Pinot noir


For today’s entry in this series devoted to chardonnay and pinot noir wines made by the same producer, we shift from California to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where Cornerstone Cellars established an outpost in 2010. The Napa Valley-based winery has come a long way since 1991 when two doctors from Memphis bought some surplus Howell Mountain cabernet sauvignon grapes from Randy Dunn and started their own label. Great reviews poured in for Cornerstone’s cabernets, and continue to do so, issued under Napa Valley and Howell Mountain designations. The producer has a second label, Stepping Stone, while a recent addition to the roster is an even less expensive line, the punningly labeled Rocks. Cornerstone has expanded in several directions under the leadership of managing partner Craig Camp, and one of the directions is a collaboration with Oregon star-winemaker Tony Rynders (10 years at Domaine Serene, consultant to a flock of small wineries) to produce Willamette Valley chardonnays and pinot noirs for the Cornerstone and Stepping Stone labels. Under review in this post are the Cornerstone Chardonnay 2012 and Pinot Noir 2011. These wines were samples for review.
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I will confess that when I read that the Cornerstone Cellars Chardonnay 2012, Willamette Valley, was 100 percent barrel-fermented and went through 100 percent malolactic and spent 15 months in French oak barrels (28 percent new), I felt considerable dismay. “This chardonnay,” I thought, “is going to be one creamy, stridently spicy oak-bomb.” I am also happy to admit, however, that I was wrong. It’s certainly a powerful expression of the grape, but one composed more of wreathed hints, nods and nuances than oratorical orisons and flamboyant gestures. The grapes for the wine derive from vineyards in two of Willamette Valley’s sub-appellations, Chehalem Mountain and Yamhill-Carlton. The color is pale gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are highlighted by notes of ginger and quince that feel crystalline in their clarity and verve; a few moments in the glass bring up hints of lemon balm and limestone. Oak provides shadings of spice and wood in flavors that delicately shift from citrus to stone-fruit, while brisk acidity lends liveliness to the limestone and flint elements that grow more profound with every sip. The finish is clean, dense, earthy and, somehow, exhilarating. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Production was 300 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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The Cornerstone Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, is a broad cross-appellation wine that draws on five of Willamette’s six sub AVAs: Yamhill-Carlton (29 percent), Eola Amity (29 percent), Dundee Hills (25 percent), Chehalem Mountain (11 percent) and Ribbon Ridge (six percent), omitting only the McMinnville AVA. The wine spent 14 months in French oak barrels, percentage of new oak not specified. The color is medium ruby with a transparent rim; fairly pert aromas of cranberry, red cherry and rhubarb offer hints of cloves and cinnamon, lavender and menthol and that slightly iodine-and-beet-root-tinged loamy earthiness that I associate with Willamette Valley; a little time in the glass brings in notes of dusty plums and new leather. In the mouth, this pinot noir is super-satiny and sensual but riven by an edge of acidity that cuts a swath on the palate and packed with burgeoning qualities of moss, forest floor and graphite. Though the wine is now three years old, I would wait six months to a year before drinking and then consume through 2018 to 2021. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,500 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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The brand-spanking-new FEL Wines is a project of Cliff Lede — pronounced “lay-dee” — owner of the Cliff Lede winery in Napa Valley. This Anderson Valley facility, named for the proprietor’s mother, Florence Elsie Lede, is devoted to chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir. Under review today, in this series dedicated to wineries that produce chardonnay and pinot noir, are the FEL Chardonnay 2013 and Pinot Noir 2012; winemaker Ryan Hodgins also produces each variety in a single vineyard version. Both of these wines are clean, ripe and forward — classic California, you might say — but well-balanced and endowed with multiple nuances of earth and minerality appropriate to the grape. Nothing shy here, though the final analysis tends toward elegance (especially for the pinot) as well as dynamism.

These wines were samples for review.
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The FEL Wines Chardonnay 2013, Anderson Valley, spent nine months in neutral French oak barrels and underwent what is described as “very limited” malolactic fermentation, both of which sound perfect to me; keep the oak and malo to a minimum, I say. The color is radiant medium gold; a very pure and intense bouquet of pungent pineapple and grapefruit is infused with cloves and lime peel, hints of jasmine and limestone and a back-tone of slightly woody spice. The wine is ripe, bright and lush, quite dry with its burgeoning elements of chalk, flint and limestone and scintillating acidity; notes of smoke and toffee add intrigue to the citrus and stone-fruit flavors that lean toward tangerine and peach, while a structure that’s dense, chewy and almost tannic segues into a spice-and-mineral-packed finish. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,201 cases. Quite a performance. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $28.
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The FEL Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, aged 14 months in French oak, 44 percent new barrels, offers a lovely, limpid ruby-magenta hue and beguiling aromas of cranberries and red and black cherries and currants that open to notes of menthol and violets, leather, briers and brambles with hints of graphite and loam; after a few minutes in the glass, the wine emits touches of pomegranate, sassafras and cloves. Reader, you could eat it with a spoon. The supple texture is satin lifted to the supernal mode, though this pinot noir also delivers a slight mineral rasp and after an hour or so builds incrementally layers of soft-grained oak and finely-milled tannins. Bright acidity provides liveliness and propulsive energy through a wine that, however gorgeous its spiced and macerated black and red fruit flavors, feels like an entity of earth, moss, terrain, geology. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 2,923 cases. A true marriage of power and elegance. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $38.
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The pinot noirs of Kosta Browne Winery regularly earn the highest ratings from reviewers for the big publications, an occurrence that brings a great deal of attention to these highly allocated wines. In fact, the winery’s waiting list comes with a two- to three-year wait for the “Appellation” wines and — I’m not kidding — a five- to six-year wait for the Single Vineyard wines, of which there may be up to 10 separate bottlings depending on the vintage. The idea for the winery was born in 1997 when Dan Kosta and Michael Browne, then working at a restaurant in Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, decided to venture into winemaking. They began with a half-ton of pinot noir grapes, a used barrel and a surplus stemmer-crusher. In 2001, Kosta and Browne brought in Chris Costello, from a family involved in commercial real estate and development, as the business end of the enterprise; through the Costello family, the partnership gained contacts, contracts and management acumen. Browne is executive winemaker, with assistant winemakers Jeremiah Timm and Nico Cueva. Kosta Browne draws on vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast AVAs in Sonoma County and Santa Lucia Highlands AVA in Monterey County. There is no tasting room, and the winery in Sebastopol is closed to the public.

Under consideration today are two of Kosta Browne’s Appellation wines, the One Sixteen Chardonnay 2012 and the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012, in this series dedicated to the examination of chardonnay and pinot noir wines from the same producer. These wines were samples for review.
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The Kosta Browne One Sixteen Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, is a blend of grapes derived from seven vineyards that total 12 different chardonnay clones, the notion being a sort of ideal balance of all the attributes those clones contribute to the wine. It’s named for the Gravenstein Hwy. 116 that cuts through the town of Sebastopol in the Russian River Valley sub-appellation of Green Valley. This AVA is the coolest and foggiest vineyard area of Russian River Valley, situated in the southwest corner where the Pacific Ocean influence is readily apparent. When I tell My Readers that this chardonnay went through barrel-fermentation and aged 15 months in oak, they will respond, “Uh-oh, FK is not going to like this chardonnay.” I’ll admit, though, that I was surprised at how much I liked this wine, and while I don’t normally find words of praise for what I think of as the Bold California Style of Chardonnay, this example was little short of thrilling.

Kosta Browne One Sixteen Chardonnay 2012 was indeed barrel fermented, 93 percent, the other 7 percent being in concrete. The wine did age 15 months, but only in 41 percent new oak. The color is medium gold, and the aromas define this chardonnay as bold, bright and rich, with ripe, slightly caramelized pineapple, grapefruit and mango highlighted by notes of cloves, vanilla, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and — faintly — lime peel and flint. The wine is supple and boisterously fruity and spicy on the palate, with hints of creme brulee, roasted lemon and baked pear. This sensuous panoply is both abetted and balanced by clean, vibrant acidity and a scintillating limestone element. My favorite style of chardonnay? No, but certainly a model of the type that I found surprisingly poised, energetic and delicious. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $58.
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The Kosta Browne Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, derives from three vineyards in the south of the Sonoma Coast AVA, lying straight in the path of the Petaluma Wind Gap that allows a distinct maritime influence, and one vineyard in the northwestern coastal area of the AVA. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 46 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby with an almost transparent rim; the amazingly complex and layered nose offers a seamless amalgam of cloves and menthol, violets and rose hips, with hints of loam, briers and iodine bolstering macerated black and red cherries and currants with a touch of cranberry. On the palate? Imagine supernal satin infused with velvet through which vivid acidity cuts a swath and earthy graphite minerality stakes a supporting claim; the influence of oak and tannin, both feeling slightly sanded and dusty, gradually seeps in, providing firm foundation for spicy black and red fruit flavors that seem ripe and juicy yet spare, elegant, a bit exotic. I re-corked the wine and tried it eight hours later, at which time it had closed down a bit, becoming more reticent, quite dry, with emphasis on structure. Even the next day, now open for more than 24 hours, this pinot noir kept its integrity and balance. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $64.
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It’s not easy to make an inexpensive pinot noir wine that feels authentic, but James Ewart, winemaker of Delicato’s Noble Vines label, did just that with the Noble Vines 667 Pinot Noir 2012, Monterey County. The majority of the grapes derive from the Indelicato family’s estate San Bernabe Vineyard, with additional dollops from Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands and Arroyo Seco AVAs. The color is a limpid medium ruby hue; enticing aromas of macerated black cherries and plums are highlighted by notes of cloves and sassafras and hints of cranberry and pomegranate; a few minutes in the glass bring up touches of leather and violets. The texture is satiny but with a nice rasp of oak and graphite, and the wine pulls up surprisingly substantial tannins for firmness and a bit of austerity. Bright acidity keeps the wine lively and engaging, as do the modestly ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Very good+. About $15.

A sample for review.

Take your choice. Either at our backs we always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near OR the world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers. Choice, did I say?! Or, did I say?! Heck no, it’s both, incessant, ceaseless, seemingly infinite! So, anyway, it’s difficult to keep up with all the wines I need to review, so here, today, I offer 12 wines, rated Very Good+ to Exceptional, that I should have written about this year but didn’t have the time or space. I’m trying to make amends. There should be something in this post to appeal to a variety of palates. Most of these wines are from California, but we also touch on Oregon’s Willamette Valley; Baden, in Germany; France’s Alsace region; and Clare Valley in South Australia. With one exception today, I purposely avoid technical and geographical information in favor of quick, incisive reviews designed to pique your aching interest and whet your anticipatory taste-buds. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy — in moderation, of course.
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Josmeyer Pinot Blanc 2009, Alsace. 12% alc. Bright medium gold color; slightly honeyed ginger and quince, papaya and mango, quite floral with hints of jasmine and honeysuckle; slightly dusty limestone minerality, a touch of diesel; a sweet impression because of the ripe juicy roasted lemon and stone-fruit flavors but actually very dry, enlivened by bright acidity and that scintillating limestone element. Taut yet generous, a real beauty. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $20 to $22.
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Steven Kent Winery “Lola” Ghielmetti Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Livermore Valley. 13.9% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. 401 cases. Very pale straw-gold hue; gorgeous aromas of honeysuckle and camellia, tangerine, lime peel and lemongrass, cloves and ginger, hints of hay and thyme; lemony with a touch of peach and guava; wonderful talc-like texture riven by bristling acidity and bright limestone minerality; touch of celery seed and grapefruit bitterness on the finish. Irresistible. Now through Summer 2015. Excellent. About $24.
Image from cuveecorner.blogspot.com.
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McCay Cellars Tres Blanc 2013, Lodi. 14.5% alc. Blend of vermentino, verdelho, muscat and pinot noir. 218 cases. Pale gold color; intensely floral with jasmine and lilac; celery seed, fennel, roasted lemon, spiced pear, slightly leafy, with notes of fig and lime peel; dry but juicy, keen acidity and lovely viscosity; limestone and grapefruit finish. Very charming. Drink through Summer 2015. Very Good+. About $24.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 13.55 alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Pale gold color, shimmering; grapefruit, lime peel, roasted lemon, hint of peach; lemongrass and thyme; exotically floral, lilac, hyacinth; extraordinary texture, tense and tensile with steely acidity, limestone and damp rocks but contrastingly soft, silky, caressing, all this in perfect balance, along with notes of yellow plum, quince, ginger and just a hint of mango. Consistently one of the best sauvignon blanc wines made in California. Now through 2017 or ’18. Exceptional. About $30.
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Alexander Laible “Chara” Riesling trocken 2012, Baden, Germany. 13% alc. 100% riesling. Medium gold color; peach and pear, lychee and jasmine, wet stones, touch of apricot and diesel; very ripe entry, just a brush with sweetness but quickly turns dry; huge limestone element and chiming acidity give it tautness and resonance; lovely, lively delicate texture, yet plenty of lithe muscularity. Just terrific and delicious. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $40.
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Waterstone Pinot Noir 2011, Carneros. 14.5% alc. 100% pinot noir. 868 cases. Medium ruby color; red currants and cranberries, cloves and cinnamon; touch of candied cherries; rhubarb and pomegranate; very warm and spicy; mild tannins and a subtle oak presence; slightly foresty and briery, hints of leaf smoke, moss, a bit autumnal but fresh and clean. Quite appealing. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $22.
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McCay Cellars Carignane 2011, Lodi. 13.5% alc. 100% carignane from a vineyard planted in 1908. 218 cases. Medium ruby-mulberry color; briery red currants and cranberries; rose petals, sandalwood, potpourri, brings up an infusion of red and black cherries; a little sappy and loamy; the whole package grows more expansive, generous and exotic as the minutes pass; supple but slightly smacky tannin and straight-arrow acidity; grows richer and more powerful through the brambly, flinty finish. Tasty and individual. Well worth a search. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $32.
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Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. 100% pinot noir. Lovely, limpid medium ruby-mulberry hue; raspberries and plums, touch of black cherry, with a slightly raspy character; rose hips, violets, exotic with potpourri, lavender and sandalwood; rooty, loamy and a bit leathery; lithe and sinewy with lively acidity that cuts a swath on the palate; spare, savory, somehow like autumnal bounty slightly withheld. Tremendous integrity and authority, yet graceful, elegant, thoughtful. A pinot noir such as we do not often see made in the United States of America. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $35.
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Eponymous Syrah 2009, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. With 4% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; a syrah of real class and purpose; blackberries, blueberries and plums; clean earth, loam, graphite and new leather; hints of violets and lavender, dried rosemary and roasted fennel; touch of fruitcake; very dry, iron-like tannins and dusty oak; long spice-packed and granitic finish. Tremendous tone and presence yet sleek, elegant, light on its feet. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $38.
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Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 100% merlot. Dark to medium ruby color; smolders with lavender and licorice, meaty and fleshy black currants and black raspberries, cloves and allspice; there’s a pungent dusty charcoal-graphite edge; a sizable, vibrant, resonant mouthful of merlot, with elements of leather, briers and brambles, underbrush and tannins of deep deliberation, all in all intense and concentrated yet sleek, well-balanced and integrated. Drink now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $42.
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Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Alexander Valley. 13.5% alc. With 16% merlot, 7% petit verdot, 1% malbec. I typically don’t mention technical details in these Weekend Wine Notes, but I highly approve of the thoughtful oak regimen for this wine: 12 months aging in 74% French and 24% American oak barrels, of which, collectively, only 39% of the barrels were new. How sane! How rational! Thank you! Deep ruby-purple color; utterly classic, suave, delicious, well-structured; blackberries, black cherries and plums, hints of fennel, lavender, licorice and violets; though the wine is characterized by velvety, cushiony tannins, the tannic nature firms up in the glass and builds a sort of walnut shell-briers-and-brambles austerity through the finish; a perfect display of power and elegance. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $53.
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Wakefield “The Visionary” Exceptional Parcel Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Clare Valley, South Australia. 14% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby color; mint, iodine and iron, spiced and macerated black currants, plums and cherries; graphite and granite minerality that accumulate like a coastal shelf; dusty tannins, walnut-shell and loam; dense, chewy. A powerhouse of presence, tone and resonance, yet not in the least overwhelming or ponderous. Try from 2016 through 2030. Excellent. About $120.
Image from wineanorak.com
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The land occupied by Blair Estate in the Arroyo Seco area of Monterey County has been in Jeffrey Blair’s family since the 1920s. Only in 2007 did Blair start planting pinot noir vines on the old ranch. Now the winery turns our small quantities of chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir. I did not taste the chardonnay, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Pinot Noir 2012 and Pinot Gris 2012, sent to me as samples for review. My responses to the wines follow. Small quantities, so mark them Worth a Search.
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Grapes for the Blair Pinot Gris 2012, Arroyo Seco, were purchased from neighboring Meador Vineyard, owned by Doug Meador, who sold his Ventana Vineyards in 2006 to concentrate on this project. The wine was made half in stainless steel tanks, half in neutral French oak barrels. The color is pale gold, almost shimmering with vitality; aromas of roasted lemons, tangerines and grapefruit are infused with notes of quince and ginger, acacia and lilac. Crystalline acidity and a scintillating limestone element lent the wine vivacity, while a super attractive cloud-like, talc-like texture, balanced by innate crispness and tautness, reveals hints of peach and lychee. At bottom, this is an earthy pinot gris that beds its sensual appeal in a solid loamy character. 13.9 percent alcohol. We drank this with salmon filets marinated in olive oil and lemon juice, urfa pepper and a coffee rub. Production was 248 cases. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $28.
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The winery’s estate Delfina’s Vineyard, named for Jeffrey Blair’s grandmother, contributed the grapes for the Blair Pinot Noir 2012, Arroyo Seco. The wine aged 10 months in a mixture of French oak barrels. The color is medium ruby with a slightly darker center; the bouquet is an irresistible amalgam of black cherries, rhubarb and cranberries bolstered by cloves and sassafras, graphite and loam. The whole effect is lively, clean and fresh, wild even, exuding exotic notes of sandalwood and cumin, with the latter’s slight astringent character. Flavors of red and black currants and plums are permeated by hints of smoke and tobacco, clean earth, briers and brambles, all ensconced in a suave, satiny texture embraced by moderate tannins and nuances of spicy oak. 13.9 percent alcohol. A model of elegance, balance and proportion. Production was 481 cases. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $35.
The winery’s website has not caught up to the 2012 vintage of this wine’s label.
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I think I’ll name my next rock group “Eclectic Plethora,” but be that as it may, today I offer again a bunch of rosé wines, from various regions of France and California, in hopes of convincing My Readers not to abandon rosés simply because Labor Day has come and gone. While the most delicate rosés may be most appropriate in High Summer, even they can serve a purpose throughout the rest of the year. More robust and versatile rosés can be consumed with a variety of foods, and by “robust” I don’t mean blockbusters a few shades less stalwart than cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel, I just mean rosés that deliver a bit more body and fruit than the most delicate. As is my habit in these “Weekend Wine Notes,” I don’t include reams of technical, historical or geographical information, much as that sort of data makes our hearts go pitty-pat, because the intention here is to offer quick and incisive reviews that will pique your interest and tempt your palate. Unless otherwise indicated, these were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Chateau de Campuget “Tradition de Campuget” Rosé 2013, Costières de Nîmes. 13% alc. 70% syrah, 30% grenache (according to the label); 50% syrah, 50 % grenache blanc (according to the press release). Pale onion skin color; delicate hints of strawberries and watermelon, ephemeral notes of dried herbs and dusty-flint minerality; quite dry, crisp and spare; a flush of floral nuance. The most ethereal of this group of rosé wines, yet bound by tensile strength. Very Good+. About $10, a Great Bargain.
Dreyfus, Ashby, New York.
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Laurent Miquel “Pere et Fils” Cinsault Syrah 2013, Pays d’Oc. 12.5% alc. 80% cinsault, 20% syrah. The palest flush of pink imaginable; raspberry, red currants, celery seed, dried thyme; clean and crisp, a resonant note of limestone minerality; the cinsault lends a vibrant spine of keen acidity. Simple style but enjoyable, especially at the price. Very Good. About $11.
Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York.
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Domaine Les Aphillanthes Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône. 13% alc. Cinsault, grenache, counoise, mourvèdre. Slightly ruddy copper-salmon color; raspberries and strawberries, hints of peach and melon; slightly herbal; very dry and crisp with tides of flint and limestone minerality and vibrant acidity; appealing texture, clean and elegant. Excellent. About $14, representing Good Value.
Peter Weygandt Selection, Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, Penn.
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Domaine de Mourchon “Loubié” Rosé 2013, Seguret, Côtes du Rhône Villages. 12.5% alc. 60% grenache, 40% syrah. Entrancing pale salmon-peach color; very clean and fresh, with notes of raspberries and red cherries, a hint of melon; an earthy touch of raspiness and cherry stems; almost a shimmer of limestone minerality and crisp acidity, yet with a lovely enfolding texture; finish offers hints of cloves and dried thyme. Exemplary balance and tone. Excellent. About $16 to $18.
Cynthia Hurley French Wines, West Newton, Mass.
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Chateau d’Aqueria 2012, Tavel. 14% alc. 50% grenache, 12% each syrah, cinsault and clairette, 8% mourvèdre, 5% boueboulenc, 1% picpoul. Ruddy salmon-peach color; the ripest and fleshiest of these rosé wines; spiced and macerated strawberries and raspberries, notes of cloves and cardamom, dusty dried field herbs (garrigue); fairly robust and vigorous; quite dry, almost austere, but juicy with spice and limestone-inflected red fruit flavors. The 2013 version of this wine in on the market, but I was sent 2012 as a sample, so drink up. Very Good+. About $18.
Kobrand Corp., Purchase, N.Y.
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McCay Cellars Rosé 2013, Lodi. 12.5% alc. Primarily old vine carignane with some grenache. 253 cases. Lovely peach-salmon color; subdued peach, melon and strawberry aromas, hints of red currants and pomegranate and a note of rose petal; subtle, clean, refreshing but with incisive acidity and considerable limestone minerality, a dusty brambly element as complement to a texture that’s both supple and spare. Beautifully done. Excellent. About $18.
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Baudry-Dutour “Cuvee Marie Justine” Chinon 2013, Val de Loire. 12.5 % alc. 100% cabernet franc. Very pale onion skin hue; delicate and slightly dusty hints of strawberries and red currants; notes of dried herbs and spice, just a touch of a floral component, violets or lilacs; crisp and lively acidity, an animated element of limestone minerality; cool, clean and refreshing but revealing a scant bit of loamy earthiness on the finish. beautifully knit. Very Good+. About $20, my purchase.
William Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.
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Tablas Creek Vineyard Patelin de Tablas Rosé 2013, Paso Robles. 14.1% alc. 73% grenache, 22% mourvèdre, 5% counoise. 1,540 cases. Classic pale onion-skin hue; smoke, dust, damp flint and limestone; dried currants and raspberries, deeply earthy and minerally; hints of melon and mulberry; a beguiling combination of opulence and austerity, hitting all the right notes of balance and intrigue. Excellent. About $22, my purchase.
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Copain Wines “Tous Ensemble” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley. 12.7% alc. 100% pinot noir. 1,435 cases. Pale salmon-copper color; raspberry, melon, sour cherry, very pure and fresh; provocative acidity and scintillating limestone minerality keep it brisk and breezy; lovely balance between chiseled spareness and lush elegance. One of California’s best rosés. Excellent. About $24, my purchase.
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Three Sticks Wines was founded by Bill Price III — get it? his surfer handle was Billy Three Sticks — who also owns one of California’s best-known vineyards, Durell Vineyard, which he purchased in 1998. He co-founded the private equity firm Texas Pacific Group in 1992 and sold his share back to the company in 2007, and that, friends, is a lesson in how you get into the vineyard and winery business. Price is chairman of Kosta Brown Winery and Gary Farrell Winery — you know those names — and has interest in Kistler, another name you know. He met winemaker and fellow-surfer Don Van Staaveren (image at right) in 1996 when TPG acquired Chateau St. Jean from Suntory, and in 2004 Price asked Van Staaveren to come aboard as winemaker at Three Sticks. (I’m condensing history quite a bit here.) The “winery” occupies space in an industrial/warehouse area in Sonoma, a practical measure since no one has to worry about tasting rooms, landscaping, high-end facilities, jazz concerts, picnic grounds, executive chefs and so on, though a great deal of organizational logistics is required. Van Staaveren, who created the sensational Cinq Cepage cabernet sauvignon for Chateau St. Jean, indeed resembles nothing more nor less than a gracefully aging, if slightly craggy, California boy; when I visited Three Sticks in the Summer of 2013, he wore a cast on one arm, the result of a surfing mishap. The wines he creates from the Durell Vineyard and other vineyards are thoughtfully made and embody tremendous personality and character. Unfortunately, they are produced in limited quantities and are available only on an allocation list. They are worth a visit to the winery’s website threestickswines.com to sign up. These examples were samples for review.

This post is the fourth in a series devoted to wines made from two grapes that seem to occur together, chardonnay and pinot noir, on the model of Burgundy.
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The Three Sticks One Sky Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Mountain — the first Three Sticks release for this wine from a vineyard that remains anonymous — was treated in a manner traditional for California chardonnay: barrel fermentation; 14 months aging in French oak barrels, 50 percent new; full malolactic fermentation. The color is medium straw-gold; classic aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit feel infused by quince and ginger, spiced pear and toasted hazelnuts, amid a background of limestone minerality. This is a supremely rich chardonnay, slightly creamy but not buttery or tropical, and its lusciousness is tempered by bright acidity and that scintillating limestone element; citrus and stone-fruit flavors are highlighted by notes of orange marmalade and a hint of grapefruit pith. Altogether, this is a round, supple, mouth-filling chardonnay that displays lovely, if a bit florid, balance and tone. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 222 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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The winemaker took a completely opposite approach to the Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Valley. This wine was fermented in giant concrete egg-shaped vessels and aged 14 months in small steel barrels; not a smidgeon of oak touched it, and it did not go through malolactic. The grapes derived from two areas in the Durell Vineyard, “Old Wente 5,” on a northwest-facing slope of light soil, and “V9,” one of the rockiest and windiest parts of the vineyard. The color is medium straw-gold; the first impression is of something earthy, highly structured, almost tannic in effect, but with a core of remarkable resonance and vitality that animates captivating scents and flavors of quince jam and crystallized ginger, candied grapefruit and spiced pear with hints of lemon oil and lime peel, the whole package conveying the feeling of a lacy transparency of fruit over a dense, almost talc-like texture and a vibrant structure of limestone, damp gravel and chiming acidity. All in all, amazing energy, presence and tone, a wine that gives new meaning to “no-oak chardonnay.” 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 266 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Exceptional. About $48.
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The Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast, took grapes from three blocks of the estate vineyard, all of which greet the sunrise: The Extension, a steep slope that falls mainly east but a little to the south; the Terraces, an area of slightly terraced rows running north-south and with an eastern exposure; Block R, a cool, windy location of light soil with red volcanic deposits that falls on a slight slope to the east. The grapes fermented in open-top vessels, and the wine aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 50 percent new. The color is a translucent and luminous medium ruby hue; beguiling aromas of pomegranate, rhubarb and cranberry are permeated by notes of cloves and allspice, loam, briers and brambles and a hint of graphite; a few moments in the glass bring up hints of smoky red and black cherries, rose petals and sandalwood. This is a substantial pinot noir, blessed with a sense of total confidence and completion, though whatever character it possesses of power and dynamism is complemented by qualities of grace, delicacy and elegance. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 170 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $65.
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Few wineries in Napa Valley and indeed in California are as iconic, both physically and metaphysically, as the Robert Mondavi Winery. Its mission-style facility on Hwy 29 on Napa Valley is unmistakable. The story has often been told of how Robert Mondavi (1913-2008), in a feud with his brother Peter about the operation of the Charles Krug winery, left that business and launched his own winery in 1966, eventually becoming a wine-juggernaut of world-wide innovation and influence. As they say, the rest is history, though the history of the winery related on a timeline on the company’s website skips from 2002 to 2005, omitting the fact that the over-extended family sold the kit-n-kaboodle to Constellation Brands in November 2004 for a billion dollars. The wise move that Constellation made was to retain Genevieve Janssens as director of winemaking, a position she has held since 1997, thus lending a sense of continuity and purpose. Modavi continues to release a dizzying array of products — a rose! a semillon! (neither of which I have seen) — but the concentration is on the varieties that made its name, often produced at levels of “regular” bottlings, single-vineyard and reserve: cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Today, in this series, I consider the Robert Mondavi Reserve Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, from 2012.

These wines were samples for review.
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Let’s start with red, this one being my favorite of the pair. The Robert Mondavi Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley, spent 10 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels, and to my mind that’s a lot of new oak for pinot noir. Despite my opinion, however, the grapes soaked up that oak, and the wine came out sleek and satiny; this is no ethereal, evanescent pinot noir, but a wine of substance and bearing. The color is dark ruby with a purple/magenta tinge; aromas of black cherry and raspberry are bolstered by notes of pomegranate and sassafras, oolong tea, graphite and loam, all in all retaining a winsome quality in the earthiness. Nothing winsome on the palate, though; while the texture is wonderfully supple and attractive, and the black and red fruit flavors are deep and delicious, this is a pinot noir that takes its dimensions seriously, as elements of new leather, briers and brambles and slightly woody spice testify. 14.5 percent alcohol. At not quite two years old, the Robert Mondavi Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley, is still in its formative years; try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
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Unfortunately, the Robert Mondavi Reserve Chardonnay 2012, Carneros, Napa Valley, pushes all my wrong buttons as far as the chardonnay grape is concerned. The color is medium straw-gold; with its rich and ripe mango-papaya trajectory, this is more tropical than I would want a chardonnay to be, not even accounting for its creamy elements of lemon curd and lemon tart, its vanilla and nutmeg and touch of lightly buttered cinnamon toast. The wine aged a sensible 10 months in French oak barrels, 58 percent new — that’s the sensible part — but its over-abundant spice and its nuances of toffee and burnt match detract from the grape’s purity of expression, and it lacks by several degrees the minerality to give the wine balance and energy. I know, I know, many of My Readers are going to say, “Well, look, FK, this is an argument about style, not about whether this is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ wine,” and I will reply, “Yes, I’m aware of that fact, but a style of winemaking that obscures the virtues of the grape is folly.” This is, frankly, not a chardonnay that I would choose to drink. 13.5 percent alcohol; that’s a blessing. Now through 2017 or ’18, but Not Recommended. About $40.
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I wrote about Kathleen’s Inman’s wines produced under the Inman Family Wines label last year in October; check out that post for information about the history of the winery and Inman’s philosophy. Suffice to say that in this second entry in my “Pinot and Chardonnay” series, I offer a pair of wines that strike, to my palate, the perfect notes of balance and integration, purity and intensity, power and elegance. These wines were samples for review.
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The Inman Family Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, is not made from estate vines but from grapes purchased from the Pratt-Irwin Lane Vineyard. Native yeast was employed. The wine matures 40 percent in new French oak and 60 percent in small stainless steel barrels, both portions going through malolactic fermentation. The color is pale gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, jasmine and acacia, limestone and flint. The whole package is characterized by perfect tone and balance, with its spare and elegant qualities poised against scintillating limestone minerality and bright acidity. The kind of chardonnay that makes me happy to drink chardonnay. 11.6 percent alcohol; you read that correctly. Drink now through 2016. Production was 493 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Allow me to say right here that 21 months in oak seems like doom to pinot noir to me, but the Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley, displays, as I said about its stablemate mentioned above, perfect tone and balance of all elements, while retaining, as Kathleen Inman’s pinot noirs tend to do, something wild and exotic. The color is dark to medium ruby-magenta; beguiling and ineffable scents of cranberry, pomegranate and rhubarb are permeated by heartier, earthier notes of briers, brambles and loam, while after a few moments in the glass a whiff of intense black cherry and cloves comes out. On the palate, the wine is warm and spicy, with a wonderfully satiny drape to the texture that’s bolstered by straight-arrow acidity, a hint of graphite minerality and moderate yet certainly present tannins. Another minute or two of swirling and sipping produces touches of rose petals, lilac and sandalwood. Criminy, what a beautiful pinot noir! 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 517 cases. Drink through 2017 to ’19 with roasted chicken, veal or seared duck. Excellent. About $68.
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