Pinot noir


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.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.”
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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!
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


When I first tasted the Oak Knoll Winery Pinot Noir 2011, assembled from six vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, my reaction was, “Well, O.K., that’s nice.” As I continued to sniff and sip the wine, however, my assessment changed to “Hmmm, that’s really good” and finally to “Excellent. Well-done.” The point is, give this pinot a little time, say 25 to 30 minutes, to develop in the glass. The color is a lovely transparent medium ruby-garnet; aromas of spiced tea, rose-hips and loam are blended with notes of macerated raspberries and currants, tobacco, briers and mushrooms. A few moments bring in hints of cloves, lavender and sassafras, and the wine, both in nose and mouth, becomes a little fleshy and meaty, picking up some slightly dusty tannins and graphite elements. The wine also develops more firmness, offering a tantalizing texture that’s part dense, part ephemeral, all enlivened by spanking fresh acidity. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Reticent, spare, elegant. Oak Knoll was founded in 1970 by Ron and Marjorie Vuylsteke; it is operated now by their sons, Tom and John. Excellent. About $18, marking Good Value.

A sample for review. This post is the 9th on BTYH for 2015.

I have been writing about the pinot noir wines of Black Kite Cellars since their releases of 2007, and many of them in subsequent vintages showed up on my annual list of “50 Great Wines” of whatever year. The examples under review today are from 2011 and 2012. Black Kite Cellars traces its origins to 1995, when Donald and Maureen Green bought a 40-acre parcel by the Navarro River just west of Philo in Mendocino County, in a cool area eight miles from the coast. They replanted an old vineyard with pinot noir vines and developed two more blocks on a hill above the river. The first crop was harvested in 2003, and the decision to retain a portion of the grapes to make their own wine brought the concept of Black Kite Cellars, named for a bird indigenous to the region, to fruition. Jeff Gaffner became winemaker in 2004; the first wines he worked on comprised the 2005 bottlings of distinct blocks within the estate. He is also well-known as owner and winemaker of Saxon Brown Wines. Alas, among these five Black Kite pinot noirs is the only product from this usually exemplary winery that I cannot recommend.

These wines were samples for review. This post is the eighth on BTYH of 2015.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Black Kite Redwoods’ Edge Pinot Noir 2011, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. The color is a vivid medium red cherry hue; aromas of spiced and macerated red and black cherries and a touch of plum are permeated by notes of sassafras and pomander and a hint of allspice, with its inflection of slightly exotic astringency; a few moments in the glass bring up elements of cranberry and candied rhubarb, all subtle and well-balanced. The texture seems to drape with supreme satiny effect on the palate, while a fairly dense and almost chewy structure features slightly dusty tannins and freshening acidity. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 149 cases. Oak regimen was 11 months, all French oak, 2/3s new barrels. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Black Kite Stony Terrace Pinot Noir 2011, Anderson Valley. The color, medium-range and almost transparent, is a shade more mulberry-magenta than ruby-cherry; this is notably spicier than the Redwood’s Edge, segueing through a panoply of cloves and cinnamon and sandalwood but also displaying depths of loam and graphite, briers and brambles, all in support of rich black and red currants and cherries. In the mouth, this is more austere than Redwood’s Edge, a little mossy and earthy, with touches of leather and lavender and undertones of bitter chocolate and raspy raspberry. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 203 cases. 11 months in French oak, 2/3s new barrels. I like its spareness and sense of elusiveness. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $ .
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Black Kite River Turn Pinot Noir 2011, Anderson Valley. A perfect ruby-magenta hue with a slightly lighter rim; this runs through the whole cherry gamut, spiced and macerated, a bit roasted, some of the hint of bitterness and austerity of the skin and seed; cloves, sassafras and pomegranate lead to notes of cranberry and — interestingly — blueberry. This is lively, lithe and supple, almost muscular in texture, and you feel the oak a bit more than with the previously mentioned pinot noirs. Not that it’s unbalanced, just that the wood influence announces itself more prominently, surrounding and slightly muting the other elements. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 148 cases. 11 months French oak, 2/3s new barrels. Now through 2018 to 2020. Very Good+. About $ .
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Black Kite Stony Terrace Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. The color is bright ruby-magenta; notes of cranberry, pomegranate, cloves, violets and rose petals elide with ripe red and black currants with hints of mulberry, graphite, briers and brambles. Here is a great marriage of power and elegance, with pinpoint poise between spareness and succulence, between black and red fruit flavors and foresty, leathery tannins, between vibrant acidity and a faintly brooding animal aspect. Very attractive, wild, intriguing and compelling. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 200 cases. A beautiful pinot noir. 11 months French oak, 2/3s new barrels. Now through 2018 to 2021. Excellent. About $60.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Black Kite Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Uncharacteristically dark ruby-purple color; very ripe, quite spicy, almost jammy; where’s the pinot noir in this? Unbalanced; smells and tastes like zinfandel. A pinot noir done in by its alcoholic sweetness and heat. A disappointment. 15.2 percent alcohol. 348 cases. Not recommended. About $55.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Unbate your breath, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” entry, this edition for 2014. I posted to BiggerThanYourHead 135 times in 2014 and reviewed 582 wines. These 50 Great Wines represent 8.6 percent of the wines I reviewed last year. How do I choose the 50 wines for this honor? First, any wine that I rated Exceptional automatically gets a berth in the roster. After that, the selection process involves going back over every post, looking at the reviews of the wines that received an Excellent rating, reading the notes again and looking for the words or phrases signifying that I felt a wine was exciting, provocative, intriguing, highly individual. You can be sure that this list probably isn’t definitive; how could such a selection of wines be? I cut from the field many wines that could easily have been included, but the limit is 50 and they had to be sacrificed. Even as I clicked on the “Publish” button on WordPress I thought, “Oh no, how could I leave out ……?”

Going through these wines, many of My Readers may cry “Foul!” because some of them were produced in severely limited quantities, but that’s often the case with great wines. Think of the situation as a challenge wherein you face a sort of scavenger hunt in tracking such wines down. Some of these wines were made by well-known winemakers for prominent wineries or estates; others are far more obscure, but I enjoy bringing attention to young, small, family-owned and -operated properties that otherwise might not receive the exposure they deserve. The usual suspect grapes are included, of course — chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir — but you will also find on this list proponents of trousseau gris and grenache gris, carignane and cinsault, crafted by brave pioneers of the unusual, even rare grapes. With one exception — the Dolce 2005 — these products are the current releases from their wineries, or close to it. I think all of them were samples for review or were tasted at the property. I hope this list of 50 Great Wines inspires you to look for the ones that capture your interest and to try wines you never encountered before. Prices, by the way, range from about $22 to $120. Coming in a few days will be my annual list of 25 Great Bargain Wines $20 and Under.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma Valley. With 7 percent petit verdot. 1,475 cases. Exceptional. About $70.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Elevation 950 Feet Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $75.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Animo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. With 17 percent petit verdot. From Michael Mondavi. Excellent. About $85.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

d’Arenberg The Other Side Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 96-year-old vines. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

d’Arenberg Tyche’s Mustard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Battenfeld Spanier Mölsheim Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen, Germany. Exceptional. About $23.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Blair Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 481 cases. Excellent. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 55% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 19% picpoul. 1,965 cases. Exceptional. About $28.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Cuvée R Grenache 2012, Monterey County. 593 cases. Excellent. About $48.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $28.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cenyth 2009, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 47% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 8% petit verdot, 7% malbec. The debut release from this collaboration between Julia Jackson, daughter of the late Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke, and Helene Seillan, daughter of Pierre Seillan, winemaker of Verité. Exceptional. About $60.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chêne Bleu Aliot 2010, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, France. 65 percent roussanne, 30 percent grenache blanc, 5 percent marsanne and some smidgeon of viognier. Exceptional. About $85.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Clos Saron Out of the Blue, 2013, Sierra Foothills. 90 percent cinsault, 5 percent syrah, 5 percent graciano. (The cinsault vines planted in 1885.) 170 cases. Excellent. About $30.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 10% merlot. 470 cases. Exceptional. About $80.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. 361 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dolce 2005, Napa Valley. 90 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc. A majestic dessert wine. Exceptional. About $85 for a half-bottle.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer 2012, Alto Adige, Italy. Exceptional. About $32.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 261 cases. Exceptional. About $33.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

FEL Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $38.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 200 cases. Excellent. About $24.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Gallegos Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 250 cases. Excellent. About $42.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Idlewild Grenache Gris 2013, Mendocino County. 230 cases. Excellent. About $22.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Inama Vigneto du Lot 2011, Soave Classico, Italy. Excellent. About $30.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $25.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas. Excellent. About $40.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

J. Christopher Wines Lumière Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 756 cases. Excellent. About $35.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. With nine percent malbec. Exceptional. About $90.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

McCay Cellars Carignane 2011, Lodi, 218 cases. Excellent. About $32.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Newton “The Puzzle” 2010, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. This proprietary wine is a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 18 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot and 4 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $100.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. With 3 percent petit verdot, 1 percent each malbec and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $100.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pfendler Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 230 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 588 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

La Pitchoune Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 279 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pittnauer Rosenberg St. Laurent 2010, Burgenland, Austria. Excellent. About $27.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Quinta do Vallado 20 Years Old Tawny Porto. 83 cases. Exceptional. About $80 for a 500-milliliter bottle..
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Respite Reichel Vineyard Indulgence 2010, Alexander valley, Sonoma County. A proprietary blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent malbec and 13 percent cabernet franc. 77 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2010. Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 429 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $48.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,302 cases. Excellent. About $45.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Steven Kent Winery Merrellie Chardonnay 2012, Livermore Valley. 504 cases. Excellent. About $34.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Valley. 266 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 170 cases. Exceptional. About $65.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2009, Sonoma Coast. 123 cases. Excellent. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris 2012, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley. 25 cases. Exceptional. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

VML Blanc de Noirs 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Volta Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $60.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Wakefield St. Andrews Single Vineyard Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Clare Valley, Australia. 250 cases imported. Excellent. About $60.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Weltner Rödelseer Küchenmeister Trocken Sylvaner 2012, Franken, Germany. Excellent. About $27.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

We conclude the Twelve Days of Christmas quietly, with three examples of New World champagne method sparkling wine, one from the North Fork of Long Island, the other pair from Napa Valley’s Carneros region. My aim in this series, now in the final entry of its eighth edition, is to present an eclectic roster of the world’s sparkling wines, as well as a selection of Champagnes from that hallowed region in France, during the Yuletide season when most of the sparkling wine and Champagne is consumed. Had I my druthers, I would drink these products every day, but the market, consumer sensibilities and my wallet dictate otherwise. I hope that My Readers enjoyed this latest foray into the range of the festive and obligatory beverage and will anticipate a similar exploration next December. These sparkling wines were samples for review.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I was happy to receive a sample of the Lieb Cellars Blanc de Blancs 2010, North Fork of Long Island, because I seldom — I mean never — get wines from New York state. This appealing sparkling wine is composed of 100 percent pinot blanc grapes. The color is mild gold, and the bubbles stream to the surface in a gentle but persistent fountain; apples and spiced pears, jasmine, ginger and quince are married with delicate shading to a soft effusion of limestone and flint minerality that lends support but not austerity. In essence, a very pretty and tasty sparkling wine. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was $35. Very good+. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Frank Family Wines Blanc de Blancs 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, is a blend of 80 percent chardonnay and 20 percent pinot noir. The color is pale gold, and the tiny bubbles foam upward in a frothing swirl. This is a ravishingly elegant sparkling wine, all steel and limestone, orange blossom and lime peel, with back-notes of almond skin, grapefruit and (faintly) fresh biscuits with honey. Gradually, like a seeping tide, the mineral elements dominate, so the finish feels chiseled and faceted, distinguished and a little aloof. Make no mistake, though, this is an eminently compelling blanc de blancs, counting all the detail and dimension. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 381 cases. Winemaker was Todd Graff. Excellent. About $45.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Frank Family Wines Brut Rosé 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, a blend of 79 percent pinot noir and 21 percent chardonnay, offers a pale onion skin hue, like rose-gold, and floods and torrents of exuberant bubbles; it’s sleek and steely and slightly floral, with hints of jasmine, dried strawberries and raspberries, cloves and pomegranate and a hint of tart cranberry that matches well with a stream of potent acidity. Heaps of limestone and flint minerality form a crystalline framework for terrific tension and energy in a sparkling wine of great appeal and tenacity. It’s also downright lovely. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 379 cases. Excellent. About $45.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The 11th Day of Christmas is the penultimate day, the one before Twelfth Night, which could be called Epiphany Eve, if one were Roman Catholic or Episcopalian, which I am not, and also the next-to-last post in this “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series. It happens to be Sunday, a gloomy, dreary, cheerless day in Memphis, Tennessee, and a day to keep within the comfort of our own houses. I offer, on the 11th Day of Christmas, the Champagne Bruno Paillard Brut Assemblage 2004, a blend of 52 percent pinot noir and 48 percent chardonnay that spent altogether nine years in the bottle and received very little dosage at the end. The color is medium gold, all a-shimmer with a fountain of tiny bubbles; many dimensions of steel and limestone are on display here but etched with notes of toasted almonds, brioche, spiced pear and lightly buttered cinnamon toast, all opening to hints of crystallized ginger, jasmine and (faintly) toffee and an intriguing drop of red currant. These aspects are seamlessly balanced and integrated, while at the end of its 10th year, this Champagne is notably fresh and lively; it’s also savory, scintillating with spice and saline elements and, finally, quite dry, in fact, after a few minutes elapse, formidably dry, signaling that it still needs some time, say from 2016 or ’18 for drinking through 2024 to ’28. Alcohol content is 12 percent. This needs to accompany flavorful but not exceedingly rich appetizers and entrees, especially seafood or veal — or a bowl of popcorn sprinkled with fennel pollen. Excellent. About $80 but seen around the country as low as $65.

Imported by Fine Wines LLC, Melrose Park, Ill. A sample for review.

« Previous PageNext Page »