Petit verdot


Here’s another entry in this ongoing series about cabernet sauvignon wines from Napa Valley. Few would deny that this area in California, the Valley itself in general and its sub-appellations, produces some of the finest cabernet-based wines in the world. Few also would deny that sometimes — even frequently — the wines are too alcoholic, too ripe and over-oaked. This roster of nine examples 2013 and 2014 seems to avoid the excesses and exaggerations to which Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon can be subject, treading the lines among structure, fruit, acidity, tannin and mineral character with deftness and dimension. It’s true that most of these wines are large in size and intent and will require two or three years in the cellar (or closet or in the box under your bed) before they become drinkable, but of course that situation depends on what your notion of drinkable is; most of these would be fine tonight with a steak. While revealing differences in detail because of vintage variations, microclimate, vineyard and winery techniques, these nine wines also feel pretty classic in the Napa Valley manner of ripe black fruit scents and flavors; lithe, dusty tannins; and pronounced graphite minerality, all bound by a scintillating chiseled structure. These are expensive wines, intended to age up to 20 years or more and so not the sort of product one buys on a whim. Still, such wines serve as a benchmark for a grape and a region. These wines were samples for review.
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arrow cab 13
Winemaker Jennifer Williams slips 3 percent petit verdot and 1.5 percent merlot into the Arrow & Branch Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, which aged 20 months in French oak, 80 percent new barrels. The color is opaque ruby-magenta, epitomizing the concept of dense radiance; you smell the cassis and cedar from a foot away from the glass, to which the wine adds notes of plums and raspberries, briers, brambles and moss, lavender and licorice, iodine and iron, and an incisive strain of graphite; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of ancho chili and espresso. Dusty, granitic tannins coat the palate, and, friends, that’s about all there is to this wine and its manifestation of a huge structure, an intense texture riven by bold acidity, and a big, bold finish, 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 245 cases. Built for the cellar; try from 2018 or ’19 through 2030 or ’33. Excellent potential. About $100.
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arrow crane
The Arrow & Branch Dr. Crane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, ups the ante a bit in terms of the oak regimen, this resting also 20 months but in 85 percent new barrels. This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon that offers a dense ruby hue shading to a transparent rim; aromas of allspice and sandalwood, roasted fennel and graphite open to notes of black currant and raspberry, blueberry and pomegranate, against a background of smoke and wood-ash. The balance here is between spicy, juicy black fruit flavors and big, dusty, granitic tannins, and as the minutes pass, the wines becomes more austere, yet also imbued with a strain of blueberry tart and bitter chocolate. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 288 cases. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’32. Excellent. About $175 (a bottle).
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cliff lede cab
The color of the Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stags Leap District, is a riveting opaque ruby with a bright magenta rim. The wine is a blend of 80 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent petit verdot, 6 percent malbec and 2 percent each cabernet franc and merlot, utilizing what used to be called the “five classic red grapes of Bordeaux,” though malbec is as rare now in Bordeaux as sauvignon blanc in Burgundy. This is all ripe, spicy plums and cherries coated with iodine and iron and loads of cedar, tobacco and graphite; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of roasted fennel and lavender, roots and branches. It’s a very dry wine but pretty darned plush on the palate, though the opulent texture is balanced by stirring acidity and tannins that grow more rigorous as the wine airs; the finish adds more foresty elements of underbrush and heather, with leather and loam. 14.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2024 to ’28. Excellent. About $78.
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The Flora Springs Trilogy Red Wine 2013, Napa Valley, is a deep, dark brooding Titan of a wine, a blend of 87 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent petit verdot and 6 percent malbec that aged 22 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels. The color is inky-ebony with a rim that allows a peek at ruby-garnet; dusty, granitic tannins coat the palate with a profound mineral character, yet for all its size, I believe that this wine — chiseled, etched and honed — portends sleek elegance in its future. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’33. Excellent. About $80.
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Cabernet_Rutherford_0
The Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Rutherford, Napa Valley, is 100 percent varietal and aged 28 months in French oak, 67 percent new barrels. The dense black-purple hue and the intensity, the concentration of black fruit scents and flavors, and the sweeping dimension of graphite-ribbed dusty tannins mark this as a wine that needs years to develop company manners and an indoor voice. Still, it offers interesting notes of cedar and rosemary, tobacco and cigarette paper, loam and pencil shavings, all structural elements to be sure, but encouraging. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2019 or ’21 through 2030 to ’35. Excellent potential. About $70.
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The Mount Veeder Winery Reserve 2013, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley, is a blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, nine percent merlot, four cabernet franc and 2 malbec, aged 20 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels. The wine is a stalwart expression of size and dimension in a red wine, featuring an opaque black-purple hue and intense aromas of cedar, tobacco and roasted coffee beans, heather and wild mountain herbs and swaths and swales of dusty graphite-infused minerality. It fills the mouth with a tide of deep, grainy, velvety tannins, and frankly, I wouldn’t touch this until 2019 or ’20; it should build an aging curve through 2030 to ’35. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent potential. About $100.
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Here’s a cabernet-based wine that doesn’t try to ingratiate itself, either in its formidable structural elements or even in its 2014_CabernetSauvignon-labelpotential pleasures. The Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, is a blend of 84 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent merlot, 4 petit verdot and 2 each malbec and cabernet franc; it aged 18 months in 45 percent new French and American oak barrels and 55 percent two-year-old French and American oak. From its opaque ruby-purple hue to its intense and concentrated scents and flavors of spicy, macerated black currants, cherries and plums to its profoundly tannic-graphite character, this is one for the cellar, at least for a couple of years. Nuance develops with time in the glass, bringing up notes of lavender and mocha, potpourri, cedar and dried rosemary (with that herb’s innate touch of resinous austerity), as well as intriguing hints of wild berries and fruit cake. Mainly, though, this wine is all about the architecture of possibility; try from 2019 or ’20 through 2029 to ’32. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $75.
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Brothers Stuart and Charles Smith don’t fool around. Their Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Spring Mountain District, made from smlabel_lr_cab_1341-year-old dry-farmed vines 1,800 to 2,000 feet atop Spring Mountain, is built to last. The wine is a blend of 82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent merlot that aged 18 months in French oak, 75 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a magenta rim; you feel the steep mountain pedigree in the wine’s elements of graphite, iodine and iron, walnut shell and dry, austere herbs and heather; black cherries and currants are plumped with cloves, black pepper and mint, while the wine layers briery, underbrush and slightly raspy, leafy notes through the dry, granitic finish. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2018 or ’20 through 2030 to ’35. Excellent. About $50, a bargain considering the present roster.
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Grapes for the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Artemis” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley, derive partly from the winery’s estate vineyards stags leapand partly from other vineyards in the valley. The wine is 98 percent cabernet sauvignon, with a scant 1 percent each merlot and malbec; aging was 19 months, 33 percent new French oak, 10 percent new American. It’s a dense, vibrant and resonant cabernet that needs a few years to allow its more approachable personality to emerge. For now, the color is opaque ruby with a glowing purple rim; its character centers around elements of briers and brambles, cedar and tobacco, leather and loam, that gradually allow hints of ripe but intense and concentrated black currants and cherries to appear, along with notes of iodine, iron and mint. Dusty, slightly gritty tannins are prelude to a sleek, lithe finish that feels chiseled from quartz and granite. 14.5 percent alcohol. I predict a great future for this wine, say from 2019 or ’20 through 2030 to ’34. Excellent. About $60.
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Nothing against cabernet, merlot and pinot noir; fine wines are often made from these grapes — if they’re not allowed to get over-ripe or high in alcohol or battened and battered by oak — but they’re so ubiquitous. Let’s give some other red grapes a chance, OK? Here then is a selection of that includes mourvèdre, tempranillo, petite sirah, petit verdot, nebbiolo, syrah and aglianico. Several of the wines featured today come in quite reasonably for price, that is, about $15 or $16, while a couple of others ramp up the scale to $65. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice. As usual, these Weekend Wine Notes eschew the minutiae of technical, historical and geographical matters for the sake of incisive reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palate; you can wet your palate later. Enjoy, in moderation, of course.

These wines were samples for review.
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telegram
Bonny Doon Old Telegram 2014, Contra Costa County. 13.9% alc. 100% mourvèdre. Production was 277 cases. Dark ruby hue with a glowing magenta rim; deep, dark, spicy and meaty, a brooding concoction of tobacco leaf, wood smoke, fruit cake and plum pudding, very ripe black currants, blueberries and blackberries; very dry, displaying tar-and-lavender tinged black fruit flavors bolstered by flaring acidity, plush, dusty tannins and a seam of granitic minerality; still, with the grace not to be ponderous or blatant. Now through 2022 to ’24 with full-flavored, big-hearty roasts and grills. Excellent. About $45.
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bujanda
Viña Bujanda Crianza 2013, Rioja, Spain. 13% alc. 100% tempranillo grapes. Very dark black-ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; ripe and rich, bursting with blackberries, black currants and a touch of juicy plum; cloves, lavender and graphite; dusty heather, smoke and violets; very dry, with smacky acidity and tannins. Heaps of personality and flavorful appeal. Now through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $16.
Winebow, Inc., New York.
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Cadaretta Syrah 2013, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.5% alc. 82% syrah, 11% mourvèdre, 5% grenache, 2% viognier (the blend listed on the cad syrahwinery website is slightly different). 500 cases. Stygian inky purple-violet color; loam, briers and brambles; black currants, cherries and plums; an infusion of mint and iodine, smoke and roasted meat, lavender and licorice; very dry, seethes with velvety tannins, graphite and charcoal, all propelled by a tide of glittering acidity. Quite a performance, without being flamboyant. Now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $35.
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Frank Family Petite Sirah 2013, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 100% petite sirah. Inky purple with a nuclear violet rim; a big, juicy petite sirah that manages not to be overwhelming, made in a sensible fashion that showcases the grape; blackberries and black plums with a flush of blueberry and — deep down — a touch of pomegranate; a structure characterized by iodine and iron, graphite and dusty, velvety tannins; woodsy elements, forest floor, dried mushrooms emerge after a few minutes in the glass, leading to a finish that’s strict and a touch austere. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $35.
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Marchesi di Gresy Martinenga Barbaresco 2012, Piedmont, Italy. 14% alc. 100% nebbiolo. Limpid, medium bright ruby, like a glass of wine in a Dutch still-life painting; wild berries, woodsy herbs and flowers, a touch of sour cherry, a lash of red currants and blueberries; briers and brambles and foresty elements ensconced in a welter of tar, briers and brambles, violets and rose petals; dusty, supple tannins build in the glass, along with pine and balsam notes, hints of cloves and allspice; all leading to a finish of noble dimensions in its elegance and high-toned austerity. A beautiful expression of the nebbiolo grape. Best from 2018 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $50.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Petite Sirah 2012, Calistoga, Napa Valley. 15.4% alc. 589 cases. 100% petite sirah. Inky black-purple with an intense violet rim; this is like liquid ore from the darkest vein, with dusty plums, iodine, smoked black tea and a profound graphite-granitic mineral character; dense, velvety and succulent on the palate, very ripe black fruit but not sweet or cloying; very dry, with sleek tannins and lithe acidity; you feel an infusion of oak and alcohol on the finish, but the wine is surprisingly well-balanced. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $65.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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2013-PVMS-750ml-Front_WITH-ALC-1Grgich Hills Miljenko’s Selection Yountville Petit Verdot 2013, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. With 11% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby with a glowing purple rim; very intense and concentrated, with a tight focus on black currants, raspberries and blueberries permeated by lavender, black licorice and mocha; leather and loam, heaps of dusty, gravelly, graphite-infused tannins powered by lips-smacking acidity. Needs a couple of years to come together. Very Good+. About $65.
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mastro
Mastro Aglianico 2014, Campania, Italy. 12.5% alc. 100% aglianico grapes. From Mastroberardino. A radiant medium ruby color; a tarry, ferrous and sanguinary red, with deeply spicy and macerated black cherries and currants, notes of iron and violets, leather and loam; long, dusty, sinewy tannins and vibrant acidity; a finish packed with spice, black fruit and minerals. Now through 2018 with barbecue ribs, grilled pork chops with a Southwestern rub, carnitas with intense mole, your best chili. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Winebow, Inc. New York. The 2015, now available, has a totally different label.
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2013-Petite-Sirah
Peachy Canyon Petite Sirah 2014, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. With 5% syrah. 488 cases. Opaque black-ruby with a purple rim; spiced, macerated and roasted plums and black currants with an intriguing resinous, balsamic edge; smoked meat, oolong tea, cloves and sandalwood; a very dry wine but juicy with ripe and spicy black and blue fruit flavors; shaggy tannins buoyed by brisk acidity; some roots-and-branches austerity in a finish drenched with fruit and granitic minerality. A beautifully balanced petite sirah that reflects the essential rustic nature of the grape. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $32.
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tasca
Tasca Regaleali Nero d’Avola 2014, Sicilia. 14% alc. 100% nero d’Avola grapes. Intense dark ruby shading to lighter ruby hue; uncomplicated but delicious, with black and red raspberries and currants, loam and graphite, dry, well-integrated tannins and lively acidity; it’s vibrant, spicy and appealing, so bring on a platter of spaghetti and meatballs or veal Parmesan. Very Good+. About $15.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection, Winebow, Inc., New York.
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One sniff of the Michael David Petite Petit 2014 tells you that it could only have been made in California. Well, O.K., perhaps in South Australia. Anyway, it’s a wine that brims with the sort PetitePetitFrontof full-bore, pedal to the metal, motorcycle boots in hot tar, dark, feral plummy-jamminess that you could even narrow the scope down from generally California to specifically Lodi. Right now, My Readers are thinking, “Whoa, F.K., this is exactly the sort of wine that you deplore!” It’s true, mes amis, that I prefer wines that balance elegance and power, that reveal themselves through hints, nods and nuances, but when you’re sitting down to a trencher of chili or a platter of barbecue ribs, you can toss subtlety out the window. It’s a clever concept, though I don’t know if the name or the concept came first. A unique blend of 85 percent petite sirah and 15 percent petit verdot, the Michael David Petite Petit 2014 offers an opaque yet radiant ebony hue shading to thermonuclear purple at the rim; aromas of supernaturally-ripe blackberries and blueberries unfurl an intense core of lavender and violets, leather and loam, all bolstered by a tremendous dusty graphite element, and all factors replicated on the palate, where the wine is, not surprisingly, defined by dense, dusty, chewy tannins, incisive acidity and slash ‘n’ burn granitic minerality. For all that, the wine is lively, engaging and — paradoxically — rather light-hearted. It is certainly drenched in juicy, spicy black and blue fruit flavors. Also unexpectedly, the alcohol content is only 14.5 percent, I say “only” as compared to the 15 percent and higher commonly seen in red wines from Lodi. Drink now through 2018, maybe ’19, though freshness and immediacy are essential to this wine’s enjoyment. Excellent. About $18.

A sample for review.

Named for — let’s not toss this word around too loosely — legendary winemaker Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, long-time director of Grgich mikeHills Estate, in Napa Valley’s Rutherford district, the Miljenko’s Selection labels indicate a level of quality and limited quantity fully worthy of the man and his heritage. While the 92-year-old veteran of 50 or more harvests turned over winemaking duties to his nephew Ivo Jeramaz years ago, the wines from the estate, all organically produced, bear Mike Grgich’s influential and benign thumbprint, and he personally selected the vineyards from which they derive. These wines ferment by indigenous yeast; the oak regimen is carefully tempered to the grapes in question and to the outcome at the end of aging. The goal is a fine balance between elegance and power, and rarely is that goal not accomplished. These are, admittedly, wines for collectors and enthusiasts, and they are available to the winery’s club patrons and at the tasting room. If any happen to come your way, don’t hesitate, if you can manage, to acquire a bottle or two or even twist someone’s arm to give you a taste. Such wines raise beacons of purity and intensity for others to follow.

Samples for review.
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The color of the Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection “Essence” Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, is very pale straw-gold; FINAL 2013 ESS LABELbbeguiling aromas of lemongrass and lime peel, quince and ginger are animated by an undertow of graphite and limestone. These elements segue seamlessly to the palate, where the wine’s dense, talc-like texture is riven by keen acidity and that shimmering stony minerality, lending a sense of both delicacy and durability. A few moments in the glass bring in notes of heather, fig and jasmine. 14.1 percent alcohol. A sauvignon blanc of piercing purity and intensity, beautiful in every aspect. The wine spent nine months in large French oak casts. Production was 1,204 cases. Now through 2019 to 2022. Exceptional. About $55.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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Hailing from Carneros, Napa Valley, the Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Chardonnay 2013 delivers loads of bright, bold 2012 CHCN, MSrichness handled with infinitely deft balance and nuance. The color is pale straw-gold; the bouquet blossoms in layers of classic pineapple-grapefruit scents infused with quince jam, hints of peach and spiced pear and notes of crushed gravel and damp flint. In the mouth, the wine is characterized by lovely expressiveness and vibrancy, a true marriage of power and elegance; citrus and stone-fruit flavors are lightly touched by cloves and allspice and bear a light cloak of slightly burnished oak, all encompassed by resonant limestone minerality. 14.1 percent alcohol. The wine spent 11 months in 900-gallon French oak casks. Production was 1,265 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2023. Excellent. About $60.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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I haven’t seen a petite sirah wine that measured under 14 percent alcohol in years, and not many under 15 percent, but the Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Petite Sirah 2011, Napa Valley, performs very nicely at 13.9 percent, thank you very much. It’s a rollicking ripe and spicy wine, whose dark ruby-purple color presages aromas of deeply scented, dusty and macerated black cherries and blue plums opening to notes of lavender, black pepper and graphite; a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of blueberry, mulberry and violets. The impression on the palate is of wonderful freshness, brightness and appeal of red and black fruit, but give the wine an hour or so and bulwarks of stalwart chiseled tannins begin to assert themselves. The wine spent a whopping 32 months in wood, half large oak casks, half small neutral barriques. Production was 503 cases. We drank this with a medium-rare strip steak, crusted with my secret multi-pepper mixture. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $65.
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The Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Petit Verdot 2012, Yountville, with 10 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, is a deep, geological wine that seems to draw strength and power from the strata of the earth and recesses of glittering granite. The color is inky ruby-purple, and the chief quality of the wine is — not to be repetitious — a piercing minerality entangled with tannins that crowd the palate like dusty antique velvet. Fruit makes an appearance in the guise of black currents and cherries with notes of wild blueberries and cranberries, but this is primarily a wine that will center on structure for years to come. The wine aged 21 months in French oak casks. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2022 to ’25. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 493 cases. Excellent potential. About $65.
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Devotees of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon wines — particularly from the west-central area of the region — who possess the necessary fiduciary prowess will want to snap up a case of the 100 percent varietal Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Rutherford. This is the real stuff, from a great vintage. The color is opaque ruby-purple with a tinge of magenta at the rim; at first, the wine emits scents of mint and eucalyptus, cedar and thyme, gradually unveiling notes of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black and red currants and cherries, backed by graphite, lavender and bitter chocolate, all melded with purposeful integration. It’s a dry, vigorous wine, ruled by laser-beam minerality, ferocious acidity and burnished and polished tannins; despite this profound nature, the wine is not ponderous or obvious, rather it carries its scintillating lithic character with grace and dignity. One feels, after a few minutes airing, the famous or elusive Rutherford dusty, loamy influence, adding touches of espresso and ancho chili. 14.5 percent alcohol. The wine spent 18 months in French oak barrels, 80 percent new. Production was 485 cases. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2028 to ’30. Exceptional. About $90.
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No holds are barred in California, unlike in the Old World, where government agencies determine where grapes can be grown and what grapes go into certain wines. Many wines, of course, are famous for their combinations of grapes, like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which may contain any ratio of up to 13 grapes, red and white, or Bordeaux, where winemakers fashion cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc (primarily) into some of the world’s most elegant, powerful and best-known red wines. No such customs or regulations abide in the Golden State, and today we look at five wines that offer some unusual blends of grapes, some more successfully than others. The trick is to create a blend that delivers distinctive, if not original, qualities rather than something than comes out smelling and tasting like a generic “red wine.” These wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Bonny Doon Vineyards A Proper Claret 2013, California. 13.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 46%, merlot 17%, tannat 15%, petit verdot 13%, syrah 8%, petite sirah 1%, the point being that this is a very improper claret — Bordeaux red wine — indeed. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; solid, tannic, fills the mouth with briers, brambles and underbrush but builds layers of cloves and allspice, cedar, ancho chili, then undertones of dusty black currants, raspberries and plums; no molly-coddle here, intense and concentrated, lip-smacking acidity; dense, chewy; needs a medium rare strip steak or a great joint of venison. Now through 2018 to 2020. Loads of personality. Very Good+. About $16, a Real Bargain.
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Casey Flat Ranch Estate Red Wine 2012, Capay Valley, Yolo County. 14.8% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 56%, syrah 30%, cabernet franc 13% viognier 1%. Dense ruby-purple; cassis, black cherries and raspberries; hints of menthol, violets, hedge and heather, then graphite and underbrush, leather and mocha; bushy and brushy but succulent, balanced, integrated; a touch of the iodine-and-iron complex (sounds like a vitamin) under delicious black fruit flavors with a note of blue; wild berry notes, licorice and lavender lend some elevation to a wine of true class, distinction and character. Now through 2020 to ’22 with steaks and braised meats. Excellent. About $45.
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Gnarly Head Limited Release Authentic Black 2012, Lodi. (Delicato Family Vineyards) 14.5% alc. Petite sirah-based blend. A limited edition wine for Fall. The problem with the Gnarly Head wines is that they’re not gnarly enough. One of the purplest and most opaque wines I have ever seen; very ripe, spicy, grapy, gamy; plummy and jammy with sweetish blackberry, blueberry and currant scents and flavors, plush and velvety, “soft in the middle,” as Paul Simon says; quite juicy, smoky, a little loamy; comes across as unfocused and inauthentic. Good+. About $12.
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Juxtapoz Red Wine Blend 2012, North Coast. (Delicato Family Vineyards) 15% alc. Syrah 55%, zinfandel 23%, petite sirah 9%, malbec 6%, cabernet sauvignon 4%, “other reds” 3%. Dark ruby with an opaque center; first impression is of woody spices and walnut shell, then ripe black currants, cherries and plums, hints of plum skin, cedar and black olive; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of slightly caramelized fennel; scrunchy tannins and bright acidity make a fairly robust wine; you feel the alcoholic heat a bit on the finish; takes an hour or so for this to come together, and it finally convinced me that it worked. Cheesy label, though. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $25.
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Renwood Clarion Red Wine 2012, Amador County. 15% alc. 25% each zinfandel, petite sirah, syrah and marsanne; that’s right, one-quarter of this wine is from white grapes. Dark ruby purple color; a deep spicy wine, bursting with notes of blackberries, black currants and blueberries permeated by violets, lavender, potpourri and graphite; sleek, supple and integrated and manages not to be overwhelmed by the alcohol content; picks up hints of cloves, walnut shell, briers and brambles through a wildly fruity but earthy, mineral-packed finish. Tasty and intriguing. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $20.
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Swiss entrepreneur Hans Nef founded Vina Robles in 1996, in northern San Luis Obispo County. Today’s Wine of the Week is the Vina Robles Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles. The blend is 76 percent cabernet sauvignon and 24 percent petit verdot, all grapes derived from three estate vineyards; the wine spent 18 months in French oak barrels. Winemaker for Vina Robles is Kevin Willenborg. The color is dark ruby with a magenta tinge; the bouquet is ripe and fleshy, abundant with aromas of spiced and macerated red and black currants and plums touched with lavender and potpourri, walnut-shell and briers, amid a background of iodine and iron. Lots of grip here, a real mouthful of dusty velvety tannins bolstered by graphite minerality and vibrant acidity, yet ripe black fruit flavors are packed with cloves and allspice, notes of roasted fennel and black olives wrapped around a core of bitter chocolate and mocha. The texture is sleek, lithe and supple. Altogether, a cabernet of lovely complexity and nuance for drinking with steaks and grilled leg of lamb, now through 2018 to 2020. And look at the alcohol content, a sensible and flattering 13.3 percent. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review, as I am required to inform you by the FTC.

I was privileged to be the only writer at an all-day tasting of the wines of Renaissance Vineyard and Winery last month, along with Darrell Corti, the esteemed retailer in Sacramento whose knowledge of the state’s wine industry and memory for wines and vintages is phenomenal; winemakers and owners of other properties in Sierra Foothills; and personnel from RVW. The occasion was a comprehensive look at the library wines in the cellar. When Oklahoma oilman Greg Holman became president of RVW in 2011 (he was already president of its parent entity, the Fellowship of Friends), he found back rooms in the winery that held bottles going back to the 1980s, ranging in size from half-bottles to double and triple magnums, not only of the cabernet sauvignon-based wines for which Renaissance is known but Rhone-style wines and dessert wines made from riesling, semillon and sauvignon blanc. The day of the tasting, Holman walked me through these storage areas; it was astonishing to see boxes and boxes of well-aged wines still on hand, but as Holman said, it was never RVW’s business plan to make a profit, if such a practice can be called a plan.

The question for the winery is what to do with this trove. The purpose of the tasting was to determine the quality of the wines and to have a discussion about their fate. (More about that later.)

Renaissance became noted, under the tutelage of Gideon Beinstock, winemaker there since 1994, for its hands-off approach that produced wines of admirable spareness and elegance, low alcohol, an almost fanatic resistance to new oak and an unheard of delay in releasing wines, as in sometimes 10 or 12 years after harvest. The winery and vineyard occupy a large estate on land purchased by the Fellowship of Friends in 1971; the group is controversial in its beliefs or at least its former leadership and founder Robert Earl Burton, and as a business entity (separate from but owned by the Fellowship) Renaissance has had to shake off the perception that the Fellowship is a cult.

The inspiration for creating a vineyard came from German-born Karl Werner, the founding winemaker at Callaway Vineyards, way south in Temecula. Under his guidance, members of the Fellowship chiseled terraces from the steep slopes at altitudes of 1700 to 2300 feet and drilled 150,000 holes to plant vines. The first harvest, in 1979, took 20 minutes and produced one barrel of cabernet sauvignon. Werner died in 1988, and his wife, Diana, took over winemaking duties. When Beinstock became winemaker early in ’94, he turned the winery away from its former goals of deep extraction and heavy, densely tannic wines to minimal manipulation, gentle extraction, no yeast inoculation and, gradually, to organic methods in the vineyards. Due to Beinstock’s efforts, Renaissance has produced a series of remarkable, authentic and largely age-worthy wines (in minute quantities) that are like nothing else in a California besotted by super-ripeness, toasty new oak and sweet alcohol.

Beinstock left the winery in May 2011 to concentrate on his own project, Clos Saron. Present winemaker is RVW’s former vineyard manager Edward Schulter, also a principal in the Grant Eddie winery. I will have more to say about Clos Saron and Grant Eddie in subsequent posts.
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The Estate Cabernets:

>2012. 85% cabernet sauvignon, with merlot, petit verdot, cabernet franc the remainder. Deep purple, very young, spicy, vigorous; steeply tannic, packed with graphite and dusty oak, bright acidity. Needs four to six years.

>2005. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 19% merlot, 3% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot, 1% syrah. Dark ruby; ripe but tightly wound, very spicy, cloves and caraway; bastions of tannin and oak. Needs five to seven years.

>2002, the current release. 87% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot, 2% petit verdot, 1% syrah. Dark ruby color; still young, highly structured, with leathery tannins and mineral-laced oak, but encouraging notes of plum and cherry compote. Give it three or four more years.

>1999. (Blend not available.) Dark ruby-garnet; a touch musty and vegetal? A second bottle was fresher and cleaner; while dense, chewy and tannic, it felt like the embodiment of vineyard, geography and fruit, earthy, scintillating, almost elegant, but not exactly drinkable yet. Three or four years.

>1994. Gideon Beinstock’s first cabernet as winemaker. (Blend not available.) Dark ruby-garnet hue; still tannic, solid, tight and well-knit; muscle and sinew, lithe and deeply spicy, glittering minerality, vibrant and resonant. Needs three to five years aging. Terrific potential.

>1993. 90 percent cabenrnet sauvignon, 9% merlot, 1% cabernet franc. Dark ruby-garnet color; woody spice, as cloves and sandalwood; dusty graphite; spiced and macerated currants and plums; a little leafy, notes of cedar and dried rosemary, a little resiny; oolong tea and leather; still tannic. A favorite of this flight. Now through 2020 to 2025.

>1991. (Blend not available.) The first of this group that feels immediately drinkable; soft, mellow, tannin and acid for backbone and flesh; notes of bell pepper and ancho chile; black and red fruit both ripe and dried; elements of dried spice and flowers; black tea and orange zest. Almost lovely. Now through 2018 to 2022.

The next series, 1986, ’84 and ’83, were made by Karl Werner and are 100 percent cabernet sauvignon.

>Reserve 1986. Dark ruby-garnet color; remarkably youthful, vigorous and lively; but very dry, austere, deeply rooty, the essence of wood, iron, iodine and earth. Drink through 2020 to 2026.

>1984 Reserve. This was released before the ’83. Dark ruby-garnet hue; quite dry, lively, dense and chewy but with beautifully shaped structure and fruit and possessing a sense of completeness and confidence. Now through 2020 to 2024. Another favorite; my second encounter with this wine.

>1983. Coming around now; still very dry, dense, tannic and austere but with flavors of stewed fruit compote, notes of resin and almond skin, briers and leather, allspice and dried rosemary. Now through 2018 or ’19 through 2023.
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Premier Cuvee, Vin de Terroir, Claret Prestige with some Estate for Comparison:

>Claret Prestige 2012. 40% petit verdot, 27% cabernet sauvignon, 31% cabernet franc, 2% merlot. Very dark ruby-purple; drenched with currant-cherry-plum fruit and baking spices; graphite and lead pencil, cedar and thyme; spiced and macerated; plenty of vibrant acidity and dusty tannins. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2027 or ’30.

>Claret Prestige 2002. 41% merlot, 40% cabernet sauvignon, 11% syrah, 7% petit verdot, 1% sauvignon blanc (yes). Leaping back a decade, here’s a Claret Prestige that offers lovely, almost ineffable spicy black and red fruit scents and flavors but a huge, dense dusty structure and scorching tannins. Don’t touch until 2018 or ’20 and then give it another 10 years.

>Premier Cuvee 1997. 79% cabernet sauvignon 13% merlot 6% cabernet franc. Dark ruby color; rich, warm and spicy, notes of black cherry, fruit cake, graphite, dried thyme and black olive; still quite tannic with lots of woody spice, yet oddly attractive and drinkable. Best, though, from 2017 or ’20 through 2027 to 2030.

>Vin de Terroir 1997. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Opaque ruby-purple hue; very dark, dense, dusty, chewy, minerally, oaky, tannic and needs another decade (or at least five years) to soften its grip.

>Claret Prestige 1997. (Poured from a magnum.) 43% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 12% cabernet franc, 6% syrah, 6% sangiovese (yes), 3% malbec. Very backward, very dry and tannic, but paradoxically, after 15 or 20 minutes, it opens quite nicely, relaxes a bit, unfurls hints of fruit, spice, even a floral note. 2017 through 2025 to ’30.

>Estate 1997. 91% cabernet sauvignon, 7% merlot, 2% cabernet franc. Opaque ruby-purple with a garnet rim; reticent, almost truculent, spicy but tight, dry, austere; leafy and autumnal. Might as well wait until 2017.

>Premier Cuvee 1995. 76% cabernet sauvignon, 24% merlot. (Poured from a double magnum.) 76% cabernet sauvignon, 24% merlot. Opaque ruby-purple with a garnet rim; cedar, cigar and tobacco, dried rosemary and pine resin, graphite, leather and briers; bouquet unfolds seductively but this is a big, tannic austere wine, nonetheless with great potential. Try 2017 or ’20 through 2028 to ’30.

>Vin de Terroir 1995. 100% cabernet sauvignon. (Poured from a double magnum.) Don’t touch this until 2020.

>Claret Prestige 1995. 53% cabernet sauvignon, 37% merlot, 10 cabernet franc. Don’t touch until 2018 to ’20 or even 2025.

>Estate 1995. 86% cabernet sauvignon, 14% merlot. Very solid, dark, dense; dusty, tannic; graphite and granitic minerality, leather, briers, yet finally rich, warm and spicy, close to seductive and with sleek, elegant structure. Try 2020 through 2030.
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Randall Grahm, irrepressible owner and winemaker of Bonny Doon Vineyards, will have his way with us, won’t he? Take his new wine, A Proper Claret 2012, bearing a California designation. Now Grahm hasn’t made a cabernet sauvignon-based wine since 1985; he’s a perennial critic of the full-blown, over-ripe, high alcohol fashion that prevails in many of the Golden State’s wineries. In a sense, then, A Proper Claret 2012 functions as a rebuke to the high-flown cabernet style. (“Claret” is the historic term in the British Isles for the red wines of Bordeaux.) What would a proper claret be? From Bordeaux’s Right Bank communes — think of Pomerol and St.-Emilion — it would be a blend of merlot and cabernet franc, with perhaps a dollop of cabernet sauvignon; from the Left Bank — Margaux, Pauillac, St.-Julien, St.-Estephe — it would be predominantly cabernet sauvignon and merlot with perhaps varying degrees of cabernet franc and petit verdot. What, then, Readers, is the blend of A Proper Claret 2012? First, we have 62 percent cabernet sauvignon, to which is added 22 percent petit verdot. What next? A quite improper 8 percent tannat, 7 percent syrah and 1 percent petite sirah. Every proper claret-loving English person is not amused. Grahm, however, is chuckling behind the scenes, well aware that the visual joke on the label gives the game away. The proper English gentleman depicted there, relaxing in his library, glass of wine and decanter at hand, wears, under his dressing gown, red fishnet stockings supported by a garter belt. The joke is on us.

There’s nothing joky about the wine, though. A Proper Claret 2012 sports a radiant dark ruby-purple color with a violet rim; the bouquet is a melange of black cherries, raspberries and plums permeated by notes of briers, brambles and cedar, wood smoke, lavender and licorice, iron and iodine and a trace of blueberry tart. Plenty of ripe but not sweet black fruit flavors hang on a fairly rigorous yet approachable structure of soft but dense and slightly dusty tannins, dusty graphite minerality and vibrant acidity, all seamlessly arrayed in fine balance. The wine is quite drinkable, even lovely, though it has a serious aspect too. The alcohol content is an eminently manageable 13.2 percent. Now through 2015. We happily drank this wine with Saturday night’s pizza and guessed at a price at least $10 more than it actually costs. Excellent. About $16, a Great Bargain.

This wine was a sample for review, as I am required to inform you by dictate of the Federal Trade Commission.