The color is dark inky-purple; the bouquet is fleshy, meaty, packed with scents of dried fruit and dried flowers with notes of fresh blackberries and black raspberries and hints of pomegranate, leather and graphite; in the mouth, finely meshed and grainy tannins take control and along with polished, slightly rustic oak and robust acidity impose a sense of formidable structure on the wine, which concludes with dusty, almost ecclesiastical severity and austerity. 13.3 percent alcohol. Production was 662. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County.. The difference between the “Bien Nacido” Syrah 07 and the “Alamo” Syrah 07 lies in this wine’s overwhelming freshness and its modicum of accommodation; it drinks a bit more like a wine intended to be consumed this year rather than a lifetime down the pike. Present is the full complement of fresh and dried black and red fruit scents and flavors, potpourri and lavender, hints of black tea and leather, thinking of leather’s earthy, sweaty component and its firm suppleness; present also are dusty, almost powdery tannins that burgeon from mid-palate back through the finish, piling up the granitic minerality and underbrush-like austerity. 13.5 percent alcohol. 657 cases. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant “en demi-muid” 2007, Central Coast, and Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant “en foudre” 2007, Central Coast. A demi-muid is a 500-liter wood puncheon; a foudre is a 10,000-liter upright wood tank; the wine in the smaller vessel (which is slightly more than twice the size of the standard barrique at 225 liters) will get more wood exposure than the wine in the much larger container. Other than the oak regimen, the wines were treated the same and are each a fairly classic Rhone Valley-style blend of 50 percent grenache grapes, 32 percent syrah, 4 percent mourvèdre and 4 percent cinsault.

The “en demi-muid,” a medium ruby-megenta color, is ripe, fleshy and meaty, with a bit of charcoal edge to the notes of red and black currants and generous portions of leather, black pepper, briers and brambles; the whole package is quite lively and vibrant, and a few moments in the glass bring in hints of cloves and sandalwood and allspice as well as an impressive presence of dusty, austere tannins and woodiness that never, fortunately, reach the point of astringency. Tasted 24 hours later, the wine was dense and robust, deeply spicy but still inarguably oak-and-tannin-girt. Fashioned as a vin de garde, a wine intended for laying down, this will be more integrated from 2014 through 2020 to ’22. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 559 cases. Excellent. About $45.

The “en foudre” rendition — and the aging period for both was 20 months — begins all warm and spicy, with a softer bouquet than its cousin’s and appealing touches of red and black currants and plums infused with cloves and leather, espresso and moss, but I was surprised at how tannic and oaky the wine felt, and 24 hours later that tannin and oak were still working away diligently. Vin de garde, indeed, and I would estimate 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22 to curb the margins of its austere character. 14.4 percent alcohol. 559 cases. Very Good+. About $45.
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And the 2008s.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2008, Central Coast. For ’08, Bonny Doon’s “regular” Cigare Volant is a blend of 45 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah, 13 percent mourvèdre, 7 percent cinsault and 5 percent carignane. This is just lovely, a smooth, supple, well-balanced and integrated wine freighted with lavender and violets, potpourri, spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries with a blackberry backnote; it takes 45 minutes to an hour for the finely-milled tannins and subtly spicy oak to assert themselves and remind us that the wine possesses a firm, innate structure that along with vibrant acidity gives it some class and some sass. 14.3 percent alcohol. 2,751 cases. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $38.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve “en bonbonne” 2008, Central Coast.The blend of grapes is the same as for the previous Le Cigare Volant, but the aging is unique. After a short time in barrel and after assembling the blend, the wine was placed in five-gallon glass carboys, also called demijohns or bonbonnes, of the sort typically employed in home brewing and winemaking, where it remained for 23 months. (This process must be incredibly labor-intensive.) The result is both supernal mellowness and a resonant, burstingly packed-in sense of depth and breath of fresh and dried black and red fruit (especially black cherries, mulberries and red currants), dried baking spices, potpourri and pomander with an intriguing hint of pomegranate, all supported by supple, graphite-tinged tannins. Terrific personality and presence. 14.2 percent alcohol. 436 cases. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $65.
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Bonny Doon Alamo Vineyard Syrah 2008, San Luis Obispo. Dark ruby-purple color shading to magenta; a whole snootful of woody spices — the lilt of cloves, the headiness of sandalwood, the dark side of allspice, saturnine black pepper — and then fresh, ripe red and black currants with dried raspberries and dusty plum skin; the wine is large-framed, generous and expansive but laden with the weight of fine-grained tannins, graphite and damp earth, lavender and leather; it’s quite dry yet juicy under a swelling tide of tannins and granitic minerality; real grip and persistence here, filling the mouth with darkness. 13.5 percent alcohol. 572 cases. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2008, Santa Maria Valley. Dark ruby with a violet edge; intense and concentrated in every sense yet somehow enjoyable in its potency. Aromas of sage and thyme, cherry-berry and dried lavender are woven with black fruit and more black fruit and a little blue, the complete effect fleshy, meaty, spicy and slightly macerated; while the Alamo Vineyard rendition is a fairly warm wine, at least initially, this Bien Nacido X Block is all cool, swathe-plowing acidity, cool graphite and obsidian-faceted minerals, tar, bitter chocolate, licorice and black tea. Boy, and more tannic, too, deep, dry, dusty and velvety, leading to some austerity in the finish. 13.9 percent alcohol. 573 cases. Now through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $42.
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Looking for a real mouthful of old-fashioned cabernet sauvignon? Fitting that description is the Justin Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, made from 100 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, aged 18 months in American oak barrels, 28 percent new. The winery was established by Justin Baldwin in 1981, when there were about 10 wineries in Paso Robles. Justin’s reputation lies mainly in several levels of cabernet sauvignon, but the winery also makes an excellent sauvignon blanc. Winemaker is Scott Shirley. FIJI Water bought the winery in December 2010. (Mark the new label design: sleek, elegant, a little dangerous.)

The color is an almost opaque dark ruby tending even unto black. Aromas of black pepper, black olive and leather unfurl to reveal notes of intense and concentrated black currants, black cherries and plums that exude an aura of slightly exotic spice and dried Mediterranean herbs; then come the palate-challenging tannins, robust and grainy; the tongue-tingling acidity, vivacious and essential; the black fruit flavors, saturated by graphite, lavender, leather and loam-like earthy elements. It all adds up to real presence and tone in a wine that would benefit from a year or two of aging — or would probably be great right now with a medium rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. A mannerly 13.9 percent alcohol. Sort of now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $26.

A sample for review.

Thursday, August 30, has been declared World Cabernet Day — you know how these things go, like “The Month of Sauvignon Blanc” or “The Year of Riesling” — and I usually ignore such feats of marketing prowess and go about my merry old way, I mean, it’s not as if cabernet doesn’t have its champions or enviable recognition, but since I have a back-log of cabernets that I need to write about, I decided to be a good sport and try to review as many cabs as I can this week. I’ll celebrate World Cabernet Day in my own way, thank you very much.

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