Paso Robles



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.


Sorry that I produced no “Friday Wine Sips” last week, but here we are again and on a Friday as it should be. Eclecticism reigns, with three versions of pinot gris/grigio, a sauvignon blanc from Washington and an albariño from California’s Central Coast. For reds, there a blend dominated by syrah from Paso Robles, an “international” blend from Tuscany and a pure and intense pinot noir from Anderson Valley. No geeky technical information here, just blitzkrieg reviews designed to take no prisoners on the way to your hearts and minds and palates. There’s a quibble here and there but mainly these are all attractive wines. These were samples for review.
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Bivio Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2001, Italy. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; almond, sea-salt, roasted lemon and thyme; clean, vibrant acidity, heaps of limestone-like minerality; spiced pear, citrus, touch of jasmine; very dry, fairly stony finish, which falls a tad short. Still, quite enjoyable. Very Good. About $14.
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Barrymore Pinot Grigio delle Venezia 2011, Italy. 12% alc. Barrymore as in Drew. Very crisp and lively, powerful limestone and flint elements, very stony and austere; pushes the elegance and spareness at the expense of fruit, spice and floral aspects that would soften acidity and minerality. Very Good. About $17.
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Domaine Paul Blanck Pinot Gris 2010, Alsace, France. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; very attractive tone and presence, smells good, feels good, tastes good; spiced pears, cloves and clover, quince and a hint of crystallized ginger; a golden wine, almost honeyed but quite dry, loaded with limestone and flint, but nothing bleak or austere. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $22.
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Cadaretta SBS 2011, Columbia Valley, Washington State. 13.1% alc. Sauvignon blanc 76%, semillon 24%. Graceful, balanced, restrained; both scintillating and elegant, almost spare; spiced lemon and pear, thyme and tarragon, hint of leafy fig, notes of jasmine and honeysuckle; very attractive texture, lushness modulated by crisp acidity and an urgent limestone element; long, drawn-out, spicy finish, wrapped up by a touch of bracing grapefruit bitterness. Now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $23, and Worth a Search.
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Bonny Doon Vineyard Albariño 2011, Central Coast, California. 13.2% alc. Gosh, what a treat. Pale straw color, faint green highlights; so deftly polished, balanced and harmonious; roasted lemon and lemon balm, hints of verbena, jasmine, yellow plums and an invigorating breeze-borne sea-salt element; practically shimmers with resonant acidity and a clean limestone-shale element. Now through 2013 or ’14. 527 cases and one wishes there were more. Excellent. About $18, a Definite Bargain.
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Clayhouse Syrah 2010, Paso Robles, California. 13.5% alc. 77% syrah, 23% petite sirah. Medium to dark ruby color with a tinge of blue; black and red currants and plums, pepper, black olives, lavender and a hint of black licorice; heaps of earthy briers and brambles, dry, dusty and slightly leathery tannins but tasty red and black fruit flavors wrapped around tar and potpourri; medium-length finish. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, representing Real Value.
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Tenuta di Biserno Insoglio del cinghiale 2010, Toscana, Italy. 14% alc. Cabernet franc 33%, syrah 32%, merlot 30%, petit verdot 5%. Smooth, burnished and polished, suave and elegant but plenty of earthy, loamy structure; plums, black currants and cherries, graphite, lavender, potpourri; touch of what the French call garrigue, implying the scent of warm, dusty, slightly resinous wild herbs; a bit velvety but buttressed by vibrant acidity and agreeable tannins. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $32.
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Champ de Rêves Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, California. 14.5% alc. Entrancing medium ruby-violet color; cranberry, black cherry, hints of rhubarb and pomegranate, cloves and sassafras; lovely satiny texture, almost lush but with the essential acidity to lend cut to the palate; smoky black cherry and red currant flavors; supple, spicy oak in the background. Very seductive. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $40.
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And that brings up the question: Why don’t more states, counties and municipalities allow package stores to be open on Sunday? Are they afraid that Christians will go straight from church to purchase a half-pint of Old Thunderbolt? I mean, come on, if you can buy a shirt or a lawn mower or a six-pack of brew on Sunday, you ought to be able to buy a fifth of booze or a bottle of wine to drink with lunch or dinner. Anyway, here are brief looks at five wines — a rosé, two whites and two reds — that will get you through the week in terms of just about anything you’re eating, generally sans technical, historical, geographical and personnel-type information in favor of incisiveness and immediacy.

These wines were samples for review.
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Charles & Charles Rosé 2011, Columbia Valley, Washington State. 12.7% alc. 100% syrah. Pale copper-onion skin color; lovely aromas of strawberry, red currants and watermelon with hints of briers and limestone; very dry and spare but tasty strawberry and raspberry flavors, just a touch of pomegranate; crisp acidity, finish drenched in limestone and flint. Quite charming. Very Good+. About $10 to $12, often discounted to $9. Great Value.
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Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand. 13.6% alc. Very pale straw color; grapefruit, melon, thyme and celery seed, hints of lychee and tarragon, back-notes of tangerine; really attractive balance between vibrant acidity and a supple texture (a touch of old French oak is involved); flavors of roasted lemon, lime peel and celery, calls in some spice; sleek finish imbued with limestone and grapefruit. Excellent. About $20.
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Ad Lib Tree Hugger Chardonnay 2010, Western Australia. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; fresh, vital, clean as a whistle; pineapple-grapefruit with hints of lemon zest and lime peel, heaps of limestone-like minerality; the briskness of grapefruit acidity and some of the dry spareness of the pith, with lemon and pineapple; soft, round texture, a suave flowing over river rocks. Drink up this summer. Very Good+. About $17.
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Echelon Red Blend 2010, California. 13% alc. Cabernet sauvignon, merlot “& other reds.” This won’t compel you to fire off a telegram to your broker — “Buy the company!” — but it’s a decent, nicely proportioned quaff that features ripe and spicy cassis, black cherry and plum scents and flavors etched with hints of bittersweet chocolate, cedar and tobacco, black pepper, lavender and potpourri; a modicum of smooth chewy tannins and sufficient acidity keep it honest. Drink with steaks, burgers, pizzas. Very Good. About $14.
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Clayhouse Malbec 2010, Paso Robles. 13.6% alc. Malbec 85%, petite sirah 11%, tempranillo 4%. Dark ruby-purple color; vibrant in every sense, spicy and robust; deep black currant and black cherry scents and flavors, with a touch of something reddish like red plums and currants; hints of cedar, thyme, black olive and a touch exotic in sandalwood and licorice; solid, firm, supple, with moderately dense tannins; black and red fruit flavors; an earthy, mineral-flecked finish. Very Good+. About $15, a Real Bargain.
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The Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc 2010, Paso Robles, isn’t just a well-made rendition of a southern Rhone Valley white wine; it’s better than about 75 percent of the examples from the region. A blend of 50 percent grenache blanc grapes, 33 percent viognier, 10 percent roussanne and 7 percent marsanne and made all in stainless steel, Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc 2010 is a pale straw-gold color; provocative aromas of roasted lemon, lime peel, dried thyme, ginger and quince are highlighted by a winsome note of honeysuckle. Flavors of lemon and spiced baked grapefruit generously open to hints of crystallized pear and Bit o’ Honey, though the wine is as bone dry as bright acidity and a burgeoning limestone element can make it; the complete effect is spare, supple, almost sinewy and yet juicy and savory, sleek and stylish. I bought this bottle at a local store, and we drank the wine last night with Vinegar-Braised Chicken with Leeks and Peas, a fantastic match; it would be great for serving as an aperitif through the Spring and Summer and with grilled fish or chicken. 13.5 percent alcohol. Tablas Creek is a collaboration between the Perrin family of Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s Chateau de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, owner of their American importer Vineyard Brands. Executive winemaker is Neil Collins; winemaker is Ryan Hebert. Excellent. About $20 (though I paid $22).

Sunday is the Big Day, and millions of Americans will gather in their caves around open fires, er, I mean, in their dens, media rooms and home theaters around the hypnotic glow of large-screen televisions to watch Super Bowl XLVI and devour billions of chicken wings, pigs-in-blankets and cheesy barbecue nachos. Many will drink beer, of course, yet there are wines perfectly suited to the hearty, fat-and-calorie-laden snacks that will be crammed into mouths, er, I mean, politely nibbled during the hours when the Giants and Patriots are pummeling each other in Indianapolis. Here, then, are 10 deep, dark, spicy, wild and/or brooding wines that call out to your bowl of chile, your platter of grilled sausages.

As is the case with these “Friday Wine Sips,” I go straight to the brief review and offer no technical, historical of geographical data. What you see is what you get. Unless otherwise indicated, these wines were samples for review. Image from 123rf.com.
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Alamos Red Blend 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. 40% malbec, 18% tempranillo, 14% bonarda, 14% cabernet sauvignon, 7% petit verdot, 7% syrah. Very tasty; robust, hearty, deep, dark and spicy; ripe black and blue fruit scents and flavors permeated by briers and brambles, dense and chewy tannins and sifted mineral elements, all bolstered by vibrant acidity. Not a blockbuster, but definitely a bruiser. Very Good. About $13.
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Zanthos Zweigelt 2009, Burgenland, Austria. 13% alc. Black as the night that covers me from pole to pole, this one radiates tarry, earthy spicy black currant, boysenberry and plum fruit edged with leather, graphite and wild mulberry jam. These boots were made for drinking. Very Good+. About $14 and Worth a Search.
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Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Paso Robles, California. 13.5% alc. Miles better than most cabs at the price; loads of character and integrity; weaves the requisite strands of vivid, fresh black currant, black raspberry and plum aromas and flavors supported by spicy oak and clean, tightly-drawn acidity, all spread over a bedrock of earthy, graphite-like minerality and a bit of forest. Delicious intensity and simple purity. It’ll ring yer bell. Very Good+. About $14, a Real Bargain.
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Lee Family Farm Silvaspoons Vineyard Rio Tinto 2009, Alta Mesa, Lodi. 13.4% alc. Made from Port grapes: tinta roriz 34%, touriga nacional 28%, alvarelbo 19%, touriga francesa 19%. Blackish ruby-purple color; spicy oak, spicy black currant, black raspberry and blackberry fruit; did I say spicy yet? Deep and dark, yet placid, smooth, despite grainy tannins and elements of underbrush and earthy graphite; then, a whiff of violets. Manly but not muscle-bound. 400 cases. Very Good+. About $16.
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Lenore Syrah 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington State. (Corvidae Wine Co., by Owen Roe) 14.4% alc. Big, shaggy, juicy; black currants, blueberries and blackberry jam infused with Port; smoke, ash, roasted plums, furry tannins set amid earthy, glittering iron filings-like minerality. A fountain of fortitude. Very Good+. I paid $16, but you see it around the country as low as $12.
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Modern Wine Project Malbec 2007, Columbia Valley, Washington State. (Sleight of Hand Cellars) 14.5% alc. 100% malbec. A Rough Rider of a red wine, robust and rustic, a bit shaggy in the tannin arena, but bursting with dark, smoky and spicy black currant, blueberry and black plum flavors — a little fleshy, a little meaty — framed by polished oak and dusty graphite. Neither bashful nor apologetic. Very Good+. Prices all over the map, but look for $19 to $22.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Anka 2008, Maipo Valley, Chile. (Vina Pargua) 14% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 57%, merlot 16%, cabernet franc 15%, carmemère 7%, syrah 4%, petit verdot 1%. Wildly floral and berryish; black and red currants, mulberries; licorice and lilac; smooth but dense, chewy texture, full-bodied, sleek and sculpted yet vibrant, something untamed here, woolly and roguish. Luaus and late dates. Very Good+. About $20.
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Maquis Carmemère 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Dry, dusty and earthy; blatantly spicy, earthy and mineral-laced; very intense and concentrated; the blackest and bluest of fruit, spiced and macerated, a little roasted and fleshy; lots of stones and bones, bastions of fine-grained tannins. Needs a bowl of chili to unleash its testosterone. Very Good+. About $20.
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Vale do Bofim Reserva 2009, Douro, Portugal. (Symington Family Estates) 13.5% alc. Mainly touriga nacional grapes. Fresh, spicy, another wild, uninhibited wine; penetrating and poignant aromas and flavors of blackberry, black currants and plums with clear tones of blueberry and mulberry, etched with floral elements and leather, vivid acidity and polished tannins; dry, dense, chewy. Excellent. About $23.
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Owen Roe Ex Umbris Syrah 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington State. 14.1% alc. If deep purple had a smell and taste, this would be it. Rich, warm, spicy, enticing bouquet; black currants, black raspberries and blueberries; deeply imbued with leather, underbrush and forest floor; hints of wet dog and damp moss; ripe, fleshy, meaty; dusty granite and a touch of rhubarb and boysenberry. Cries out for barbecue brisket, ribs, osso buco. “Ex Umbris” means “from the shadows.” Excellent. About $24. (I paid $30.)
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Clayhouse Vineyard, owned by Middleton Family Wines, specializes in Rhone-style wines at several grades of production, the Estate level at the top, next the Vineyard level, which adds zinfandel and sauvignon blanc, and, third, the Adobe label, for inexpensive blended red and white wines. The wines offered under the Estate label are produced in very limited quantities, unfortunately, but they are impeccably made and definitely Worth a Search. The two wines under consideration today evoke the plenitude and generosity of the southern Rhone Valley, and they’re versatile wines, suitable for a variety of foods and cuisines. Winemaker is Blake Kuhn.

These were samples for review.
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The Clayhouse Estate Cuvée Blanc 2010, Red Cedar Vineyard, Paso Robles, is a blend of 50 percent grenache blanc grapes and 50 percent viognier, made all in stainless steel. The wine is sleek, spare, elegant, a lovely melange of pear and roasted lemon with a touch of peach, a bit of dried thyme and, after a few minutes in the glass, hints of lemongrass and crystallized ginger; there’s a brisk, slightly astringent floral element in the bouquet, like some shy little white flower that does not give up its perfume easily. The texture is lithe, winsome, crisp, and the finish brings in spicy qualities and a penetrating limestone motif. 13 percent alcohol. Very attractive. Drink through 2013. Production was 142 six-pack cases. Very Good+. About $23. We consumed this wine with a simple dinner of seared wild sockeye salmon, steamed bok choy and grated sweet potatoes sauteed with shallots.
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As might be expected, the Clayhouse Grenache Blanc 2010, Red Cedar Vineyard, Paso Robles, packs a little more heft and displays more presence than its cousin mentioned above. Not that the wine is ponderous or obvious, far from it; it’s still deftly balanced, almost balletic in its lift and appeal, but the grenache blanc grape simply embodies rather more character than viognier, so by itself, and aided by brief aging in stainless steel and neutral oak barrels, it provides more depth and texture. That texture is transparent, supple, almost sinewy, yet poised between moderate lushness and crisp, resonant acidity. This is all spiced and softly poached stone fruit — and an intriguing high bell-tone of red currant — given the rigor of scintillating shale and limestone; there are back-notes of dusty thyme and sage and an earthy aspect that does not keep the wine earthbound. Quite a performance. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Production was 140 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $23. We had this with one of our favorite dishes from November through March, the cod and chorizo stew with leeks and potatoes.
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A white wine and a red wine from California, both reasonably priced, and we’ll begin with white.

The Morgan R & D Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands (in Monterey County), ages two months in stainless steel and two months in neutral — several times used — French oak barrels. The result is a bright, spicy and appealing wine with an entrancing bouquet of roasted lemon and lemon balm, jasmine and camellia and after-thoughts of lavender, quince and candied fennel. Crisp acidity and a penetrating limestone element give the wine a vibrant structure, while a lissome, moderately lush texture encompasses flavors of ripe tangerine, peach and lemon, with just a hint of dried thyme and tarragon and an elusive sheen of slightly spicy wood. The wine is quite dry, with a touch of mineral austerity on the finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink into 2012 with smoked shrimp or mussels, octopus or squid salad or ceviche. Consistently one of the best pinot gris wines made in California. Bottled with a screw-cap for easy opening. Excellent. About $18.
A sample for review.
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The Liberty School label was created in 1975 by Caymus Vineyards to absorb surplus cabernet sauvignon grapes. In 1987, after the brand became popular, the Hope family, which owned vineyards in Paso Robles, began selling cabernet grapes to Caymus. By 1995, production of Liberty School had moved to Paso Robles, and within four years, a Central Coast chardonnay and syrah had been introduced. Liberty School is now a label under the umbrella of Hope Family Wines, which includes Treana, Austin Hope and Candor.

We drank the Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Paso Robles, a few nights ago with a homemade pizza topped with grilled artichoke hearts, Roma tomatoes, bell pepper and spring onions; shards of speck; basil, rosemary and oregano; mozzarella, ricotta and parmesan cheeses. The pizza was great and the wine — robust, spicy and flavorful — was perfect with it. Liberty School Cab 08 isn’t complicated or thought-provoking and heaven forbid that it would be. Instead, you get vivid, fresh black currant, black raspberry and plum aromas and flavors supported by spicy oak — from 12 months aging in French and American barrels, 10 percent new — and clean, tightly-drawn acidity, all of this spread over a bedrock of earthy, graphite-like minerality and a bit of foresty character. Delicious intensity and simple purity. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the rest of the year into 2012 with burgers, carne asada, barbecue ribs and, of course, pizza. Very Good+. About $14, a Great Bargain.
A sample for review.
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Well, first, it wasn’t really a contest. I volunteered to take some appropriate red wines to a birthday lunch for my former father-in-law, Ed Harrison, who just turned 94, and while he may not be as spry as he once was, he’s a gracious, good-humored person and all-around gentleman. The fare was pulled pork shoulder with beans and slaw and sauce, brought in from a local purveyor, and (second) just to remind My Readers who live outside this vicinity, the word “barbecue” in Memphis is a noun, not a verb, and it refers to pork shoulder or ribs slow-cooked over hickory coals with a basting sauce. (Don’t believe the outside propaganda that “Memphis-style” barbecue is “dry”; traditionally it has been “wet,” that is, cooked with a basting sauce and served at table with a different sauce.) We don’t say “let’s barbecue tonight” or “let’s have a barbecue” as people apparently do in the North and West regions of this great, vast country. “Barbecue” is the stuff itself in these parts. Got that? And, yes, in these parts the slaw goes in the sandwich.

I pulled six hearty red wines from the rack to take to lunch, and here’s what they were:

*Clayhouse “Show Pony” Red Cedar Vineyard Petite Sirah 2007, Paso Robles.
*Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2007, South Australia.
*Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2008, Russian River Valley.
*Villa Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007, Tuscany.
*Mettler Epicenter Old Vines Zinfandel 2008, Lodi.
*Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, Mendoza.

These wines were samples for review. BBQ sandwich image from lifesambrosia.com; this is a great site for recipes for simple, authentic everyday food, with excellent art and thoughtful commentary.

Let’s eliminate three of these wines immediately. The Mettler Epicenter Old Vines Zinfandel 2008, at 15.8 percent alcohol, epitomized everything that is shamelessly sweet and over-ripe and cloying and awful about high alcohol zinfandel, and I found it undrinkable. About $20. The Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. made from 90 percent sangiovese grapes with 10 percent mammolo and canaiolo nero, was lean and very dry and austere and not nearly ready to consume; frankly something about the angularity of the wine just didn’t feel right with the rich, smoky, slightly spicy barbecue. Try it in a couple of years, however, with porcini risotto or roasted game birds. About $30. Finally, the Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2007 seemed unbalanced between its own smoky, fleshy spicy character and dry, almost rigorous austerity. Not a success. About $19 to $24.

Nickel & Nickel’s Darien Vineyard Syrah is consistently one of the best syrah wines made in California; I rated the 2007 version Exceptional and made it one of My Best 50 Wines of 2010. I think I would rate the 08 rendition Excellent, rather than Exceptional, but boy this is a deep, dense, darkling plain of a wine, headily fragrant, intense and concentrated in its spicy and macerated blackberry, black currant and plums scents and flavors and developing over 20 to 40 minutes added levels of detail and dimension. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 44 percent new barrels. 1,108 cases. About $50. Actually, this wine was too complex, too multi-dimensioned for the barbecue, which required a wine a little less magnificent, a little more down-to-earth and immediately appealing. Those qualities we found in the Clayhouse “Show Pony” Petite Sirah 2007, Paso Robles, and the Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, Mendoza.

The fresh clean vibrant Clayhouse “Show Pony” Red Cedar Vineyard Petite Sirah 07 is all smoky plums, spicy blueberries and graphite-laced blackberries, ensconced in a smooth, supple structure supported by authoritative, slightly grainy but non-threatening tannins. This went down very nicely with the pork shoulder barbecue, beans and sauce. An expressive version of the petite sirah grape that doesn’t try to knock you down with high alcohol and baroque over-ripeness. This aged 20 months in a combination of French, Eastern European and American oak. Very limited production, unfortunately. Excellent. About $40.

I kept going back and pouring a little more of the Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, a blend of 85 percent malbec, 8 percent syrah and 7 percent cabernet sauvignon derived from Mendoza’s Lujan de Cuyo and Uco Valley areas. The wine was made in a partnership of Chile’s Veramonte winery and Carlos Pulenta, a third-generation vintner in Mendoza. Cruz Andina 08 aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 30 percent new. The whole package is smooth and mellow and tasty, with intense blueberry and red currant flavors supported by elements of smoke and cedar, black olive and potpourri and hints of pepper and spice. This was perfect with the barbecue and fun to drink. Very Good+. About $20.

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