Pinot noir


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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I started this post as a way of commemorating my 30th anniversary in wine-writing, reached, as My Regular Readers know — bless your little pointy heads and may your tribes increase — early in July. Initially, the concept was “Fifty Great Wines,” but I decided that choosing 50 “great” wines from 30 years of tasting would be an impossible and probably just stupid and futile task. In three decades, I tasted thousands and thousands and more thousands of wines — you writers know how it is — so choosing the 50 “greatest” from this immense group would be a Sisyphian exercise.

Then I realized that what would be more significant anyway would be 50 wines that, as the title states, shaped my palate, the wines that shook me to the core, that shifted my perspective about how wine is made and its various effects, that achieved a level of purity and intensity that befit the divine; the wines, in short, that were not only definitive but created me as a writer. Yes, just that. So I spent the past few weeks combing through dozens of old notebooks, through the electronic archives of the newspaper for which I wrote a weekly column for 20 years and of course through the pages of this blog.

Now let’s be frank about some issues. As a wine reviewer, I am dependent on the practice of samples provided by producers, importers, marketers and (to a lesser extent) local distributors; I depend on the occasional trade tasting, lunch with a touring winemaker, on sponsored travel to wine regions in this country and abroad. You will not, therefore, see a list that emphasizes the great wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy, though some are included, more Burgundy than Bordeaux, because I have few opportunities to encounter such wines. Perhaps, however, you will discover here wines that you had forgotten or overlooked; certainly there will be surprises. To those of my wine-writing/blogging/tasting friends who might say, “Cripes, FK, I can’t believe you didn’t put [whatever legendary fabuloso wine] on this list!” I can only reply, “I never had the chance to taste that wine and if you want to send me a bottle, I’ll be grateful but not humbled.” This is about my experience as an individual, as, you might say, a palate.

I benefited early on from the generosity of two people in Memphis, the restaurateur-wine collector John Grisanti and a figure important in wholesale, retail and wine education, Shields Hood. Many of the wines they offered me, exposed me to and sent in my direction truly changed my life and made me what I am today.
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1. Simi Pinot Noir 1974, Alexander Valley. Purchased at a local store, tasted at home March 1984 and still, at least in memory, one of the greatest California pinots I ever encountered.

2. Mercurey Clos des Myglands 1971, Faiveley. Tasted at John Grisanti’s private cellar, September 16, 1984. As in “Ah, so that’s what Burgundy is all about.”

3. Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Perignon 1976, Champagne. At a wholesaler’s tasting, with Shields Hood, September 17, 1984.

4. Chateau St. Jean Late Harvest Johannesburg Riesling 1978, Belle Terre Vineyards, Alexander Valley. Last week of September, 1984.

5. Chateau La Grange 1926, St Julien Third Growth, Bordeaux. At a special wine dinner at the long-departed American Harvest Restaurant in Germantown, east of Memphis, October 1984. As in, “Ah, so this is what an aged Bordeaux wine is all about.” I love the label.

6. Simi Reserve Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Alexander Valley. My then father-in-law bought a case of this wine at $16 a bottle. High-living in those days. At 10 years old, it was perfect, expressive, eloquent. This was at Christmas dinner, 1984.

7. Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 1971, Grivelet. At John Grisanti’s cellar, June 9, 1985, a great afternoon.

8. Sonoma Vineyards Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 1976, Sonoma County. July 27 and 28, 1985. Fine balance, harmony and integration, a sense of confidence and authority expressed with elegance and restraint. This winery was not renamed for its founder Rodney Strong until after he sold it in 1984.

9. Chateau Latour 1982, Pauillac, Bordeaux. Definitive for the vintage and the chateau; tasted at a trade event in Memphis sometime in 1985; tasted again in New York, October 1991.

10. Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon 1980, Napa Valley. Purchased at Sherry-Lehmann in NYC, for $20.50(!); consumed with Easter dinner in Memphis, April 1986.

11. Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 1977, Alexander Valley. At a tasting in Memphis of Silver Oak cabernets, sometime in 1986.

12. Chateau Haut-Brion 1937, Graves, Bordeaux. At a tasting with collectors in Memphis in 1987; this 50-year-old wine was, incredibly and from a dismal decade in Bordeaux, even better than the fabulous ’59 and ’66.

13. Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 1949, Hermitage, Rhone Valley, France. One of a mixed case of wonderful wines I received for annotating a cellar, drunk at a dinner in the Fall of 1988. At 39 years old, one of the best wines I have ever tasted.

14. Beaune Clos des Ursules 1952, Louis Jadot. At lunch with Gagey pere et fils at the maison in Beaune, March 1990. When I mentioned this to a friend back in the U.S., he said, “Oh, yeah, they pull out that wine for all the Americans.” No matter.

15. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru 1983. Tasted in New York, October 1991.

16. Gaja Barbaresco 1955, Piedmont, Italy. Made by Angelo Gaja’s father, tasted in New York, October 1991.

17. Chateau Beychevelle 1928, St. Julien Fourth Growth, Bordeaux. At a large tasting of multiple vintages of Chateau Branaire-Ducru and Chateau Beychevelle going back to 1893, with collector Marvin Overton and British writer Clive Coates, in Nashville. This ’28 was even better than the examples from the god-like years of ’47, ’45 and ’29; just writing that sentence made me feel like Michael Broadbent.

18. Freemark Abbey 1978, Napa Valley. At a vertical tasting in Chicago, January 1993.

19. Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Napa Valley. I bought six half-bottles of this splendid perfectly aged cabernet from a FedEx pilot who was divesting his cellar and served them at a dinner party in 1996.

20. Chalone Chardonnay 1981, Monterey. A revelation at almost 15 years old; I bought this and some other California chardonnays from the late ’70s and early ’80s out of a cellar that had been kept at 40 to 45 degrees; tasted with LL and a friend at Cafe Society in Memphis, May 1996.

21. Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 1998, Clare Valley, Australia. Tasted at the property, October 1998, very young, filled with power and otherworldly grace.

22. Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir 1997, Gippsland, Australia. Tasted in Melbourne, October 1998; they’re not shy with oak at Bass Phillip, but this was a thrilling monument to pinot noir purity and intensity.

23. Clos Apalta 1996, Rapel Valley, Chile, 95 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet sauvignon. The initial release, tasted at the hacienda of Don Pepe Rabat, who owned the oldest merlot vineyard in Chile, with Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle and Michel Rolland, April 1998.

24. Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses Premier Cru 1998, Domaine G. Roumier. From the barrel at the property, December 7, 1999, my birthday. The earth seemed to open under my feet.

25. Chateau Petrus 1998, Pomerol, Bordeaux. Barrel sample at the property, December 1999. One of the most profound wines I have ever experienced.

26. Robert Mondavi To Kalon 1 Block Fume Blanc 2000, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

27. Robert Mondavi Marjorie’s Sunrise Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, Oakville District, Napa Valley. June 2002, a sample for review.

28. Sineann Reed and Reynolds Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Tasted at the International Pinot Noir Conference, McMinnville, August 2002.

29. Nicolas Joly Clos de la Bergerie 1999, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. New York, at La Caravelle, January 2003, with the line-up of Joly’s wines.

30. Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1966, South Australia. At a comprehensive tasting of this iconic wine, 1996 back to 1955, at Spago in L.A., April 2003.

31. Chateau d’Epiré 1964, Savennières Moelleux, Loire Valley, France. At a dinner associated with the Loire Valley Wine Fair, February 2004.

32. Domaine de la Pepière Clos des Briords 1986, Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Loire Valley, France. At the estate with proprietor Marc Ollivier, one of the great tasting experiences of my life, February 2004.

33. Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2001. Tasted in New York, June 2004.

34. Tres Sabores Zinfandel 2003, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Tasted in New York, March 2006.

35. Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut 1996, Champagne, France. Tasted in New York, September 2006; fabulous but not nearly ready to drink.

36. Chassagne-Montrachet Les Caillerets Premier Cru 2004, Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

37. Corton Grand Cru 2002, Domaine Comte Senard. New York, September 2006, trade tasting.

38. Chateau Montelena The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa Valley. New York, September 2007.

39. Porter-Bass Chardonnay 2004, Russian River Valley. New York, September 2007.

40. Pommard Les Epenots Premier Cru 2004, Dominique Laurent. New York, September 2007.

41. Phifer Pavit Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley. Sample for review, tasted at home October 2008. The best first-release cabernet I ever encountered.

42. Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Napa valley. Sample for review, tasted at home December 2008.

43. Heyl zu Herrnsheim Niersteiner Pettenheim Riesling Spätlese halbtrocken 1991, Rheingau, Germany. At the estate, July, 2009.

44. Quinta da Roameira Vintage Porto 2007. In Douro Valley, August 2009, at a comprehensive tasting of the 2007 ports at Niepoort.

45. Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Tasted in Piedmont, January, 2010, with winemaker Giorgio Lavagna and a ragtag gaggle of American bloggers.

46 & 47. Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec 2007, Mendoza, & Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Chardonnay 2006, Mendoza. Tasted at the property — the chardonnay with lunch — October 2010.

48. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 1998. Purchased locally and consumed on New Year’s Eve 2010, with Imperial Osetra caviar from Petrossian.

49. Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenerg Riesling Beerenauslese 2004, Pfalz, Germany. A sample for review, tasted December 2011.

50. Müllen Kinheimen Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2002, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. Tasted with Lyle Fass in New York, December 2013.

Well, I already see a couple of wines that I should have included in this roster — Chateau d’Yquem 1975, Sauternes, for example — but 50 is a good wholesome round number with an air of closure about it, so let’s leave it alone. And for the future? The process of learning, having our minds changed, our ideas and consciousness expanded never ends. Perhaps there will be candidates for this list from 2014, among them the Clos Saron Stone Soup Vineyard Syrah 2011, Sierra Foothills, made by Gideon Beinstock, and, oddly enough, the Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas, made by Dan Gatlin. We’ll see how I feel in another 30 years.

One of the seemingly natural pairs in terms of wine type, grapes and geography is chardonnay and pinot noir. Doubtless such a perception stems from the conjunction of chardonnay and pinot noir in their Ur-home, their cradle, their altar, in Burgundy’s Cote d’Or. It’s the terroir, stupid, a small narrow stretch of low, southeast-facing hills upon which nature, climate and geology have, with mindless yet carefully calibrated precision, wrought exactly the gradations, exposure, drainage, top soil and under-girding layers, wind and weather — the latter being the wild card — to produce some of the world’s legendary vineyards and finest, rarest wines. It’s not surprising, then, that growers and winemakers in other regions of the world consistently seek to emulate that pairing of these grapes.

No place else is Burgundy, of course, so no area can hope to duplicate exactly the terroir or the conditions that prevail there. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, for example, the pinot noir grape performs beautifully among those verdant hills and dales, while chardonnay — not that there’s not good chardonnay — is gradually giving over to pinot blanc, pinot gris and riesling. Many regions in California are amenable to chardonnay and pinot noir: Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Carneros, Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Maria Valley and other smaller and more isolated areas produce splendid examples of each. It’s not surprising that large producers include both types of wines in their rosters or that small-scale wineries sometimes specialize in just the two.

Today’s post inaugurates a series in which I will be looking at the chardonnay and pinot noir wines of producers in California, sometimes individually, occasionally in groups. There’s a good chance that My Readers have not heard of Gallegos Wines. The close-knit family released its first wines only last year, but its roots in Napa Valley — figuratively and literally — go back three generations. The wine industry in California could not exist without the labor of the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who work in the vineyards and wineries, plant and then tend the vines and grapes through all stages of growth. Increasingly, many of those workers with ties to the land and the industry are starting to make wine too, enough that there’s now a Mexican-American winemakers organization.

Ignacio Gallegos came to California from Michoacan in the 1940s and settled in St. Helena, in Napa Valley, in the mid-1950s. His son, Ignacio II, and grandsons, Eric and Ignacio III, worked in vineyard management and gained the renown that enabled them in 2007 to finally establish their own vineyard management company. Having worked in many of the valley’s finest vineyards, having their own company and with Eric and Ignacio III completing college and courses in viticulture and winemaking, it seemed inevitable that the family would draw on these resources and the grapes from the Rancho de Gallegos estate in the Rutherford bench area, owned by Ignacio II’s brother Maurilio. Gallegos Family Wines produces about 1,000 cases; in addition to the chardonnay and pinot noir reviewed here, there’s a sauvignon blanc, with merlot, petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon coming soon.

These wines were samples for review. Image of Eric, Ignacio II and Ignacio III by Tom Stockwell for the Napa Valley Register.
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The Boekenoogen Vineyard is one of my favorite vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands, and the family that owns and farms the land produces terrific wine from it. The Gallegos Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, is a reflection of the greatness of that land. The color is a limpid medium ruby with mulberry undertones; this is exquisite, evanescent, transformational pinot noir that features slightly fleshy aromas of red currants and cherries flecked with mulberries, violets and rose petals, cloves, allspice and sassafras, and notes of rhubarb with briers and brambles for an earthy element; all amounting to perhaps the most alluring and definitive bouquet on a pinot noir that I have encountered this year. The division of oak is 25 percent new French barrels and 75 percent neutral, though I was not informed about the length of aging; I venture to say not excessive, because the oak influence here is subliminal, a subtle and supple shaping force. The texture is delightfully sleek and satiny, supporting smoky black and red cherry and currant flavors that take on a bit of loam and leathery earthiness through the finish; well-knit and integrated tannins round off the package. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Production was 250 cases. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $42.
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The Charmer Vineyard, owned by Ed Beard Jr. and located in the heart of the Yountville AVA, was planted by Ignacio Gallegos and his brothers more than 30 years ago, so they know it well. They produced 125 cases of the Gallegos Charmer Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Yountville, Napa Valley, a wine that sees only 25 percent new French oak barrels and underwent 25 percent malolactic, the natural chemical transformation that turns sharp malic acid into milder and creamier lactic acid; the result is a chardonnay that retains bright acidity and is not a creamy-butter bomb, while maintaining a lithe, supple almost talc-like texture. The color is pale gold; no denying the richness, in aromas and flavors, the slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit with top-notes of jasmine, mango and cloves, but elements of flint and damp gravel and a crisp exhilarating character keep it honest and true. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $29.
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Today’s notes feature eight rosé wines, four from France, three from California and one from the state of Virginia. In style they range from ephemeral to fairly robust. I have to take shots at a couple of these examples, but those are the breaks in the realm of wine reviewing. No attempt at technical, historical, geographical or personal information here (you know, the stuff I really dote on); instead, the intent is to pique your interest and whet your palate. Except for the Calera Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2013, these were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Chateau de Berne Terres de Berne Rosé 2013, Côtes de Provence, France. 13% alc. 50% each grenache and cinsault. Very pale onion skin hue, almost shimmers; light kisses of strawberry, peach and orange rind, hints of dried thyme; bone-dry, crisp and vibrant, loads of scintillating limestone minerality. Really well-made and enjoyable but packaged in an annoying over-designed bottle that’s too tall to fit on a refrigerator shelf. Excellent. About $20.
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Bila-Haut Rosé 2013, Pays d’Oc, France. 13.5% alc. Cinsault and grenache. (From M. Chapoutier) Pretty copper-salmon color; orange zest and raspberries, dusty minerals, notes of rose petals and lavender; quite dry, with limestone austerity, a fairly earthy, rustic style of rose, not in the elegant or delicate fashion. Very Good. About $13.
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Calera Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2013, Central Coast. 14.7% alc. 466 cases. Bright copper-peach color; think of this as a cadet pinot noir in the form of a rosé; currants and plums, raspberry with a bit of briery rasp; notes of smoke and dried Provencal herbs, hints of pomegranate and orange zest; very clean, fresh and vibrant with a damp limestone foundation. Excellent. About $17.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast. 13% alc. 92 cases. Light but bright copper-salmon-topaz hue; strawberries and red currants, both fresh and dried, blood orange, note of pomegranate; lovely, lithe and supple but energized by brisk acidity; floral element burgeons and blossoms in the glass, as in rose petals and camellias; very dry, delicate, ethereal yet with a real bedrock of limestone minerality; a touch earthier than the version of 2012. Excellent. About $25.
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Domaine de la Mordorée “La Dame Rousse” 2013, Tavel, France. 14.5% alc. 60% grenache, 10% each cinsault, syrah and mourvèdre, 5% each bourboulenc and clairette. Brilliant strawberry-copper color; strawberries, raspberries and red currants with a touch of peach; very dry and fairly robust for rosé; notes of dried herbs and summer flowers, dominant component of limestone and flint, almost tannic in effect, but overall high-toned and elegant. Excellent. About $30.
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Notorious Pink 2013, Vin de France. Alc% NA. 100% grenache. (Domaine la Colombette) Better to call this one Innocuous Pink. Carries delicacy to the point of attenuation; very pale onion skin color; faintest tinge of strawberry, bare hint of orange zest and limestone; fairly neutral all the way round. Comes in an upscale frosted bottle, woo-hoo. Good. About $20.
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Stinson Vineyards Rosé 2013, Virginia, USA. 12% alc. 100 percent mourvèdre. 120 cases. Ruddy onion skin hue; fresh strawberries and raspberries with cloves and slightly dusty graphite in the back; notes of orange pekoe tea and dried red currants; a little fleshy and floral; bright acidity and a mild limestone-like finish. Very Good+. About $18.
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Robert Turner Wines Mosaic Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14% alc. With 15% cabernet franc. 25 cases. Pale copper-onion skin color; musky and dusky melon, raspberry and strawberry with notes of pomegranate and rhubarb; finely-knit texture, delicate, elegant, lively, with a honed limestone finish. Excellent. About $22.
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In the ancient Occitan language of the South of France, picho means “petit,” hence la pitchoune is a diminutive for “little one.” That’s the name that Julia Child and her husband Paul gave to the cottage they built in the village of Plascassier in Provence, now a cooking school. And that’s the name of a small-production winery, founded in 2005, that makes tiny amounts of wine from Sonoma Coast grapes. Winemaker and partner is Andrew Berge, and he turns out, at least in the samples I was sent, wines of wonderful finesse and elegance.
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The color of La Pitchoune Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, is vivid copper-salmon. A bouquet of slightly fleshy strawberries and raspberries opens to notes of watermelon, spiced tea and flint; this is bone-dry but juicy and tasty with raspberry, melon and dried red currant flavors, a rosé of nuance and delicacy enlivened by crisp acidity, a slightly leafy aspect and a finish drenched with damp limestone minerality. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 39 cases. I could drink this all Summer long. Excellent. About $30.
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La Pitchoune Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, offers a transparent medium ruby color and enticing aromas of rhubarb, cranberry and pomegranate wreathed with sassafras and cloves, rose petals and lilac. The texture feels like the coolest, sexiest satin imaginable, riven by acidity as striking as a red sash on a blue coat; the resulting sense of tension, resolution and balance is the substance of which great wines are made. Oak is subliminal, a subtle, supple shaping influence, so the wine feels quite lithe and light on its feet; flavors of spiced and macerated black cherries and plums emit a curl of smoke and a wisp of ash as prelude to a lively finish permeated by notes of briers, brambles and loam. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 279 cases. Sublime pinot noir for drinking through 2017 or ’18. Exceptional. About $60.
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You’ll have to do a little searching for this beauty, My Readers, because the production is limited, but if you’re a fan of rosé wines, this is worth a phone call or visit to the winery website. The MacPhail Family Wines Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, offers a radiant copper-salmon color and bright aromas of dried red currants and strawberries with a hint of peaches and orange zest. The wine is clean, fresh and dry, but nor austere; an earthy, slightly brambly background encompasses notes of wild berries and cloves, over a dusty limestone element; there’s even a touch of tannic power under the vivid acidity, but this is not one of those serious rosés that neglects its higher purpose: to be delightful and pleasurable and vivacious. 14.5 percent alcohol. 400 cases. James MacPhail founded the winery in 2002; it is now part of Hess Family Estates. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

Your eyes do not deceive you, My Readers. Today’s Weekend Wine Notes offer 10 wines priced under $20, in actuality, from about $12 to $19. We flaunt our eclectic nature today, reaching from various regions of California to Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Argentina and Australia, and embracing many grape varieties and styles of wine. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes I dispense with large quantities of technical, historical and geographical data to bring you quick incisive reviews meant to pique your interest and titillate your taste buds. Remember, please, that all wines are not available in all areas of our country nor even in all retail stores in the same city. That’s just the mechanics of distribution and consumer interest. In any case, enjoy these selections where you find them, in moderation, of course. Except for one wine, these were samples for review.
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Adobe Pink 2013, Paso Robles. 46% syrah, 37% grenache noir, 17% mourvèdre. 14.5% alc. Brilliant salmon-peach color with a tinge of copper; pure strawberry and raspberry and lightly curranty, hints of tangerine and candied kumquat; watermelon and raspberry in the mouth, quite dry but ripe and juicy; snappy acidity, plenty of limestone minerality and a slightly earthy, austere finish. Drink up. Very Good+. About $14.
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Bonny Doon Albariño 2013, Central Coast. 100% albariño. 13.2% alc. Pale gold color; seductive bouquet of roasted lemon and lemon balm, quince and ginger, notes of camellia, almond blossom and lime peel; quite dry and spare, savory, saline, bracing acidity; large component of limestone and oyster shell minerality; attractive, vibrant and resonant. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $18.
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Isabelino 2012, Rueda, Spain. 85% verdejo, 15% viura. 13% alc. Bright straw-yellow; earthy, savory and briny, seashell and limestone; roasted lemon and yellow plum, a hint of spiced pear and overripe peach and a shade funky; lovely silken texture riven by vibrant acidity. Line up the oysters fresh from the deep. Drink up. Very Good. About $12.
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Poggio Anima Belial 2011, Toscana I.G.T., Italy. 100% sangiovese. Medium ruby color, tinge of garnet; red and black currants and cherries, cloves and allspice; violets and potpourri; orange zest, oolong tea, slightly earthy and leathery; very dry with rousing acidity and lip-smacking tannins, lots of presence and personality for the price. Through 2015. Very Good+. About $16 (Discounted to $13 at the retail shop where I purchased it.)
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Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt “RK” Riesling, 2012, Mosel, Germany. 100% riesling. 10% alc. Pale gold color; lemon and lychee, rubber eraser, heather and hay, wisps of jasmine and honeysuckle; modestly sweet entry then bone-dry from mid-palate through the finish; spiced peach and pear, slightly earthy; lithe and lively and with scintillating limestone minerality balanced by moderate lushness in texture. A sleek, tasty beauty. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $19.
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Souverain Sauvignon Blanc 2012, North Coast. 100% sauvignon blanc. 13.5% alc. Light gold hue; lime peel, pink grapefruit, lemongrass, celery seed, hints of lilac and tangerine; quite bright, fresh, crisp and lively; lots of limestone and flint minerality; grapefruit rind and almond skin finish, with a hint of bracing bitterness. Super attractive. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $13.
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Vale do Bomfim 2011, Douro, Portugal. From the House of Dow’s. 14.5% alc. 40% tinta barroca, 25% touriga nacional, 25% touriga franca, 10% tinta roriz. Deep ruby-purple with a magenta rim; very engaging aromas: black cherries, blackberries and mulberries, lavender and potpourri, hints of graphite and blueberry jam; quite dry, sleek and supple, peppery, with raspy and briery tannins, touches of leather and woodsy spice. Now through 2015. Very Good. About $12.
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Vina Robles White(4) 2013, Paso Robles. 14.9% alc. Viognier 46%, verdelho 19%, vermentino 19%, sauvignon blanc 16%. Very pale gold hue; mango, ginger and quince, citrus and stone-fruit with emphasis on rinds and stones; jasmine and yellow plums; spare and slightly astringent floral and mineral elements; lovely texture, shapely and silky, almost lush but cut by bright acidity for liveliness and crispness. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $16.
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Wakefield Promised Land Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, South Australia. 100% cabernet sauvignon. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby-purple; cedar, tobacco, dried rosemary; intense and concentrated notes of black currants, raspberries and cherries; hints of black olive, leather and loam; dense, chewy, sleek and lithe; ripe and tasty black fruit supported by earthy, leathery, very dry tannins and a touch of spicy oak. Grill a steak; open a bottle. Now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $13.
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William Cole Columbine Special Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 100% pinot noir. 13% alc. Medium ruby color; pomegranate and rhubarb, cloves and sassafras, notes of leather, tomato skin, tobacco leaf and briers, a little rooty; smooth and satiny; smoke, black cherry, fairly earthy yet with a spare, ethereal character. An interesting interpretation of the grape. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $17.
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Though I have been writing about the wines made by Gideon Beinstock for 20 years, I met him for the first time three weeks ago at a dinner party in the Sierra Foothills, northeast of Sacramento. Around dusk, a group of us were sitting outside, and Beinstock opened a bottle of his Clos Saron Out of the Blue 2013, a blend of 90 percent cinsault and five percent each syrah and graciano grapes. This was also my first encounter with a wine under the Clos Saron label, which he and his wife Saron Rice launched in 1996, while he was winemaker for Renaissance Vineyard and Winery. You know how it is, friends. You sniff a wine, take a sip, and you know that this is the real thing, an amalgam of such intensity and expansiveness, of such vibrancy and resonance that most other wines seem amateurish in comparison. The next day, I visited Clos Saron and tasted through the winery’s currant releases and wines in the barrel. My colleagues on this occasion were Gary Paul Fox, owner and winemaker of Bangor Ranch Vineyard & Winery, and Cara Zujewski, who with her partner Aaron Mockrish, operates the local Three Cedars Ranch, she doing produce, he raising sheep.

The Israeli-French Beinstock arrived at what became Renaissance in the 1970s and helped plant the original vines. He spent most of the 1980s working in vineyards in Burgundy and the Rhone Valley. and when he returned to Yuba County, he took the position as assistant winemaker to Diane Werner, widow of the estate’s first winemaker Karl Werner. Beinstock became winemaker for Renaissance in 1994, a job he held until 2011. He told me that for his last few years at Renaissance, his “heart was not in it,” and he extricated himself from the Fellowship of Friends, the spiritual organization that owns the estate, and took up the reins of Clos Saron full-time.

Clos Saron occupies a rustic compound near the community of Oregon House — motto: “We’re not actually in Oregon!” — where the structure in which he and his wife and children live lies a few steps from the winery. The Home Vineyard extends practically from their front door down a slight slope. Also on site are sheep, chickens and geese. Beinstock’s methodology is about as minimal as winemaking gets. The winery possesses neither a crusher nor a destemmer; all crushing is done by foot-stomping, and fermentation takes place with stems in open-top casks; because of the stems, fermentation is relatively short, that is, four to 10 days. Grapes are not inoculated with commercial yeast, but fermentation is impelled by natural yeast on the grape skins. Acidity is never “corrected.” New oak makes no appearance at Clos Saron. Battonage (stirring) and racking do not occur while wines are in barrel; wines are only racked directly to bottle. Sulfur dioxide is applied at a minimum degree, 20/25 parts per million. Red wines are neither fined nor filtered.

The result, to my palate, are wines that display a remarkable measure of authenticity and integrity, purity and intensity, the exhilarating quality of a wine that goes almost directly from the vineyard to the glass. I asked Beinstock if he missed working with cabernet sauvignon, the grape that put Renaissance on the map, admittedly a small map considering the limited production. He said, “Truly, what I’m most fascinated with is soil, not the grape. I worked with cabernet at Renaissance because of the microclimate. It’s one of the world’s best sites for cabernet. Here I work with different grapes because of the location. A lean soil over layers of volcanic ash and decomposed granite.” The Home Vineyard slopes gently to the northeast at 1600 feet above sea-level.

How do you find these wines, usually made in a total quantity of about 800 cases a year? They’re available at a handful of restaurants and retailers in California, New York and around Boston and Washington D.C.; or from the winery website: clossaron.com

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Current and recent releases:
>Clos Saron Syrah 2013. An experimental blend of Stone Soup syrah with 30 percent (white) verdejo; powerful, very spicy and fruity; seductive body and texture. $NA.
>Clos Saron Stone Soup Syrah 2013. Inky purple, penetrating graphite and granitic minerality; very intense and concentrated, very spicy. Try 2017 or ’18 through 2023 to ’25. Typically 60 to 150 cases. About $50
>Clos Saron Stone Soup Syrah 2012. A touch more open and approachable than the ’13; slightly fleshy and meaty, grounded in iodine and iron, bright acidity; fresh with ambient elegance. 2015 through 2025. About $50
>Out of the Blue 2013. 90 percent cinsault, 5 percent syrah, 5 percent graciano. The cinsault vines were planted in 1885, and the vineyard is still owned by the same family. Lovely heft and body, profoundly lively, vibrant and appealing; black and blue fruit scents and flavors, permeated by briers and brambles, graphite and dusty tannins. Approximately 170 cases. About $30.
>A Deeper Shade of Blue 2013. 56 percent syrah, 38 percent old vine grenache, 6 percent verdejo. Quite spicy and minerally, currants and blueberries and plums, slightly macerated and roasted; smooth and polished but earthy, rooty, slightly granitic. About $35.
>Pinot Noir 2011. Grapes from the Home Vineyard. Dark ruby with a violet tinge; deeply earthy and minerally, a bit of iron; but fresh and clean and penetrating, currant and plum fruit, tremendous presence, vibrancy and tenacity; dusty tannins but sleek supple texture; one of the most individual and expressive pinot noirs I have tasted. Approximately 108 cases. About $60.
>Stone Soup Syrah 2011. Awesome purity, intensity and concentration; you feel the rock-strew soil of that precipitous vineyard, the deep foundation of tannin and acidity, the cut and edge of graphite, the spareness and elegance yet the paradoxically voluptuous aura of ripe blackberries, currants and plums. Approximately 104 cases. About $50.
>Heart of Stone Syrah 2009. With 10 percent viognier. Very earthy, piercing graphite minerality, deeply and darkly spicy, intense and concentrated, black and blue fruit; powerhouse acidity and tannin, briery and brambly, root-like; incredibly supple texture. 125 cases. About $45.
>Cuvee Mysterieuse 2009. 64 percent syrah, 30 percent merlot, 6 percent viognier. Lovely, rich and warm but intense, well-knit, vibrant, supple, resonant; quite floral, very spicy, earthy and imbued with a huge lithic minerally component. About 96 cases. Price $45.
>Black Pearl 2008. 65 percent syrah, 27 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent petit verdot, 2 percent merlot. Ripe, spicy and minerally; black and red cherries and currants with a touch of plum; smoky, briers and brambles, touch of old leather, dusty tannins, vibrant acidity. Approximately 97 cases. About $45.
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From the barrel:

First, we tried a couple of wines made from fruit purchased in Lodi, a Tickled Pink Rose 2013 that won’t be released until 2015, 100 percent graciano grapes, a dry, spare, elegant and intellectual rose; and the Carte Blanche 2013, a half-half blend of verdelho and albarino grapes that builds remarkable density and character in the glass while remaining bright, clean, fresh and elevating.

Then, we moved on to the components of pinot noirs from 2013 and 2012, getting an impression of what the separate blocks or lots in the vineyard offer.

For 2013, the North Block (planted in 1999) is a radiant dark purple hue, deep and spicy, with notes of lavender and violets, very dry, bastions of tannin. The South Block is quite earthy and loamy, delivering rooty briers and brambles and tannins that are dominant but not punishing. The Lower Block is indeed the “blockiest,” the most inchoate and unformed, even feral. Older Block, grafted in 1995 to cabernet stock planted in 1980 and interplanted between, feels the most complete and comprehensible as pinot noir, very dry, with spanking acidity but with spice and violets and lovely fruit. Finally, in this group, we tasted the Pinot Noir 2013 that’s a blend of these separate blocks, a wine that’s inky-purple, very dry, impressively vibrant and resonant and starting to be expressive.

For 2012, the North Block offers a hint of floral character but is incredibly intense and concentrated and wrapped by tight tannins. Lower Block is deep, dark and spicy, roiling with earth and loam and quite tannic. Older Block delivers a thread of spice, dried flowers and black fruit through the vibrant acidity and minerally tannins. The blend of these three vineyards — we didn’t taste the 2012 from South Block — felt almost like real pinot noir, complete, confident, both deep and elevating.

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The temperature is rising in many parts of the U.S.A., and we as a people are in desperate need of refreshment. Turn, then, I say, to the tasty, often surprisingly complex and reasonably-priced sparkling wines called Crémant d’Alsace. These are made in that rather Germanic northeastern region of France in the time-honored manner of Champagne, though here called méthode traditionelle, usually from such grapes as chardonnay, pinot blanc, pinor gris, pinor noir and reisling, sometimes in blends, sometimes as single variety. The examples mentioned today are “non-vintage” products, meaning, actually, that they are “multi-vintage,” that is, a blend of several vintages, a practice widely employed wherever sparkling wines are made. These are incredibly satisfying and refreshing sparklers, as appropriate in the kitchen and dining room as they are on the porch or patio, at poolside or on a picnic, served chilled, of course, and in a tall flute so you can appreciate the color and the stream of tiny bubbles. Drink up! Have Fun! Enjoy! It’s Summertime!

These wines were samples for review.
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The Willm Brut Blanc de Blancs is designated Vin Mousseux de Qualité rather than Crémant d’Alsace, the implication being that grapes from outside Alsace may be included. The wine is composed of 100 percent pinot blanc grapes. The color is very pale gold, and the mousse is a pleasing froth of tiny bubbles. Pointed aromas of green apples and spiced pears are wreathed with notes of peach and jasmine, with a hint of lime peel; the entry is slightly sweet, in a ripe fruit sort of manner, but from mid-palate back through the limestone-laden finish it’s dry, elevated by crisp acidity, and a bit saline. All in all, a fresh and refreshing sparkling wine. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value. .

Imported by Monsieur Touton Selections, New York.
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The Cattin family arrived in Alsace from Switzerland in 1720; the estate is operated by the descendents of its original founders. The Joseph Cattin “Brut Cattin” Crémant d’Alsace is a blend, differing according to year, of pinot blanc, pinot gris, riesling and chardonnay; the vineyards are sustainably farmed, with average age of vines for this product being 40 years. The wine offers a pale gold hue and a lovely and persistent effervescence; notes of lemon and grapefruit, almond skin and lime peel shade into hints of lilac and flint. This is a very dry sparkling wine, no playing around with flirty sweetness here, yet the vastly appealing texture is talc-like, almost cloud-like, though energized by incisive acidity and crystalline limestone-and-flint minerality. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $19, and a Bargain at the Price.

Imported by T. Edward Wines, New York.
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Philippe and Pascal Zinck farm their 56 acres of vines organically. The Domaine Zinck Brut Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace, 100 percent pinot noir, sports an entrancing pale copper-salmon color enlivened by hordes of tiny glinting bubbles. Aromas of pure strawberry and raspberry waft from the glass, permeated by notes of orange rind, cloves and rose petals; bright acidity and seashell-like minerality keep a slightly creamy texture clean, bright and crisp under subtle flavors of smoky and spicy red currants and raspberries; the finish is dry and imbued with limestone and shale elements. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.

Imported by HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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Does it help to say that I could drink the François Schmitt Blanc de Noirs Crémant d’Alsace every day? The estate was founded in 1697; François Schmitt took over the family domaine in the 1970s and now runs things with his son Frédéric. This is 100 percent pinot noir with no dosage, so bone-dry does not begin to describe the wine’s scintillating, limestone-powered attitude. The color is very pale gold, like old jewelry; bubbles are fine, tempestuous, tenacious; the whole package seems to glitter with an edge of steel, limestone and flint. There’s a hint of almond skin and hazelnuts, a note of biscuits, a touch of some astringent little white flower, evanescent and ineffable. The effect is of elegance and hauteur, yet this high-toned sparkler is eminently drinkable. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $28.

Imported by Fruit of the Vine, Riahi Selections, Long Island City, New York.
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