Pinot noir


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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Here’s a rosé to entice lovers of all things delicate and elegant. The J Vineyards Vin Gris 2013, Russian River Valley, is 100 percent pinot noir, made all in stainless steel and was bottled a scant three months ago. “Vin gris” means “gray wine” in French, though the color here isn’t so much gris as it is a very pale copper salmon hue, like pink parchment. Ethereal scents of strawberries, raspberries and red currants, slightly spiced and macerated, are wreathed with notes of orange rind and pomegranate, with a hint of limestone in the background; a few moments in the glass bring up a touch of lilac. Pert acidity keeps this rose crisp and lively, while the wine’s texture comes close to being lush; it’s the balance between those elements that lends a bit of animation and electricity on the palate. Flavors of red currants and watermelon are effortlessly buoyed by dusty, brambly flint-like qualities, all notions woven into an ephemeral silken finish. Alcohol content is 14.3 percent. Drink through the end of 2014 with all fare related to the porch, the patio, poolside or picnic. Closed with a screw-cap, so it doesn’t matter if you forgot the corkscrew, again. Winemaker was Melissa Stackhouse. Excellent. About $20.

A sample for review.


Here are quick notes on eight pinot noir wines from California, all eminently desirable, ranging in price from $22 to $70, and in rating from Very Good+ to Exceptional, two of the latter, so pinot fans pay attention. As is usual with these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew technical, historical, geographical and personnel data for the sake of immediacy, the intention being to pique your interest and whet your appetite. Enjoy, and I hope everyone has a happy and safe Memorial Day Weekend.

These wines were samples for review.
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Cambria Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Maria Valley. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby with a magenta tinge; deep, rich and spicy; thyme and caramelized fennel, black and red cherries, currants and cranberries with a hint of rhubarb; succulent and satiny, dense, quite dry but sweetly ripe; earth and loam, graphite underpinnings; flavorful and tasty. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $22, representing Good Value.
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Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Carneros. 14.3% alc. 479 cases. Medium ruby color with violet tones; lovely balance, dimension and detail; black cherry and cranberry, sassafras, cloves and rhubarb; deep and rooty, yet it retains ultimate delicacy and elegance; paradoxically dark, spicy and wild, hints of briers, loam and graphite; black and red fruit flavors that feel almost transparent and weightless, though the wine drapes like the finest, most sensuous satin on the tongue. Now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $72.
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Isabel Mondavi Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Carneros. 14.4% alc. Dark ruby color with a magenta tinge; cranberry and rhubarb, hints of pomegranate, cola and cloves with back-notes of tar and loam; surprisingly burly and robust, very dry, texture like satin born of dusty velvet; burgeoning floral element: roses and violets; deeply plummy and curranty with a touch of raspy raspberry and mulberry. Absolutely lovely, with a bit of mystery and sexy hauteur. Now through 2016 to ’17. Excellent. About $40.
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Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. Entrancing “robe” — almost opaque ruby-purple at the center and lightening subtly to a violet-magenta rim; smoky black cherries and plums, pomegranate and cranberry, cloves and cola; a graphite and loamy element that cuts the dense, chewy satiny texture; plump with ripe black fruit, deeply spicy with a hint of mint and mocha but doesn’t push into opulence; instead, displays exquisite, slightly risky balance. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $55.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 230 cases. Dark ruby-magenta color; plums, raspberries and mulberries, hints of pomegranate and dusty graphite; cloves, sassafras; super sleek, supple and satiny, almost sultry; smoke, burning leaves, a touch of moss and brambles; some astringency and rigor to the structure, a lash of granite and acid at the core of deep spicy black and red fruit flavors. Tremendous tone and presence. Now through 2017 or ’18. Exceptional. About $45.
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Reata Three County Pinot Noir 2012, California. (48% Monterey County, 44% Sonoma County, 8% San Benito County). 14.3% alc. Dark ruby color; pomegranate, cranberry, blueberry with some graphite element under a sanding of woody spices; quite dry, dense, supple lip-smacking texture with vibrant acidity; you feel the glassy polished tannins and oak like a granitic bastion but the wine is deeply flavored, rich, exotic, with keen balance between the succulent and the rigorous. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $26.
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Reuling Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14% alc. 1,000 cases. Dark ruby-magenta color; black cherries, mulberries and cranberries with notes of cloves and allspice, dried fruit and potpourri with crushed violets and lilacs; pushes oak to the limits with a great deal of dry structure and asperity, but it is smooth, lithe and svelte and above all delicious; I like the risks with oak because the wine offers really lovely balance; it finishes with a seductive display of mocha, pomander and bitter chocolate. A serious pinot noir, packed with the gratifying and the unexpected. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $70.
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La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2010. Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 429 six-pack cases. Fairly dark ruby-magenta hue; a wine of fantastic and deepening complexity; cloves, sandalwood, sassafras; spiced and macerated black cherries, currants and plums; briers and loam set into a superlatively satiny texture, yet thoroughly imbued with a sense of graphite and oak defined dimension and gravity; quite dry, almost austere, but resilient, supple and elegant. Now through 2017 or ’18. Exceptional. About $48.
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Mother’s Day is Sunday, so right now I offer six selections of sparkling wine and Champagne to honor your Mom, toast her presence or memory and basically perform your duty as a child, which you will always be as long as either or both of your parents are among the living. No beverage is more festive that Champagne or sparkling wine — the latter designation for such products made outside of France’s Champagne region — and lord knows, your Mom deserves some festivity and honor after what she put up with all these years, n’est-ce pas? Prices range from just under $20 to over $60, so I hope there’s a bottle of bubbles here that will suit varying budgets. I include two sparkling wines from Italy and two from California, each of diverse spirit, and two Champagnes, also made in different styles; three of these products are rosés, making them even more celebratory. The sparkling wines were samples for review; I bought the Champagnes. Enjoy! And be good to your Mom!
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Carpenè Malvolti Extra Dry (nv), Prosecco Conigliano Valdobbiadene, Italy. 11% alc. 100% glera grapes. Pale pale gold color; green apples, almond skin and lemon curd, hint of lime peel; slightly sweet entry but dry from mid-palate back through the tingly, modestly spicy finish; quite clean, crisp and lively. Enticing by itself, or use in a Bellini with peach nectar. Very Good+. About $19.
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Sofia Blanc de Blancs 2012, Monterey County, California. 12% alc. Pinot blanc 74%, riesling 16%, muscat 10%; Pale gold color with brisk effervescence; jasmine and orange blossom, spiced pears; hints of lime peel and orange rind, roasted lemon; sprightly, engaging, just off-dry; touch of limestone minerality; backnote of biscuits and toasted hazelnuts. Very pleasant for casual sipping. Very Good+. About $19.
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Berlucchi Cuvée 61 Franciacorta Rosé (nv), Lombardy, Italy. 12.5% alc. Chardonnay 50%, pinot noir 50%. Lovely copper-salmon color, persistent stream of frothy bubbles; pop the cork and you smell strawberries from a foot away; add orange rind, almond skin and honeysuckle; pert, tart and sassy (my law firm), slightly sweet in the beginning but quickly transitions to bone dry; notes of lemon and lemon curd balanced by the acidity previously referred to and more than a hint of seashell minerality. Quite charming and beautifully structured. Excellent. About $35.
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Inman Family Brut Rosé 2012, Russian River Valley, California. 12% alcohol. 100% pinot noir. Pale pale pink color, almost virginal; a torrent of tiny bubbles; dried strawberries and raspberries, hints of brambles and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; a spine of bright acidity supporting a framework of scintillating limestone minerality; very dry, with spare red currant and stone-fruit flavors, hint of spiced pear, all elements woven with steely delicacy and elegance. Delightful, marvelous sparkling wine. Excellent. About $56.
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Henriot Souverain Brut (nv), Champagne, France. 12% alc. Chardonnay 40%, pinot noir 60%. Medium straw-gold color, wildly effervescent; biscuits and fresh bread, pears, lime peel and ginger, notes of limestone and chalk that take on increased resonance; vivacious acidity, almost glittering limestone minerality; lovely personality and verve, refreshing balance of savory and saline elements; irresistibly appealing. Excellent. I paid $62, but prices around the country go as low at $42.
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Paul Bara Grand Rosé Brut (nv), Champagne, France. 12% alc. Pinot noir 80%, chardonnay 20%, all Grand Cru vineyards. Pure topaz in hue; billions of tiny glinting bubbles; macerated strawberries, cloves, orange marmalade, hint of brioche, notes of chalk and flint; full-bodied, lots of presence and a powerful limestone element, yet wreathed with ethereal touches of dried red currants and rose petals, slightly biscuity; bone-dry with chiming acidity; tremendous class and breeding. Excellent. I paid about $69, but it can be found as cheaply as $45 if you look.
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In the brave annals of vinous experimentation, the J Vineyards Misterra Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is one of the strangest. If you are a purist when it comes to pinot noir, the thought of blending other varieties with that grape seems a violation, a stain on the snowy tunic of a Vestal Virgin, like adding a dollop of syrah or cabernet franc to a Chambolle-Musigny. The J Misterra 2012 blends six percent pinotage and four percent pinot meunier to Russian River pinot noir. Pinotage, widely known as “the signature grape of South Africa,” was created in 1925 as a cross between pinot noir and cinsault by Abraham Izak Perold, the first professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University. While the survival of the seedlings was in doubt, the grape eventually thrived and became the backbone of the South African wine industry, though I’m here to tell you that it’s an acquired taste. Pinot meunier is most familiar as a red grape grown mainly in Champagne as a blending element; it’s a natural for J Vineyards because of their excellent sparkling wine program.

So, what is this pinot + pinot + pinot like? Pinotage is a powerful influence, and even at only six percent tips Misterra 2012 toward the earthy, loamy, rustic camp. The color is medium ruby-magenta with a lighter transparent rim; the whole package is very spicy, deeply fruity and wildly floral, with notes of spiced and macerated black and red currants and cherries with a trace of blueberries and, as a few minutes pass, tobacco and roasted coffee beans. Full-bodied and robust, fairly dense with dusty and graphite-laden tannins, this combines cloves, black cherries, bitter chocolate and rhubarb with spanking acidity and granitic minerality in a robust structure that’s more solid and shaggy than smooth and supple. Though it manifests myriad points of satisfaction, this is not what I want pinot noir to be. 14.3 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Melissa Stackhouse, who previously worked for La Crema and fashioned excellent pinot noirs for that winery. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $50.

A sample for review. Image from vivino.com.

“NV” stands for “non-vintage,” though on the face of it, that’s a ridiculous proposition. All grapes are harvested in a particular year; hence those dates on wine labels and the notion that some vintages are better than others so the wines from those years are more valuable. However, wine does not have to be made from grapes harvested all in the same year. The great example of this concept occurs in Champagne, the famed French region of prestigious bubbles, where something more than 80 percent of the product is non-vintage, though the term “multi-vintage” is really more useful. Champagne producers maintain stores of reserve wines to blend with the wine from the current vintage being used (generally about three years old) to ensure a consistent house style. Other wines employ the multi-vintage trope, including, surprisingly, Portugal’s Vinho Verde, “surprisingly” because Vinho Verde tends to be a fresh young wine intended for immediate consumption. In France, bottles plucked from roadside stands, service stations and highway convenience stores are often multi-vintage (or really “nonvintage”) and fairly anonymous; examples I have tried range from truly awful to not too bad.

Anyway, today we look at three “nonvintage” products that happen to be remarkably diverse.
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The Calamares Vinho Verde nv, Portugal, offers a bright gold color and mild, almost subliminal effervescence. The blend of grapes is 40 percent arinto, 30 percent trajadura (also known as treixadura) and 30 percent loureiro. Enticingly fresh and clean, the wine delivers notes of roasted lemon and lemon balm, quince and ginger, green apple and lime peel in a saline, limestone-inflected setting; while it’s a wine of the moment, this Calamares is not ethereal, instead possessing gratifying body with an almost talc-like finish touched with candied grapefruit. Acidity is flagrantly crisp and flint-like. Nine percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $7, and do I have to tell you to buy it by the case to drink this Summer?

Imported by Vision Wine and Spirits, Secaucus, N.J. A sample for review.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Gaston Chiquet “Tradition” Brut, nv, Champagne, France, is one of our favorite Champagnes, and I was surprised to see that I have never written about it on this blog. It’s a blend of 40 percent pinot meunier grapes, 35 percent chardonnay and 25 percent chardonnay, all from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. The base wine of the present manifestation is from 2010, with the addition of eight percent each from 2009 and 2008. The color is medium straw-gold; the all-important bubbles are myriad, prolific and dynamic. My purpose in purchasing this Champagne was to balance a scallop dish rich in butter and cream, and the clean, incisive acidity of the Gaston Chiquet “Tradition” Brut and its scintillating limestone minerality did just that. (Plus, you know, it’s Champagne.) The bouquet offers notes of lemon, seashell, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and honeysuckle, all quite subdued, and threads of cloves and crystallized ginger; it’s fairly full in the mouth, but not heavy or obvious, leaning more toward a well-knit and elegant character enlivened by crispness and energetic effervescence. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid about $60.

A Terry Theise Estate Selection, imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.
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Now comes the wine that inspired this post, the Steven Kent Winery “Evening Vinesong” Grenache nv, Livermore Valley. Produced in a minute quantity and available only to the winery’s Collector’s Circle, a bottle came into my hands via a generous benefactor. The wine is 100 percent grenache — previous editions were a blend — with 60 percent of the grapes grown in 2010 and 40 percent in 2011. Depending on the “year,” the wine ages 24 to 36 months in second-use and neutral French and American oak barrels. The production was 139 cases. The members of the Collector’s Circle who snatch a few bottles or a case of Evening Vinesong Grenache are lucky indeed; this is a beautiful and pure expression of the grenache grape, fruity, spicy, a little raspy and briery. The color is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of red and black currants and cherries are highlighted by pert mulberry and winsome notes of anise, lavender, brambles and dried rosemary (with some of that herb’s pithy, piney quality). In the mouth, the wine is sapid and savory, deftly balanced and integrated; oak is a whisper here, and so is a hint of loam, both forming a background to the wine’s lithe suppleness and elegance. Red and blue fruit flavors are permeated by sandings of cloves and allspice, the whole enterprise ending with a fresh, wild note. I gave LL a glass of this when she came home from work one night; she took one sniff and one sip and said, “Wow, that’s wonderful!” There’s your review. Excellent. For information call (925) 243-6440 or visit stevenkent.com

There are rosés, and then there is the Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. The wine’s nickname commemorates the long relationship between winery owner and winemaker Kathleen Inman and her husband, Simon. At first, she made the wine only for them and the family, but you can’t keep a great wine hidden endlessly. This rosé derives from Inman’s Olivet Grange Vineyard, from pinot noir vines dedicated to that purpose. It is fashioned, of course, completely in stainless steel. The color is the true Provençal rosé hue of light salmon-copper, more gris than pink; delightful and enticing aromas of dried currants and strawberries are buoyed by thyme, damp gravel and a tinge of ripe tropical fruit. This is a zesty rosé, layered with notes of peaches, watermelon and cloves riven by crisp acidity and a lacy limestone element that seems to lend tensile strength to what might be ephemeral and evanescent. The total effect is dry, spare, elegant, lively, irresistible. 12.8 percent alcohol. Production was 1,350 cases. Drink now through the Summer of 2015 with such picnic fare as cold fried or roasted chicken, deviled eggs, watercress and cucumber sandwiches, rabbit terrine. I don’t often rate rosé wines Exceptional, but this one is an exception. About $25.

A sample for review.

Three pinot noirs, two cabernet sauvignons, one syrah; a nice sense of symmetry, n’est-ce pas? Five from California, one from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. All rated Excellent. One more costly than most of us can afford, the others more reasonable. All offering many virtues and confidences of the vineyard, the grape, the winemaker’s gentle and genial art. Quick notices here, eschewing technical matters and such geographical and historical information as much stimulate our fancies; the idea is that these notes — not as full-bodied as actual reviews — will inspire your interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Olema Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. (The second label of Amici Cellars.) Radiant ruby-magenta color; plums, mulberries and cranberries, brier rose; hints of cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate; dense, supple and satiny; ripe and lightly spiced red and blue fruit flavors; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of roses and violets, leather and tobacco; undertones of graphite, earth and mild tannins. Really lovely. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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Elizabeth Chambers Cellar Winemaker’s Cuvée Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.9% alc. Transparent medium ruby color; quite spicy and lively, with macerated red currants and cherries, seductively ripe but balanced by a spare structure and long elegant lines; hints of cloves, cola and rhubarb, leather and loam, subdued oak; lovely satiny texture, but again that sense of reserve and delicacy, with acidity that lays an arrow across the palate. I could drink this one all day long and almost did. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Syrah 2011, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. With 5% viognier. 780 cases. Dark ruby color; deliriously spicy; notes of
macerated and slightly fleshy black currants, blackberries and raspberries, roughened by brambles and underbrush elements; robust, dynamic, powered by bright acidity, graphite minerality and sleek tannins; quite dry but flavorful, deft balance of spareness and rigor with generosity and expressiveness; finish packed with woody spices, granite and lavender. Perfect with pork chops coated with cumin, urfa pepper and chili powder. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Entrancing ruby-magenta hue; nicely layered aromas of cloves and allspice, hint of sandalwood; macerated red currants, plums and cranberries; notes of rhubarb and pomegranate; gently sifted tannins over loam and slightly granitic minerality; a touch of lightly candied red cherry; lithe, supple, sinewy; exhibits terrific confidence and authority without being ostentatious. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $45.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. With 8% each merlot and cabernet franc. 1,302 cases. Dark ruby color; rigorous structure with mountain roots but such a pretty surface, violets and lavender, cassis, plums and black cherries, note of licorice; stout, robust tannins and dusty oak bastions; walnut shell and underbrush; gets dustier and more austere but still scrumptious; lithic chambers of blueberries, sweet smoke, soy sauce and barbecue; iodine, iron, resonant acidity. Drink 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Always one of Napa Valley’s best and most characterful cabernets. Excellent. About $45, representing Great Value for the Quality.
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Hestan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. 400 cases. An exemplary Napa Valley cabernet, and at the price it ought to be. Dark ruby-purple hue; iron and iodine, lavender and violets; black currants, black cherries and raspberries with a graphite/ancho chili edge, a hint of black olive, a dusting of dried rosemary; glossy tannins and a polished oak superstructure, all enlivened with brisk and elevating acidity; a long, dense yet lithe finish. If you have on hand a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the charcoal grill, introduce it to this wine. Now through 2020 to 2025. Excellent. About $110.
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Usually the “Weekend Wine Notes” offers more than a pair of wines, but I thought that this would be a good weekend to get you started on rosé wines, though I’m in favor of drinking rosés all year round. One from France’s Loire Valley and one from Cigales, a not-so-well-known region in north-central Spain; made from different grape varieties, slightly different in style, both exceedingly charming and satisfying. I won’t provide much in the way of technical, historical, climatic or personnel-type matter; the purpose of the “Weekend Wine Notes” is to titillate your taste-buds and pique your interest quickly. Both of these wines were samples for review; both are imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York. Enjoy!
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Finca Museum Vinea Rosado 2013, Cigales, Spain. 12.5% alc. 100% tempranillo grapes, known in the area as tinta del pais. Lovely salmon-copper color; notes of fresh watermelon, raspberries, peaches and pink grapefruit; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of roses, lilacs and blood oranges; very dry, stony, moderately spicy and herbal — think cloves and dried thyme — with a citrus undertone and a real cut of bright acidity; fairly lean, limestone-inflected texture. Now into Spring 2015. Excellent. About $24.
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Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Rosé 2013, Loire Valley, France. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. Slightly ruddy copper-peach color; hints of ripe peaches, red currants and blood oranges, touched with peach skin, pomander and pomegranate; this rosé is a bit fleshier, a bit more florid, supple and strawberryish than the preceding model, but is just as dry, as crisply acidic, even a touch austere from mid-palate through the spice and stone influenced finish. Now through the end of 2014. Excellent. About $27.
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