Pinot noir


In days gone by, we legions of wine-writers would lament the fact that nobody but us appreciated rosé wines and how wonderful they are and how versatile. We would deplore the notion that everyone in America associated rosé wines with sweetness — and the worst were sweet — when actually the best rosés are quite dry. That’s not the case now, when rosés have grown immensely popular and many wineries all over the world turn out the things as major or side projects, sometimes very seriously. Rosé wines have improved too, being generally made in clean, fresh, crisp mineral-infused fashion. Don’t worry about rosés, friends, they can take care of themselves. I offer today 10 examples of rosé wines made from a variety of grapes in differing styles, most tending toward pleasure and delight, although a couple invite more thoughtful contemplation. They’re not just for Spring and Summer either; several of these models carry enough heft and character to be consumed throughout the year, though you can’t beat them for picnics and backyard fetes in fine weather. Enjoy! In moderation, of course.

These wines were samples for review.
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Domaine Saint-Aix AIX Rosé 2014, Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France. 12.5% alc. Grenache, cinsault, syrah, counoise. Very pale pink, like the inside of a seashell; ineffable fragrance of dried strawberries and red currants assisted by mild notes of cloves and thyme; brisk acidity blows through it like a sea-breeze on damp limestone; lavender and orange zest in the background, all delicately chiseled and faceted. Excellent. About $19.
Imported by Massanois LLC, Scarsdale, N.Y.
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Chateau Notre Dame du Quatourze Rosé 2014, Languedoc, France. 13% alc. Cinsault, grenache, syrah. Salmon-peach color; peach and strawberry, nicely ripe, slightly dusty terra cotta touch; pomegranate with a notes of cloves; limestone and dried herbs. Tasty and attractive. Very Good+. About $NA .
Imported by Val d’Orbieu America, New York.
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Chateau de Jonquieres Cuvee Cersius Rosé 2014, Languedoc, France. …% alc. Cinsault, grenache, syrah. A pale pink shimmer; delicate and elegant, fine bones; rose hips and strawberries, notes of raspberries and orange zest; crystalline acidity and gravel-like minerality; quite dry but distinctly though ethereally flavorful. Lovely. Very Good+. About $NA .
Imported by Val d’Orbieu America, New York.
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Los Vascos Rosé 2014, Colchagua, Chile. Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) 13.5% alc. 90% cabernet sauvignon, 10% syrah. Light salmon-pink color with a tinge of magenta; a summery burst of pure strawberry and raspberry; warm and spicy, racy acidity; a touch of plums garnished with dusty graphite and a dash of dried thyme; lovely shape and presence. Excellent. About $14, representing Great Value.
Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.
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MacPhail Family Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. 100% pinot noir. 492 cases. Brilliant copper-salmon color; tomato skin and lime leaf, strawberries, raspberries and rose petals, hints of graphite and sea-salt, briers and brambles; a spicy, savory and fairly robust rose that doesn’t neglect delicacy and elegance in the upper register; lively, supple finish drenched with red fruit (hinting at the tropical) and mineral undertones. A superior rose. Exceptional. About $22.
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Il Poggione Brancato 2014, Rosato di Toscana, Italy. 12.5% alcohol. 100% sangiovese. Vivid smoky topaz hue; strawberries, raspberries and peaches; a dusty, dusky minerality, like paving stones warmed by the sun; hints of cloves and dried thyme; beautiful balance between bright acidity and a moderately lush texture, but altogether spare and elegant. A gorgeous rosé, very much a presence on the palate. Excellent. About $18.
Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill.
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Chateau Ribaute “Senhal d’Aric” Rosé 2014, Corbiéres. 12.5% alc. Carignane, grenache, syrah, mourvèdre. Smoky topaz hue, slightly darker than onion skin; peach and strawberry, with a touch of raspberry in the background; warm and stony, damp roof tiles drying in sunlight — the whole “South of France” thing; ethereal but with a grounding in loam. Nicely layered for a rose. Excellent. About $NA.
Imported by Val d’Orbieu America, New York.
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Stemmari Rosé 2014, Sicily. 12% alc. 100% nero d’avola grapes. Entrancing light ruby color with violet undertones; red fruit all round, with prominent strawberry and raspberry followed by notes of cherries and currants and touches of tart pomegranate and pink grapefruit; sunny, leafy, warm and spicy; refreshing and attractive; finish emphasizes brisk acidity and limestone-like crispness (with a hint of orange candied orange peel). Very Good+. About $10, a Real Bargain.
Prestige Wine Imports, New York.
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Toad Hollow Vineyards “Eye of the Toad” Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County. 11.5% alc. 100% pinot noir. Vivid salmon-copper hue; notably fresh, clean and crisp; strawberries and rose petals, notes of pert cranberries and pomegranate; hint of orange rind; flinty texture for under-tones of minerality but lovely satiny flow on the palate. Very Good+. About $12, marking Great Value.
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Two Shepherds Grenache Rosé 2014, Sonoma Coast. % alc. 100% grenache. 90 cases. The blissful incarnadine of bright ruby-cherry hue; pure raspberry with a suffusion of cherry-berry, melon ball and sour cherry; marked limestone minerality, very dry yet drenched with tart, slightly candied red fruit flavors; almost tannic yet never less than delightful and ethereal in the high notes and gradually unfolding depth unusual in a rose; finish brings in hints of apple, dried cranberry and thyme. Perfection. Exceptional. About $24.
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The history of Youngberg Hill is as complicated as such things often are in the West Coast wine industry. This land in Oregon’s Willamette Valley was farmed by a Swede named Youngberg until 1987, when Norman Barnett, a financier from Boston, rolled in, bought the acreage and built an inn. In 1989, the legendary Ken Wright planted two vineyards here and used those grapes for his Panther Creek pinot noirs. Wayne Bailey, originally from Iowa but nurtured on the wines of Burgundy and his work there, bought the property in 2003, and 10 years later he is still the owner and winemaker of this family-owned business, which includes the inn — now renovated — that Barnett established 26 years ago. The winery has practiced organic methods since 2003. The property includes a bed-and-breakfast facility that looks absolutely splendid.

I am a fan of the winery’s pinot blanc, one of the best made on the West Coast, so I was happy to receive samples of the three pinot noir wines under consideration today. These turned out to be bigger, more highly structured and earthy pinots that I had expected, but fall entirely within the parameters of the grape and of the Willamette Valley. They are produced in small quantities, so I encourage a search on the internet or a visit to the Youngberg Hill website.
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The Youngberg Hill “Cuvée” Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, is the winery’s entry-level pinot noir, a blend of grapes from three vineyards, including the Youngberg Hill estate vineyard. It offers an entrancing mulberry-magenta hue and arousing aromas of loam and graphite, ripe and slightly smoky black and red cherries, currants and plums, and a profound reservoir of exotic spices in the form of cloves and sassafras and a wisp of sandalwood. The wine is quite dry on the palate, satiny and raspy together in texture, but juicy with red and black fruit flavors and lively with bright acidity and a refreshing granitic mineral element. As moments pass, it becomes more spiced and macerated, finding more depth but getting a touch austere through the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 298 cases, says the label; 290 cases according to the winery website. Drink now or from 2016 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $35.
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The Youngberg Hill Natasha Block Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, originates from a 6.6-acre parcel of vines that faces southeast toward the morning sun. The color is an intense purple-magenta; vivid scents of red raspberries and blueberries are permeated by hints of cloves and allspice, sour cherry and melon ball and a back-note of pomegranate, all arrayed over a foundation of loam and new leather. These qualities segue seamlessly to the mouth, where sleek, supple tannins and lip-smacking acidity cut a swath on the palate. Nothing ephemeral here, this pinot noir is lithe and muscular, but not chunky or clunky; you feel the power and dimension of the structure as well as its energy and liveliness. The wine evolves toward more dryness in the glass, and you feel the oak and tannin injecting serious claims on the finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 through 2022 to ’24. Production was 137 cases, printed on the back-label, 327 cases from the winery website. Huh? Excellent. About $40.
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Of this trio, the Youngberg Hill Jordan Block Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, came closest to my ideal of greatness in the grape, and that is a marriage of powerful earthy dimension to details of ineffable and ethereal delight. The vines form a 3.3-acre block that faces south on a steeper slope than the rest of the vineyard. The color is dark ruby-magenta; the bouquet is aggressively loamy, briery and brambly, with hints of moss and mushrooms, but entwined with high notes of lavender and rose petals, black cherries and currants and an undertone of pomegranate. “Jordan” is even more muscular than “Natasha,” more lithe and sinewy, deeply rooted in its rooty, woodsy character yet never relinquishing trust in its spiced and macerated black fruit flavors and the fleet acidity that lends fruit and structure their vibrant nature. The finish is all polished graphite and flowers. 13.4 percent alcohol. Production was 300 cases (or 270 cases). Try from 2016 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $50.
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Newspaper reporter Davis Bynum began making wine at home in Berkeley in 1951. He became sufficiently adept that in 1973 he purchased 84 acres in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley that turned into the home of his eponymous winery. Ready to retire in 2007, after making wine for some 60 years, Bynum sold the brand to Tom Klein, owner of Rodney Strong Vineyards. Present winemaker is Greg Morthole, with the ubiquitous David Ramey serving as consulting winemaker. The Davis Bynum winery today focuses on pinot noir and sauvignon blanc from Jane’s Vineyard and chardonnay from the River West Vineyard. I’m a fan of the pinot noirs, both the “regular” bottling and the clonal selections, and the cool, clean, crisp and herbal sauvignon blanc from Virginia’s Block; I am not a fan of the over-wrought chardonnay, as you will see in the review that follows. Jane’s Vineyard lies on Fulton Road, west of Highway 101, northwest of the city of Santa Rosa. The soil is gravelly loam, shallow and fast-draining. The vine rows run east-west, so clusters on the south side receive more sunlight than those on the shadier north side of the rows. These sorts of nuances of exposure lend complexity to the final product.

These wines were samples for review.
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Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way first. The Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, was made in exactly the manner that produces chardonnays that set my teeth on edge. The grapes were barrel-fermented; the wine went through full malolactic fermentation, the chemical process that transforms crisp malic (“apple-like”) acid into soft creamy lactic (“milk-like”) acid; the wine aged 11 months in French oak barrels, of which 29 percent were new, not a bad regimen, but the wine rested sur lie, on the residue of spend yeast cells, and received “plenty of batonnage,” that is, stirring to agitate the lees and promote richness in the wine. The result is a chardonnay that is bold, bright, brassy, stridently spicy and imbued with dessert-like qualities of creme brulee, lemon meringue pie and caramelized pineapple. At the same time, a paradoxical austerity from mid-palate through the finish contributes to the wine’s fundamental lack of balance, integration and integrity. This is a chardonnay that’s not about a vineyard and the grapes but about pumping up an extraneous character through the devices of its making. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not recommended. About $25.
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Now, on to happier matters.
The Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, derives from selected blocks within the vineyard. The wine spent 10
months in French oak barrels, 30 percent of which were new. The color is a limpid medium ruby-garnet hue; aromas of black and red cherries and plums are highlighted by notes of sour cherry candy and melon ball, with hints of cloves, sassafras and exotic sandalwood and a burgeoning element of violets and rose petals, altogether a most enticing bouquet. On the palate, the wine offers a super satiny and polished texture for its spicy and moderately succulent cherry and currant flavors, while earthy underpinnings in the form of fresh loamy qualities provide foundation. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. A real pleasure. Very Good+. About $ .
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________The Davis Bynum Dijon Clone 115 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, aged 10 months in French oak, 31 percent new barrels. The color is an entrancing medium ruby with a light cerise robe; scents and flavors of cranberries and pomegranate, with a hint of cherry and plum compote, are riven by bristling elements of briers and brambles and undertones of loam; a few moments in the glass bring up notes of violets and lilac and a beguiling whiff of talcum powder. Lovely drag and flow over the tongue induce a feeling like silky static, and while the wine is darkly tasty, it’s quite dry and almost tannic in effect; the wine grows earthier and more burnished as time passes. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 480 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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The oak treatment for the Davis Bynum Dijon Clone 667 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is slightly different from that of its Clone 115 stablemate mentioned above; for this wine, it’s 11 months in French oak, 32 percent new barrels. Another difference is that this pinot noir is a bit more reticent, rather more spare and structured than the 115. The color is medium ruby with a transparent rim; aromas of cranberries, black cherries and plums open to subtle notes of lavender and sage and nuances of violets and cloves. Surprisingly, the wine is fairly tight on the palate, with a prominent display of slightly dusty tannins and an earthy, almost granitic and austere finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 507 cases. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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I have used Wordsworth’s lines so often — “The world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” — that I won’t allude to them on this occasion but merely issue an apology and assert that sometimes I just can’t keep up with tasting and writing. In fact, this post is probably the first in a series of “mea culpa” catch-up entries that I will issue over the next few weeks — if I have time. Ha-ha! These wines, a miscellaneous dozen from California, 11 red, one white, were all samples for review.
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Amapola Creek Monte Rosso Vineyard “Vinas Antiguas” Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma Valley. Winemaker Dick Arrowood mixed 5 percent petite sirah to this zinfandel derived from one of Sonoma County’s legendary vineyards, where the zinfandel vines are 118 years old. The wine aged 15 months in a combination of new and used French and American oak barrels. Generally, I have been a fan of Arrowood’s efforts at Amapola Creek, rating everything I have tasted either Excellent or Exceptional. The exception, however, will be this example, because the heat and sweetness from 15.5 percent alcohol tip the wine off balance and render it into a clunky blockbuster. That’s a shame, because such details as its melange of ripe and spicy black currants and blueberries, cloves, sandalwood and smoked fennel and a chiseled granitic quality would have been gratifying in a different package. Production was 310 cases. Not recommended. About $42.
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Amici Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. There’s an aspect of darkness about this (nonetheless) winsome pinot noir: a dark ruby color; a certain dark shading in its spicy elements of cloves and sandalwood; the smokiness of its black cherry scents and flavors hinting at currants and raspberries; the earthiness of its brier-brambly structure. The lovely texture, though, is all warm satin, while bright acidity keeps it lively and quaffable. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Production was 1,300 cases. Very Good+. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Vineyards Le Cigare Blanc reserve 2011, Arroyo Seco. The blend for this highly aromatic wine is 62 percent grenache blanc and 38 percent roussanne, from the Beeswax Vineyard; the grapes were fermented together in stainless steel and aged in five-gallon glass carboys, also called demijohns or bonbonnes, of the sort typically employed in home brewing and winemaking. The color is very pale gold, and it seems to shimmer in the glass. All of the lemon kingdom has assembled here in its guises of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd, highlighted by notes of quince and ginger, lanolin, lilac and camellia. It’s a savory and saline wine, spare, lean and supple and quite dry yet generous with its citrus flavors that delve a bit into stone-fruit. The entire package is animated by crystalline acidity and crackling limestone minerality. Alcohol content is a pleasing 12.5 percent. Production was 480 cases. Excellent. About $54.
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Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles. The wine is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent cabernet franc, 5 percent merlot and 9 percent petit verdot that spent 19 months in French oak barrels, 80 percent new. The color is very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; seductive aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black cherries and raspberries are permeated by notes of graphite, cedar and tobacco and a hint of rosemary’s brash resiny quality; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of black olive and loam. This is a solid, tannic, granitic-based wine, spare and dusty and quite dry but with plenty of ripe black and blue fruit flavors; fairly rock-ribbed presently, it needs a lot of air to unfurl its attractions. 14.2 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $56.
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Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. This pinot noir, which aged 15 months in 41 percent new French oak barrels, originated from an area of the Sonoma Coast region recently designated as the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. Don’t be surprised if in the coming years we see more segments of the vast Sonoma Coast fragmented into smaller AVAs; Petaluma Gap, anyone? The color is a beguiling medium ruby hue, though that limpidity is belied by the wine’s sense of power and muscularity; this is intensely spicy, bursting with ripe and macerated black cherry and plum fruit, while a few minutes in the glass bring up pungent notes of old leather and pomegranate. It’s a fairly dense and chewy wine, displaying incisive graphite minerality and acidity that I can only call flaring and buoyant. Quite a performance on pinot noir’s dark side. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Davies Vineyards Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Here’s a pinot that’s a bit more to my taste than the Davies Vineyards Nobles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 mentioned above, at least in terms of style. This spend 15 months in French oak, 22 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby, and the first impression is of the earth, with rooty and loamy aspects under briers and brambles; then come black and red cherries and currents segueing to dusty plums, smoky sassafras and exotic spices like sandalwood and cloves. Within this sensual panoply expands a core of nuance — lavender, violets, a bare hint of beet-root — and clean bright acidity. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 400 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011. Sonoma Coast. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry tinge. I would say that this pinot noir displays glorious purity, intensity and clarity, but “glorious” implies an emphatic nature that I want to avoid; let’s say, instead, that it’s perfect and adorable in the expression of those qualities. Aromas of red and black cherries and currants are imbued with notes of cloves and sandalwood, sassafras, rose petals and violets, with undertones of briers, brambles and loam, all amounting to a seamless marriage of elegance and power. The texture is supremely satiny, rolling across the palate like liquid money, but the wine’s ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors are buoyed by slightly leathery tannins and back-notes of polished oak, the whole effect enlivened by fleet acidity. 14.5% alcohol. Excellent. About $55.
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Gallo Signature Series Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Gina Gallo employed grapes from the family’s Olson Ranch Vineyard to craft this well-made but not compelling pinot noir that aged eight months in a mixture of new and used French oak barrels. The color shades from dark to medium ruby at the rim; aromas of black cherries and cranberries, smoke and loam, cloves and pomegranate characterize the attractive bouquet, while on the palate the wine is satiny smooth and supple; a few minutes in the glass bring out pretty floral elements. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $35.
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Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. The “mother clone” of this wine is a vineyard planted to zinfandel vines since 1904; some of those grapes are included here. Other parts of the vineyard represent the second generation of vines cloned from the original plants, all blended here with six percent petite sirah grapes. The wine aged 11 months in American oak, 30 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; pungent aromas of black currants, blackberries and blueberries feel warm and spicy but with edges of graphite, briers and brambles. Bright acidity brings liveliness to dense dusty tannins and a slightly chiseled granitic minerality that testifies to the wine’s origin in an old hillside vineyard; however, black fruit flavors are equally bright and faceted, gradually opening to touches of lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Sanctuary Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. This is a beautiful pinot noir in every sense, from its lovely transparent medium ruby-cherry hue, to its bouquet permeated by notes of spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries, with hints of rhubarb and cranberry, tobacco leaf and cigarette paper, to its subtle undertones of loam and moss and brambles, to its seductive satiny texture. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 841 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Silverado Vineyards Mt George Merlot 2010, Napa Valley. This classically balanced and structured wine is a blend of 77% merlot, 19% cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec, 1% petit verdot. (Yeah, that’s 101 percent.) The color is very dark ruby-purple, verily, verging even unto motor-oil black; it’s quite pungent, unleashing penetrating aromas of ripe, meaty and fleshy black cherries and raspberries bursting with notes of cassis and black olives, bell pepper and tobacco. Chiseled and polished graphite rules the day, with hints of iodine and saline qualities, earth and loam; the texture is supple, lithe, dense and chewy, yet somehow refined and elegant, never forgetting its obligation to beautiful but not showy black and red fruit flavors. 14.9 percent alcohol. A terrific, finely-honed and tuned merlot that displays great character. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.
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Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley. The blend here is 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5
percent each petit verdot and merlot and 2 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged 24 months in 60 percent new oak barrels, mostly French with a small portion of American oak from the Appalachians. A dark ruby hue transcends inky purple; the bouquet is clean and fresh, very cherry-berry with some raspberries and their sense of faint raspiness, briers and brambles in the background, with an intensifying element of violets, lavender and potpourri. This panoply of sensual pleasures doesn’t quite prepare your palate for the rush of dusty tannins, the wheatmeal and walnut-shell austerity, the espresso and graphite elements that characterize the wine’s passage through the mouth. Still, coming back to it in an hour or so reveals its expression of a more approachable side, so give it a chance. A nicely manageable 13.5% alcohol. Production was 983 cases. Excellent potential, 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. About $48.
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Sojourn Cellars was launched in 2001 with 100 cases of cabernet sauvignon. The winery, based in the town of Sonoma, was founded by Craig and Ellen Haserot with winemaker Erich Bradley. The (not uncommon) idea was to produce limited quantities of pure and intense chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir wines from excellent vineyards. Judging from my experience with a selection of chardonnays and pinot noirs from 2010 — link to my reviews here — and these examples from 2012, the team succeeds in their aim. As you will see, the chardonnay from the Durell Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast AVA was a bit flamboyant for my palate, but I find the pinot noirs to be perfect models of the grape’s delicate yet tensile marriage of power and elegance. All the wines are fermented by native yeasts; the pinots see 50 percent new French oak barrels. Though the length of time in oak was not specified in the technical information I received with these samples, the influence of the span spent in the new and used barrels resulted in wines of lovely suppleness and nuance.
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The Sojourn Cellars Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast, is a “3 Bs” chardonnay: Not Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, but bold, bright and brassy. The color is luminous medium gold; forthright aromas of lightly roasted and caramelized pineapple and grapefruit are permeated by notes of cloves and ginger and hints of mango and orange rind; a quadrille of ripe and macerated stone-fruit parades across the palate, and I wish it revealed a bit more of a limestone and flint element and brisk acidity to balance the richness. Still, it’s not blatantly tropical, it’s not dessert-like, it’s not stridently spicy, though it’s a little over the top for my taste. The wine was barrel-fermented in 40 percent new French oak and underwent malolactic fermentation while aging. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 275 cases. Very Good+. About $54.
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The color of the Sojourn Cellars Wohler Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is an entrancing medium ruby-mulberry hue, while the hypnotic bouquet wreathes notes of cranberry and sassafras, black and red cherries, lavender and crushed violets with undertones of oolong tea and orange rind and hints of loam and mushrooms. These intoxicating elements segue seamlessly onto the palate, where they drape and flow like a dense satiny fabric of luxurious cost, though there’s nothing heavy or obvious here; this is a pinot noir that whatever its heft retains an essential grasp on the ineffable. The aromas deepen as an hour or so passes, and the wine grows increasingly floral and spicy; it’s quite dry, however, with a long finish that’s surprisingly mineral-flecked and tannic. Exquisite proportions, 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. Drink now through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Sojourn Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, is characterized by racy acidity, and while the wine is delicate and elegant, it offers plenty of vitality and cut. The color is medium ruby-magenta; aromas of cloves and sassafras, red cherries and currants blend with hints of pomegranate and cranberry and notes of dried fruit and sandalwood, yes, there’s incense-like pungency in the glass. Despite a touch of cherry-berry succulence, the wine pulls up an element of briery-brambly earthiness and underbrush-infused loam for depth under its savory, slightly macerated black and red fruit flavors. Despite those factors, the wine feels poised, graceful and delectable. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,150 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $54.
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The Sojourn Ridgetop Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, offers a limpid medium ruby-mulberry hue with a transparent rim; this is the earthiest of this trio of single-vineyard pinot noirs, displaying a full complement of briers, brambles and loam under layers of redness: I mean red cherries and raspberries, a hint of cranberry, a touch of red licorice. Vibrant acidity cuts a swath on the palate, making for a texture that’s spare and lithe though not meager; this, like its stablemates, remains generous and expansive in terms of fruit and spice while making rather serious demands in terms of its tannic and mineral-flecked structure, making it the most Burgundian of these examples, not that the comparison matters, but it indicates to me a certain style and philosophy. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 450 cases. Best from 2016 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $59.
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I wrote about the FEL Wines Chardonnay 2013 and Pinot Noir 2012, carrying Anderson Valley designations, in Part VI of this series about chardonnay and pinot noirs wines from the same producer. For this entry, we go to single vineyard versions of these wines. The idea behind issuing wines from a single vineyard source, instead of a more general regional or county/valley-wide source, is that a single vineyard will offer more character and individuality in the finished wine than a broader designation would. That sounds fine in theory, but it doesn’t always work out that way, especially when techniques in the winery mute or obliterate whatever qualities may have been inherent in the grapes and the soil and micro-climate from which they derive, as seems to be the case with this chardonnay. Richard Savoy, owner of a well-known bookstore in San Francisco, planted the vineyard that would bear his name in 1991. It lies at the mid-point of Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, just west of the town of Philo, occupying an area that slopes gently toward the southwest. He sold the vineyard in 2011 but continues to advise on farming for Ryan Hodgins, winemaker for FEL wines.

These bottles were samples for review.
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The FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, aged 14 months in French oak, 56 percent of which were new barrels.The color is dark but vivid ruby; subtle notes of loam and graphite support enticing aromas of black cherries, currants and plums infused with cloves and allspice — with a hint of the latter’s woodsy astringency — sassafras and potpourri, all amounting to a sensuous panoply of complicated but deftly melded effects. Matters are a bit more ambiguous in the mouth, as the palate feels cleansed by bright acidity that drives spicy black fruit flavors through a lithe, supple and satiny texture to a finish that demands attention with a nod to dry slightly dusty tannins and notes of leather and underbrush. Great authority here, as well as spare elegance, exactly what I want in well-made pinot noir. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 645 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $65.
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The FEL Savoy Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Anderson Valley, pushes every wrong button in my relationship to chardonnay and how it is too often made in California. It was fermented in French oak barrels, 50 percent new, and aged 15 months sur lie, that is, on the residue of yeast cells. The color is bright medium gold; bold and vivacious aromas of ripe and roasted pineapple and grapefruit are permeated by notes of cloves, quince and ginger and hints of papaya and mango. It’s a super sleek chardonnay whose citrus and stone-fruit flavors are saturated by obtrusive elements of toffee, baked apple, caramelized lemon curd and orange scented creme brulee, all cloying and stridently spicy. I’ve asked this question a thousand times: Why would anyone make chardonnay like this, and why would anyone drink it? 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 138 cases. Not recommended. About $48.
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The small, family-owned house of Champagne J. Lassalle is named in honor of its founder, Jules Lassalle, who established the firm in 1942 in the village of Chigny-Les-Roses. The patriarch died in 1982, and his wife Olga and her daughter Chantal Decelle-Lassalle took the reins. Chantal Decelle-Lassalle and her daughter, Angeline Templier, now run the house, the latter joining the estate as winemaker in 2006, spanning three generations of mothers and daughters. J. Lassalle produces about 12,500 cases of Champagne annually; the estate’s vineyards are farmed by organic methods. The production is very traditional, all done by hand, and the various cuvées tend to age three to five years in bottle before disgorgement. The wines go through full malolactic fermentation, so they tend to be quite rich.

The J. Lassalle Cuvée Preference Premier Cru Brut in this present disgorgement is a blend of wines from 2009 and 2010. It’s a combination of approximately 60 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent each pinot noir and chardonnay — “approximately,” because the house does not reveal exact percentages — and it aged 48 months on the lees in bottle. The color is pale gold with a cast of slightly tarnished silver, an effect that continues as swirls of tiny glinting bubbles surge to the surface; notes of lemon balm and roasted lemon are buttressed by intriguing scents of roasted grain and lightly buttered cinnamon toast. This is a very dry and stylish Champagne, animated by limestone and chalk elements and given a sense of attentiveness by its fleet-footed acidity; though substantial and fully fleshed out with an array of spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors, it’s neither heavy nor obvious. In fact, the focus intensifies from mid-palate through the finish tinged with hazelnuts and just-baked bread and hints of sea-salt and grapefruit rind. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. This was a local purchase, about $45. Prices around the country range from $35 to $50.

Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants, Berkeley, Calif.

The reputation of Russian River Valley’s Inman Family Wines rests on chardonnay and pinot noir, but if you grow pinot noir, you might as well produce a rosé, n’est-ce pas, and if you make pinot noir, you might as well experiment with carbonic maceration. That technique is explained below, with a review of Inman’s Whole Buncha Love Pinot Noir 2013. Owner and winemaker Kathleen Inman asserts that this wine is her favorite pinot noir that she has made, and while I think that statement is rather hyperbolic — she makes terrific “regular” pinot noir — this first effort at carbonic maceration resulted in a wine of great authority, detail and dimension. So, under review today are the recently released Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014 and Whole Buncha Love Pinot Noir 2013. These were samples for review, and I’m really happy that I was able to try them, “try” being a euphemism for “drink every damned drop.”
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Kathleen Inman’s Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley, represents the first rosé table wine I have tasted this year, by which I mean that I’ve also had rosé sparkling wines. Made from the winery’s OGV Estate — Olivet Grange Vineyard — it marks a great way to begin what I hope will be a whole season of brilliant or at least tasty rosé wines. Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes and seeing only stainless steel, the Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014 displays a shimmering light pink-mauve hue — call it the modest blush of an aroused nymph — and a captivating bouquet of strawberries and red currants, dried cherries, jasmine and violets, with background notes of cloves and orange rind and a mysterious and seductive scent I can only name as licorice Necco wafer. The wine is sleek and spare on the tongue, building its structure from brisk but not tart acidity and crystalline limestone minerality, though achieving too a modicum of nicely balanced lushness; to its strawberry and raspberry flavors it adds a hint of spiced peach and, on the finish, juicy watermelon. 12.8 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2015. Production was 1,500 cases. Excellent. About $25.
The image is of the previous vintage label.
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The Inman Whole Buncha Love Pinot Noir 2013, from the winery’s OGV Estate in Russian River Valley, is made in the carbonic maceration method. Put rather simply, the process involves putting whole bunches of red grapes in a tank, covering the mass with a blanket of carbon dioxide to create an anaerobic situation, and allowing the bunches on top and in the middle gradually to crush those below. (It is not employed for white wines.) The bunches on the bottom undergo a kind of natural fermentation due to wild yeasts on the skins, while the whole bunches above, in a complicated chemical transformation, achieve a state of non-yeast-induced fermentation inside the grapes. Carbonic maceration is associated most closely with Beaujolais and the gamay grape, though method is also used in Burgundy. In a response to a post on my Facebook page, Kathleen Inman described her procedure:

I made this by placing 4 tons of 100% whole clusters in an open top fermentor. The only juice released was from the weight of the clusters, about 70 gallons in the end. I covered the fruit with dry ice (CO2) and tarped the tank to seal it. Four times a day for 28 days, I opened the top, pumped over the juice to help promote the native fermentation (no yeast or bacteria was added to the wine) and then I reapplied the dry ice and sealed it up. (Now you can see where the “Whole Buncha”" and the Love came from!). There is no excessive CO2 in the wine although the fermentation that happens within the skins of the grapes does produce CO2 that is trapped. When you pop one of the fermented grapes into your mouth it is not dissimilar to a pop rock! This wine was very fresh and fruity when it was first dry, but as it aged in the barrel for 15 months and was stirred periodically, any CO2 dissipated, so there is no frizzante character to the wine. It is my favorite Pinot Noir I have made to date.

The color is bright and translucent cherry red; penetrating aromas of loam, red and black currants and cherries, sassafras, pomegranate and cranberry are infused by notes of cloves and allspice and a hint of lavender. The texture offers a lovely satiny drape on the palate, though buoyed by bright acidity and a piercing graphite element; 15 months in neutral French oak barrels lend firmness, subtlety and suppleness to the wine’s structure. Flavors of crushed cherries and currants are borne on a burgeoning wave of clean loam and underbrush qualities, with the complete effect of intense purity and an eloquent evocation of varietal character. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to ’19. Production was 168 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Rodney Strong Vineyards already has a fairly full roster of chardonnay and pinot noir wines. There are the Reserve Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the Estate Chardonnay, designated Chalk Hill, and Estate Pinot Noir, designated Russian River Valley, and a “regular” Sonoma County chardonnay. Recently, the winery added, under its Estate division, a chardonnay and pinot noir from the Sonoma Coast AVA. Sonoma Coast, officially approved as an American Viticultural Area in 1987, encompasses more than 500,000 acres and stretches from San Pablo Bay in the south to the Mendocino County line in the north. In the past decade or so, the region has established a reputation, primarily because of its ocean influence and cooler climate, as a prime, not to say primal, area for chardonnay and pinot noir. On the other hand, it’s such a large AVA that it’s difficult to establish one fixed identity for it, which is why there are movements afoot to portion off distinct smaller regions as sub-AVAs; Fort Ross-Seaview was approved in 2011, and I wouldn’t be surprised if windy, foggy Petaluma Gap, which contributes grapes to both of the wines under review today, was granted that privilege soon. You’ll notice on the labels illustrated here that the Sonoma Coast designation is given prominence over the grape variety. Winemakers for these examples were Rick Sayre and Justin Seidenfeld. These wines were samples for review.
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When I saw that the Rodney Strong Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, was barrel-fermented and spent 10 months in 85 percent new French oak barrels, my heart sank; that’s a lot of new oak for a chardonnay. However, some (unspecified) amount stayed in stainless steel, which perhaps helped to right the balance. In any case, the color is pale gold; the whole effect is bright, fresh and clean, with beguiling aromas of pineapple, grapefruit and green apple woven with cloves and crystallized ginger and notes of guava and quince; yes, there’s a hint of a tropical element, but it’s not overplayed. Oak is deftly integrated on the palate, with just a touch of the toasty quality, but supported by brisk acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; delicious green apple and spiced pear flavors are nestled in a winsome, moderately dense texture that flows with supple subtlety across the palate. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $25.
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The color of the Rodney Strong Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, is an almost translucent ruby-magenta hue. This is a highly fragrant wine, offering prominent notes of cloves and sassafras, black cherries and plums, with hints of red and black currants and pomagranate, and touches of lavender and rose petals. There’s a lovely satiny drape to the texture, but the structure is broad and deep, almost tannic, and framed by spicy, woody, woodsy elements from 10 months in French oak barrels, 35 percent new; a copious amount of loamy, briery and brambly earthiness lends foundation to a well-balanced and integrated package. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $30.
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Longtime readers of this blog — bless your tiny pointed heads and may your tribes increase! — know that a great deal of effort goes into the annual “12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series, but as encompassing as that sequence is, it cannot include all the Champagnes and sparkling wines that I taste from late November through early January. For this edition of Weekend Wine Notes, therefore, I offer an eclectic roster of nine of such products, one from Champagne, a duo from Franciacorta in Lombardy and a Lambrusco, an unusual darker-than-a-rosé sparkler from the far western Loire Valley, and versions from California and Oregon. I deliver as much technical information as might actually be required but concentrate on the essence of the blitzkrieg review: short, incisive and to-the-point. With one exception, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007, Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy. 13% alc. 90% chardonnay, 10% pinot noir. A favorite of ours for two Yuletide seasons. Light gold color; a seething horde of tiny bubbles; another year has burnished this sparkling wine; a little spicier, a bit toastier than it was at the previous tasting; roasted lemon and lemon balm, spiced pear; lightly buttered cinnamon toast; keen acidity and a honed limestone element; delicious, with appealing generosity but also a serious edge. Excellent. About $35.
Imported by Masciarelli Wine co., Weymouth, Mass.
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Argyle Brut 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. 60% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay. Pale gold gold, animated by a shimmer of tiny bubbles; a finely meshed construct of delicate details: lemon balm, verbena and lemon curd, a touch of orange rind; candied quince and ginger and a note of cloves; hint of biscuit; quite dry, bright acidity, lots of flint and limestone; very steely, very steady. Lovely. Excellent. About $27.
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Bonny Doon Sparkling Syrah 2011, Central Coast. 13.8% alc., according to the label, 11.9% alc. says the winery website. 83% syrah, 17% grenache. 378 cases. Opaque purple-black with a violet cast; moderately fizzy; the roasted, meaty and fleshy aspect we expect from syrah, but with vivid elements of deeply spiced and macerated strawberries and raspberries; a high balsamic note; burgeoning hints of violets and lavender; strangely attractive yet very intense, almost demanding, in fact too intense to use as an aperitif; this definitely needs food. Very Good+. About $36, intended for the winery’s club members.
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Cleto Chiarli e Figli Vecchia Modena Premier 2013, Lambrusco di Sorbara Secco, Italy. 11% alc. 100% lambrusco di Sorbara grapes. Bright medium ruby-red cherry hue; definitely and pleasantly effervescent; raspberries, red and black currants; slightly earthy with heather and boxwood; swashbuckling acidity keeps the whole dark, savory package lively and quenching, while a hint of tannin lends body; appealing supple texture balances a touch of dry austerity on the finish. Classic with rabbit pasta, terrines, duck. Very Good+. About $ .
Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Contadi Castaldi Brut Rosé 2008, Franciacorta, Lombardy. 15.5% alc. 80% pinot noir, 20% chardonnay. Pale salmon/onion skin hue; quite effervescent; fresh raspberries and strawberries with hints of rose petals and lilac; freshly baked bread, cloves, anise, orange zest; elegant and ethereal; limestone and almond skin on the finish; lovely texture and structure. Very Good+. About $21
Imported by TMT USA, San Antonio, Texas. Image from altissimocento.net.
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Emma 2013, Vin de France. 9% alc. A blend of gamay and grolleau gris grapes, produced by Domaine de la Coche. The Vin de France classification was created in 2009 and allows winemakers to blend grapes and wines from across France, not just those dictated by their appellation. Domaine de la Coche is an organic estate located in the Pays de Retz that lies south of the Loire estuary and north of the Breton marshlands. Bright purple-magenta hue; gently effervescent, just tickles your nose; rose petals and violets, blueberries and raspberries, surprisingly earthy; detectably sweet initially but segues to dry from mid-palate back; a little dusty and raspy but mainly delightful. Very Good+. About $24, an online purchase.
Imported by Fruit of the Vine, Long Island City, N.Y. I think that Emma needs a label makeover.
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Evolution Sparkling Wine nv, America. Produced by Sokol Blosser Winery. 12.5% alc. A proprietary blend of semillon, riesling, muller thurgau, pinot gris, gewurztraminer, muscat, chardonnay. Sokol Blosser, founded in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1971, delivered a real hit with its non-vintage Evolution White, now in its 18th “edition.” This sparkling wine, now debuting and made from the same grape varieties in Washington state, seemed like a natural development. It’s essentially a Prosecco-like sparkling wine made in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. Pale gold color; a tidy splurge of tiny bubbles; apples and lemons, a lot of flowers from the muscat and gewurztraminer, it seems, as well as a hint of muscat funkiness; detectably sweet on the entry but slides toward dryness on the finish; fortunately clean acidity and a hint of limestone keep it honest. Very Good. About $22.
Image from urbanblisslife.com.
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Jacquard Brut Rosé nv, Champagne. 12.5% alc. 53% pinot noir, 35% chardonnay, 12% pinot meunier. Enchanting pale copper-salmon color; a tempest of tiny swirling bubbles; wild strawberries and cherries with a hint of red currants, touches of peach and orange zest; biscuits and cinnamon toast; quince and crystallized ginger; delicate, elegant, an ethereal construct buoyed by crisp acidity and a scintillating limestone quality; a finish half chiseled/half softly appealing. Really lovely. Excellent. About $55.
JAD Imports, Manhasset, N.Y.
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Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec 2010, North Coast. 13.5% alc. 88% flora grapes, 11% chardonnay, 1% pinot noir. 96% Napa County, 2.5% Mendocino, 1.5% Sonoma, 1% Marin. The flora grape is a cross of semillon and gewurztraminer developed of UC-Davis. Very pale gold hue; a gentle tug of finely-wrought bubbles; lemon balm, spiced pear and a touch of peach; jasmine and camellia; not so much sweet as ripe, soft and cloud-like; the floral and slightly nutty elements burgeon as the limestone character digs deeper, creating attractive tension even as the wine feels integrated and harmonious. Drink with the most simple desserts, nothing flamboyant; a sugar cookie or biscotti, a fruit tart, light cakes. Excellent. About $39.
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