Pinot noir



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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The days are long gone when West Coast producers planted pinot noir all over the place, hoping they would hit upon the proper soil and climate either by chance or force of will. Time and effort and dedication have winnowed the acknowledged handful of great pinot noir areas to — naming some personal favorites — Santa Lucia Highlands, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley in California and the tiny appellations of Oregon’s Willamette Valley as not just suitable but frequently superb ground for the notoriously shy and difficult grape. Today, I offer six recently tasted pinot noirs from Willamette Valley, encountered at a wholesaler’s trade event, recommending them without reservation. Two of these producers were new to me, Maysara and J. Christopher; the latter made a particularly strong impression, and I will look for their wines in the future or shamelessly beg for samples. These are quick reviews, not intended to delve into the details of history, geography, personality or technical matters but meant to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy!
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Adelsheim Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.4% alc. Entrancing pale rose-ruby color; cloves and sassafras, red cherries and currants with a hint of plum and rose petal and a slightly peppery briary-brambly undertow; lithe and supple, just a touch of graphite-inflected tannin under red fruit (both fresh and dried), but mainly a paragon of delicacy and elegance, beautifully knit by bright acidity. Nobly done. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $55.
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Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley. 13% alc. Medium ruby color, fairly opaque at the center; a multi-dimensioned, fully detailed pinot noir, broad with ripe and macerated black and red fruit scents and flavors, deep with cloves and allspice; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of rhubarb and pomegranate, briers and loam; dense, super-satiny texture, close to muscular and built upon svelte tannins and brisk acidity. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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Argyle Nuthouse Reserve Series Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills. 13% alc. Beguiling medium ruby-garnet color; very clean, pure and intense; red cherries and currants, notes of cranberries and plums, cloves, cola and sassafras; winsome high-note of violets; a pinot noir both substantial and lyrical, energetic and expressive; hints of Willamette’s damp leaves and brambles, finely-grained tannins with graphite minerality in the background; finish leans toward cool blue fruit and black tea. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $50.
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J. Christopher Wines Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13% alc. Medium ruby color; lovely tone, weight and structure; clean, spare, elegant yet lively, blooming with red-tinged fruit fringed with smoke and blueberries; the spicy element burgeons from satiny mid-palate through the slightly sinewy finish, adding subtle notes of graphite and loam, all energized by bright acidity. Drink now through 2016. Excellent. About $28.
The label image says 2011; it is the 2010 under review.
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J. Christopher Wines Lumière Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills. 13% alc. 756 cases. Medium ruby color; this is tighter and leaner than the previously mentioned wine from J. Christopher; red currants and red cherries touched with smoke, graphite and more spice that edges into sassafras-allspice territory, with a note of allspice’s characteristic spare and exotic woody quality; briers and brambles make an appearance, over finely sifted tannins and acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. My favorite kind of pinot noir, honed, burnished, animated. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $35.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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Maysara Jamsheed Pinot Noir 2009, McMinnville. 13.7% alc. Certified biodynamic. Light ruby color with a garnet tinge; spiced and macerated red currants, cherries and plums, a touch meaty and fleshy; quite spicy with cloves and sassafras, hint of pomegranate, but very clean and intense; fairly plush with velvety tannins but lithe and supple texture, acidity lends leanness and energy; a bit earthy and autumnal through the finish, notes of moss and burning leaves. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.
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Grapes for the Elk Cove Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon, derive from five estate vineyards, with the addition of a small amount of grapes purchased from trusted growers on long-term contract. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The wine is, in other words, a summation of a house-style or region rather than an individual expression of a single vineyard; as such, it succeeds admirably. The color is a glowing medium ruby hue; aromas of rose petals and violets, red currants and plums are buoyed by notes of cranberry and rhubarb, with hints of briers and cloves. Underlying loam and graphite elements support delicious red fruit flavors in a structure enlivened by taut acidity and just enough tannin to provide a modicum of grip; the texture is supple and satiny, while the finish adds more spice. 13.5 percent alcohol. A real crowd-pleaser for drinking through 2016 or ’17. Try with medium rare roasted duck. Excellent. About $29.

Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.

Anyone who has read Rockss and Fruit, the blog written by Lyle Fass, knows that he is enthusiastic, opinionated and articulate. Meet him in person, and you understand what a force of nature he is, a man of seemingly boundless energy and zeal for a particular sort of vinous purity and intensity. A little more than a year ago, Fass, who worked in retail for almost 20 years — a well-known figure at the distinctive Chambers Street Wines in lower Manhattan — launched Fass Selections, an online entity designed to get fine European wines into the hands of consumers at reasonable prices by by-passing the three-tier system. Such a scheme is possible for an importer only because in the state of California, since Jan. 1, 2012, it is legal for an importer to sell wine via the Internet and via direct mail without requiring the importer to maintain a physical retail location or to hold a beer and wine wholesaler license (California Business and Professions Code section 23393.5). So while Fass, a fourth-generation Brooklynite, lives in that borough of New York, the business itself is registered in the Golden State. His take on the three-tier system is that it is “beyond imperfect.”

In frigid mid-December, after a round of delayed flights, I met Lyle Fass at the improbable Michelin one-star Lan Sheng Szechuan Restaurant in Manhattan’s Garment District (60 West 39th Street), a bastion of retro 60s modernist decor inhabited by legions of lunch-going office workers intent on — I’ll say frankly — some of the most riveting Chinese food I’ve ever encountered. Odd as it may seem, the German and French wines that Fass, 39 by the way, brought to taste were terrific with this spicy and profound fare.

What does he look for?

“Wines that express a terroir, that show freshness and acidity, that show purity.” Fass travels to Europe several times a year, using his contacts to find small artisan producers that embody these criteria. He is especially fond of Burgundy and Beaujolais, several regions of Germany, and now Champagne.

How does his system work?

All it requires in the way of brick-and-mortar presence is a warehouse to store the wines before he offers them on his website. Because inventory is low, he doesn’t need a lot of space. Once the wines are sold, Fass has already moved on to the next offerings. “Inventory,” he said, “is the scourge of the industry.”

“All the business is conducted by email,” he said. “I contact the producer and put the wine on the website. I get the orders from customers and send an invoice to the producer, who gets paid before the wine leaves the winery. We outsource the packing and shipping. I deal with farmers. They don’t know how to do invoices.”

His goal, over the next five to seven years, is to find 35 to 40 producers “that I’ll work with for a long time.” He acknowledged that the first two or so years of a start-up are tough. “We had some unexpected expenses, but we also have low overhead. 2015 or ’16 should be the breakthrough.”

While the wines are sold individually at a bottle price, Fass discounts prices in four or six bottle-groups.

The following wines were tasted at lunch with Lyle Fass. They represent the kinds of wines he sells but might not necessarily be available now.
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Weltner Rödelseer Küchenmeister Trocken Sylvaner 2012, Franken, Germany. Ineluctable and ineffable earthiness; peaches and lemongrass and camellia; sea salt and salt marsh; pea shoot and lemon balm; ethereal texture and structure; heaps of scintillating limestone. Absolutely irresistible balance and authority. Excellent. About $27.
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Müllen Kinheimen Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2002, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. 7.5% alc. Medium gold color with faint green highlights; otherworldly purity, intensity and beguilement; totally fresh and appealing; lemon verbena, thyme, grapefruit and tangerine with backnote of pineapple; layers of limestone and shale-like earthiness yet sun-kissed with leafy hints of apple, lychee and fig; a golden beauty, for drinking through 2018 to ’20. Exceptional. About $20, a Wonderful Value.
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Laible Durbacher Plauelrain “SL” Riesling Trocken 2012, Baden, Germany. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; jasmine and honeysuckle, peach and yellow plum fruit; spicy and savory; offers the energy of bright acidity and limestone minerality with the seductive power of a lovely almost talc-like texture, resulting in a winsome marriage of refinement and animation; pinpoint balance and integration. Drink through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $25.
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Irancy is one of those places that you hope never disappears, absorbed into some larger appellation because it’s obscure and little wine is made. Nominally linked to Burgundy but lying southwest of Chablis in a picturesque hidden valley, Irancy produces red wine made from pinot noir grapes and a small amount of rose; the local cesar grape is allowed. Though wine has been made in Irancy for more than 1,000 years, the tiny region was accorded AOC status only in 1999. The Thierry Richoux 2010, Irancy (13% alc.), is one of the purest yet most unusual expressions of pinot noir I have encountered. This is 100 percent pinot noir that sees only old passage barrels, so there’s no tint or taint of new oak. Intense medium ruby color; scents and flavors of mulberries, red currants and blueberries tinged with licorice and cloves and a distinct mossy-loamy quality; this is a lipsmacking tasty wine, for which a bastion of dusty, slightly leathery tannins and brisk acidity provide support. Rustic in the best sense of a country wine that represents its place and grape with style, character and integrity. Now through 2018 to ’22. This was intriguing and evocative with the restaurant’s camphor-smoked duck. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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A different perspective on pinot noir is the Hervé Murat Les Tuvilains Beaune Premier Cru 2010. Murat launched his Burgundian domaine in 2005, not an easy task in a region where vineyards are divided and subdivided and lost and regained through inheritance and where established land is expensive. Les Tuvilains in one of the smaller and lesser-known Premier Cru vineyards of Beaune; it was planted in 1947, and Murat owns half a hectare, that is, about 1.28 acres. This is classic, offering a medium ruby color with a hint of garnet; aromas of macerated and slightly stewed red and black cherries and currants with a hint of lilac and fruitcake and a spare, supple, sinewy structure through which clean acidity cuts a swath. Dark and dynamic. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $39.
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The Battenfeld Spanier Mölsheim Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen (12.5% alc), is a dry riesling of tremendous tone, presence and character. Radiant medium gold color; replete with spicy apple, stone fruit and yellow plum elements, but fruit is almost superfluous — I think I’ve never said that before — in the face of its dense, almost chewy texture, its resonant crystalline limestone and shale minerality; this is a riesling that comes close to being tannic; huge dimension but real cut, swagger and detail. I mean, holy fucking moly. Now through 2020 to ’25. Exceptional. About $23, practically a Give-Away. .
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