Pinot noir

So, My Readers, it’s New Year’s Eve, and we’re on the cusp on entering the Unknown. Let’s celebrate then with three bottles of different styled Champagnes, all guaranteed to offer great pleasure and satisfaction. Remember, as you stand in some house or apartment or bar, singing that dreary “Auld Lang Syng” with a bunch of drunken strangers you actually care nothing about that this is a pivotal and symbolic moment and that you’re having fun. Whee! Also remember that if you’re opening a bottle of any kind of sparkling wine that however fraudulently festive it may seem to pop one of those corks with a tremendous explosion and frothing of bubbly foam everywhere, that the cork comes rushing from the neck of the bottle at about 60 miles per hour and that it can do real damage to objects, animals and the human eye. Let’s use caution, moderation, forethought and get home alive to enjoy another year.

Happy New Year, friends, be well, be content and do the work you were intended to do.
The J. Lassalle Preference Premier Cru Brut is predominantly pinot meunier, with 20 percent each chardonnay and pinot lassalle_preference_nonvintage13_webnoir, from vines averaging 50 years old; the vintages in the current disgorgement are 2009 and 2010. It aged 48 months in bottle on the lees. The color is pale gold; the bubbles are tiny, energetic, flourishing. This Champagne is as crisp as a cat’s whisker and as chiseled and faceted as a geode; it’s all smoke and steel, roasted lemon and spiced pear, limestone and flint, enclosed in a bright, brisk and brilliant structure that scintillates with dynamic acidity and an undertow of clean earthiness. 12 percent alcohol. Always a favorite in our house. Excellent. About $45 to $50.
Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants, Berkeley, Calif.
breton-roseThe Breton Fils Brut Rose is an unusual blend of 40 percent chardonnay, 42 percent pinot meunier and 18 percent vin des Coteaux Champenois, that is, still wine that is also allowed to be produced in an AOC contiguous with Champagne itself and using the same permitted grapes. It aged three years in the bottle. The color is a wholly entrancing and intense copper-salmon hue; notes of blood orange and tangerine rind are permeated by hints of macerated and slightly bruised raspberries and candied citrus, displaying just a hint of dried herbs, all of this animated by the liveliest of tiny frothing bubbles and, extending to the palate, a striking arrow of clean acidity and an edge of limestone that burgeons from mid-palate back through the spare, austere finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid $60 locally, but prices around the country seem to start at about $48.
Imported Heritage LLC, Corona, Calif.
The Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve is a blend of 40 percent pinot noir, 40 percent chardonnay and 20 percent pinot meunier aged ch_brut_reserve_front-largethree years in the bottle on the lees. The blend contains about 40 percent reserve wines, up to 10 years old. The color is a brilliant medium gold hue, shimmering with a torrent of tiny bubbles; seamlessly layered notes of heather, honey and Granny Smith apples, fresh-baked brioche and hints of toffee and almond skin are twined with seashell and salt marsh, hay and baked pears. This is formidably dry yet rich and elegant, its stone-fruit and citrus notions buoyed by a stream of bright acidity and a coastal shelf of limestone minerality; its sense of heft and presence on the palate is fleet-footed, long-lasting and ultimately delicate without being attenuated. 12 percent alcohol. Beautifully-made and a great pleasure to drink. Excellent. About $65.
Imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners, Napa Calif. A sample for review.

Frank Family Vineyards, owned by Rich Frank, former president of Disney Studios, and his wife Leslie, produces a wide range of still wines bub_res_champ— cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, zinfandel, chardonnay and such — which lean toward the side of power and dynamics, and a handful of sparkling wines, always among my favorites from California’s growing roster of wineries that make sparkling wines. FFV now releases its first reserve effort in sparkling wine, the Frank Family Lady Edythe Reserve Brut 2010, carrying a Carneros-Napa Valley designation. It’s a blend of 52 percent chardonnay and 48 percent pinot noir, aged in bottle on the yeast for almost five years before disgorgement. The color is a medium gold that shimmers with the tempestuous upward flow of tiny bubbles; aromas of toasted brioche, lightly buttered cinnamon toast, roasted lemon and spiced pear are enlivened by notes of quince, hazelnuts and almond skin and hints of toffee and limestone, this array all beautifully balanced and harmonious. While quite dry, Lady Edythe 2010 is zesty and energetic on the palate, matching, to a degree, the power evinced in FFV’s still wines, though feeling finely-etched and detailed with its undertow of chiseled flint and chalk, its sense of transparency and filigree. Still, the somewhat theatrical finish brings a bracing tide of marsh-grass and seashell salinity. 12 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Winemaker was Todd Graff. Excellent. About $110.

A sample for review.

The Champagne house of Canard-Duchêne was founded in 1868 by Victor Canard and Léonie Duchêne, and thus does not mean “duck of oak” as some people apparently believe. Since 2003, it has been owned by the Thienot Group, which includes the house of Joseph Perrier. The Champagne Canard-Duchêne Authentic Brut nv is a blend of 45% pinot noir, 35% pinot meunier and 20% chardonnay, with 20 percent reserve wines, that is, from older vintages, in the mix. The color is pale but bright gold; a persistent stream of tiny bubbles surges upward. This is all smoke and steel, pear and quince, with notes of grapefruit and roasted lemon, lightly toasted brioche and lemongrass. On the palate, this Champagne is dry, crisp and lively, energetic and engaging, displaying a pleasing balance of moderately lush texture and chiming acidity against a background of a scintillating limestone-flint element and seashell salinity; hints of heather and hay and slightly honeyed peach fill in the edges. 12 percent alcohol. No tremendous depth and profundity but plenty of charm, elegance and finely-wrought pleasure. A favorite in our house. Excellent. About $40 but seen online as low as $30.

Imported by Thienot USA, San Rafael, Calif. A sample for review.

Our travelogue of sparkling wine begins on Christmas Day in Austria’s Burgenland region, specifically the Neusiedersee production area. The szigetiSzigeti Pinot Noir Rosé Brut 2012 was made on an estate founded in 1990 by brothers Peter and Norbert Szigeti, the latter being the winemaker. This is 100 percent pinot noir, aged 12 months in the bottle on the spent yeast cells after the second fermentation, you know, where the bubbles are born. In other words, the Szigeti Pinot Noir Rosé Brut 2012 was fashioned in the traditional Champagne method. The color is an entrancing copper-salmon with a tarnished silver overlay, and the bubbles are gentle but persistent swirling flecks. Aromas of fresh strawberries and raspberries leap from the glass and are highlighted by notes of orange rind, cloves and apple skin; hints of red cherries and limestone emerge on the palate, propelled by lively acidity, while the mineral element burgeons through the still delicate, finely-knit finish. 12 percent alcohol. A delightful quaff that we drank as aperitif over several evenings. It could go another year. Very Good+. About $25.

Imported by Winebow Group, New York. A sample for review. The label illustrated isn’t exactly correct, but it’s close.

Today’s selection was already in its (neutral) barrels when Jackson Family Farms purchased Copain Wines in May 2016 for an undisclosed Print price, but I’ll bet that it wasn’t a pittance, since Copain is a highly regarded boutique winery focusing on single-vineyard pinot noir and chardonnay. Under the “Tous Ensemble” designation, however, winemaker Wells Gutherie produces wines blended from a variety of vineyards in broad AVA applications. The Copain Wines Tous Ensemble Pinot Noir 2015, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, offers a dark ruby hue that shifts to a transparent magenta rim; aromas of spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants open to notes of pomegranate and cranberry, with hints of underlying leather and loam and a rooty, briery element, as if the wine were steeped in some essential black tea. These aspects segue seamlessly onto the palate, where the wine delivers lovely shape and heft in its satiny texture and liveliness in its energetic acid structure; mildly dusty tannins lend depth and substance through the bright, graphite-flecked finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $28.

A sample for review.

Thomas George Estates specializes in pinot noir and chardonnay wines from single vineyard sites in Sonoma County’s george-pnRussian River Valley, but winemaker John Wilson also produces these varieties under a general Russian River designation. Our Wine of the Day is the pinot noir from that overall AVA, and, Readers, it’s a honey. The Thomas George Estates Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, aged 11 months in French oak, only 37 percent new barrels — in oak except for six percent in concrete. The color is transparent medium ruby that shades infinitesimally to an invisible rim; aromas of sweet black and red cherries and currants are permeated by piquant notes of pomegranate and cranberry, sassafras and sage, with tantalizing hints of tobacco and wood-smoke. It’s all just really lovely, and it gets lovelier, as some time in the glass brings in touches of red licorice and lavender, new leather and oolong tea. On the palate, this pinot noir is lithe, supple and satiny, flowing across the tongue in a manner that’s a little quiet and studied yet also animated by bright acidity; red and black fruit flavors carry a slight graphite edge that precedes a glimpse of lightly dusted and sanded tannins. Exquisitely balanced, with grace and elegance. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. I have not tasted the single vineyard offerings from Thomas George Estates, but I cannot imagine them being any better than this. Production was 2,398 cases. Excellent. About $43.

A sample for review.

If readers live in the New York area or perhaps in New England generally, they should look for lenzthe Lenz Winery Cuvee 2012, from an estate founded in 1978 in the North Fork of Long Island. (That’s the AVA.) Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, hence technically a blanc de noirs, this well-made sparkling wine offers a pale gold hue shimmering with an energetic fountain of tiny glinting bubbles; notes of roasted lemons and spiced pears, quince and ginger are lent pertness by lively acidity and a scintillating seashell-limestone element; these contribute a bit of bracing salinity to the finish. Touched with slightly yeasty brioche, but clean, fresh and vivid, this sparkler is quite dry though tasty with hints of lemon balm and willow, smoke and steel, ultimately delicate and elegant. 12 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Eric Fry. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.

A sample for review.

As you make your celebratory imbibing plans for the holiday season that runs from Thanksgiving to Epiphany — and happens to include my birthday — don’t forget Schramberg Vineyards, a Napa Valley-based producer of sparkling wines that has been around for 50 years and might be in danger of flying under the radar of all the other sparkling wine makers in California that emerged after its pioneering efforts. I rated three of these recent releases Excellent and one Very Good+, a better than decent outcome. In fact, I enjoyed these wines immensely and heartily recommend them for your Yuletide revels. Samples for review.
The Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2013, North Coast, is 100 percent chardonnay, a blend of grapes from Napa County (63 percent), Sonoma (30 percent), Mendocino (4 percent) and Marin (3 percent), hence the North Coast designation. A blanc de blancs is the first sparkling wine that the producer made, in 1965, and the touch remains deft and fluent. The color is very pale gold, and the tiny, glinting bubbles are exuberantly effervescent; beautifully layered aromas of roasted lemon, lemon balm, spiced pear and toasted and lightly buttered brioche are twined with acacia blossom and almond skin. A few moments in the glass bring up a bright edge of flint and chalk bolstered by vivid acidity, both elements lending this sparkling wine tremendous verve and appeal, while notes of slightly candied quince and ginger round out the citrus-stone fruit flavor profile. 12.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $39.
The opposite of blanc de blancs — “white from white” — is blanc de noirs — “white from black” — through the Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2012, North Coast, blends 12 percent chardonnay with the balance of pinot noir. Counties of origin are Sonoma (44 percent), Mendocino (33 percent), Napa (19 percent) and Marin (4 percent). The color is very pale gold, enlivened by a surging flurry of tiny bubbles; this is pure lemon in all its aspects, married to fresh bread, cloves, ginger and quince, with a dry scent like dusty heather and a deep bell-note of currant. It’s a high-toned and elegant sparkling wine, vibrant with energy, full-bodied, almost lush except for the rigor of prominent limestone-flint minerality and a seam of resonant acidity. 12.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $41.
The Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2013, North Coast, is composed of 61 percent pinot noir and 39 percent chardonnay. The county make-up is 41 percent Sonoma, 26 percent Mendocino, 25 percent Napa and 8 percent Marin. The ravishing color is pale copper salmon, with abundant bubbles swirling upward; aromas of macerated strawberries and raspberries open to notes of dried red currants, lime peel, melon and sour cherry, with follow-up hints of cloves and orange rind. You might think that this sparkling wine is all about sensual appeal, which it obviously does not lack, but there’s real structure, too, with elements of chiseled limestone and chalk minerality borne by chiming acidity; it flows across the palate with crisp vitality. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 through ’23. Excellent. About $44.
The Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec 2012, Napa Valley — a departure from the winery’s usual North Coast designation — is a blend of 74 percent flora grapes, 16 percent pinot noir and 10 percent chardonnay. Flora is a crossing of gewürztraminer and semillon, created in 1938 by Harold P. Olmo (1909-2006), a professor of viticulture at University of California, Davis, who pioneered the crossing of vinifera grapes for warm climate regions; among his other creations are ruby cabernet and symphony. To 85 percent Napa Valley grapes, this sparkling wines adds 10 percent from Sonoma and 5 percent from Mendocino; that 85 percent allows the Napa Valley designation. The color is pale straw-yellow; the bubbles are tiny but gentle, a stream but not a froth. Scents of green apple, peach and apricot are delicately floral and lead to a sweet entry — in fact sweeter than I thought it would be. This sparkling wine offers elegance in body and texture, a lively impression from clean acidity and flint-limestone minerality for background and a touch of dryness from mid-palate through the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’22. At 2,387 cases, this product has the smallest production of this quartet. Very Good+. About $40.

The wine aged ……… The color is pale straw-yellow

Etude Wines was founded in 1982 in Napa Valley by Tony Soter to focus on cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir made from purchased grapes grown in highly regarded vineyards. After a series of purchases, acquisitions and transformations, Etude is owned by Treasury Wine Estates, along with a rather astonishing roster of properties in California, Australia and other regions. The winery still concentrates on pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, usually produced from named vineyards in small quantities. Under review today are six of Etude’s single-vineyard pinot noir wines from 2014, touching AVAs in Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills in California; Yamhill-Carlton in Willamette Valley; and Central Otago in New Zealand. Winemaker is Jon Priest. These are, let me just say, splendid examples of the pinot noir grape and the resonance rung upon it by specific locations. Priest sensibly employs a minimal amount of oak, as well as keeping alcohol levels to reasonable levels. These are all worth searching for.

Samples for review.
The Etude Ellenbach Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, aged 13 months in French oak, percent new barrels. The steeply sloping vineyard sits at around 800 feet elevation, just above the morning fog line, four miles east of the Pacific Ocean. The color is dark ruby-mulberry with a slightly paler rim. A burst of cloves, allspice and sandalwood precedes notes of a compote of black and red cherries and plums, wreathed with loam and graphite, mint and iodine, presided over by high-tones of pomegranate and cranberry; pretty heady stuff, all right. On the palate, this pinot noir brings in more red fruit — cherries and currants — its deeply spicy character buoyed by slightly flinty minerality, dusty tannins and lively acidity that cuts a swath on the tongue. The finish delivers a polished melange of spice, graphite tinged minerals and an element of heathery meadow flowers. 14.8 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
The Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2014, Carneros, aged 12 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. Located at the northwest corner of the Carneros AVA, the vineyard features various types of well-drained, rocky volcanic soils and is influenced by breezes from the Pacific. The color is medium mulberry-magenta shading to a transparent circumference. Scents of red and black cherries are permeated by notes of sassafras, pomegranate and cranberry, talc, lilac and rose petals; the perfume grows deeper and more redolent as the moments pass. This pinot noir embodies beautiful shape and substance, flowing on the tongue like perfection in a lithe, supple stream of satiny texture; there’s a touch of baked plum in the red and black fruit flavors and a strain of dusty graphite minerality to the subtle yet skillfully chiseled tannins. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $45.
The superlative transparent violet-magenta hue of the Etude North Canyon Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Maria Valley, belies the seriousness of its frame and foundation and its earthy, loamy character. The vineyard, planted in calcareous clay sandstone, lies in a secluded canyon that’s a bit more exposed to sunlight and a bit warmer than the rest of the valley. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels, the least oak influence of these six wines. A complex array of spicy effects — cloves, sassafras and cumin — heightens elements of ripe red and black cherries that open to notes of wild berries and oolong tea, pomegranate and cranberries. A profoundly earthy, loamy character penetrates the entire enterprise, lending deep roots for its graphite-tinged tannins and minerality. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $45.
Location is everything, n’est-ce pas? For example, the Fiddlestix Vineyard lies in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA that is part of the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA, all encompassed by Santa Barbara County. The hills and ranges run east and west here, unusual for California where the typical etu_12fiddlestix_pinot_nv_400x126 mountainous orientation is north-south, and a configuration that allows a direct inlet for fog and cooling ocean breezes. The vineyard receives its share of those daily climatic events but stands low enough against the hills to be sheltered from strong afternoon winds. The combination of exposure and protection with well-drained clay-loam and calcareous marine shale soils results in pinot noir wines of great depth and finesse.

The Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, aged 12 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby-magenta hue of transfixing radiance; aromas of rhubarb, sassafras and sandalwood, pomegranate and cranberry, smoky black cherries and plums achieve a Platonic level of loveliness, while on the palate the wine is lithe, supple and satiny. juicy black and red cherry flavors reach down to elements of some rooty black tea, talc and chalk and a kind of gravelly condensation of graphite minerality. A few minutes in the glass bring out notes of rose petals and lavender. Redolent, even pungent; deeply spicy and flavorful; elegant and fine-boned yet with a dynamic of bright acidity, lightly dusted tannins and the shaping force of subtle oak — this is one of the most complete and wholly beautiful pinot noirs I have tasted this year. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’24. Exceptional. About $45.
This wine takes us to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Approved in 2004, the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA is a horse-shoe shaped region that includes only acreage that lies between 200 and 1,000 feet elevation, where marine sediments compose some of the oldest soil in Willamette Valley. The vineyard from which this wine is derived stands at 600 feet. The Etude Yamhill Vista Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Yamhill-Carlton District, aged 13 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby shading to a mulberry rim; to notes of black cherries and plums, pomegranate and cranberry, the wine adds touches of tobacco and black tea, mint and iodine, as well as the deep loamy character typical of Willamette Valley pinot noir. The texture is superbly satiny, though powered by swingeing acidity and energetic tannins; the wine is quite dry, revealing an immediacy of granitic minerality that leads to a brooding, chiseled finish. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
Talk about far afield, this wine takes us to New Zealand and Central Otago, the world’s southernmost wine region. The Etude Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2014, Central Otago, spent 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. I found this to be an extremely fine-grained, richly detailed and slightly exotic pinot noir. The color is transparent magenta-mulberry with a delicate rim; aromas of macerated and lightly stewed red and black cherries are permeated by notes of cloves and allspice, red licorice and violets, loam and damp wood ash; after 15 or 20 minutes, the bouquet unfurls hints of cedar, iodine and rosemary. Nothing opulent or flamboyant here, the wine is spare and honed, riven by arrows of acidity and borne by gravel-like minerality and layers of loam and foresty elements. 13.8 percent alcohol. I loved it. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.

We are inching our way toward the most festive season of the year, a hectic, expensive, exhausting and frequently joyful stretch that encompasses Thanksgiving, My Birthday, Christmas, bottle-etoile-roseNew Year and Twelfth Night. Call it Yuletide 2.0. To slide into the proper spirit, I offer as Wine of the Day, No. 201, the Domaine Chandon Étoile Rosé, a non-vintage sparkling wine from the company that’s pretty much the grand-daddy of sparkling wine in California. By “non-vintage,” the common parlance, I really mean “multiple-vintage,” since this product and virtually all non-vintage Champagnes and sparkling wines contain wine from the current year as well as reserve wines from previous years, the point being to lend depth and character to the product from wines that have aged for several years. Now Chandon is surprisingly reticent about information for this sparkler and others I received recently. I can tell you, for example, that the grapes for the Domaine Chandon Étoile Rosé were grown in the cool Carneros region of Napa and Sonoma counties and that the blend includes chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, but not in what proportion. I can tell you that the sparkling wine rested on the lees in the bottle for “at least three years,” but I cannot be more specific. I can also tell you that the Domaine Chandon Etoile Rose is beguiling and irresistible. The color is ruddy salmon-copper, animated by a steady frothing stream of tiny bubbles. A cool rush of orange rind and strawberry compote is twined with smoke and seashell-like salinity with hints of cloves and lightly toasted brioche. This is lively on the palate, even sprightly and balletic, yet it delivers depths of limestone and chalk minerality, as well as flavors of roasted lemons, spiced pears and a hint of red currant. 13 percent alcohol. A very attractive and enticing brut rose. Excellent. About $50.

A sample for review.

« Previous PageNext Page »